Bee Time: Lessons From the Hive

We finally have a title for my upcoming book: “Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive.”

Authors, unless they are considerably more famous than I, don’t get to choose their book titles. You can suggest, and I have, but it’s the marketing wing of your publishing house that gets the final say.

Until now I’ve been lucky. My submitted titles for previous books were approved by my editor and the marketing mavens at my regular publisher, Harvard University Press.

“Nature Wars: People vs. Pests” was the easiest, emerging from a quote in the newspaper by an anti-pesticide activist. He called an upcoming spray against gypsy moths in the city of Vancouver “a war against nature that will go on forever.” I hadn’t been thinking of writing a book at that point but the title “Nature Wars” popped into my head, and with a title as good as that, it seemed a shame not to write a book.

“Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone” also came easily. I was already committed to writing a book about genetically modified crops, and was travelling quite a bit to conduct research and interviews. Once the idea of “travels” popped into my head, the rest flowed easily.

This time, I bonded with a title right from the start: “Dialogue in Bee Time: Lessons Learned from the Bees.” But the title was for a different book, one that focused on dialogue and teaching. I wrote close to 30,000 words before realizing it just wasn’t working, and put it aside for a year or so.

I then realized the book I wanted to write was about bees, not teaching, focused on what bees can teach us about our human environmental impacts, agricultural practices, sustainability, spirituality, collaborating, communication styles, and more. Still, in spite of the changed focus I hung on to the title “Dialogue in Bee Time.”

My rationale was that in writing I was very much engaged in an imaginary conversation with readers, and a few of the chapters do touch on bees and dialogue in ways that reflect the practices we’ve cultivated at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue.

“Bee time” refers to how time slows down in the apiary, alluding to that sense of presence and focus that beekeepers adopt when working their colonies. To me, that mood is identical to the deep listening and profound engagement that happens while dialoguing.

The only problem was no one but me liked the title. “Dialogue” doesn’t mean much to a public reader, “lessons learned” was pedagogical overkill, and the title/subtitle used the word “bee” twice, a non-starter with the publisher.

My editor suggested “Sweet Spot: How Bees Sustain Us,” which I quite liked, but it was immediately rejected by the marketing department. No explanation, it just rubbed them the wrong way. We then tried innumerable combinations of “Bee Time” and subtitles like: “Insights from the Hive,” “Reflections from the Hive,” and “Learning from the Hive.”

We even thought of no subtitle, just “Bee Time,” but that seemed too stark.

Finally, we came back to the original title, shortened it, and voila: a title that I’m happy with, my editor is happy with, and most importantly: it’s a title the press thinks will sell books.

“Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive” is due out 1 October 2014. And the title reflects exactly what the book is about: there is much to learn from bees. When we enter bee time, we find that bees are an extraordinary lens through which to view ourselves.