Evolution of a Cover

– Posted in: Garden Adventures

This is my newly released book, Succulent Container Gardens. Ever wonder how a garden book’s cover comes about?  Consider: A cover has to be eye-catching and effectively illustrate the title, and convey that the book is the definitive source of information on that topic. Ideally, it also entices readers with appealing plants and an engaging idea.

A book’s cover story begins with the author’s proposal, about two years before the book becomes a reality.

This is the cover of the folder I used for the proposal I wrote for my earlier gardening book, originally titled Landscaping with Succulents.  I chose a photo that I hoped expressed the book’s emphasis on sophisticated garden design.

Timber Press accepted the proposal and renamed the book Designing with Succulents. Their first cover (shown here) was used in pre-release promotional materials. A cover that isn’t green makes a gardening book stand out, but this one was scrapped because it didn’t convey how a wide variety of succulents can be used as landscape plants.

This is that book’s finalized title and cover. It shows a garden that’s in the book, photograhed by Lisa Romerein. I had scouted and written about the garden originally for Sunset magazine.  The cover elaborates on the title by showing that the book is about gardens that feature succulents and their companion plants.

Designing with Succulents came out in 2007 and became a bestseller. In 2008 I proposed a sequel: Succulent Container Gardens. This is one of the cover shots I suggested.

During the ensuing year, the title briefly was changed to Succulents in Containers. Here’s one of the cover designs I suggested for that title.

Of all the photos in the book, this is my favorite. But a horizontal image doesn’t work well for a cover.

When the title was changed back to Succulent Container Gardens, the publisher evaluated each of the book’s 300+ photos for its cover potential. This one met all the criteria. At first I thought it was too busy and the title might not stand out. Also, there’s a broken stem on the right and some marred leaves. But my concerns were unfounded—as you can see by the cropped, corrected and finalized cover above.

Do you have a great idea for a gardening book? No doubt you’re wondering how to interest a publisher. I recommend you follow the guidelines in a book that really helped me:  Nonfiction Book Proposals that Anybody Can Write, by Elizabeth Lyons.

Also, think visually. As you would for a blog post, choose outstanding photos that illustrate great ideas your readers might enjoy implementing in their own gardens.

I’ll be giving presentations and doing book signings at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle on Feb. 6; at the Philadelphia International Flower Show on March 6; and at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show on March 24. (For a complete list of where I’ll be, when, see the Presentations page of my website). If you’re coming to any of these events, please say hello!

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified.  www.debraleebaldwin.com 

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
37 Comments… add one

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Darla January 19, 2010, 5:45 am

Oh how I wish I could be at the book signing…This book is going on my “Must Have” list..

I wish you could be there, too, Darla! It would be fun to meet you in person. Debra

Lisa at Greenbow January 19, 2010, 7:19 am

I liked seeing some of the process of book making. Good luck with your new book. It looks like a must have to me.

Hi, Lisa — Yes, and the cover is just the tip of the iceberg! And definitely one of the more interesting aspects. Debra

jodi (bloomingwriter) January 19, 2010, 7:52 am

Congrats on the book release, Debra! Interesting to hear how your cover evolved. I’m only in the early stages of writing my second book on gardening in Atlantic Canada, so it’s hard to say WHAT the cover will look like, though I have some ideas. I’m still waiting for Timber to send me your book, so I may have to remind them again.

Thank you, Jodi! The books just came in, so your copy should soon be on its way. But if you don’t get it by the end of next week, definitely follow up. And do keep us posted on the progress of your book, OK?

Debi January 19, 2010, 8:01 am

So much goes into writing a book it’s amazing they get written at all. Cover photos are incredibly important and I’ve enjoyed reading about and seeing the steps you’ve taken. I wish for you great success with the new book!

Thanks, Debi. And speaking of amazing, I can’t believe those photos on your blog of ice udders. Weird and lovely. Debra

Helen at Toronto Gardens January 19, 2010, 8:02 am

Congratulations, Debra. It looks like a beautiful book, and a great one to add to a collection. As my sister’s a book designer, it was interesting to read through the process that arrived at the final design.

Hi, Helen — Thanks! Btw, others have told me that the process of arriving at their own books’ covers was different. And for all I know, my experience with Timber Press was out of the ordinary. But it does make sense that all garden book covers need to be commercial, sort of like, well, sophisticated ads. Debra

Pam/Digging January 19, 2010, 8:04 am

Fascinating, Debra. Thanks for the insider’s look. I can’t wait to read your latest, as I thoroughly enjoyed Designing with Succulents.

Purr. Debra

Nancy Bond January 19, 2010, 9:07 am

Congrats on the new release! The cover is very attractive.

Thanks, Nancy! Debra

Micah January 19, 2010, 10:44 am

I really like the simplicity of the first “Succulents in Containers” photo, the portrait aspect-ratio one. I like how the succulent is reaching out toward the camera.

Still, I have to agree that the final cover image is quite striking.

Congrats on the book release!

Hi, Micah — Ah, you articulated precisely why I like that photo, too. Hey, I’m intrigued by your online nursery’s premise (and applaud you): “A place to connect with and buy from specialty nurseries and independent garden centers.” Debra

Jayne January 19, 2010, 11:18 am

Congratulations on your new book, I love the final cover — I have no succulents at all and that cover is enticing me! It’s definitely going on my must-read list.

Gasp. NO succulents at all, Jayne? Not even a sedum or two? Indeed, it’s time to convert you! Debra

Carolyn Parker January 19, 2010, 12:15 pm

Very interesting Debra and congratulations!! I used the same how-to book when I wrote the proposal for my last book. Succulents rock! Beautiful pictures.

Hi, Carolyn — As you no doubt discovered, writing a proposal is a bit of a slog. At least it’s good to have a guidebook that demystifies it. Debra

Stephanie 'Reno' Martin January 19, 2010, 12:24 pm

I purchased ‘Designing With Succulents’ because of that cover photo 🙂

Hey, Reno, that’s great to know. Thanks for telling me! Debra

Loree/danger garden January 19, 2010, 12:58 pm

I see you will not be in Portland for our Yard, Garden and Patio show in February! I was hoping that you would be. I heard you speak at this same show the year that Designing with Succulents came out, which of course I had to purchase soon after.

Thank you for a very interesting peek “behind the scenes” I think I liked your first submission photo the best. The one with the blue pot. But no doubt this book will be another best seller and the Timber Press folks know what they’re doing!

Hi, Loree — Speaking of Timber, they’re in Portland (as you doubtless know). A lovely city, with really nice people, great gardens, fantastic coffee—and (best of all) Powell’s Bookstore! I had hoped I could go to the YGP again, but there was a conflict in scheduling. Hopefully, next year. Debra

Michelle D. January 19, 2010, 1:40 pm

A wealth of information ! Thanks Debra.
The visual and emotional expression of the images on the book covers really capture the essence of the books.
fantastic choices !

Hi, Michelle — I’m so glad you agree (especially since I’m a huge fan of yours)! See you in SF. Debra

commonweeder January 19, 2010, 3:05 pm

What a useful post. The images are beautiful. I’m eager to see the book because I’m wondering if I can grow succulents, in the ground or in containers here in the higher elevations of Massachusetts.

Hi, dear Weeder! Ahem. The reason I wrote Succulent Container Gardens was so anyone, anywhere can grow these cool-looking plants, because containers are portable and can be sheltered indoors. Succulents are shallow-rooted, and thrive in pots. Your local nursery may have a limited selection, but online sources are growing by leaps and bounds…and prices and selections are getting better all the time. Debra

Blackswampgirl Kim January 19, 2010, 6:49 pm

Thanks for the peek into the whole process, Debra… it was fascinating!

Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. So many good writers are part of the GGW community, I figured a few of you must have book ideas percolating. Debra

Laura Balaoro January 19, 2010, 7:10 pm

Thanks for sharing this information Debra. It’s very interesting. I am hoping to receive the book this week and for sure will be sitting near my fireplace reading it. I’ll be sure to bring it with me for your signing at the SF Flower Show in March.

Hi, Laura — Yes, do bring it. I’m always pleased when people do, even though they sometimes apologize for not having bought the book from whatever vendor (including me) is selling them. I look forward to meeting you! Debra

Kimberly January 19, 2010, 7:22 pm

Wow, I own and love Designing with Succulents. I read so many gardening blogs, I had no idea you were the author of that book. Congrats on the sequel!

Hi, Kim — That’s so cool! If you liked Designing with Succulents, I think you’ll be really pleased with the sequel. I’m very proud of it. Debra

Riz Reyes January 19, 2010, 9:20 pm

Great post and awesome tips. I hope to write a book someday! =)

See you in Seattle next month!

Hey, Riz, I look forward to meeting you. Btw, I posted a comment on your blog, about your advice on agave culture in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to you, I learned something new…which I’d like to incorporate in the next edition of Designing with Succulents!

Shirley Bovshow "EdenMaker' January 20, 2010, 3:20 am

Now this is the kind of “behind the scenes” info that I love. So much work goes into producing a book, all the details…. Thanks for sharing Debra.
shirley bovshow

Hi, Shirley — And behind-the-scenes is what your Garden World Report is all about, too! Debra

Amy January 20, 2010, 8:28 am

I love the book cover and it is very eye-catching! I look forward to reading it and looking at all the beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing your experience. ~Amy

Hi, Amy — Thank you, I hope you enjoy the book. Love the name of your blog, btw! LOL Debra

Rhonda January 20, 2010, 9:47 am

I guess you could say I’m a sucker for succulents. Almost fifty some odd years ago my mother was doing succulent combinations in shallow basins she made in ceramics class. What I wouldn’t give to have pictures of them now. When I look at old family photos, I’m always scannning for them in the background. Their spirit is present every time I plant one myself. But oh to be back in So Cal where I could plant them in the ground as well.

That’s a wonderful story about your mother, Rhonda. I wish our parents and grandparents had had the capability of showing us their lives, the way we do now with digital photography and videos. My parents grew a lot of succulents in their SoCA garden because there was no automatic irrigation system, and the plants looked lush and lovely without needing a lot of water. My dad wouldn’t go on vacation in summer or fall because the garden and avocado grove had to be watered. Times have certainly changed. Debra

Jean at Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog January 20, 2010, 9:47 am

Both of your books look like must-haves for me (although succulents don’t fare so well in our cold wet winters it hasn’t stopped me). I found your story about the evolution of the cover interesting. Wish you were coming farther east on your book tour!

Hi, Jean — I’m hoping to interest the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in doing a succulent-themed exhibit. And (shh) I have Martha Stewart in my crosshairs. Don’t you think I should be on her show, demonstrating how to make a succulent container garden? Debra

Dee/reddirtramblings January 20, 2010, 10:04 am

Debra, that was really interesting. Thanks for the tips too at the end about a book that helped you. Very generous. Being very visual, I am always interested in how covers are chosen, both in the fiction and nonfiction fields.~~Dee

You’re welcome, Dee. Every now and then I look at a gardening book’s cover and wonder why on earth they chose THAT image. But for the most part, I think publishers do a really good job making us desperately want their books, both via great graphics and enticing text. Debra

Laura January 20, 2010, 11:11 am

I will definitely add “Succulent Container Gardens” to my library, and hopefully see you at one of your NorCal events. Over the last few years I’ve come to love succulents. During these dreary, not-much-to-do-in-the-garden days I have been pondering container combinations that would complement my home & yard. Looking forward to reading about your ideas !

BTW – thanks for cluing us all into Elizabeth Lyons’ book, and the glimpse into book cover evolution !

Hi, Laura — You’re welcome. Succulents do really well in containers because they’re shallow-rooted. Please say hello when you’re at one of my events! Debra

Scott Calhoun January 20, 2010, 12:40 pm

Having been through a few of these cover deliberations for my own titles, it always amazes me how little control the author has at that point. You should be happy that it looks so good! I hope I run into you on the road. Your tour schedule looks great.

Hey, Scott, you just had a book come out, Hot Pots (speaking of a great cover…) I’ve ordered it and hope you’ll be telling us more about it! Debra

Saxon Holt January 20, 2010, 1:30 pm

Debra Lee – Loved seeing all the iterations you went through. I had to fight like mad to change the original cover of my “Hardy Succulents” from a dark purple Sempervivum to the peachy-apricot ‘Faramir’.

Hi, Saxon — I love the cover of Hardy Succulents, in fact, I’m crazy about all the photos. And Gwen’s writing is engaging and erudite. It’s a must-have for gardeners in cold, wet climates who can’t grow tender succulents in the ground. I see we’re “alsobots”—according Amazon, the book people most often buy in addition to mine is Hardy Succulents. Debra

Whitney Freeman-Kemp January 20, 2010, 3:57 pm

What an interesting post. Thanks for letting us glimpse into your world!

Hi, Whitney — Glad you liked it. Nice to hear from a Connecticut gardener. I see that your new blog will be up and running next month…so we’ll soon get a glimpse into YOUR world! Debra

Christine January 20, 2010, 5:50 pm

What a journey to get from idea to product! I think the final photos for both of your books look fabulous and hope to see you in SF!

Hi, Christine — That would be super! Please say hello. I see you specialize in CA native plants. Will Idora Design have an exhibit at the SF F&G show? Debra

Mr. McGregor's Daughter January 21, 2010, 10:21 am

I’m always fascinated by the process behind the finished product. Thanks for sharing an insider’s view.

You’re welcome! But of course the real insiders are the ones who do the layout and design. I thought they did a super job, from cover to cover. Debra

Nicole January 21, 2010, 7:38 pm

Congrats on your new book and I am sure I will be as inspired by it as I have been with Designing with Succulents. Have a great tour!

Thanks, Nicole! The next few months are going to be hectic, but exciting. Debra

VP January 22, 2010, 8:53 am

Thanks for letting us in behind the scenes, it was fascinating.

The final cover is the only one which makes me want to open the book and see what’s inside, so good choice!

Good to know—and good news! Debra

Forest January 26, 2010, 11:43 pm

Very interesting to see the process. Thanks for sharing and congratulations! It’s funny that my first impression of the final title for the book was of a double entendre: that the container gardens were suggestively “juicy”, rather than “container gardens of succulent plants.” I like that. heh!

Out of curiosity: Did you take the photos for the book? Or do you hire someone to do the photos? Or does the publishing company hook you up with a photographer? Did you take the photo for the proposal?

Hi, Forest — I took 90% of the photos and bought the rest out of a budget provided by my publisher. It was up to me to contact photographers and get the word out about what I was looking for, so I sent out an email to about 50 whom I found in the Garden Writers of America membership directory (lots of photographers belong). I am primarily a journalist, but became a photographer because that was the best way to sell my writing, and I had learned a lot from professional photographers whom I had accompanied on shoots. And digital photography really levels the playing field. I understand light and composition, and I shoot and shoot and shoot, so out of every 50 or so photos, I get a great one worthy of being in a book, blog or magazine. Debra

cathie conzemius January 30, 2010, 12:49 am

Wow, i just stumbled onto your beautiful blog. I’m rushing out to get your book. It looks wonderful. Succulents my fav.

Thank you! And now that you’ve found GGW, keep coming back. We’re proud of our content and contributors, and have lots of cool things in the works! Debra

Karen February 20, 2010, 4:20 pm

Hi Debra, I just discovered your blog, website and new book. I just love your garden. Gardening with Succulents is a wonderful concepts especially where I hail here in So Cal. I have two in containers myself and my intention is to have more. I just have to browse through your book, very beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

Thanks, Karen! Welcome back to garden blogging. Enjoy your succulent gardens! Debra

Jennifer February 23, 2010, 5:21 pm


Great info! It’s interesting to see the process and experience other authors have. Your photos are great. Not too many succulents grow in my Ohio garden, but I periodically design for clients in the west. Your books are a great resource.


Hi, Jennifer — Thank you~I appreciate your informed perspective and kind comments! — Debra

agave girl June 3, 2010, 11:43 pm

Hi Debra i loved your first book and all of the great info thats helping me change the look of my garden. I also like to visit gardens and was wondering if you could help with a question. There is a movie with Michelle Pfiefer and Bruce Willis and there is a scene where you can clearly see a wonderful succulent garden in the background of a jogging scene. Would you happen to know it? Hope its in Calif. Thanks so much!

Jan July 5, 2010, 7:13 pm

I love your new book. Have checked it out of the library a few times already. Hopefully one of these days I will be able to buy it.

At the end of the month I will be in San Diego to visit my sons…on the way to Hawaii for my granddaughter’s wedding (Thank goodness for old frequent flyer miles). Looking forward to seeing a lot of succulents. It is certainly more conducive to succulents there than here in southwest florida where we have had so much rain in the last week and a half. One son cleared his front lawn and has planted succulent.

I love your work with succulents!! Thank you!

Hi, Jan — Thank you! You’re coming to the right place to see lots of great succulents, both in gardens and nurseries. Lots of links on my website to San Diego sources. — Debra

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