MaxBarry.com
on sale now

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Sat 14
May
2011

Day of the ‘Stache

Machine Man Last week I asked which Machine Man cover concept you liked best. And there were all kinds of opinions. But once I nerded up and crunched the numbers*, it became clear. You like the ‘stache.

Here are the covers in question. If you’re not seeing a graph, try this. If you are, and you enjoy playing with graphs, you can click site names in the legend to add and remove them. I mention that because it’s awesome fun.

I separated votes by domain because there were interesting differences depending on whether you responded on my site, Reddit, tumblr, or Facebook.

Observations:

  1. In all cases, Cover #5 (Victorian-era dude with enormous ‘stache) was most popular. This was a surprise because I’d thought it was just too weird. In retrospect, I was probably headed for that trap of trying to imagine what other people might like, which is always a sure path to something conservative and uninteresting. So this was a handy reminder to not do that. Many people responded very positively to the originality of this design and were turned off by the same-ness of some others.
  2. Cover #3 (Millions o’ Parts) was least popular. This was lucky, because it was the design that started this whole debate with my publisher, and if it turned out that people actually liked it best, I would have been an asshole. The votes also seemed to back up my thesis that it appealed more to arty types than geeks, with it being quite popular on tumblr but abhorred on Reddit (where there were actually more negative comments than positive ones).
  3. Covers #4 (Smoking Capacitor) and #6 (Smoking Processor), which were deliberately similar to the style of my previous covers in Jennifer Government and Company, were a lot more popular with people who knew that (i.e. people on maxbarry.com and my Facebook page).
  4. Reddit liked Cover #2 (the Robot) a great deal, practically as much as the ‘Stache. I suspect this is due to an affection for retro robots (something I share). A few people observed that it was less true to the story than #5, though.
  5. Cover #1 (Pixelated Guy) I think suffered from a general feeling that this kind of thing had been done before. It was seen as pleasant but not particularly arresting.

If you were wondering, covers #3 and #6 were designed by Vintage, cover #4 by me, and covers #1, #2, and #5 by up-and-coming design superstar Matt Roeser. I didn’t mention that earlier to avoid prejudicing votes.

Comment of the week, from G Lainagier:

In numerical order: Couplandesque cubicle farce, Rankinesque steampunk, Kathy Lette tries something new, Tom Clancy for the kids of today, what you wrote, what you might write but not really this.

I also enjoyed seeing Caleb’s battle against indecision, as he transitioned over the course of three comments and several hours from saying #6 was terrible to liking it the best.

I forgot to mention earlier that most of these covers were concept sketches, not finalized designs. With #5, for example, a few people criticized the machine legs, which were only supposed to be placeholders. I’m now working with Matt and the publisher to refine that. I promise you, those legs will be awesome. Also: the ‘stache stays.

Thank you again to everyone who helped out with this. You are the burning propulsive mass beneath my rocket boots.


* Nerd details: I assigned a weighting to expressed preferences: 3 points for most preferred, 2 points for any second preference, down to -2 for last preference, if one was mentioned. When people said they liked multiple things equally, I alternated entering them in the order listed or in reverse. To allow opinions on different sites to be compared, despite very different numbers of respondents (about 260 on maxbarry.com, 390 on Reddit plus a thousand-odd votes, 70 on tumblr, and 50 on Facebook), I scaled the results: the most popular choice is scored as 1,000 and other covers based on their relative popularity on that site. A cover exactly half as popular as the top choice, for example, on whichever site, has a column exactly half as tall. Note that this exaggerates a single person’s vote on Facebook and tumblr: the Reddit and maxbarry.com columns represent many more people’s opinions.

On Reddit, where users can endorse another person’s comment by upvoting it, I multiplied the score of each comment by the number of upvotes. But since users can upvote multiple comments, even comments saying the same thing, I took the square root of each result in order to minimize the exaggeration that would have otherwise occurred. (Without this, the more popular covers on Reddit appeared wildly more popular.) When highly upvoted comments expressed equal preferences for multiple covers, I assigned equal scores, rather than relying on the averaging nature of the alternating system mentioned earlier.

Comments

This is where site members post comments. If you're not a member, you can join here. There are all kinds of benefits, including moral superiority!

Machine Man subscriber Stygian Emperor (#2947)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "Hope is but the first step down the path to disappointment."
Posted: 1170 days ago

I'm just so glad those legs aren't final.

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 1170 days ago

a) you shoulda told me those legs weren't final.
b) got damn you're good at math. i thought writers sucked with numbers.
c) whatever happened to just eye-balling it? :)
d) i hate people who can write words and calculate numbers equally well.

Machine Man subscriber Roger (#1653)

Posted: 1170 days ago

Um..err..

Damn math.

Interesting observation of how opinions varied from site to site. In hindsight though, it should have been obvious 'Stache Man would win.

Billy McMahon (#4690)

Location: Variable
Quote: "revolution"
Posted: 1170 days ago

Alas, I was a fan of #4.

At least the legs are changing. I'll be getting the book anyway.

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1170 days ago

Kerouac said "first thoughts, best thoughts " Max you are becoming exaggeratedly over analytical - an artist is always personal [the world, according to me] aka "publish and be damned"

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1170 days ago

There's a place for "first thoughts, best thoughts." There's also a place for obsessive analysis. I'm not always sure where those places are. I should crunch some numbers.

Machine Man subscriber Stygian Emperor (#2947)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "Hope is but the first step down the path to disappointment."
Posted: 1170 days ago

Soon there won't be any numbers left.

Machine Man subscriber Adam Willard (#4231)

Location: Madagascar
Quote: "What unseen pen etched eternal things in the hearts of humankind... but never let them in our minds?"
Posted: 1170 days ago

Yeah, impressive math. But I have to say, anytime I see any sort of poll or opinion asker, I always secretly hope for some by-the-numbers, multiple-perspective analysis of the results. I'm VERY pleased you provided it.

I still like #3, in terms of character of the book (the daily book version, that is), but that was a tough choice for me over #5 and that was based on #5's legs not being good. So, when you change them, I may decide I like #5 better than #3. And I'm glad you're keeping the 'stache... that's definitely a great part of it.

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 1170 days ago

Yay it's the one I chose! However none of them are terrible. I like them all, even #3

Stasey Norstrom (#4989)

Location: The Yanqui Northwest
Quote: ""Alice was tired of being dead." - Wonderland"
Posted: 1170 days ago

I think it would be kinda cool to somehow put out multiple covers. Maybe a limited slip-case and then a hardcover and then a trade paperback, all of which had different covers.

I still think #3 was the best choice for non-fans of yours.

But I'm just one of those arty types. Damn artists.

Grant Henninger (#5430)

Location: Anaheim, CA
Posted: 1170 days ago

It really shouldn't be a surprise that the mustached man won right now. That iconography of the days of yesteryear, where men were barrel chested and had awesome facial hair, is quite popular right now. Just see artofmanliness.com/ or Mumford & Sons.

Machine Man subscriber Marleen (#2741)

Location: Berlin, Germany
Quote: "I want more expensive shoes in one place than I've ever seen in my whole life."
Posted: 1170 days ago

I am very glad #5 won! It didn't look like it would when I read the facebook comments!

Oh yeah, and reading your analysis and explanation of methods used made me a bit... is there a polite term for horny? Horny for science.

Okay, I'm going now.

Machine Man subscriber Yannick (#3858)

Location: Heist, Belgium
Quote: "he reads things"
Posted: 1169 days ago

Max has it all; a way with words, math skills, a family, a successful career... Well, everything except hair.

;)

It's a shame #1 didn't win, but that won't stop me from buying Machine Man immediately when I can!

Machine Man subscriber coolpillows (#3749)

Location: new york general sort of vicinity
Quote: ""It's not working" -- Joseph Clark"
Posted: 1169 days ago

I think it's time to vote on how Max explained his scoring methodologies. (N.B. These evaluations are not reflective of the actual math because I don't really know what the hell he's talking about.)

The opening with its use of "expressed preferences" & "weighting" made it sound like Max just counted votes he liked more because he liked the votes

Next, I like the idea of "liked multiple things equally" had a curious zen-like quality to it and almost made sense. But then the part about counting those votes alternately made it sound like he was counting "1, 2, 3" and then "3, 2, 1" ... That's still 3 numbers, right?

I really like the use of a total score of 1,000 because 100 has less zeroes and it's just so "percent" sounding. We've all seen the percent thing so many times. Brilliant Max.

But my favorite is the part about Reddit. The use of the term "upvoting" without the quotes reflects a respect of the reader's awareness of the Reddit's system. Further the italics on "multiple" helped comprehension. And finally applying the square root to the equation topped off the whole sequence. I have no idea why the square root would be applied except that whenever the phrase is used in any discussion regarding numbers it brings the expression to another level entirely.

Whatever happens If the publisher doesn't eat this stuff up, they should go back to business school.

ryandake (#2199)

Location: scenic monterey, ca
Quote: ""The rest is not our business.""
Posted: 1169 days ago

hey max, you not only win the most awesome novelist/screenwriter/number-cruncher-of-the-week award, you also implement an awesome chart.

how'd you do that? inquiring geeks want to know.

Gregory (#1530)

Location: Forest Hill
Quote: "I think therefore I am, I think"
Posted: 1169 days ago

Max, Max, max.
Do you actually think we believer you?
After the FIFA World Cup debacle, the corruption of the Eurovision voting and Collingwood being robbed by the umpires? Thsi has the hallmarks of Roswell all over again.

Machine Man subscriber Randy (#2374)

Location: Ravena, NY
Quote: "I could write a book about being lazy. I just don't feel like it."
Posted: 1169 days ago

As the saying goes,you can't judge a book by its cover. #5 didn't do anything for me because of the man (I actually liked the temp legs). Regardless, I'll be picking it up.

Brittany O. (#1688)

Location: Montana
Quote: "My love calls me Boom..."
Posted: 1169 days ago

Sorry but what a total dissappointment.
They say people judge books by their covers. I love the cleanness of the all white cover with one catchy object, not #6.

Brittany O. (#1688)

Location: Montana
Quote: "My love calls me Boom..."
Posted: 1169 days ago

Meant #5 and still question it.

Machine Man subscriber tim (#3234)

Location: chattanooga, TN, USA
Quote: """
Posted: 1168 days ago

Is this really being published as a paperback? Haven't all of your books been released in hardback? That's a step backwards, right? Kind of like a movie going straight to video?

Machine Man subscriber Lossenelin (#3167)

Location: Christchurch, New Zealand
Posted: 1168 days ago

that is some impressive math there Max

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1168 days ago

I didn't mean to frighten or arouse anyone with the math. Stop looking at me like that.

@coolpillows: You're teasing me but I can't help it. The square root is helpful because of this: say there were 10 Redditors and 7 liked Cover A best and 3 liked cover B best. If I'm accurately measuring that situation, I should find that 70% prefer A and 30% prefer B. But since on Reddit you can both post a comment and upvote everyone who agrees with you, there may be 7 comments saying A, each with 7 votes, and 3 comments saying B, each with 3 votes. That looks like A wins 49 points (7x7) to 9 pts (3x3), or 84% to 16%, which is exaggerated. Taking the square root brings it back to 7 vs 3. That's an idealized example but a fair approximation of what happens on Reddit, I think.

@ryandake: I made the graph with Highcharts www.highcharts.com. I bought a license to use on NationStates a while ago. Because it's sexy.

@tim: Yep, it's a paperback original. The hardcover/paperback thing has pros and cons. HC has more prestige and is sometimes essential in order to get reviewed, PB sells more copies (because it's cheaper). Often genre stuff comes out in PB and literary stuff in HC. In this case the publisher felt it would work better as in paperback. I'm not exactly sure why. But hopefully it means the book can sell strongly and even poor college students can afford it.

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1167 days ago

Max, it occurs to me that a sequel to "Machine Man" could be titled "Numbers Man" where an obsession with analysis would be the transforming apparatus

ryandake (#2199)

Location: scenic monterey, ca
Quote: ""The rest is not our business.""
Posted: 1167 days ago

thanks much, max! it is very sexy, full of geek-attracting pheromones.

Celeste (#2590)

Location: St.L. MO, USA
Quote: "You can't child-proof the world, so world-proof the child."
Posted: 1165 days ago

Max, I'm impressed that you can do the numbers. I just graduated with my Associates degree in Fine Arts, I managed to study very hard to get a B in College Algebra to get that (just before my 49th birthday) and you lost me. But it sounds like you know what you are doing. You would impress the boss in Dilbert, I think.

You're on Facebook? I need to go friend you now. And, oh, amazing author of the Near Future who wrote an online book that is now going to be available on paper: Is it going to be available on Nook? My plans for the future Including owning less physical objects: but if I own a Nook, I dont have to stop acquiring books- and I want to acquire all of yours. Just checking them out from the library is not enough.

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1164 days ago

Hi Max - saw this amazing report on a guy in Vienna whose had his hand removed [claw-hand] and now he's waiting for his superior bionic hand. They interviewed him in hospital, says he is looking forward to the advances in bionic replacement, suggesting he'll trade in with the improved models - wonder what Charlie would say, ultimately truth is stranger than fiction or maybe its the other way around, whadda you think?
Regards S.

Morrison (#5340)

Location: Europe
Posted: 1152 days ago

Why not release the book in Europe?

Comments are now closed for this post.

Built on Blosxom