Some pretty interesting discussions going on today about whether writers reviewing other writers constitutes conflict of interest. Another interesting bit of the discussion is whether reviewers who are slammed for their reviews should take it lying down, and whether honest reviews do anything for the credibility of the genre. Blame HelenKay for starting it all. Other pertinent discussions are going on at Monica Jackson’s blog, Lee Goldberg’s blog, Shannon Stacey’s blog, Alison Kent’s blog, Booksquare and Riemannia.
OK first things first: Writers reviewing writers, is this a conflict of interest?
I think it depends on lots of things. The genre of the book. Whether the reviewer has an axe to grind with that genre. Whether the reviewer has an axe to grind with the author he’s reviewing. Lots of things.
Do I think an author can review another author fairly? Absolutely. I think Tod Goldberg did so for Rainbow Party, for example, and I think Wendy and HelenKay have done so on their Paperback Reader website, even if they’re so damn wrong about The Real Deal. (Because in my world? I am always right, and therefore, the answer to “How badly did The Real Deal suck?” should always be “Massive, unwashed, hairy, sweaty donkey balls, my dear.” And yeah, I’m STILL the only person on the Internet that I know of who’s written a negative review of this book. It’s so hard to be the arbiter of all that is good and right and tasteful, but I do try.)
(By the way, if you can’t spot the sarcasm in the last parenthetical remark, I suggest you try harder.)
I mean, seriously, if I wrote a book, and it sucked massive donkey balls (or even smaller, more moderately-sized donkey balls), I could only DREAM of getting a negative review as polite and measured as what is dished out by Wendy and HelenKay. I’d probably cringe a lot more at the thought of being reviewed by someone like Mrs. Giggles, but if it’s funny… I forgive a lot if it makes me laugh.
Another excellent critique of an author’s work by another author? Those of you who have been with the site from the beginning can probably guess who and what I’m going to bring up now… Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.” God, I love that essay.
Have other authors reviewed other authors unfairly? Hell fucking yeah. Curtis Sittenfeld’s NYT review of Melissa Banks’ The Wonder Spot, for example, struck me as unduly disdainful and rather suspect, given the squeamishness she displayed about chick lit. Jennifer Weiner rips Sittenfeld a new one in a very entertaining manner for that review.
But I’m not going to automatically write off all authors as reviewers simply because they’re authors. As with most things in life, I prefer to look at this on a case-by-case basis. Dismissing all authors as unreliable reviewers would be like dismissing Christian biologists simply because they believe in God.
And now, on to the other thing that interests me: should reviewers whose reviews are reviewed take it lying down?
That depends. If the reviewer did a shitty job in the first place, then yeah, she should take the lumps. (Again, ref. Sittenfeld, Curtis.) If the reviewer reviewed the book fairly, and the review of the reviewer’s job was also fair, then I would call that grounds for an excellent reasoned, passionate debate. But then I’m one of those freaks who enjoys a good debate.
But if the reviewer reviewed the book fairly, and the review of the reviewer’s job was NOT fair (like some of the e-mails David Kipen received regarding his review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, or some of the hate mail Mrs. Giggles receives), then shit, gloves are off baby. Let’s see some fucking BLOOD. Or at least some really, really good snarque.
As for whether honest reviews do anything for the credibility of the genre: I sincerely believe they do. Honest discussion—brutally honest discussion, even—can only do good. People who refuse to review any books except those they like are, in my opinion, lying by omission. Honest reviews and discussions are one step, and a small one of many, but it’s something.
By the way, just in case you’re wondering: I don’t particularly think Smart Bitches is doing anything for the credibility of romance one way or another. For one thing, it’s pretty hard to take a website with “Bitches” in the title seriously. For another thing, we’re way too potty-mouthed and irreverent for us to improve the image of romance for sticklers. For another other thing, Sarah and I set out to have fun and make some noise, not have some kind of impact or carry some kind of message, unless that message is “We like to use the words ‘balls,’ ‘ass’ and ‘fuck’ a lot.” Well, OK, we were pretty tired of how goddamn polite people in the romance community were, with the glorious, bawdy exception of Mrs. Giggles, and we were also tired of the misconception of how romance readers are teh stupdi.
This is to clear things up for Shannon, who seems under the impression we’re doing this for the traffic.
The traffic and the readership we currently have is a major, major bonus, mind you, and I’m not complaning. To this day, we’re mystified at how any of youse stumbled across us, ‘cause we sure as shit didn’t bother advertising our presence, just kept posting our snark and shaking our heads at the people who Googled “Dominican bitches” and kept finding us instead. We’re glad you’re here though, even if you initially came here for the Dominican babes.
That should be part of our slogan. “Smart Bitches: Come here for the Dominicans, Stay for the Man-Titty.”