For six years I have been working on a manuscript with the working title West of Sand County. Last week Justin Race, the executive director of Purdue University Press, emailed me to say the production team for the book wants to change the name. He acknowledged there is a simple elegance to West of Sand County, but feels it appeals only to a niche audience. Their preferred title, which I had suggested as the subtitle, is Essays to My Daughter on Our Relationship with the Natural World.
There’s a lot to unbundle here. First of all, this is the first time I’ve ever had more than one person produce one of my manuscripts. All of my other books were published by the very small publishing company Wood ’N Barnes. My team there consisted of one person. Mony Cunningham was excellent in many ways (and she continues to review my writing as a friend), but now I have a half dozen people with their own areas of expertise overseeing my project. This has to be good.
Second, my publisher thinks my book has the potential to appeal to a general audience. The team’s problem with the original title is their belief that most people would not understand its meaning. West of Sand County is a reference to Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. In my opinion, Leopold’s classic work sits alongside Silent Spring and Walden as one of the three most important books in American environmental literature. I wrote my book due west geographically of the rustic farmstead where Leopold did much of his writing (I write in La Crosse, Wisconsin; Leopold wrote in Baraboo). Also several of the chapters in my book relate to topics first described in A Sand County Almanac. The production team recognizes that some people will be drawn to the title, but they also feel the majority of potential readers won’t get it at all. Apparently I live in a bubble of tree hugging Wisconsinites, and Aldo Leopold is not nearly as well known as I think. If the purpose of a title is to catch someone’s eye, West of Sand County might not be the best choice.
Third, the new title is direct. Essays to My Daughter on Our Relationship with the Natural World is a bit clunky, but it is very clear as to the book’s purpose. As a title, it is growing on me.
Fourth, the sentimental side of me likes that the new title explicitly states the book is for Clare. Years from now, when I am no longer around and the natural environment as I know it has significantly changed, she will have a book about nature written by me specifically for her. What father wouldn’t like that? In the introduction to my book, I did write that the essays in the book were first penned as a series of letters to my daughter. My production team wants to highlight the father/daughter relationship by putting it in the title.