Okay, it’s reader participation time, for any of you who are game!
Quickly – before you read any further (no cheating!) – glance at these two book covers. If you had just enough time to take a look inside only one of them, which one would it be, and why? Hold that thought, and after you finish reading, tell us your answer in the “Comments” section. Your feedback will make for interesting market-research data!
And now, A Tale of Two Covers…
You might think that a book’s title would be the first, and easiest thing to write, but you’d be wrong, at least in my experience. The first Body Farm novel’s title, Carved in Bone, came fairly easily. Title number two, Flesh and Bone, was also fairly easy. But after that, they got tougher. If you’ve followed the series, you’ve probably noticed that all six of the prior novels have “bone” or “bones” in the title – a way of giving some continuity to the series, and also of underscoring the emphasis on forensic anthropology: bone-detective work. But sometimes that’s been a stretch, especially with novel #5, Bones of Betrayal, which included a subplot about World War II espionage and treachery. It was one of my favorite books in the series, but my least favorite title; it seemed clunky and labored, and I’ve wished countless times that I’d argued more forcefully for the title I wanted, which was Fallout. But at that point we were still committed to a “bone(s)” title, so I lost the argument.
Fast-forward three books, to novel #7. My working title for the book was The Bones of Avignon. Avignon, France, was the book’s setting, and I liked giving the city – a spectacular walled medieval city – title billing. But the people in Sales at HarperCollins were worried. Will people know where Avignon is, and why it’s important? Will people even know how to pronounce it? (It’s “ah-veen-YON,” BTW, in case your French is as bad as mine is…). So we kicked around other titles – dozens of other titles. Among them: The Keys to the Kingdom. The Power and the Glory. The Shroud Conspiracy. The Babylonian Captivity. The Babylonian Conspiracy. The Omega Project. The Second Coming. The Blood-Dimmed Tide. The Ceremony of Innocence. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Slouching Towards Avignon. Crucified, Dead, and Buried. Our Daily Dead. There were problems with all of them: Too religious. Not religious enough (in view of the plot). Too obscure. Not exciting enough.
Finally we came up with The Inquisitor’s Key. “Inquisitor” seemed to suggest both religion and menace; “key” seemed to hint at a mystery that needed to be unlocked. Together (we hope!) the words are intriguing without giving much away. The cover art, I think, does a nice job of suggesting both the medieval religious backstory (thanks to the face framed by the oval of the key) and the modern-day setting of the main narrative (thanks to the glossy newness of the key). So that’s the skinny on the U.S. title and cover.
Meanwhile (such a handy word for storytellers, “meanwhile”!), work was proceeding apace on the British edition, which actually, for the first time ever, comes out shortly before the American edition. London is quite a bit closer to France, and to Avignon; the U.K. publisher felt reasonably confident that Brits would know where Avignon was, and wouldn’t be put off by the pronunciation. So although we offered the revised U.S. title, the U.K. publisher, Quercus (publisher of the year last year!) chose to stick with the original title, The Bones of Avignon. Their cover art took a more straightforward approach. It’s not really a spoiler to say that the main plot revolves around a momentous question: Could the ancient skeleton found hidden in the Palace of the Popes actually be the bones of Jesus, as the inscription on the stone box seems to suggest? “Lead with your trumps” goes one time-honored piece of card-playing advice, and in their cover design, the Brits followed that advice in spades.
So, there you have it, A Tale of Two Covers.
But forget all that, and remember instead your initial, impulsive answer to the question at the top of the blog: Which of these two books would you pick up, and why? Please tell us; inquiring minds want to know!