On the 19th of August 2010, Diane, my agent, wrote back to me that she personally liked my suggested title Shibboleth, but felt that it was difficult to pronounce.  She said that the title needed to be catchy and memorable.  Although this wasn’t an outright negative, I decided to give it some more thought and not yet put the suggested title to Kate, my editor.  In the meantime got on with writing the book. (I had already written two chapters in four days and felt that the going was good.)

On the 27th of August, I wrote to Diane again, proudly boasting that I was ahead of schedule with the writing and suggesting that maybe we could get HarperCollins to bring out the book in April to coincide with the Jewish festival of Passover.  I thought that as the book was about a conspiracy concerning Moses and the Biblical Exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt that this would be particularly appropriate.  But Diane pointed out that the significance of the suggested date had to be balanced against the fact that Summer was a better slot than Spring, although she agreed to run the idea by Kate for a second opinion.

I continued working on the book and then on the 15th of September I got an eMail from Kate that the Avon team had been having discussions on the title and their favourite was The Sacred Sign.  I felt a little put out because it seemed that a decision had been reached before I was given a chance to offer any input.  There was nothing essentially wrong with The Sacred Sign (although I suspect it was an attempt to ride on the coat-tails of The Lost Symbol), but I felt that I should have been given a chance to offer a few suggestions before it got to the group discussion stage.

I wrote back explaining my feelings and offering the title Shibboleth, along with my argument about it being unknown but enigmatic, like The Tesseract.  I also suggested that my non-de-plume for the new project be Abe Phillips.  Kate wrote back promptly that Shibboleth and my other suggestions didn’t really work, but agreed that the nom-de-plume was okay and agreed to put it to the team.

There followed a brief exchange in which I pushed gently for my preference, but Kate held firm.  The gist of Kate’s argument – which in retrospect makes perfect sense – is that the title should be clear and straightforward.  In particular, she pointed out that The Tesseract, which I had offered as an example, was an exception – a word-of-mouth hit in the era before the supermarkets packed such clout in the book retail market.  Furthermore, the Avon list specialized in selling through the supermarkets.  Our discussions spilt over into the question of whether we should be so heavily reliant on the supermarkets, especially as they have little patience for slow-burners.  But as Kate pointed out, we have to operate within the existing market and the supermarkets do pack the most clout.

The exchange was good-natured, but it was clear to all of us that the differences were far from resolved.  Wanting to find some common ground, I suggested a book giveaway on Goodreads before publication, to get some pre-publication reviews and generate some buzz in advance.  Two days later I went to Israel for two weeks, for the Jewish festival of Succot and three days into my visit, after clearing my head in the fresh Jerusalem air, I wrote to Kate again explaining that having thought about it, I was warming to the title The Sacred Sign.  This was partly because I had been thinking about the cover design and I had come up with the idea of a snake coiled around a pole (called “the Rod of Asclepius” by the ancient Greeks, but also associated with Moses and with the pharmaceutical industry).

Imagine my surprise then, when Kate wrote back to tell me that she had been reconsidering and had now decided that the title The Moses Tablet was fine after all!  It seems that we were like ships that pass in the night… never quite meeting.

In paralel with this, the discussions about my pen name were continuing.  In addition to Abe Phillips, I was offering various alternatives like Phil Abrams and Maurice Palmer – the latter a pun on Michael Caine’s real name of Maurice Mickelwhite and the character Harry Palmer whom he played in the films of several Len Deighton books.  They liked the  surname “Palmer” but thought that “Maurice” was a bit weak, suggesting Michael Palmer as an alternative.  I liked this, but a quick web check revealed that there already was a Michael Palmer writing thrillers in America and he was still active.  But as we all liked the surname, I suggested keeping it and using the first name Adam – the Biblical First Man.

Kate agreed and so now – just a few days before I was due to go to Israel for the Jewish festival of Succot – we had a title (The Moses Tablet) an author’s “name” (Adam Palmer) and a cover designer working on some ideas, one of which I had suggested myself.

What we didn’t know was that there already an Adam Palmer and that he had written a critique of the Da Vinci Code – the prime example of the very genre that I was trying to break into.

 

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