I’ve learned in the publishing business so far that the one thing that can change at any time is the title of your book. Publishers confer with sales representatives and booksellers even after their catalogues come out. If the feedback they get is negative, the name has to go. And in the case of The King’s Indian, which was put forward as the second in the Inspector Ramirez series, while it would have worked well in Canada, the US publisher wanted a new name.
I’d picked The King’s Indian as a name because it tied into the plot, which introduced a new character, an Aboriginal detective. But “The King’s Indian” is also a highly strategic chess move, and chess features in the story as well.
As you know, I’ve been pretty swamped for the last six or so weeks, and so trying to find the time to think up a new name was out of the question. Adrienne Kerr, my commissioning editor put on her thinking cap; so did my agent, Chris Bucci and copy editor, Alex Schultz. As the deadline to change the title loomed ever closer (we have to get the advance readers copies out, stat, as they’d say in an ER), I think everyone was panicking a little. After all, without a name, you can’t finalize a cover.
So Alex and Chris and I engaged in some rapid-fire brainstorming on Tuesday and finally developed two options: The Vatican’s Man (which alluded to the subplot of the book, which is about Vatican money-laundering) and again, chess. The second was The Poisoned Pawn, since the story revolves around women who are dying of what at first seems to be food poisoning.
I liked both, but was a little concerned that The Vatican’s Man was a lot like The Bishop’s Man, whereas The Poisoned Pawn harkens back to a classic Agatha Christie-type mystery, or perhaps an Ironsides episode, if you remember Raymond Burr. That was a great TV series years ago (wow, decades ago!) about a lawyer trapped in a wheelchair who solved cases during cross-examination in court of the unlikely suspect.
And that’s the one the publishers loved.
So The King’s Indian will be The Poisoned Pawn from here in on. I’ll save the name, The King’s Indian, for some other book: after all, my new character, Charlie Pike, will be around for a while and it’s always easy to work a chess strategy into a narrative. (Not that I play chess, but then again, I don’t know anything about opera either.)
Some of my friends on Facebook really don’t like the new name but I think it will grow on them. The important thing, though, and it’s one my brother, Mike, reminded me of when I last saw him is that it’s not the name of the book that’s important. It isn’t the title that becomes the brand, it’s the author.
Ian Rankin has written over twenty books: I can only remember the name of one, Knots and Crosses. Same with James Lee Burke. Of his thirty-odd novel, I think I can remember the names of perhaps two or three. I can’t even keep the J.K. Rowling books straight when it comes to names.
So as long as my name appears prominently on the cover, I think we’ll be fine. Speaking of covers, I have no idea what they’ll come up with now, but I’ll keep you posted. Now, back to copy-edits and real estate!