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Evolution of a book title + cover
A peek behind the curtain of The Understory, a cover reveal, and preorder button!
The subtitle, however, felt a bit more elusive. Because I was essentially writing a book full of shorter notes on nature and grief, I wanted to do Field Notes on Grief from the Forest Floor, but then the book became about something more than grief. And then the inimitableannounced the title of her book releasing the same time as mine as Field Notes from the Wilderness and I didn’t want to steal any thunder from her! So we batted around a few others. I always prefer a really short subtitle and something that leaves a little mystery, but generally publishers want something that encapsulates, a thesis statement of sorts, something that explains what you’re going to say before you spend a whole book saying it. As much as writing may be an art, publishing is a business and we authors have got to choose our battles.
My publisher liked, What the Forest Floor Reveals about Disenchantment, Hope, and Practicing a Rooted Faith, but to me that didn’t describe the book.
I countered with:
Essays from the Forest Floor on Rootedness and Resilience
Notes from the Forest Floor on Rootedness and Resilience
Disenchantment to Resilience from the Forest Floor
Rootedness, Resilience, and the Need for a Rewilded Life
They came back with:
What the Forest Floor Reveals about Rootedness and Resilience
What the Forest Floor Teaches Us about the Journey from Disenchantment to Resilience
What the Forest Floor Reveals about Rootedness, Resilience, and Our Need for an Abundant Life
What the Forest Floor Reveals about Rootedness, Resilience, and Restoration
“What the forest floor reveals” felt wordy to me and so I suggested: An Invitation to Rootedness and Resilience from the Forest Floor.
After a few more back and forths, this is what we landed on. The Understory: An Invitation to Rootedness and Resilience from the Forest Floor. Despite the fact that the forest floor is not technically the understory and “an invitation” feels a little lighter than this book is, I felt this was the closest we’d come to a short description of what the book was about.
When it came to the cover, I knew that after two books with very similar muted tones and colors—gray blues, dark greens, and mustard yellows—I wanted to mix it up a little. But obviously not too much ;) I still love blue, green, and yellow, but I needed something with a little punch this time, something bold. I know orange is a controversial color but it’s always been one of my favorites. There’s something so happy about it. I especially like a good red-orange, like the color of geraniums or a fat summer tomato or a detour sign that takes you down a back country road.
I also wanted something fairly minimalistic with a handcrafted feel, and I liked the idea of the title behind or underneath the main image as a sort of nod to understory. I mocked up a few designs in Canva and included them in the questionnaire all Brazos authors fill out for the marketing team. They were just a general idea of the feel and direction I wanted to go:
I was surprised when a few months later, their art director asked me if I’d be willing to just go with one of these designs. That was so nice to hear, but I knew my friend Stephen Crotts (who also did the artwork for my first book) would be able far surpass my talents and skills. I put on my big girl pants and asked Brazos if he could do it. They agreed!
I knew Stephen would be able to take my vision for the cover and execute something that felt minimal, bright, and also handcrafted/organic looking. Stephen and I are also friends and great collaborators, though, and this isn’t usually the case with authors and their cover designers. It is a pure gift to get to work with him. He’s not just one of my favorite artists, he’s one of my favorite co-laborers and people!
Stephen and I batted around a few inspiration photos and sketches. We thumbed up and we thumbed down. At first he envisioned intertwining the title with bits of forest elements but I was decidedly against this. It’s a fine idea and there are a lot of beautiful covers using that element, like those below, but it didn’t feel right for this book. We nixed the ideas that felt too much like these:
We talked about painting a minimalistic piece a la Maya Hanisch with forest elements, but as much as I love that style, it still wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Stephen is stupid talented at details, so I knew I was basically asking Michelangelo to fingerpaint and call it art, but I also knew he could pull it off.
We landed on a series of inspiration book covers and images with bold clean lines, but still an earthy organic feel. I liked the idea of two disparate things, a sort of surprising juxtaposition a la The Book of Goose. Orangeish-red wasn’t optional, I wanted it in there. Here’s where we landed for inspiration. All of these (except the last two on the top and bottom) felt simple and pleasing to my eye. I put the last two in just as an example of a sense of weird that I wouldn’t mind:
Then we were off. I, to finish the manuscript, and Stephen to do what he does best.
It took us a month to move through several sketches to land on something we maybe-sorta-kinda-liked. Neither of us loved it, but it was moving in the right direction, we thought.
After I nixed his vision of a title entwined with trees, Stephen suggested a dark forest scene. I did not want to go dark, so he added some color in there to see if it would work. We both knew this wasn’t it pretty quickly.
We went back to the drawing board, incorporating all the elements I liked from my original mockups and pushing them all a bit. Landing us with this lineup, which we sent to Brazos for approval for the general direction for the final cover:
After sitting with it for a few weeks and getting feedback, neither of us were really happy with these mock-ups. We nailed the brightness but it was all feeling a bit too bold, not nature-y enough. What if we made the colors a little less bold, but still bright-ish?
Once we landed on that first sketch above, we knew we were getting it finally. Our guts both knew this was it. Stephen went to the drawing board to illustrate the tree and forest floor and I played with another idea entirely, again in Canva. “What if we,” I suggested sheepishly, “put the title in the branches of the tree? With bits of pine coming in around it? You know, like you kind of wanted all along?” (Mea culpa)
Finally, after some last minute finagling at the eleventh hour, we landed on the cover for The Understory, one we were both happy with and felt reflected the book, with some brighter colors, though still plenty of blue, green, and yellow (because I can’t quit it, I guess), and a pop of orange.
So here she is, we have a cover and the book is now available for preorder wherever you get your books!
I hope this behind the scenes process was fun for both author and non-authors alike. I always love a good “How did they do that?” post myself.
Thank you for all your support and love for me. I’ll be sharing this publicly in a few days, but I just wanted you all to get the first look at it!
Despite the technical term understory meaning the trees, shrubs, bushes, and plants beneath the upper canopy of trees, and the forest floor being something else entirely, I knew I wanted to tell a story beneath the story, and that had to include the greenery and the forest floor. Apologies to the ecologically precise out there, I took poetic license.