Ask the Readers

So Candy and I got an email from a concerned reader regarding one of the covers we laid some snark on. Seems the author in question not only wrote the book, but also designed the cover. The concerned reader is also a friend of said author, and begged us to take it down before the author saw our comments and her work held up for ridicule.

Candy and I, to quote Candy, were nonplussed. On one hand, are we mean nasty people in real life? Shit no. We’re pretty snarky but we’re not going to kick your dog. We love dogs. And cats. We spend hours making our animals’ food, for crying out loud.

That said, do we want to take the review down? We’re a review site. As Candy pointed out, it’s a dangerous precedent – if we make someone mad with a review, if Emma Holly gets mad at me for saying I didn’t like “The Demons Daughter” and demands I take down the review, are we going to be able to do that? No. As Candy wrote to me, we’re not assessing effort here, we’re assessing aesthetics.

Now the reviews are our opinion; the covers we just find on Google images and say, “Whoa, damn hell.” However, we also know that the covers are (usually) the product of an art department and a marketing department’s thought of what readers want – and we’re happy to point out examples that show that the marketing surveys kind of missed the whole point of what readers want to see and be seen with. (Man titty comes to mind.)

But in the end, our point was to create a site where we could address romance as a genre worthy of individual review and critique, and have the room to say, “How the hell did that reach publication?” As Candy said, “This is not grade school. We are not obliged to play nice or hold hands and say ‘Good job!’”

I do sometimes think, when I write in response to a book I’ve finished, how harsh can I be in a review? I mean, this is someone’s work, and while I would like to point out flaws, I do worry that sometimes my over-reaching harshness will hurt someone’s feelings. *I* sure didn’t stay up until 4am writing the book, so is it really ok for me to use the words “Sucked Donkey Cock” in a review? For that reason, because I know how hard it is to write a novel, I do point out the favorable items and discuss salient points of solid writing or development. And people who have requested our reviews have thanked us for the balanced critique, saying it will make them better writers.

So in the interest of making a “better website,” we’re asking you: take the offending entry down? Or leave it there, and perhaps the author will find our site and be upset? What’s your opinion?


Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    This is a tough call, and I say that as a reviewer, a writer and a reader.  The only time I get upset with reviews of my books is when the reviewer makes a fact error.  Otherwise, I consider it a matter of taste, and I’m satisfied most reviewers get what I’m trying to say. 

    While I realize some covers are beyond the writer’s control, if an author designs a cover she should be prepared to face the music.  Over at AAR they just finished their “Worst Cover of the Year” contest and these were covers from major houses.  And they were howlers! 

    So I wouldn’t worry too much about being “nice”.  There are plenty of places for that—I’d rather have the honesty of the Smart Bitches.  As I told someone about one of your reviews of my books, a B- from Smart Bitches outranks a fluffy bunny review from someone who doesn’t seem to have a feel for what it means to honestly evaluate a novel.

  2. 2
    elise says:

    Leave it up.  Once you start editing the site to please a readership, it never ends.

  3. 3
    SandyO says:

    And of course, if you do remove the cover then we all know which author is responsible for which bad cover.

  4. 4
    Robyn says:

    The first thing a writer needs is a tough hide. I imagine an artist is no different. I know from experience that it is very hard to put your work out there and have someone shoot it down.

    You definitely don’t pull punches, but I’ve always found your reviews to be very specific- not “this book sucked,” but “this and this and this and that sucked and here’s why.” At least that’s something from which an author can learn.

    And I have to ask- if this author is familiar with this site, isn’t she forewarned that it can get snarky? Complaining about the treatment a cover gets here is like getting mad that you were ogled while working at Hooter’s.

  5. 5
    Arethusa says:

    I’m sorry author/artist but the cover really is bad. It would probably have been better for everyone if you (or the friend who sent the e-mail) left us with the impression that it was some faceless marketers who were responsible. As Sandy pointed out, they take it down now, and the situation becomes worse.

    I come to this site for the honesty, and not a single one of the negative critiques are done out of maliciousness in my opinion. Thems the breaks.

  6. 6
    cw says:

    Whoa damn, Darlene sort of said it all. Nice job! :)

    Leave it up. It’s public, and open to criticism and commentary.

  7. 7
    Beth says:

    Speaking as someone who occassionally worries she’ll one day meet Gaelen Foley and have to offer scads of kleenex and a pound of flesh – because I really, really, really hate to hurt people’s feelings – and who has been regularly devastated by such comparatively tiny negative comments (it took me like a month to get over someone telling me my book was “kinda depressing at that one part”), I gotta say: don’t take it down.

  8. 8
    Maili says:

    I agree with everyone. It’s your blog and you two can say whatever you like, as long as you are comfortable with the boundaries you set for this blog.

  9. 9
    PC Cast says:

    Leave it up.  You Smart Bitches write balanced, intelligent reviews.  If you don’t like a book you give a valid reason why.  The same thing holds with covers.  Don’t start pulling what you’ve posted.  The author should use this as a head’s up!  Please please please, poor little author – get some help with your covers!  If the Smart Bitches snarked your cover it’s because it truly sucked big ol’ dunkey dick. 

    Uh, Candy…Sarah…you do realize that we’re all DYING to know which cover it is, don’t you?

    Perhaps you should run a contest and let us guess!

    Ah, crap.  That’s probably too mean.  Nevermind.  Sorry.  Crap.  Karma’s going to kill me on this one.  My next cover will probably be filled with man-tittyhood and an open-mouthed bimbo whose hair is the wrong color.  Fuck.

  10. 10
    Saraswathi says:

    I agree with everyone else above.  For all we know, the author might have agonized over that cover for days and days, but once the book’s on the market, she has no control over what people say about it.  And if she screams and cries because one blog out there in the Internet doesn’t like her cover, then that’s her own problem. 

    Besides, show me a single book or book cover out there that that absolutely everyone loves.

  11. 11
    Jenny says:

    Leave that naughty puppy on your site. You are expressing your opinion, on your own personal website, and it’s not your job to make sure everybody is happy. If she sees your comments, then so be it. As a publishing author, she can hardly expect to read nothing but lovely remarks.

  12. 12
    Robin says:

    Fortunately or unfortunately, you can’t have your work enter the public realm without subjecting it to criticism. I don’t believe that anyone who writes for a living (as I do, so I know a little about this) has a thick enough skin NOT to be offended by criticism at some point.  But that’s the price we pay for wanting the adulation that can only come when we willingly and willfully submit our work to others, isn’t it? 

    Beyond the issues of free speech and self-censorship, which are not inignificant here, IMO, is the simple fact that your criticism of this author’s cover has also earned her some free publicity, and that for each person who hates said cover, someone else will likely find something appealing about it—even if it’s just out of curiosity.

    So you’ve found yourselves on the point of the double-edged sword; no one with strong opinions can escape offending or being offended.  A strong voice—whether yours or the author’s in question—will find itself on one side of the equation or the other.

  13. 13
    Jaynie R says:

    Leave it up dudes.  I get email every week complaining I’m mean about people, and I don’t even usually mention names.

    If you start censoring yourselves now, you’ll start wondering about every post.

    You guys do a fabulous job – you one of the most popular romance review blogs on the web.

  14. 14
    Jaynie R says:

    Oh crap – that will teach me for commenting before I look at the covers.  I know the author too – she is really really nice, and the book is fabulous lol.

    I still say leave it up though *g*

  15. 15
    Dawn B. says:

    Leave it up.  It is your site, your opinion and you are equally snarky to all who come by.  I say that as a wannabe writer who expects snarky reviews at some point.

  16. 16
    Monica says:

    Did the author/artist’s mother write that letter?  I’m wondering.

    Unless there are factual errors, or you’ve noticed whoaaaa-jesus bias on something that pressed your buttons, or somebody with lots of money is threatening to sue you, why take it down?

  17. 17

    oh hell, keep it. I know a few years from now, when I’m pubbed and my son has drawn my fab cover, I’ll regret this post.. but keep it.


  18. 18
    CindyS says:

    Another keep it up.  One of the books is an absolute keeper for me but I agree.  The cover completely freaks me out.  I bought the book due to word of mouth and I don’t know that I would have ever picked up the book to read the backblurb because of the cover.

    So yeah, covers have impact and I would think that even though it will hurt, the author in question may realize that her cover was not as conducive to selling her story as she may have wished.


  19. 19
    Karen Scott says:

    Are you kidding me?  As far as I’m concerned, if you put something out there publicly, you are asking for people to form opinions about it.

    You can’t pick and choose which kind of critiques you’re going to get.  Some people will like, others will think it’s sucky, that’s just life surely?

    As for not hurting the authors feelings, it’s not like you attacked her personally… you judged her work and found it wanting.  She should take the criticisms and perhaps learn from it, if she wants to.

    The actual author probably appreciated the feedback, and if not, tough titties!

    So basically what I’m saying is leave the damned review where it is! (g)

  20. 20
    charlotte says:

    Stand by your snark.

    While I empathize with the author´s plight, I feel we have to sensor ourselves and “play nice” more than enough in our daily lives, to the point where people are actually grateful when somebody finally stands up and says it like it is.

  21. 21
    RomaBabe says:

    If I want nice I’ll go visit some other website. Besides- as every one else has pointed out, you didn’t do this specifically to hurt someone’s feelings. You’re snarky but not malicious.

    BTW- any plans to do covers you do like? Puh-leese!!?

  22. 22
    AngieW says:

    I’m going to go against what everyone else said and say “You nasty Bitches, take it down and repent! You should always be considerate of someone’s feelings”

    Ha. Yeah, right. Anyone who knows me is laughing their ass off right now. Sarah, I was just thinking about this last night, about how I can be ultra-snarky sometimes when talking about a book on my blog (for instance, I am very disappointed in LKH and said so!) and how I’d feel if I was an author.

    The answer is, of course I’d be pissed and trash the reader/reviewer to all my friends ;) But that’s just me. On the ohter hand, I think I know enough about the publishing industry to expect that I’m going to have bad reviews, people who don’t like my cover art, people who just plain don’t like me. Of course, since I don’t plan on becoming an author, I don’t have to worry about that. Well, except the people who just plain don’t like me. But I rarely worry about that anyway.

  23. 23
    Sonja says:

    Leave. I think poking fun at a cover is WAY less crushing than poking fun at a book. Besides, who needs to be a writer AND an artist? That’s just too much talent for one person. Heheh.

  24. 24

    Censoring is evil.  Be what you are…

    Oh hey, yall snarked The Lotus Eaters cover.  Heh…the sword placement was on purpose to make you laugh.  If ya knew me, you’d know….anything for a laugh.

    Just keep it coming!

  25. 25
    HelenKay says:

    Whoa.  This isn’t even a close call.  Your little About section on the side says, “…who will always give it to you straight. No bullshit. No gushing—unless the author really deserves it.”  You gotta stick by that. 

    Some covers suck.  Some writing sucks.  Sure, it’s not easy to read if you’re the target (spoken from the viewpoint of a potential future target) but you guys have always kept it real and shouldn’t stop now.  There’s a reason the site isn’t called Lame Ass Bitches.

  26. 26
    Sarah says:

    Since I read through your unanimous comments, I’ve had “Stand by Your Man” stuck in my head – only it’s “Stand by your Snaaaaark!”

    Should we ever open a CafePress store, that might have to be a t-shirt.

    I’m glad you are all in agreement with us. I think our main pause was not so much, “Should we be nice?” but more, where is the line drawn between offering fair and incisive critique and acknowledging that as writers and readers of romance, we are supporters of one another’s efforts?

    Thanks for making sure we were seeing things clearly.

  27. 27
    Bam says:

    I like that you guys stick to your guns. You have integrity. You’re not crazy fan girls who gush and coo over a favorite author’s work even it “sucked donkey balls”.

    I agree with Robyn when she says a writer needs a tough hide. I also believe, however, that if a critic says that a book sucks the big one, he or she better be prepared to give the reasons why it did.

    That said, I think your cover reviews are awesome.

  28. 28
    emdee says:

    The person who wrote to you begging you to remove the cover of her friend’s book is not doing her friend a favor.  Criticism is part of life.  The author needs to get used to it and develop a tough skin or she’s going to allow herself to be hurt badly.  Her friend may think she’s helping but she’s not.

  29. 29

    I have to go with the majority here. I’ve had some reviews I thought were a bit harsh, and in some cases the review sites agreed, and removed them, but in most of them, they stood by their reviewers, because they have the right to express their opinion.

    As for the author also being the artist…we have a few folks who write for us who also have experience in graphic arts programs who will submit art as a suggestion. Our art department gives it a serious evaluation and says yea or nay. If nay, they offer suggestions on how to make it up to par. But it does have to be up to par to be used. No exceptions.

    Telling someone their work is good when it isn’t doesn’t help them, and sets them up for these kind of situations. And you have to take the insults with the compliments.

  30. 30
    fiveandfour says:

    I agree with everyone else here.

    Though I know there would be a part of me that would be hurt if I were in that author’s shoes, I think another part of me would have to appreciate knowing that I had literally turned people away from even giving my book a shot solely based on the cover.  That would probably be the thing that hurt more, come to think of it: knowing I was the one responsible for losing out on a larger audience for my story.

    Finally, I’m assuming pretty much *all* of the authors that have covers that are woefully bad also are relatively nice people with friends and family that are cringing on their behalf.  Is it kinder to let them go on in ignorance of why their sales aren’t what they could be?  I don’t think so.

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