The Life Changing Magic of MTurk


I've been having a really hard time coming up with a title for my upcoming book. 

It turns out that a lot of work goes into putting out a book. Writing is really just one piece of the puzzle (who knew?).

Another significant piece of the puzzle is selecting a book title. 

There are many considerations such as:

  • Does the title have an emotional pull and make you want to read it?
  • Can the Amazon search engine find it?
  • Is it also optimized for Google search?
  • Can you fit enough Amazon keywords into the title so that its search bots can find it BUT also write it in a way where it doesn't seem frankenstonian?
  • Is the title in line with other books in your genre but also distinctive enough?
  • Does it accurately represent the content of the book?


Yesterday, I decided to sit at my desk and to not get up until I thought of a few potential titles.

...A few hours later, I had 10 titles and THE WORST headache.

The thought of having to actually narrow down to 1 ultimate book title from the 10 was a bit horrifying. 

So I did what any well trained researcher would do. 

I conducted market research.


First, I tried to use the site called PickFu, which came highly recommended from people well known in the publishing world. It is known as a super straightforward website for providing survey data from A/B testing.  This is what it looks like: 


Super straightforward to set up. 

But notice the $20 price tag just to compare two titles with 50 respondents. 

...I needed to compare 10 titles. What would that cost me?

untitled 2.png

For 8 title comparisons (the max allowed), it would cost $560.

WHAT. My head literally exploded. 

So I went to Amazon's Mechanical Turk. I recalled hearing about this service vaguely when I was in graduate school. (It sounded like one of those mechanical bulls you see people on tv riding in bars, but no, it's not). 

If you're not familiar with it, MTurk is:

"a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace enabling individuals and businesses to coordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do" (wikipedia). 

Basically, it is a site where you can post tasks like a short survey for people to do for super low cost. The idea is that people can do many different tasks within an hour to accumulate money. So even if a 3-question survey is 8 cents, they have 57 other minutes in the hour to accumulate and make money. 

So I created a survey using Survey Monkey (an old friend from graduate school days) and linked my MTurk task to it. It was a little tricky and counter intuitive to set up the MTurk task at first. 


Um..what. This is no PickFu.

But once I figured it out, it really wasn't that bad to use. 

First, Select Start a New Project --> Survey Link (see above)

Then, fill out this form. 


Reward per assignment: It was a bit tricky to figure out the market price of what to pay for the task. Based on what I saw of the posted tasks, it looked like 5 cents for a 1-5 minute task. 

Number of assignments per HIT: This means figure out how many mturk workers you want for your task.

Once you fill out the form, it brings you to the below page. It looks confusing, but basically it is where you design the MTurk instruction task page. All you do is replace the template text with your instructions and the template link to your Survey Monkey link.


The one tricky thing is that if you link to an outside survey service like survey monkey (versus designing a survey within Amazon's mturk itself which looked clunky), you have to figure out a way to validate that the MTurk worker actually completed the task. 

Based on my research, the best way to do this is to ask the MTurk worker to enter their Worker ID as the last question in the survey monkey questionnaire, and to also ask them to enter it into the mturk instruction website above. Then, when they have completed the task, you match their worker id number against the MTurk task record and release their payment if it matches.


I set up my market research survey and had results from 54 people within 20 minutes. 

For $6. 

In the battle of MTurk vs PickFu, I vote for MTurk.

This is what the survey data looked like. 

It was beautiful! (and bimodal).


I also received some interesting feedback from the suggestion box. 

I got some helpful suggestions that I hadn't thought of:


The Gift of Grief sounds much more poetic

10/31/2017 5:13 PM


I received some comments about length (agree):


All of the titles are incredibly long, maybe try shortening them.

10/31/2017 5:53 PM


I received some really sweet comments too:


Thank you for taking the time to put a book like this together to help others. In this day and age it seems like we all need some comfort in situations like this.

10/31/2017 5:42 PM


It is nice for people to have a book to help so they don't feel like the only one ever having a loss.

10/31/2017 5:37 PM


And I think I got my first fan.


i would buy this book

10/31/2017 5:53 PM


I heart you, MTurk.