On the path to a new book

Eve and I are back in the woods again, in the same cabin where we wrote More Than Two, working on a new book.

The new book is not about polyamory. It’s called Love More, Be Awesome, and it’s our take on a kind of user’s guide for being a human being: tips and ideas for being awesome and living a life of compassion and kindness.

Part of the reason More Than Two turned out like it did is this place. It’s incredibly remote; we’re miles from the nearest convenience store and a half-hour drive to the closest town. All around us, as far as the eye can see, is temperate rainforest.

The remoteness helps us focus, as you might imagine, but there’s more to it than that. Every afternoon, we go for a walk, hiking along meandering paths through the trees–some of them clear, others almost completely overgrown. These hikes give us the opportunity to talk about what we’re writing, to brainstorm ideas, and to help work through roadblocks.

And we are once more, in a literal sense, on the path to a new book.

path-through-the-woods

Love More, Be Awesome is a much different book from More Than Two. It’s going to be a lot shorter, for one thing. It’s a lot easier to write a long book than a short book, as it turns out.

This is going to be a difficult book to write, but I like the way it’s shaping up. There’s still a long path with many conversations beneath the shade of the trees ahead, but I’m excited about where we are going.

Franklin and…err…some chick.

Last year, my partner Eve and I wrote a book. It’s quite a massive book, weighing in north of 150,000 words. In it you will find our thoughts, ideas and experiences with polyamory–a rather complex subject, as you might imagine. It took an incredible amount of effort to write. I’m very proud of what we created (and if you haven’t checked it out already, I recommend it. But of course, I might be biased.)

We’ve received a lot of feedback about the book. Not just on Amazon, though 80 five-star reviews is kind of nice, but from people who’ve told us things like “your book changed my life” and “your book saved my relationship.”

Which is awesome. I think we’ve accomplished something amazing.

And yet…

Since the book came out, there’s this thing that keeps happening. When people talk about it, as often as not they talk about “that book by Franklin Veaux.” Even though Eve’s voice and Eve’s ideas were absolutely essential to the book–in fact, it would not exist without her.

I started talking about the idea of writing a book in…oh, I don’t know, 2005 or so. I even went as far as to develop a content outline, a query letter, and a couple of sample chapters, which I shopped around to agents and publishers. Nobody was interested in it back then (though, ironically, I received a number of rejections that said, “We don’t want a polyamory how-to, but if you re-do it as a personal memoir we’d love to publish it. Hey, all you guys who wanted to publish a memoir but didn’t want to publish this book? Pthbth!)

That book, the one I wanted to write back then, was also called More Than Two.

The similarities between that book and the book Eve and I wrote end about there.

I dusted off the old content outline and query letter when we started this new writing venture, and we promptly junked all of it. The poly community has changed a lot in the last ten years. I have changed a lot in the last ten years.

But far more important than that, Eve thought the book needed a different focus, one less concerned with the specifics of polyamory and more focused on ethics, compassion, and the skills it takes to be a decent human being.

The book we wrote together is a lot more…well, human than the book I was going to write. There’s greater focus on self-work. There are personal stories in the book–mine, hers, and those of other people we talked to. (I have, in the past, written a great deal about my ideas about polyamory without talking about the personal experiences that led me there. Eve said she thought that was a weakness in my writing. I agree.) The book’s organization and arrangement are totally different.

And, ironically, the parts of the book that are most popular–the sections on ethics, communication, and self care, for example–are largely her creations. We each worked on every chapter of the book, but some chapters are more hers than mine, and some are more mine than hers. Much of the praise for the book focuses on the ideas she brought to it, even though people tend to edit her off the cover.

Co-creation is one of my love languages. When Eve came to me with the idea of working on a book together, I was absolutely delighted. We wrote it as co-equals. The book you read is not my ideas or my voice. It is our ideas and our voice. And it’s way, way better than the book I would have written alone.

To some extent, I suppose the fact that Eve tends to get edited off the cover, metaphorically speaking, is inevitable. When we started this journey, I was already more widely known than she was. My voice had greater reach.

But More Than Two is not my book. It’s our book. It’s totally reasonable that it annoys her when her contribution isn’t acknowledged, but it annoys me, too. I can’t take credit for it. It wouldn’t be what it is without her. And Eve deserves much greater recognition than she’s getting.

It’s totally not cool to have contributed to something awesome, and not be recognized for it. So Eve and I have created a new Twitter account, @mttbook, to be our social media contact for More Than Two. If you want to Tweet about the book, I urge you to use that Twitter account rather than mine.

Behind the scenes with The Game Changer: Cover design

Many years ago, my game-changing partner (whom I call Amber in The Game Changer) talked to a therapist about why she felt lonely and isolated. Her therapist told her there was nothing wrong with her: she felt alienated from others because she was a giraffe surrounded by alligators.

No matter how well-intentioned alligators are, they can not understand or relate to giraffes. Giraffes and alligators have very different needs and live very different lives. An alligator might sincerely reach out to a giraffe—by offering it a bit of meat torn from the carcass of some unlucky water buffalo, say—but that isn’t likely to help the giraffe much.

Amber was my giraffe. She was the first person I knew who really got me in a way my other partners never had. It turns out, I have a bit of giraffe in me, too.

While I was working on The Game Changer, I had an idea in my head about what the book would look like. And I wanted the cover to have a giraffe on it. So, midway between the second and third drafts, I designed a cover concept, something our book designer might use as a jumping-off point:

gamechanger-myidea

The cover designers, J. W. Salter and Val Heimpel, started from this design and explored some ideas thematically similar to my concept. J.W. suggested a more descriptive subtitle than “a memoir,” which turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated. Eve and I struggled with ideas for the subtitle for a while, before we eventually arrived at “a memoir of disruptive love.” That is, when all is said and done, what this book is about: the relationship that comes along and flips life upside-down.

Armed with this new subhead, the designers came up with a design based loosely on mine:

gamechanger02

However, we soon ran into problems. J.W. pointed out the link between the giraffe and the subject of the book was very tenuous at best. Did “game” mean “big game?” Was this a memoir of an African safari? We explored an alternative on this theme that made the alligator/giraffe metaphor more explicit. The result was interesting, but not something that really captured the flavor of the memoir. While we all loved this one visually, it was more suggestive of a popular science book than a memoir:

gamechanger01

In the book, I talk about Amber as a dragonslayer. I talk about the way she has dedicated her life to pure research, and how she is working on solving some of the most difficult medical problems humanity is currently faced with. A variant of the cover explored this metaphor as well.

gamechanger03

In the end, the designers felt the book was geeky enough it needed a different style of cover. These designs all fail to convey the essence of the book: its relentless geekiness and the feeling of disruption in my life during the time I write about. He felt that the cover needed to be more evocative of these themes, so he opted to go in an entirely different direction, one that I think works really well.

gamechanger-final

This cover expresses, I think, many of the themes of the book–not just my lifelong obsession with computers and tech, but also the idea of disruption and upheaval. I like the way the glitchiness of it conveys the notion of a sudden and cataclysmic change in what had been, until I met Amber, an orderly—if constrained and questionably ethical—life.

There is something to be said for letting experts do what they’re good at.

 

 

Evolution of the More Than Two book cover

Like most of the rest of the book, creating the cover for More Than Two was something of an adventure. We’re quite pleased with it, and so are most of our readers—the response to it has been overwhelmingly good. We thought you might enjoy knowing a bit more about the process that took us to the final cover, as it says a lot about the evolution of our own thinking about polyamory and the book itself.

About a year and a half ago, in one of the first posts published on this blog, Franklin wrote about why we decided to change the More Than Two logo from the image he’d used on the site and his own LiveJournal blog for years: three people working together on a heart-shaped blueprint. He was responding to an idea we developed later in the book: relationships are grown, not built. So he revised the logo slightly (and very quickly), so that the three people were working on a garden, not a blueprint:

blueprintlogo gardenlogo
© Franklin Veaux 2013

Of course, as many people commented there, there were a lot of things wrong with the second image (for one, you don’t use ladders to work on gardens in the air). And certainly, it was no book cover. We were also troubled by the “polyamory is a closed triad” stereotype that the image seemed to promote—we’ll come back to that later.

During last year’s crowdfunding campaign, we bought a stock image to use in our social media and marketing materials, building on the idea of “growing” love:

heart tree small
© Shutterstock/musicman

In December, we shared Franklin’s post about the two images with our cover designer, along with some additional feedback: we wanted to move away from the idea that poly is a couple opening their relationship, or three people in a triad. We wanted to make the book accessible to people of a wide variety of poly persuasions, and to give people new to poly the idea that there were lots of configurations available.

The designer we were working with at the time, Vanessa Rossi, wasn’t also an illustrator, so we started out trying to see if we could find some stock images, or illustrations we might be able to buy, that fit the bill. Vanessa filled a Dropbox folder with images, and we picked a few that were headed in the right direction, but not quite right:

tumblr_mp5e2a9Q7w1sxmo85o1_500  diversity-people-tree-set-336d656   23514923-dna-molecule
Images © Rene Campbell 2013Shutterstock/Cienpies Design; 123RF/Olga Ieromina

Of all of these, the people-tree was the best, but the couple-plus-child wasn’t the right base. In fact, we were worried that any image involving more than one person as the trunk would invoke the couple-centric idea that becoming involved with someone who is already in a relationship is “entering” that relationship, or else imply a default primary-secondary model of relationships. We decided the trunk needed to be a single person, with deep roots (the self-work we stress in the book) sustaining many loves.

So Vanessa did a second round of research:

isolated-diversity-tree-people-2474d2e stock-vector-spring-tree-with-women-silhouette-45949855 Isolated Diversity Tree hands
© Stockfresh/cienpies; Shutterstock/Lindwa; Depositphotos/cienpies

Closer—so much closer—but still not there. We could get one person as the trunk, but no people in the tree, or people in the tree, but no person as the trunk, but not both. At that point, Vanessa advised us to hire an illustrator. We were fortunate enough to be able to engage the very talented Paul Mendoza, who reviewed the research done so far, as well as the blog post, and came up with some quick sketches.

Morethantwo_sketch_composite_1 cropped

© Paul Mendoza 2014

We liked the colours in the top right thumbnail, but wanted something less stylized and more like a watercolour painting, more akin to the lower right. I had imagined the trunk and roots fairly rich in detail, something like Mercer Mayer’s depiction of Father Forest from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, one of my favourite childhood books (seriously, it’s beautiful—buy it).

FatherForest
© Mercer Mayer 1987 

We also went back and forth about the hand-holding figures in the top right image. One of the things Franklin had liked about his original images was the sense of everyone working together to build something. At the same time, we were afraid that having all the beloveds holding hands would, again, promote a stereotype: of closed-group polyamory, “polyfamily,” group intimacy or polyfidelity.

We had both grown quite wary of the “polyfamily” concept as a normative model as opposed to one option among many. Not everyone wants that model, not everyone who wants it is able to create it, and not everyone can be close, or even get along. All of that’s normal, and people in poly networks need to learn strategies for building relationships that work within the particular dynamics of the people involved. We didn’t want a cover that implied that the circle of happy people holding hands was what poly is “supposed” to look like, and people who don’t achieve that are somehow doing it wrong. So, no hand-holding. But Franklin has on a few occasions since then expressed some wistfulness that the cooperative sense of the early images was lost. In retrospect, it might have been nice to have had some people in the tree holding hands. But the cover as it is offers a snapshot of where we were in our thinking at the time, as we worked to integrate our new insights about polyfamily and consent into our own ideals about polyamory.

So Paul tinkered a bit, and came up with a more detailed “painting” (in quotes because he created it digitally):

Morethantwo_B
 © Paul Mendoza 2014

At this point, we (well, I) decided to post the work in progress to the More Than Two Facebook page. That turned out to be a mistake. I’d intended it to be a “whee! Look what we’re doing! Isn’t it exciting!” post. Our readers understood it as a “Hey, look what we’re doing, we’d like your feedback and input!” post, and we immediately got an onslaught of comments and suggestions, many contradicting each other or our own creative vision. Many commenters would have had us essentially go back to the drawing board—likely thinking that this was just a rough concept sketch, and not the culmination of what was, at that point, several months of research and revisions.

After some discussion with Paul of the feedback we’d gotten, he offered the following sage advice:

The moment we allow Facebook posts to become the art director, we enter an new type of hell. One thing we learned a long time ago is to never post pre-production work as it was being done, just as an after its done insight into the process. Otherwise we suddenly got far too much advice. It can be helpful to an extent, but you can never make everyone happy.

So, concerned that we were miscalibrating expectations by posting the work in progress, we took down the post. We had gotten some useful feedback in the process, though: the drawing was too diffuse and floaty, too grey and “haunted”-looking. And most of this mirrored what we’d already been thinking: we knew we needed more detail, brighter colours, and a sharper “face” in the tree.

And so, after further adjustments, we ended up with the final image:

More-Than-Two-cover-illustration-Eve's-tweaks---small
© Paul Mendoza 2014

Then came the typography, done by designer Mari Chijiiwa (after Vanessa left freelancing for a full-time animation career), who also created the book’s interior. That was yet another journey, and one I won’t go into here. However, you may notice that the image on the illustration above is flipped from what’s on our final cover: this was done because of typographical considerations. That was harder than it seems, because the background had been painted to match the tree, and it’s resulted in no end of trouble as we try to hunt down and remove any last remaining instances of the earlier draft cover, with the reversed tree, still lingering out there on the Web.

And at last, we had the beautiful, eye-catching design you see on the cover today:

cover-KDP
Image © Paul Mendoza / Typography © Thorntree Press 2014

We’re incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work with the many talented people who helped bring our vision of the book to life. Our thanks go out to Paul, Mari and Vanessa for their part in making More Than Two a success.

Like what you’re reading on the More Than Two blog? Buy the book now.

It’s here! It’s here! More Than Two’s big day!

OMG everyone! It’s real! More Than Two was finally officially published today!

Now we need your help to make it a huge hit. (Note – if you receive our newsletter, you’ll have received this same info this morning in your inbox.)

Here are three things you can do right now:

  1. Buy the book. If you already have a copy, get another to give to a friend! You can buy it on Amazon (print | Kindle) or at Powell’s, or order it through your local bookstore.
  2. Share the links with your friends. Most people decide to buy books because their friends are talking about them. So please talk about More Than Two, and share the Amazon and Powell’s links, anywhere you have a social media presence!
  3. Review the book on Amazon. Good reviews improve our rating and encourage more people to buy. (And while you’re at it, cross-post your review to Goodreads.)

Want to do more?

If you haven’t yet submitted a library request, you still can! And be sure you’re following our Facebook page. Liking and sharing our content is the best way to get the word out. And of course, if you love More Than Two, be sure to tell everyone you know about it!

Thanks so much to everyone for all your support!

Still waiting for your hardcovers?

So are we. But we’ve been told they finally shipped to us on Friday. With any luck, we’ll be able to get them out to folks who bought them before the book tour starts. (And if you missed your chance, we’ll have a few more with us on the tour!)