Do Judge A Book By Its Cover

There is an inherent hypocrisy in the request of a writer to not judge a book by its cover. Let me elaborate. Everything happens in context. A writer writing a book is like a clam producing a pearl. Some stimulus has created the need for a response. Writers write to be read, or rather we write so that those who read our words derive some direct benefit from them. That means that everything we choose to put in a book (and that includes the title) is there for a reason.

This brings me to “The Sniper Mind”. When I first came across the body of research that looked deep into the minds of snipers as they juggled all the variables that go into the making of a shot and judged whether or not to pull the trigger, my working title was “The Sniper Moment”. I was thinking, at the time, that the person behind the gun was not only pulling all the variables around him into a critical moment where he’d have to make a decision under the most difficult circumstances imaginable but he also was, at the moment in time, totally “in the moment” in a Zen sense of the word.

It took me three years to get from the early stages of neuroscientific research to the point where I was deeply familiar with the concepts and the dynamics involved and had spoken to dozens of snipers about their skills and mindset and philosophy of life. In that time two things happened. The book “American Sniper” was published to some controversy and a lot of success and it was followed up by a film that only seemed to feed the controversy around the subject of snipers and what they do, and the research being done by neuroscientists expanded to include fighter pilots, ordinary soldiers, baseball players, basketball players and gamers.

The brain, it seems, only has so many circuits to help us make a decision and they are the same irrespective of whether you are a sniper or a gamer, a fighter pilot or a baseball player. As the research hours accumulated and the sniper interviews piled up I could have chosen to call the book any number of alternative names: “The Thinking Business Mind”, “The Decider”, “The Controller” and (at one time a favorite of mine) “The Mind in the Machine”.

None of them would have worked quite as well as “The Sniper Mind”. Why not? Well, if you’ve read the alternative titles above, however evocative they may be you already know they don’t throw up the same visceral response. And I already know what you’ll say because the discussion came up as I explained my reasoning to the marketing team of my publisher whose role is to play devil’s advocate in these matters. “Sniper” is an evocative image. Hugely romanticized by the popular press it is also often vilified by it. So in terms of impact, love it or hate it, it would be unlikely to leave those who came across it indifferent.

And by adding the dimension of “mind” a term that is in itself frequently misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented, the title acquired the kind of ambivalence that sparks off the reader’s perceptions and creates a reaction.

Now, you will think, didn’t I just say that the love/hate think was 50-50? Does that not mean that perhaps by going with this I would be A. Consciously alienating a large portion of my potential audience and B. Maybe eschewing a female readership at a time when most book buyers are women and the publishing trade itself is experiencing a crisis?

These are all valid questions. If I were a better marketer, or rather if I were the kind of marketer who only wants to sell books I would have titled this one: “Twelve steps to becoming smarter, sexier and more successful” which, in a sense, is what this book is with each one of its chapters. Now I didn’t and here are the reasons why: First, I too came into this area with some preconceptions of my own. Second, in interviewing so many snipers over such length of time I came to appreciate the stoicism that characterizes them which makes them such easy targets to vilify.

No book is without intent that exceeds the specific remit of its content. This one is no exception. Sure, I want each reader to pick it up, finish it and walk away feeling smarter, more empowered and more capable than ever before. But I also, really, want more than that. If we are truly to be worthy of the evolution of our powerful brains we should also understand how biases blind us and heuristics make us prone to snap judgements.

If we are truly worthy of the future we must then understand that no human being is any better or any worse than any other. That we are all, at core, the same, separated by training, circumstances and environmental pressures and guided by choices. What makes us who we are, lies in the choices we make under sub-optimal conditions.

Wrapped up then in “The Sniper Mind” allure that the title conjures for some is the need for a deeper conversation about the righteousness of armed conflict, the responsibility we bear when decisions to go to war are made in our name by those we have chosen to govern us, the orthology of what we think we understand by the words “The Sniper Mind” and the debt that all of us, undoubtedly, owe to every man and every woman who picks up arms and goes into battle.

I know, that’s a tall order. We have to start from somewhere and this book is an unusual one in that it crosses over into many areas making it hard to pin down but, hopefully, easier to talk about. And we need to talk about all it covers. The subtext of its context and the revelations of the research that backs up its premise.

Having the title it has now is my conversation gambit. You see now why it’s hypocritical to say “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? The cover (and its title) is very much part of the writer’s intent. The book’s aspirational premise. So go ahead, judge it (if you must) but be prepared to talk about it too. After all, judgment without any conversation is like a book without readers: it’s a construct that only strokes the ego of its creator and then for a short while only.

And we ought to be better than that.

The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better Decisions
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Published on October 30, 2017 10:02 Tags: book-title, cognition, cover, motivation, social-conversation, the-sniper-mind
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David Amerland on Writing

David Amerland
Writing has changed. Like everything else on the planet it is being affected by the social media revolution and by the transition to the digital medium in a hyper-connected world. I am fully involved ...more
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