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Monday Midday Links: More YA Whitewashing?

First up is the non controversial good stuff. New Releases. We have the Coming Soon picture catalog ready for viewing.

The author promo thread and reader open thread are up and running.

Recent commentsWe brought back the “recent comments” feature. We took it down because it seemed to be slowing down the site so let us know if you see any difference.

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Forner books suggests that Google is filtering out the search results for torrents.

No Torrent and no RapidShare! And every related search I tried, including my name and other titles yielded the same result. Unless all of the individuals searching on Google have stopped using Torrent and RapidShare in queries, Google has decided to filter those results from the outcome. I welcome the change if it's permanent, though I'm sure some others will scream censorship. While most of the results relating to "free" or "download" will still lead to piracy sites, at least they aren't being presented as a "trusted brand" option.

When I do book links, I search by title and author and often the first page would show a few popular download sites. Now, I don’t see them even by going to pages 4 and 5 of the search results. I don’t really have a problem with this. These torrents and websites still show up by a keyword search of the file sharing website name but not if you search for a book title.

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acrosstheuniversecomparisonPhoebe over at ?Interrobangs! notes the cover changes on Across the Universe by Beth Revis, a book about interracial relationships at the YA level. The initial ARC had a person of color depicted but the final copy had all the distinctive features filed off.

As Courtney Milan noted in the comments at The Book Smugglers blog, it wasn’t just the photoshopping, but the race assumptions made by the choice of stock cover art:

Now that I've read the book, which by the way is amazing, what upsets me about this cover is that when told the protagonist is Not White, they reached for a stock photo of a black man.

Which Elder clearly is not.

He's brown, yes-a combination of a lot of races from Asian to black to white-but he's not black. There's even a point in the book when he does see a black woman, and he thinks to himself that she looks different: darker skin, kinky hair.

HELLO. There are, like, billions of people in this world who are neither black nor white. Some of them even have more than one race! Setting aside for now the problematic photoshopping (and I do that only because others have talked about the troubling implications), the choice of stock implies that all people of color can be lumped into one monolithic group. There's White, and there's Other.

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Christina Dodd has some musings about being a published author for twenty years. A few of them include admonishing readers to not write mean reviews and not letting professional envy inhibit you:

From my vantage point, everyone in publishing is doing better than I am. From everyone else's vantage point, I'm doing better than they are. The truth is somewhere in between -’ and an author who's published is not going to get any sympathy at all from an unpublished author who's written for ten years, finished three manuscripts and has twenty-five rejection letters. Believe me. I know. I was that author.

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

80 Comments

  1. GrowlyCub
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:14:27

    I’m really sick and tired of authors telling readers what they can and cannot do.

    Look, the ‘authors never to buy’ list has a new entry. Never read her before, now I never will.

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  2. Honeywell
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:19:33

    [quote]Phoebe over at ?Interrobangs! notes the cover changes on Across the Universe by Beth Revis, a book about interracial relationships at the YA level. The initial ARC had a person of color depicted but the final copy had all the distinctive features filed off.[/quote]
    Like the bulging forehead and chin? Good decision. That first picture looks more like someone with down syndrome or a bad reaction to shell fish or something–not ethnic at all.

    I’m not saying that publishers don’t routinely white wash their covers but maybe someone just took one look at the original cover and thought the same thing I did.

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  3. Ridley
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:22:59

    5. Some people write mean reviews. I don't read them.

    To me, that reads more as a “bad reviews happen, so don’t sweat it” than a “don’t write mean reviews.”

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  4. Some SF/R news « Contact – Infinite Futures
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:37:47

    [...] between ARC and release. This was first exposed at The Interrobangs, and further discussed today at Dear Author. This brings up marketing, racial attitudes, and white vs. Other, but though in some way I can [...]

  5. Janet P.
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:52:15

    [quote]4. Some readers simply don't like my writing. That's okay, everyone has their right to their own taste -’ as long as they don't write mean reviews about my books.[/quote]

    Well, she’s really not clear on what she considers a mean review to be so it is hard to say. There is likely a difference between a bad review and a mean review.

    I think it goes back to the idea of what is the purpose of a Book Review? Is it to stroke the author’s ego or is it to benefit potential readers in choosing books?

    A good reviewer (at least in my opinion) aims for the second.

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  6. Mike Cane
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:52:47

    >>>Forner books suggests that Google is filtering out the search results for torrents.

    I haven’t seen this. And I did a search jusy yesterday. For Research Purposes Only, you understand.

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  7. LoriK
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:53:47

    What does Dodd consider a “mean” review? Does “mean” = “negative”? If so, I’ve got a serious problem with her phrasing. If she’s talking about reviews that include ad hominem attacks or something then I think that’s completely fair.

    Full disclosure: I recently reviewed the 4 books in her Fortune Hunters series and the reviews were not good. (The grades were D, C-, DNF & C and I gave an overall D for the series—it really didn’t work for me). I was so annoyed by a couple of the books that the reviews were rather snarky. However, I confined my complaints to the books and had nothing whatsoever to say about Ms Dodd.

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  8. Phoebe
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:57:05

    Oh my, I’ve just been linked on my favorite book review blog.

    To those like Honeywell who argue that the person just looked fat, disabled, or whatever: if you read the original blog post, you can see that the original model was, in fact, a person of color. A pretty handsome one, if you ask me. Some weird assumptions built into our societal standards of beauty that have come out through this–ones I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear.

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  9. Annie
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 12:13:35

    Christina Dodd – I think it’s point number four I have trouble with. She says (paraphrase) not all readers will like her books, fine, as long as they don’t write mean reviews about her books.
    Does that mean anything negative? Seems like. What if you have to review her book and you don’t like the book, the story, the writing style, characters?

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  10. library addict
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 12:34:49

    Glad to see the recent comments feature is back.

    I have a problem with Christina Dodd stating people shouldn’t write “mean” reviews about her books, too. When will authors learn to just ignore the ones they consider bad/mean? If they really feel the need to comment, the standard “sorry this books didn’t work for few, hopefully my next one will” is the way to go IMO. Telling readers and potential readers how to act, not so much.

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  11. Joy
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 12:46:41

    I share the confusion about what a “mean” review is. To me, “mean” is some sort of personal attack on the author. Which I hope no one in review-land is doing. Do I write negative reviews? Yes. If a book is boring or a trainwreck; if it’s squick-worthy; if the characters behave in a way that makes no sense; if the anachronisms or other events are hanging my suspension of disbelief by the neck until it is dead–then I’m gonna say so. That’s nothing about the author personally. The author could personally be a cross between Gandhi and Mother Theresa. The author can also have written or in the future have a much better book in her. But I review the book I’ve read–nothing more, nothing less.

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  12. Aoife
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 12:51:45

    @Phoebe:

    The race of the original model is irrelevant, IMO. Elder is not any discernible race, which is kind of one of the points of the book. There are lots of examples of whitewashing covers, and I have been outraged by them in the past, but the cover changes on Across the Universe just don’t trip my outrage-ometer. The argument could be made that the newer cover better reflects the description of Elder that Revis wrote.

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  13. Joanne
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 12:52:11

    Forner books might consider that Bing is what many are using now instead of google.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for adding back the recent comments. It’s so much easier to follow the looooooooong threads with that feature.

    Could be that my new glasses aren’t what they should be but is everyone SURE that either or both of those two images for the Revis book are male?

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  14. Phoebe
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 12:59:08

    @Aoife Why is it that “no discernible race”=features that read white? I can’t help but feel that that plays off a racist assumption in our society that white characters are the racially unmarked characters and characters of color (which Elder is) are somehow declaring something about their race. If it doesn’t trip your outrage meter, that’s fine (though I think there is something offensive about photoshopping the cover model to obscure racial characteristics; it’s the very definition of whitewashing).

    This is something that Courtney Milan brought up in the ensuing twitter discussion, but the original image doesn’t look so far from say, this guy.

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  15. Author On Vacation
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:01:21

    “Christina Dodd has some musings about being a published author for ten years. A few of them include admonishing readers to not write mean reviews.”

    Jane, I would like to know from where in the blog entry did you receive this impression?

    I just read the complete entry, and I perceived it as very tongue-in-cheek humor.

    Regarding bad reviews, the only phrases I noted in the entry were the following:

    ” 5. Some people write mean reviews. I don't read them.

    4. Some readers simply don't like my writing. That's okay, everyone has their right to their own taste -’ as long as they don't write mean reviews about my books. ”

    I saw this as more spoofy/funny than an admonishment to “mean reviewers” or an attempt to tell readers what to do.

    There is a difference between “mean” reviews and “bad/negative” reviews. A “bad” review, if intelligently written, can be very valuable (both to readers AND to authors.) Most authors constantly strive to improve their craft and having a sense of what readers find “wrong” with their work can be helpful.

    A “mean” review, on the other hand, is just that. Mean. These are the reviews that occur when a reviewer is really peeved to the point any professional objectivity and sense of fairness is obliterated in the name of mocking, ridiculing, and roasting the book, the author, the publisher, and anyone else professionally connected to the book. While the review might contain valuable information, the “mean factor” robs it of credibility to anyone with the sense to know the difference

    Perhaps you could share your perspective a bit more in depth so I might have clearer understanding of you. Right now, your comment just sounds like you’re twisting another person’s remarks out of context for the sake of dramatic effect. I’m sure you would not intentionally do that, so please share what you really mean.

    Thanks.

    Re: “whitewashing” cover art

    I recall a previous DA love-in where everyone grouched about the cover art for the novel “Magic Under Glass,” claiming the female model wasn’t dark enough, ethnic enough, or whatever. I own the original copy and have no problem with the cover art since I understand the concept of racial variation. I recently looked up the new cover art and I can’t say the new cover model looks any darker than the original, although since the model faces forward, her ethnic features are more obvious.

    I’m sorry this is such a hot-button issue for so many people, but inaccurate character portrayal in cover art is a common problem for many books, not only for those featuring characters of color.

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  16. lucy
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:22:17

    Congratulations to Ms. Dodd on her longevity in publishing. That’s quite an accomplishment.

    Ms. Dodd seems to take negative reviews personally. I’d much rather read the world of a mature, objective author. Junior high school angst is unattractive past the age of 15.

    When will authors learn to leave reviews alone? They’ve written the book, it’s done, write another one or not, but move on.

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  17. Aoife
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:23:07

    @Phoebe:

    I never said that no discernible race = white. You said that.

    The world is full of people who are not “white” who are also not “black.” The second cover could depict someone who is Native American, Hispanic, East Indian, and so on, or any combination of those. Not everyone from Africa shares exactly the same features, and assuming that they do is a bit of a racist assumption in and of itself.

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  18. Jane
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:29:33

    @Honeywell wow, bulging forehead and chin in the original bespeaks of someone with down syndrome? I don’t even know where to go from here. If you look at the blog post by Phoebe, the original stock cover art depicted a handsome boy with tightly woven hair. Is this what Elder is according to the book? Not really. He has almond eyes, a narrow face with high cheekbones and a curved forehead. None of the photoshopping changes were done to create these elements but to, in my opinion, create a less racially distinctive character.

    I don’t give this cover a pass because of past behavior, particularly from the big chain buyers. Cindy Pon’s first title which featured a full fledged Asian girl on the cover was passed by chain buyers. In the paperback release, HC removed any visual clues that the protagonist was Asian. Of course, there is also a recent history of whitewashing. The change between the ARC and the finished copy (which can be expensive) speaks to me that buyers asked for changes and the cover art department responded with something more culturally bland.

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  19. Author On Vacation
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:30:10

    @lucy:

    [quote]When will authors learn to leave reviews alone? They've written the book, it's done, write another one or not, but move on.[/quote]

    That is Ms. Dodd is doing, isn’t it? Refraining from reading or crediting “mean” reviews certainly entails “leaving them alone,” doesn’t it?

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  20. Phoebe
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:40:48

    @Aoife: That’s fair–you didn’t say that no discernible race=white. However, the second photo, to me, does not look like someone who is Native American, East Indian, Middle Eastern, Sephardic Jewish, or any other ethnicity that is also not black. I also don’t think, of course, that all “not-white” people look like they come from a narrow window of African descent; I do, however, feel that the original picture better represents the character in the book, who was described with “a baby face,” “soft features,” and a “curved forehead” and whose physical differences as opposed to Amy’s were supposed to be distinctive enough to be noticeable.

    Anyway, bowing out now, though I do want to thank Jane for broadening the discussion.

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  21. Jennie M.
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:44:55

    @Aoife: I feel the same way. I don’t feel as if this is whitewashing. To tell the truth, the original man does not look like Elder’s description. I love the final version more than the original. This has nothing to do with the models though. I just like the stars added. The original cover looked plain in comparison. Anyway, there are covers who suffer worse whitewashing out there. An example is Cindy Pon’s Fury of the Phoenix. I am still disappointed with the fact that they changed the covers to white models.

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  22. lucy
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:53:58

    @Author On Vacation:

    Would you agree that the only way to know if a review is “mean” or not is to read it?

    I’m just saying that the highest and safest road is for an author to ignore the whole issue of reviews other than perhaps a gracious ‘thank you’ for glowing ones. Othewise, the risk is in coming across exactly as Ms. Dodd and others have done. It’s neither pretty nor becoming in a professional

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  23. Sean Wills
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:54:53

    @Aoife: The second picture leans very, very heavily towards being a white person. Sure, it’s possible that the publisher took a picture of a POC and changed it in such a way that just coincidentally made him look white, but I think that’s giving the people responsible far too much credit – especially given how accepted a practice whitewashing is in publishing.

    @Author on Vacation:

    There is a very big difference between a merely inaccurate cover and one that goes out of its way to show a non-white character as white. For decades, the UK editions of Terry Pratchett’s books have had wildly inaccurate (not to mention ugly) covers – and that’s laziness on the publisher’s part. But depicting a character who is explicitly meant to be non-white as white? That’s much, much worse, because it’s lazy and racist. For me, the latter completely eclipses the former.

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  24. Rachel
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:56:52

    The Dodd post is also a year old. Slow week for making much ado about nothing much?

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  25. Jane
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:58:56

    @Rachel: Was it? I just saw it the first time yesterday. I admit I am not a Dodd blog follower but someone tweeted the link yesterday and I thought it was relevant.

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  26. Author On Vacation
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 14:19:47

    @lucy:

    “@Author On Vacation:

    Would you agree that the only way to know if a review is “mean” or not is to read it?

    I'm just saying that the highest and safest road is for an author to ignore the whole issue of reviews other than perhaps a gracious ‘thank you' for glowing ones. Othewise, the risk is in coming across exactly as Ms. Dodd and others have done. It's neither pretty nor becoming in a professional … ”

    Rudeness is never becoming in any professional. Including reviewers.

    When I review books, I offer clear, specific reasons as to what worked or not in the book. I don’t roast the book/author/publisher. If an author takes my reviews as “mean,” they don’t have to read or regard them, it’s okay with me. And it’s okay with me if they say so.

    Regarding polite recs authors should just “shut up and write,” I offer a very wise quote from John Lennon, musician and political activist (caps added for emphasis):

    “It doesn’t matter about people not liking our records, or not liking the way we look, or what we say. You know, they’re entitled to not like us. AND WE’RE ENTITLED NOT TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THEM IF WE DON’T WANT TO, OR NOT TO REGARD THEM. WE’VE ALL GOT OUR RIGHTS, YOU KNOW…”

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  27. Honeywell
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 14:22:07

    @Jane: But I didn’t look at any other pictures just what’s posted here and all I see is a fat head.

    I don’t see an obviously black man being shooped to look white. That could very well be their motivation but just looking at what’s presented here that isn’t the conclusion I’d draw. And since, apparantly, the first picture also looks nothing like the character I definitely don’t see it.

    p.s.
    Not a racist or a bigot, btw.

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  28. Jane
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 14:22:28

    @Author On Vacation

    4. Some readers simply don't like my writing. That's okay, everyone has their right to their own taste -’ as long as they don't write mean reviews about my books. ”

    That is clearly an admonishment to not write a certain type of review and for many authors, a mean review is anything that is negative.

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  29. Jane
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 14:35:30

    @Honeywell So you see a fat headed or down syndrome person photoshopped into an attractive … character?

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  30. Author On Vacation
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 14:37:59

    @Sean Wills:

    “@Author on Vacation:

    There is a very big difference between a merely inaccurate cover and one that goes out of its way to show a non-white character as white. For decades, the UK editions of Terry Pratchett's books have had wildly inaccurate (not to mention ugly) covers – and that's laziness on the publisher's part. But depicting a character who is explicitly meant to be non-white as white? That's much, much worse, because it's lazy and racist. For me, the latter completely eclipses the former. ”

    Thank you for your candor. I’m afraid I don’t see a whole lot of difference. Racism isn’t a crime, although racist beliefs certainly indicate irrational reasoning processes.

    I’m also hesitant to label a publisher “racist” due to cover art decisions. Many factors figure into cover art decisions and I doubt the art company is filled with minority-loathing, racist people determined to consciously misrepresent the appearance of any minority characters.

    If a minority-hating hate group released literature with photos and illustrations of the actual minorities they hate, I would not assume such people were non-racist because the photos/illustrations portrayed “real” minority people with identifiable ethnic features and/or coloring.

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  31. Jane
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 14:47:39

    @Author On Vacation A publisher that intentionally obscures a person of color in order to gain more sales is just engaged in savvy marketing? I don’t think you have to be a racist in order to engage in racism.

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  32. Honeywell
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 14:54:47

    @Jane: Good grief, no. There’s still something off about the picture. Like the slanted forehead now and taking away the double chin just draws attention to the weird neck area. Before or after, I just don’t like it.

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  33. SylviaSybil
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 15:03:23

    @Honeywell and anyone else who thinks this is just an aesthetic decision, I’ve written a post explaining why this is so much more than just “fat/ugly”. http://www.whatifbooksetc.com/2011/01/cover-fail-across-universe.html

    About Christina Dodd, I shall certainly make it a practice of mine to avoid her books, out of courtesy for her and a desire to respect her wishes, since I have no intention of ever lying in my reviews. It’s not unprofessional to be negative, but it’s certainly unprofessional to be dishonest. My reviews are for readers, not authors.

    She could mean “mean” as ad hominem attacks, etc., but I usually see the phrase as meaning “negative” or even “less than glowing”. Since it is confusing, I’ll err on the side of caution.

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  34. Sean Wills
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 15:03:34

    @Author On Vacation: You don’t need to be a ‘minority-loathing, racist person’ to give in to a society which economically rewards depictions of white people and punishes depictions of non-white people. We are not ascribing intent to anybody involved with the decision to alter the cover.

    It’s certainly true that cover designers put a lot of thought into what they do, but what other reason could they have for making the changes that Phoebe pointed out? They didn’t need to make the model appear white, yet they did. Why they chose to do that, we’ll probably never know, but it’s certainly a fair bet that it stems from the (well-documented) way in which many white shoppers are turned away by images of non-white people on book covers.

    Let me break this down a bit, though: are you saying that there is no difference between Terry Pratchett’s cover artist simply not caring about how his characters are described and Beth Revis’ cover artist not caring how her characters are described and altering the model in that photograph to look more white? Keep in mind that the changes do not make the image resemble the character any more closely – if anything, it does the opposite.

    (I would also point out that the female character seems to be represented tolerably well, at least from the descriptions of her I’ve read. It’s curious that the cover artist felt no need to ‘fix’ this.)

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  35. Author On Vacation
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 15:16:49

    @Jane:

    “@Author On Vacation

    4. Some readers simply don't like my writing. That's okay, everyone has their right to their own taste -’ as long as they don't write mean reviews about my books. ”

    That is clearly an admonishment to not write a certain type of review and for many authors, a mean review is anything that is negative.”

    I agree some authors lack professional objectivity regarding their work. However, given the overall tone and context of the entry, I’m not reading this as the author scolding “mean” reviewers so much as poking fun at them and indicating their irrelevance.

    For the sake of clarity, I define a “mean” review as one offering insufficient or no legitimate critical analysis to support their negative opinions of the work. In some cases, the “meanie” may be actively working to influence others not to consider reading and/or purchasing the book.

    Not all “meanies” are “mean” in the sense they seek to actively damage an author’s reputation. In some cases they probably lack the analytical skills and/or the writing skills necessary to properly express and support their opinion.

    In other situations, the “meanie” may maliciously set out to harm the author for personal gratification such as a sense of control and empowerment over another person. Attacking another person’s livelihood is a huge power trip for some; anyone ever employed in service industries knows this.

    I doubt the average author who takes his craft seriously and respects writing as an art form is offended by any reviewer offering quality, reasonable critique on “what worked” or not in a published book. I know I don’t.

    That said, I’ve gritted my teeth and politely disregarded “meanie reviews” (for my books, as well as for books I haven’t written) in the past. I’m sure I’ll do so again in the future. I have faith astute readers identify the difference between legitimate critique and catty, irrelevant flaming. It’s sad to think a reader heeding a “mean review” may be cheated out of an enjoyable reading experience, though.

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  36. ka
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 16:15:42

    Thanks for the thought provoking tidbits on a Monday morning. I commend Courtney Milan’s comments about not assuming non white equates to black.

    But I would also not assume that Christina Dodd is implying anything about “mean” reviews – she just shared her thoughts on her blog. I also took it as a bit “tongue in cheek” because reviews – good, bad, praiseful, mean-spirited, critical, constructive – are part of the business. But it is a business where a product’s creator interacts with the product purchaser. Human interaction. So feelings get involved. Opinions are voiced.

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  37. Robin
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 17:50:45

    Ditto, ditto, ditto on the outrage re. the Revis book cover. In fact, I don’t even know that there is a real argument to be made that the image was NOT de-racinated/whitewashed. I mean, we see the before and after – it’s a pretty objectively obvious set of changes there.

    Beyond all the issues of racial normaing (i.e. what we’re socialized to view as acceptable/socially dominant in an Anglo-American context) is the tragedy of the powers-that-be lagging sooooo far behind the YA target audience, most of whom are much savvier about living in a multi-racial society. That so many of our whacked ideas about race that are being passed on to (and sometimes beaten into) younger generations is a huge scandal, and that’s IMO exactly what’s going on with these whitewashed/de-racinated covers. It’s shameful, really, on so many levels, especially for books aimed at teens.

    Regarding the Dodd post, I think it’s a case where she was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it also seems to me that she a)takes reviews personally, and b)is indirectly suggesting exactly the kind of review she’s interested in reading. The ambiguity of the word “mean” here, the unwillingness to define that term, ironically narrows what I would think is a “not mean” review to her.

    Of course, I think “mean” has become code for “critical/negative,” so whenever I see that word I can’t help but believe the “mean” threshold is quite low for those who use the word. Yeah, she’s clearly trying to be funny, but I don’t think the irony extends to the word “mean,” only to the “not okay” part. And do we really think she was kidding about that? I don’t, despite the light tone of that point.

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  38. Mireya
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 18:35:00

    I am not going to go into the cover discussion. Dubious marketing strategy in the name of selling a product is nothing new in any industry. Why would the publishing industry be different. They are a business. They want to sell. Period. We can scream and discuss and beat the issue as much as we want, fact remains that as long as certain types of covers seem to attract more buyers than others, that is the type of cover they will continue creating. Sad but true.

    Regarding the “mean” reviews thing. A reviewer chooses which books to review and how to write the review of the books. The author chooses what to write and how to write it. Um … that sounds eerily similar.

    Authors complaining about “mean” reviews are not going to change anything at all. People will continue providing their opinions of books they read. Reviewers complaining about authors complaining about “mean” reviews are not going to change anything either. Authors will continue calling bad reviews “mean” or whatever new word of the day they choose to describe them.

    Sorry, this whole thing feels like we keep beating a VERY dead horse. :>

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  39. Robin
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 18:53:23

    I am not going to go into the cover discussion. Dubious marketing strategy in the name of selling a product is nothing new in any industry. Why would the publishing industry be different. They are a business. They want to sell. Period. We can scream and discuss and beat the issue as much as we want, fact remains that as long as certain types of covers seem to attract more buyers than others, that is the type of cover they will continue creating. Sad but true.

    Has anyone seen an iota of proof — or even research — that whitewashed/de-racinated covers sell better? That’s one of the most outrageous things about this vicious cycle, IMO, and it’s a testament to the power, stealth, and ubiquity of institutional racism.

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  40. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 20:04:37

    @Robin, there is no real research on books with White covers versus books with POC covers, only anecdotal evidence comparing books with different marketing budgets. I would *love* to see some publisher run that experiment with equal marketing budgets and large enough samples to draw some conclusions from. There might be a slight difference but if the experiment was run properly I sincerely doubt it would be enough to affect the bottom line.

    Jennifer Kesler wrote an article, “Why Discriminate If It Doesn’t Profit”, explaining why movies with more women in them don’t get made; it sounds eerily similar to why books with POC on the cover don’t get made. She explains that it boils down to the status quo. Producers are invested in the status quo; to change would be to admit that they’re wrong.

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  41. hapax
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 21:38:47

    Heh. As a professional mean reviewer, I’m not going there.

    I do have a comment about the web site. I really liked the navigation links at the end of the comments, as well as at the end of the posts. Are those gone for good?

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  42. Author On Vacation
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 21:54:45

    @Robin:

    I completely agree with Mireya.

    The “whitewashed cover art” isn’t a new discussion in this venue. I wish I better understood the dynamics of why many people view particular cover art as “whitewashing” or “racist,” but the truth is I don’t understand it and I’m not going to pretend I do. I wish the best to all bloggers who believe complaining an artistic interpretation of a fictional character can be racist is a worthwhile pasttime. I don’t believe it myself.

    As I noted earlier in discussion, a previous “whitewash cover issue” was addressed at DA concerning the YA novel “Magic Under Glass.” Everyone insisted the original cover art was inaccurate and “whitewashed.” The heroine wasn’t described as any particular race but was frequently cited as being “dark.” The publisher released a book featuring a new cover. IMHO, the original cover model was darker than the present one.

    The problem with allegations like these are that they are based entirely upon a kneejerk, emotional response based upon concepts of artificial social constructions.

    Good luck, ya’ll.

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  43. Author On Vacation
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 22:06:50

    @Robin:

    “Has anyone seen an iota of proof -’ or even research -’ that whitewashed/de-racinated covers sell better? That's one of the most outrageous things about this vicious cycle, IMO, and it's a testament to the power, stealth, and ubiquity of institutional racism.”

    Personally, I’m doubtful the color/race of a character on cover art matters nearly so much as whether the cover art draws attention.

    Maybe it boils down to what a publisher’s marketing department believes attracts the eye (thus increasing potential for sales.)

    It may not be a question of whether or not the average reader would reject a book because cover art featured a “non-White” character, but whether the average reader would be less likely to notice it (and thus consider it.)

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  44. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 22:28:07

    @Author On Vacation:

    Hang on, let me get out my Anti-Racist Bingo Card.

    “It’s just fiction.” – check.
    “Stop being the PC police.” – check.
    “Stop being so sensitive/angry/overreacting.” – check.
    “If THAT offends you, you must be crazy.” – check.

    I thought there was a “Race is an artificial social construction, therefore it doesn’t affect people” point, but that must be on my other card. Darn, I’m one short of a bingo.

    I’m being a little tongue in cheek, but the point remains. These sorts of comments are heard every time the issue is raised – so often, we can play Bingo with them – and serve little purpose besides shutting down discussion. If you’re genuinely interested in learning, that’s one thing. But saying you don’t understand something, therefore everyone else is wrong is something else entirely.

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  45. Author On Vacation
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 23:46:59

    @Sylvia Sybil:

    “@Author On Vacation:

    Hang on, let me get out my Anti-Racist Bingo Card.

    “It's just fiction.” – check.
    “Stop being the PC police.” – check.
    “Stop being so sensitive/angry/overreacting.” – check.
    “If THAT offends you, you must be crazy.” – check.

    I thought there was a “Race is an artificial social construction, therefore it doesn't affect people” point, but that must be on my other card. Darn, I'm one short of a bingo.”

    I did not say any of those things. Do not put words in my mouth. Thank you.

    I never claimed, nor would claim, that the artificiality of race does not affect people. I claimed alleging the so-called “whitewashing” of bookcovers is racist is an unproved opinion with little substantial support.

    Conversely, much evidence supports the idea that cover artists frequently provide inaccurate cover art, including depictions of characters not matching their physical descriptions per the book.

    I do not claim the opinions of others are “wrong.” I just don’t share the opinion.

    I am always interested in learning, but this subject is not conducive to a teaching/learning experience.

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  46. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 00:04:51

    @Author On Vacation:

    No, you did not say those things. Those are the sentiments on the bingo card that your statements expressed. Here is the link to the anti-racist bingo card I was referring to. I hope this clears up your confusion and I apologize for not explaining the concept more thoroughly.

    I claimed alleging the so-called “whitewashing” of bookcovers is racist is an unproved opinion with little substantial support.

    You don’t understand how erasing depictions of people of color and replacing them with White people is racist? Here’s The Book Smugglers on why whitewashing matters, an article on destroying the message of The Last Airbender, an article from Reading in Color on how whitewashing affects the self-esteem of children of color, and my own blog’s basic overview of whitewashing.

    I am always interested in learning, but this subject is not conducive to a teaching/learning experience.

    Which subject would that be, the subject of racism? Whitewashing? I can’t think why either can’t be learned about – many other people have learned about both. Or do you mean that racism is too uncomfortable and emotionally charged for you? Please explain, I am sincerely interested.

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  47. Anita
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 03:22:57

    Hi all
    I’m an Asian and a writer (though not of fiction) so feel I can comment on two of the hot topics.

    Mean-ness vs. bad review: I’ve had a review that said I ought to get back on the boat and sail away whence I came. I think that’s mean and racist, although I suspect the reviewer thought himself witty. So I’d define meanness as an attempt at wit at the cost of content.

    I’ve had reviews that said my work was slight – and I think they were wrong and culturally closed, and yes, I discarded those reviews as bad bad reviews (Or bad reviews that were badly written and didn’t help me an iota). On the other hand, my favorite review, is a two starrer which actually helped me figure out why the audience was reacting the way it was (I am a playwright). So here are my review categories: good good reviews, bad good reviews (fan-girly ones that don’t tell the reader why the book/piece works), bad bad ones and good bad ones (this is in my opinion the most important for my growth as a writer). And it is a fact that a writer remembers the bad reviews much more than the good ones. So I can understand Ms. Dodd being a tad bit touchy.

    What I don’t understand is the reading community going “I am never going to read her again.” That’s just sad, and a loss to to the boycotting readers as well. Perhaps a case of the reading community being a tad bit touchy too?

    Re cover art. Again as a minority writer, I’ve had instances when the book cover either went overboard on the ethnic elements or that went absolutely the other way. Frankly, I’m ok with neutral art. Because finally, I want my words to make a difference to the readers and not the cover art.

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  48. Anita
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 03:23:21

    Hi all
    I’m an Asian and a writer (though not of fiction) so feel I can comment on two of the hot topics.

    Mean-ness vs. bad review: I’ve had a review that said I ought to get back on the boat and sail away whence I came. I think that’s mean and racist, although I suspect the reviewer thought himself witty. So I’d define meanness as an attempt at wit at the cost of content.

    I’ve had reviews that said my work was slight – and I think they were wrong and culturally closed, and yes, I discarded those reviews as bad bad reviews (Or bad reviews that were badly written and didn’t help me an iota). On the other hand, my favorite review, is a two starrer which actually helped me figure out why the audience was reacting the way it was (I am a playwright). So here are my review categories: good good reviews, bad good reviews (fan-girly ones that don’t tell the reader why the book/piece works), bad bad ones and good bad ones (this is in my opinion the most important for my growth as a writer). And it is a fact that a writer remembers the bad reviews much more than the good ones. So I can understand Ms. Dodd being a tad bit touchy.

    What I don’t understand is the reading community going “I am never going to read her again.” That’s just sad, and a loss to the boycotting readers as well. Perhaps a case of the reading community being a tad bit touchy too?

    Re cover art. Again as a minority writer, I’ve had instances when the book cover either went overboard on the ethnic elements or that went absolutely the other way. Frankly, I’m ok with neutral art. Because finally, I want my words to make a difference to the readers and not the cover art.

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  49. Anita
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 03:33:29

    The more I read Ms. Dodd’s blog, the more I tend to agree with Author on Vacation. The general tone does seem tongue in cheek.

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  50. Sean Wills
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 05:54:09

    @Robin: Beyond all the issues of racial normaing (i.e. what we're socialized to view as acceptable/socially dominant in an Anglo-American context) is the tragedy of the powers-that-be lagging sooooo far behind the YA target audience, most of whom are much savvier about living in a multi-racial society.

    I’m not entirely sure that this is true, though. I know most YA readers would probably say that they’re perfectly fine with books depicting (for example) multi-racial romances and the like, but at the same time I can’t think of a single really ‘big’ YA novel (‘big’ as in ‘massive hit’ big) that overtly challenged the ubiquitousness of having an all-white or almost-all-white main cast.

    I’m not saying that teen readers are going to look at a hypothetical book like that and say ‘Eww, non-white people’, just that a lot of readers probably still haven’t been forced out of their comfort zones sufficiently often to know where its boundaries lie.

    (If you want an example of what I’m talking about, look at the reviews of almost any mainstream genre novel with a prominent gay character. There’s a very good chance that you’ll find reviews that start with ‘I have gay friends, but…’)

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  51. FiaQ
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 06:22:12

    @Author On Vacation:

    It may not be a question of whether or not the average reader would reject a book because cover art featured a “non-White” character, but whether the average reader would be less likely to notice it (and thus consider it.)

    Then, perhaps you should read Richard Dyer’s book, particularly a chapter “The Matter of Whiteness”, which addresses various issues across the media (literature, visual codes, cinema, posters, advertising, etc.). I tried to find the excerpt online, but my google-fu skills failed on me. These blog posts have excerpts of his works:

    1. “Quotes from my Film Cultural Studies Class”
    2. “The Matter of Whiteness” at http://aboutfilm.wordpress.com

    That said, I worked for magazines then film production companies last fifteen years. I can say, if anecdotes are acceptable, that people do notice. I no longer work for Channel 4 (hadn’t been for about 11 years) so I think it’s all right to share.

    Channel 4 launched a full sales campaign to promote a heavily-invested one-off drama featuring a Jamaican black man (the main character), a Turkish white woman and an English white man (small role, but has the bigger name than the other two).
    Most overseas buyers/distributors (Canada, Australia, the US, France, Germany, Poland, and I think Italy?) weren’t interested until Channel Four changed the sales posters from having the Jamaican and Turkish actors together to the English white and Turkish actors together. I admit I didn’t believe this until I saw sales reports. There was definitely a spike after the poster was amended. I like to think it’s because the white actor’s name that attracted sales, but when it happened again – four times – with no-name cast, I had to accept there was a racial issue involved.

    When I questioned why sales buyers tended to be drawn to anything that feature white actors, I was told there is a belief that they sell better.

    I think the problem with the “sell better” is that white actors tend to be more internationally recognisable than non-white actors. White actors are more likely to have international media exposure, which happens (happened?) because the media tends to focus on white actors more, due to a belief the readers are more interested in white actors.

    So while I don’t believe book cover designers themselves do it on purpose (even though I know two of them at a pub believe ‘white people’ are the most aesthetically pleasing and the easiest to work with, e.g. tones, colours and such), I can believe that book buyers have a hand in deciding how covers should look.

    Most buyers – if they are anything like media buyers – would believe white/normalcy sells better. It’s probably because the western society itself – regardless of ethnicities – is so conditioned that they’re more used to seeing white people in covers, films and the like. Some say it’s institutional racism and some say it’s a matter of majority, which happens to be white. Who’s right? It depends and how.

    If you put a black man in a British Roman historical drama, there is no doubt that a huge number of people will raise a fuss about this. “PC gone mad!” and “historically inaccurate!” In fact, there are documented evidence there were black people living in Roman Britain (and none were slaves as they were in the military). This rarely appears in school history textbooks and documentaries.

    We’re been so subjected to “whitewashed” history and white-oriented aesthetics for decades that not all of us are that willing to accept what we’re not used to. This bleeds to other areas including all things graphic design, such as advertising, posters, book covers and more. As in, ‘White is the default’.

    But it doesn’t work any more. Statistics – and customers’ reactions of late – reflect this. Publishers and other media distributors AREN’T slow to realise this as they’re accepting more works featuring non-white characters or multicultural cast than ever before, but it’s the visual aspect that becomes a sticky issue.

    They simply don’t know at the moment who’s the biggest cultural/ethnic group of customers: white or non-white, so they – major chain book buyers – are hedging the bets by going with the white group. The flaw with this is, the assumption that only non-white readers would read works featuring non-white characters and white readers with white characters. It’s this mindset that has to be changed.

    I think I just broke my personal record on long-windness. Go, me. Apologies to you all.

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  52. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 06:53:44

    @Sean Wills: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles has a beautiful cover. The hero is clearly brown, and the contrast between his skin tone and the heroine’s is even sharper because his hand is on her face. It’s one of my favorite covers of all time.

    http://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Chemistry-Simone-Elkeles/dp/0802798225

    As far as Across the Universe, wow. I’m so reluctant to ascribe racist motives to publishers, cover artists, book sellers etc., but I really wish they would be more sensitive to this issue. I agree that the first image looks vaguely African American/mixed, and the second doesn’t. If the first cover got negative reactions, they could have gone with a different model instead of toning down the racial characteristics of this one.

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  53. FiaQ
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 07:07:19

    @Jill Sorenson: Have you seen the cover of Return to Paradise, a sequel to Perfect Chemistry?

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/images/0738710180/ref=dp_image_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books

    Supposedly same characters, but the male model seems whiter than the female model this time. :D

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  54. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 08:21:39

    @FiaQ: Return to Paradise is a sequel to Leaving Paradise. Not the same characters.

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  55. FiaQ
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 08:38:54

    @Jill Sorenson: You’re right, but Leaving Paradise hero is Perfect Chemistry hero’s brother. I really liked the Perfect Chemistry cover, so I was disappointed with later covers.

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  56. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 10:10:37

    @FiaQ: No. Rules of Attraction is the next book in the PC series. The boy on the cover (Alex’s brother) is just as dark as Alex.

    http://www.amazon.com/Rules-Attraction-Simone-Elkeles/dp/0802720854/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_2#_

    Again, the heroine is a light-skinned girl and the contrast in skin tone is played up rather than toned down.

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  57. FiaQ
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 10:58:48

    @Jill Sorenson: ? I have already acknowledged I got the title wrong. I meant to write Leaving Paradise, but wrote Perfect Chemistry instead. My apologies for causing confusion.

    Clarification: Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise — same characters, different appearances.

    I didn’t think Leaving Paradise cover was good either. Same with Return to Paradise cover. I would have liked it if they were more like the Perfect Chemistry cover. That’s why I said later covers were disappointing.

    (To those interested, I do recommend Simone Elkeles’s series, especially Perfect Chemistry. Just don’t read the odd epilogue in PC. :D)

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  58. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 12:03:16

    @FiaQ: Oh, sorry! I thought you were saying that the Paradise books (which feature white characters, as the covers show) are related to the Chemistry books (Fuentes brothers).

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  59. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 12:11:59

    @Anita:

    “What I don't understand is the reading community going “I am never going to read her again.” That's just sad, and a loss to the boycotting readers as well. Perhaps a case of the reading community being a tad bit touchy too?”

    As I stated in an earlier post:

    “Attacking another person’s livelihood is a huge power trip for some … “

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  60. Janet P.
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 12:49:25

    @Anita. I agree that the “Get back on the boat” comment is a prime example of the difference between mean and bad. Mean lacks class, no matter what way you look at it.

    However as for the rest of your comments I’m again reminded of the point many reviewers try to make in these discussions. The purpose of our reviews is to communicate with readers, not to help authors.

    So while you may view a review as “bad bad” because it doesn’t help you in determining why the readers are reacting negatively to your work, if it still communicates that the book is a fail – then it has likely met the goal of the writer of the review. In other words – reviews are for readers, not constructive criticism for writers.

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  61. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 12:53:14

    @Sylvia Sybil:

    “@Author On Vacation:

    No, you did not say those things. Those are the sentiments on the bingo card that your statements expressed. Here is the link to the anti-racist bingo card I was referring to. I hope this clears up your confusion and I apologize for not explaining the concept more thoroughly.

    I claimed alleging the so-called “whitewashing” of bookcovers is racist is an unproved opinion with little substantial support.

    You don't understand how erasing depictions of people of color and replacing them with White people is racist? Here's The Book Smugglers on why whitewashing matters, an article on destroying the message of The Last Airbender, an article from Reading in Color on how whitewashing affects the self-esteem of children of color, and my own blog's basic overview of whitewashing.

    I am always interested in learning, but this subject is not conducive to a teaching/learning experience.

    Which subject would that be, the subject of racism? Whitewashing? I can't think why either can't be learned about – many other people have learned about both. Or do you mean that racism is too uncomfortable and emotionally charged for you? Please explain, I am sincerely interested.”

    Sybil, thanks for the more civil response and for the reading recs.

    I don’t accept alleged “whitewashed” colors as “proof” of racism because, as I’ve already said, there is no reliable evidence confirming the allegation.

    In the matter concerning the present cover matter, several people have already mentionned, the character in question is not “Black” and that a depiction of the character as “Black” isn’t appropriate.

    In the previous matter discussed some months ago (YA novel: “Magic Under Glass”) the complaint was that the character featured on the cover wasn’t “dark enough.”

    In a nutshell, allegations like this are simply too vague and ambiguous to sustain. Unless someone somewhere has evidence (say, a memo addressed to a cover artist reminding the artist, “Don’t make the character too dark/too Black/too ethnic-looking.”) it’s impossible to prove cover artists and the publishers they work for deliberately “whitewash” book covers for the sake of sales and/or to satisfy racist tendencies.

    I live in an extremely multicultural region, and I assure you people identifying themselves as “Black” run the gamut in terms of appearance. Body type, coloring, hair type and texture, facial features, and other physical attributes can be very different even in a single family, regardless of “race.”

    Who decides who’s “really Black” and who “really LOOKS Black?” Or any other “race,” for that matter?

    Equally disturbing are the attitudes displayed by posters indicating the figures in the covers are “too white” or “too light.” What exactly does this mean?

    DA has featured various “cover fail” blog entries pointing out habitual discrepancies between a book’s cover and its content. A book featuring a blond, ultra-fair hero might sport a more “medium-fair” brunette. Does anybody consider this racist (OR prejudiced in ANY way?) Or is it “okay” to substitute inaccurate portrayals of white people so long as the substitute looks/is “white?”

    I could expand, but I view this subject as a bit “already been there.” I don’t believe my opinion will impact the mindsets of people determined to brand cover art tweaking as “racist,” and I know my own viewpoint will not change.

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  62. Sean Wills
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 13:07:00

    @Author On Vacation:

    I don't believe my opinion will impact the mindsets of people determined to brand cover art tweaking as “racist,” and I know my own viewpoint will not change.

    I think you’ve made that abundantly obvious so far.

    You’re still not grasping the distinction between mere inaccuracy and racially-motivated inaccuracy. Depicting a character incorrectly and depicting a character incorrectly because of that character’s race are not equivalent scenarios, and your insistence to the contrary makes me think that you’re being deliberately obtuse in order to avoid admitting that you’re wrong.

    It’s also facetious in the extreme to suggest that we can have no idea of a publisher’s intent without ‘smoking gun’ evidence. When there is a consistent trend in publishing towards whitewashing, and when there are no examples of the opposite ever happening*, we don’t need a signed memo to speculate on the intent behind yet another incident of a non-white character being depicted as white.

    *On that note, can anybody show me an example of a white character’s race being misrepresented as blatantly as was the case in, say, Justin Larbelestier’s Liar? Or, failing that, take a moment and try to imagine how you might react if you opened a book with a picture of a black or mixed-raced person on the cover, only to find that that character was described as unambiguously white. Can you honestly tell me that you’d ascribe no intent whatsoever to that kind of cover?

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  63. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 13:45:22

    @Janet P.:
    You posted:

    “@Anita. I agree that the “Get back on the boat” comment is a prime example of the difference between mean and bad. Mean lacks class, no matter what way you look at it.

    However as for the rest of your comments I'm again reminded of the point many reviewers try to make in these discussions. The purpose of our reviews is to communicate with readers, not to help authors.

    So while you may view a review as “bad bad” because it doesn't help you in determining why the readers are reacting negatively to your work, if it still communicates that the book is a fail – then it has likely met the goal of the writer of the review. In other words – reviews are for readers, not constructive criticism for writers.”

    I am a writer. I am also a lifelong reader. When I depart this life, I will have read and loved more books than I could ever hope to write even if I never left my computer.

    I also review books. Qualifications that make me a good reviewer include: good memory, strong reading/comprehension, and knowledge of English (grammar, word usage, vocabulary, etc.) Finally, I am a writer. A book review is a form of written communication; written communication skills are required to do it effectively.

    Perhaps the most important qualification: professional objectivity and the ability to understand that, although I personally may not have found a well-written book the most entertaining reading, it’s still a well-written book. Conversely I may have loved a book boasting substandard or mediocre writing due to its execution, but it’s still not well-written.

    My priorities when reviewing a book involve communication with ANY INTERESTED PARTY who reads the review. It does not matter if the party is a “reader,” a “writer,” or simply a bored, curious web surfer. If my message isn’t getting through to as many people as possible, the message itself is flawed.

    My purpose in reviewing: offer a carefully considered opinion on a book. What I found good and bad. I aim for accuracy, balance, and fairness. I am not promoting the book, nor am I attempting to please or to offend the book’s author, publisher, fans, and haters. I strive to maintain accuracy and honesty.

    In short, if the reader doesn’t have a clear, reasonable and accurate understanding of my opinion, I didn’t achieve my purpose.

    That reality is what makes the “Reviewers are intended for readers, not to help writers” mantra so bogus. It does not matter if the individual reading the review is a “reader” or a “writer.” What matters is that the review conveys accurate information in a fair, professional manner. To do less subtracts from the value of the review itself.

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  64. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 14:10:08

    @Sean Wills:

    Sean, if I’m going to accuse an entire industry of racism, yes, I require a “smoking gun.”

    Admitting I’m wrong about what? This entire discussion revolves around individual opinions. No one is right or wrong. Several people assert that particular book covers indicate racist tendencies in publishers. I respectfully disagree. How does that make me “wrong?”

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  65. Sean Wills
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 14:42:12

    @Author On Vacation: You’ve consistently refused to acknowledge the blindingly obvious fact that merely portraying a character inaccurately is not the same as altering (or I should say hiding) that character’s race – most likely because accepting that premise inevitably leads to accepting that certain publishers are guilty of racism.

    When I brought up the Terry Pratchett example, you skirted the issue and then employed an obvious strawman (‘minority-loathing, racist people’). You’ve also failed to respond to pretty much every other argument addressed to you. What you’re doing is the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and loudly declaring that you don’t see any problem, then refusing to listen when other people try to correct you.

    That’s what makes you wrong.

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  66. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 15:10:01

    @Author On Vacation: You've consistently refused to acknowledge the blindingly obvious fact that merely portraying a character inaccurately is not the same as altering (or I should say hiding) that character's race – most likely because accepting that premise inevitably leads to accepting that certain publishers are guilty of racism.

    1. The “blindingly obvious fact” is just beyond me. Sorry.

    2. In order to accuse a cover artist of “hiding or concealing a character’s race,” one requires a clear, consistent definition of what race actually is. What is a “black” person? What is a “white” person? Do “black” people possess physical characteristics exclusive only to them? What about “white” people?

    How “black” must a character appear in cover art in order to assuage the artist and his employers of any charges of racism?

    Without establishment of a “base line” (clear definitions of what is “black” or “white” and what is NOT “black” or “white) who has the final say on who “looks black” or “looks white?”

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  67. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 15:44:47

    I don’t think there’s much more I can say about whitewashing. I provided a few introductory links in post #45 if anyone’s looking for background information.

    @Anita:

    What I don't understand is the reading community going “I am never going to read her again.” That's just sad, and a loss to the boycotting readers as well.

    I don’t see it as a loss. There are so many books out there and so many more being written that even if I did nothing but read, I’d still never be able to read them all in one lifetime. So even if her writing was a perfect 100% experience for me, there are other authors who can give me that 100% experience without whatever associations I’ve read in Ms. Dodd’s post. Supply and demand: I have a finite amount of resources and a nearly infinite market to choose from. That loss is a drop in the ocean.

    In addition to that, I don’t need a reason not to read a particular book. I don’t owe that author anything, especially not my money, time and attention. For example, there’s an author whose name is spelled in a variation of my name. I won’t read her books because I’m tired of correcting the spelling of my name. Yeah, someone else might think I’m being petty, but the bottom line for me is that the potential pleasure of her work is outweighed by the irritation of seeing my name “misspelled”. That’s a decision I get to make as a consumer.

    Changing topics, I don’t think the statement “reviews are for readers, not authors” is meant to exclude anybody. But one occasionally encounters the attitude that reviews are intended to give the author feedback on how they’re doing. I’ve also heard it said that reviewers are just frustrated authors and/or just jealous of the author’s talent.

    What these people misunderstand, and what the statement conveys, is that reviews aren’t about the author at all. They’re about the reviewer’s experience with the book and intended to help potential readers make decisions about their own money, time and attention. If an author can learn from a review, then that’s wonderful. But the reviewer isn’t trying to grade the author’s homework. The reviewer is trying to help readers.

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  68. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 19:22:36

    @Sylvia Sybil:

    “What these people misunderstand, and what the statement conveys, is that reviews aren't about the author at all. They're about the reviewer's experience with the book and intended to help potential readers make decisions about their own money, time and attention. If an author can learn from a review, then that's wonderful. But the reviewer isn't trying to grade the author's homework. The reviewer is trying to help readers.”

    The blog where you posted this, DA, regularly assigns “grades” to books. Virtually any other blog assigns a “grade” or rating of some kind.

    In college, when I earned an “A,” little explanation beyond a compliment or two was provided by my instructor.

    If I earned a “B” there was generally additional critique and explanation (either I answered a question incorrectly or incompletely, or I didn’t fully develop a thesis.)

    I don’t doubt many reviewers truly wish to help readers. By no means is it my intention to disparage reviewers in any way. However, anybody with computer access can review a book whether or not they possess relevant qualifications.

    Not all opinions are created equal. There are opinions, and then there are informed opinions.

    If a review is unclear and/or uninformative, how does it benefit a reader anymore than it benefits a writer? It doesn’t “help” me as a reader if someone tells me, “This is a stupid book. Don’t waste your time or money on it.”

    I need to know what was “stupid” about the book and why the reviewer considered it “stupid” before I can make a judgment call as to whether or not the opinion is valuable.

    I’ve read reviews where discussion of plot and characters was inaccurate (i.e., the reviewer cited characters and situations not even included in the reviewed work.) I’ve read reviews clearly intended to “roast” the book and/or its author and publisher/s. I’ve read reviews so generalized and sanitized I’m doubtful the reviewer actually read the book at all.

    None of these reviews “help” anyone.

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  69. Jane
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 19:25:36

    @Author On Vacation I would say that the reader determines what opinion is of value. It might not be to you, the author, but if it helps a reader then it’s valuable to them. Why do you get to decide what is helpful and what is not? Aren’t you the one who says you can’t be right or wrong in the race discussion? Why is that different in determining value of opinions to readers?

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  70. Sirius11214
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 19:48:37

    @Jane:

    Exactly Jane. For example, if all I will know about the book is the fact that such book contains a trope I hate (rape him or her till they love me), this review will be helpful for me as reader to make an informed decision whether to buy this book or not to buy this book. The review may contain one sentence and this will be already enough and I will certainly mark such review as helpful.

    I often enjoy reading long detailed reviews, I mean I am reading this blog and I definitely appreciate them, but I do not NEED long detailed reviews to make a decision whether to buy the book or not to buy the book.

    And same thing when I write the reviews, I am thinking about helping the readers who share similar tastes as me, that is ALL. I am not even trying to help all readers, because people like different things and if they share my tastes, they will find my reviews helpful, if not, they will not, it is as simple as that.

    I think though what Author on vacation may have also meant that reviews should be helpful for authors when they wear their readers hat and if so, I will say absolutely and most definitely.

    What I am never aiming my reviews to be helpful to though, is for the author of the book I review. And in fact I would really prefer if the author disregarded my review completely. I mean, if they find something helpful in my reviews that is nice, but I will never ever say that they should. I mean if I disliked certain trope and this is what author’s inspiration is telling her to write, of course she should follow her inspiration. I am not a writer, I am a reader, and esl reader at that, I am not qualified to tell the artist how to do their job. But neither am I going to accept the idea that I am not qualified to share with *other readers* my opinions of the book, because somebody may decide that my wording is awkward, writing is not smooth enough, etc, etc. It is fun for me to tell other readers what I liked and disliked and if they like and dislike the same things, they may consider my review when deciding whether to buy the book or not. It is as simple as that to me.

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  71. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 21:54:20

    @Jane:

    “@Author On Vacation I would say that the reader determines what opinion is of value. It might not be to you, the author, but if it helps a reader then it's valuable to them.”

    Jane, anybody can say, “Don’t read ‘Popular Novel.’ It’s a crappy book.” And anybody can elect to be guided by such an opinion and to assign value to it.

    This does not mean the reviewer read the book in its entireity. This does not mean the the reviewer comprehended the material s/he read. This does not mean the reviewer is qualified to evaluate the book in terms of structure and technical quality.

    If I read a review of “Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and the reviewer claims she loathes the novel because she can’t stand Betsy Trotwood and Mr. Murdstone, that reviewer’s opinion is suspect to me since I already know Betsy Trotwood and Mr. Murdstone aren’t characters in “Tom Sawyer.” They are characters in “David Copperfield.”

    Another reader unfamiliar with “David Copperfield” can value the review, skip on “Tom Sawyer” and perhaps discover the deception sometime later. Or perhaps never.

    That reader’s choice to hold the reviewer’s opinion as valuable does not make the reviewer any more competent, accurate, and reliable.

    “Aren't you the one who says you can't be right or wrong in the race discussion?”

    No ma’am. I said I was neither “right” nor “wrong” concerning the “whitewashing” discussion because the entire issue hinges upon murky evidence and opinion.

    “Why is that different in determining value of opinions to readers? ”

    The purpose of a book review is to inform. However, it is a given readers will assume the reviewer read the book (at least some of it) and that the reviewer is capable of providing an informed opinion concerning the book’s quality. If a reviewer can’t/won’t do this, misinformation result.

    This is hardly the same thing as looking at a book cover and claiming a character isn’t “black enough,” “dark enough,” “ethnic looking enough” or what have you. In order to ascertain this kind of judgment, a base line is required.

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  72. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 21:57:04

    @Author On Vacation:

    The blog where you posted this, DA, regularly assigns “grades” to books. Virtually any other blog assigns a “grade” or rating of some kind.

    Sure, I do too. My point is that the rating is intended for readers to learn from. Did the reviewer think the book was average, above average, excellent…? Even though it’s given a “grade”, it’s still not for authors. Again, if the author can learn, that’s wonderful. But that’s a bonus in addition to the reviewer’s main purpose.

    Adding to what Sirius said in defense of one line reviews, I’ve heard people say (especially at Goodreads and Amazon and similar) that they don’t trust lengthy, over-analyzed reviews. They want a short gut reaction because they feel that’s more honest. It comes down to individual preference and judgment. There’s no one-size-fits-all. =)

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  73. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 21:58:18

    @Sirius11214:

    “@Jane:

    Exactly Jane. For example, if all I will know about the book is the fact that such book contains a trope I hate (rape him or her till they love me), this review will be helpful for me as reader to make an informed decision whether to buy this book or not to buy this book. The review may contain one sentence and this will be already enough and I will certainly mark such review as helpful.”

    But what if a reviewer claims the book has a “rape trope” in it, and this is not the case? Would you not agree the reviewer behaved irresponsibly and misinformed readers?

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  74. Author On Vacation
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 22:30:57

    @Sylvia Sybil:

    “Sure, I do too. My point is that the rating is intended for readers to learn from. Did the reviewer think the book was average, above average, excellent…? Even though it's given a “grade”, it's still not for authors. Again, if the author can learn, that's wonderful. But that's a bonus in addition to the reviewer's main purpose.

    Adding to what Sirius said in defense of one line reviews, I've heard people say (especially at Goodreads and Amazon and similar) that they don't trust lengthy, over-analyzed reviews. They want a short gut reaction because they feel that's more honest. It comes down to individual preference and judgment. There's no one-size-fits-all. =) ”

    It is just as possible to mislead, misinform, and outright lie in a brief review as it is in a lengthier one.

    Example: “Do not buy! Horrible book! Contains rape romance!”

    We can go round and round on the issue. A book review’s purpose is to inform.

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  75. Sirius11214
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 22:34:38

    @Author On Vacation: ” A book review’s purpose is to inform”.

    If by inform you mean to inform other readers about your opinions about the book, I will agree with you, if you mean something different, then no I do not agree.

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  76. Sirius11214
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 22:39:21

    @Author On Vacation: But what if a reviewer claims the book has a “rape trope” in it, and this is not the case? Would you not agree the reviewer behaved irresponsibly and misinformed readers?

    Sirius11214:

    Behaved irresponsibly? Well, for that I would really have to ask the reviewer first. I once reviewed the book (or should I say gave my opinion about the book), which was romantic gay mystery and as part of my review I mentioned that the book does not contain sex scenes.

    Well, somebody commented under my review that there was one sex scene in the book and when I read this comment, I did not even have to go look it up. The scene was there. Did I *behave irresponsibly*? I really do not think so. When I wrote the review, I was thinking about sex between two protagonists, and indeed there was none, but what I wrote was no sex at all. Do you know what it was? An honest mistake.

    So I apologized of course. And I would definitely give the reviewer benefit of the doubt, but if reviewer does not change the review and does not respond to the correction, that’s wrong of course.

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  77. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 22:52:13

    @Author On Vacation:

    I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Some reviews get basic facts wrong, like locations and character names. I agree. I’ll even go a step further and say that there are a few reviewers out there who aren’t even trying to be fair and accurate. So…what, exactly?

    Reviews are subjective, the reader knows from the beginning that it is one opinion. It’s the reader’s prerogative to decide for themselves whether they trust this person’s word or not.

    And I would really hesitate before labeling a review “wrong” if you don’t agree with what they say is a basic fact of the story. For example, rape romance. My threshold for rape is very low. Any forced seduction, I’ll call rape. Someone has sex with someone too drunk to consent, I’ll call rape. Another person might not think of drunk sex as rape and thus think I’m “wrong” for including that word in my review, but I’m not wrong. It’s my interpretation that consent did not occur. It’s the reader’s decision whether or not to trust me.

    Say I have two regular readers, Alice and Barbara. Alice has a narrower definition of rape, so when she sees that word appear in my review she knows it might not bother her. Based on her experience of me, she knows it’s likely she can dismiss that portion of my review altogether. Barbara, on the other hand, has a similarly broad definition of rape. She knows based on her experience of me that when I use the word, she can safely assume there’s something in the book she won’t like. Conversely, she can assume that when I don’t use the word, there’s none of her other triggers that a reviewer like Alice would miss, such as forced seduction and drunk sex.

    In neither case is my use of the word rape “wrong”. Alice and Barbara decide each for themselves how much weight to place on my words.

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  78. Jane
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 00:07:43

    @Author On Vacation actually, a review can be many things and do not need to abide by your narrow definitions. A review can simply be to entertain. It can be to inform. It can be to start a conversation. A review can simply be an expression of communication between the reader and the book.

    Clearly you have pre defined notions of reviews upon which you expound regularly here at Dear Author, none of which reviewers, readers, opinion givers need ascribe.

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  79. Estara
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 13:44:52

    Totally off-topic, but posted because I came across it 5 or 6 times in just this thread – why is everyone trying to use BBCode for quotes an a wordpress blog? They use html!

    So you have to use blockquote to get any viewable result.

    Like this. For Firefox there’s the BBCode plugin which also offers HTML code tags for selected text – you have the option to turn off BBCode text completely.

    Apart from that, I find it illuminating to read the discussion of colour here. I have come across it mostly on LJ so far and am very happy that in the last two years more blogs in general seem to have become sensitive. It also made me realize how much I have lost/chosen to lose of my own heritage, which can’t be easily seen as I look mostly like my mother who is White.

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  80. Author On Vacation
    Jan 27, 2011 @ 15:25:01

    @Jane:

    @Author On Vacation actually, a review can be many things and do not need to abide by your narrow definitions. A review can simply be to entertain. It can be to inform. It can be to start a conversation. A review can simply be an expression of communication between the reader and the book.

    Clearly you have pre defined notions of reviews upon which you expound regularly here at Dear Author, none of which reviewers, readers, opinion givers need ascribe.

    With the above comment, this discussion reaches Level Ridiculous.

    I don’t entertain some “special” definition of what a book review is.

    Any person interested in better understanding what a book review actually is can do any or all of the following:

    1. Pop “what is a book review” into the search engine of the searcher’s choice.

    2. Examine book reviews proffered in newspapers and magazines.

    3. Consult a local university’s English department.

    I am not the one redefining what a book review is, nor am I attempting to sell the notion that so-called book reviews featuring weakly supported opinions (or no support at all,) inaccurate information, inflammatory comments attacking an author (not the work itself, but the author of the work)represent credible journalism and deserve the same dignity as the real thing.

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