This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Just Answer the Question

            Every so often you set out to get an answer to one question and end up learning something else altogether. Something like that happened to me a couple of weeks ago, when I was attempting to finalize the cover of my fourth mystery novel.
            The cover image, which I conceived and developed with the help of a very good graphic designer, was to show a football field at night, with a lone pompon lying forlornly in the foreground, suggesting a missing cheerleader. It’s a simple enough concept in concept, but it took several attempts before I was satisfied that the pompon was immediately readable as a pompon.
            If readers look at a book cover and go, “eh?” when they see it, that is not something that is likely to increase sales. So, given the downside of being wrong, I decided to get a few more opinions on how well the pompon image worked before I put it out there on Amazon.

Unscientific, But Telling

            I had the cover image as a jpg and decided to email it around to a few friends to see what they thought. I settled on three men and three women and sent it out to everybody at the same time.
            In the covering email, I simply said that I’d like them to look at the book cover and tell me in a line or two what they saw in it. It seemed to me like a straightforward and unambiguous request, and I really wasn’t prepared for what came back.
            Two women and two men replied within a couple of days, and the responses were clearly differentiated by gender. Both the women wrote that they saw a football field with a pompon on it, which was the answer I was hoping for. The men, on the other hand, looked at it completely differently.

What’s the Catch?

            Both of the guys, interestingly, regarded it as a trick question, and in their response tried to point out what they thought was the hidden flaw in the picture, without making any attempt to describe the picture, which is what I was asking them to do.
            One of my friends thought that the bench behind the football field shouldn’t have been there. Another thought he saw someone peeing in the trees in the background. Both of them said they weren’t completely sure of it and didn’t know whether they had registered the trick in the photo.  Neither response was any help to me in terms of getting a confirmation or denial as to whether the pompon registered.
            One of them subsequently wrote, in response to a followup question, that of course that was a pompon in the foreground. Since nobody had said they were wondering what that lump above my name was, I figured at that point that I was overthinking the matter and that the cover was fine. My friends helped me figure that out, certainly, but they also provided a valuable object lesson in yet another way that women are from Venus and men are from Mars.