In which Rolanni is cranky

So, over here at Tor.com, there are at this writing 19 reviews and one interview on display on the first page.  Three of those 19 reviews are for Baen books; the rest by Publishers Divers.

The three Baen books under review are:  Cauldron of Ghosts, by Weber and Flint, The Sea Without a Shore, by David Drake, and Carousel Sun, by Sharon Lee.

There’s a reason I’m telling you this.

Of the  three Baen books reviewed, two are held up and mocked for their covers, before the review is even engaged.  Full disclosure:  One of those is Carousel Sun, which has a rooster on the cover. Which is apparently hilarious.  Especially since, yanno, there’s a rooster in the book.  The other book so mocked is Cauldron of Ghosts.  David Drake’s book, I am actually relieved to report, received a respectful and affectionate review, with no mention of the cover.

Now, ‘way back before the rocks cooled, I reviewed professionally.  And what I reviewed was the stuff between the covers —  the story arc, the characters, the structure, the theme.   The cover was understood to be a sales piece, and I, the reviewer, was understood not to be an artist, an art reviewer, or an art director.  The only time I might mention the cover would be to point out that the author’s name was spelled wrong.

While I do very much understand that Baen covers are considered highly mockable in the wider SF community, I question that mocking when it appears on the site of a competitor, and when the only two covers mentioned at all are Baen covers.  This strikes me as dishonest at best, and agenda-driven at worst.

Back in the day, had I suddenly made it my mandate to include cover art in my reviews, I would have reviewed all the covers, in order to provide my readers with a balanced opinion of all the books.  Because that was, after all, my job.

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “In which Rolanni is cranky”

  1. Technically, Tor.com isn’t a “competitor,” because it has nothing whatsoever to do with Tor-the-publisher except for having the same name and being run by the same people. Really! If you ask them, they’ll tell you so themselves! They’re just “building a community” around pop culture and stuff. Really. Never mind how it looks. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

  2. If that’s the way they want to play the game, fine, but in that case they should have named the website “Spike,” to avoid Confusion from those of us who might unreasonably suppose that something called Tor.com was an arm of Tor, as Baen.com, for instance, is an arm of Baen.

  3. There’s a little link about two screens down on the right that tells you to go to tor-forge.com if you’re “looking for Tor Books.” That, they feel, is sufficient notice.

    (Never mind that they’re only too happy to break their own rule when Macmillan’s CEO has something to say. Generally speaking, I like Tor.com’s blog content, but the hypocrisy sometimes drives me up the wall.)

  4. Sympathy. Lots and lots of sympathy. But reviewers mocking covers seems to be A Thing now, including in professional venues such as Tor.com. Discussing covers, on the other hand, in terms of their fitness for the books they cover, or the genre “tells” that may be right or wrong, is not. And should be.

    We are all aware that the general perceptions in the industry about who (age, sex, race, political POV) reads which genres/readers/individual books is…not 100% accurate, and thus covers designed to appeal to “women who avoid violence” are likely to repel “men who love high-action stories.” If the story in question has vivid, graphic battle scenes and bar fights, the readers attracted by the soft-focus cover of a handsome guy, a lovely lass, and flowers will be shocked and horrified and tell their friends not to read it, and the those who read the cover as “touchy-feelie-no-explosions-no-blood” won’t pick it up and thus miss a book they would have enjoyed. And the writer’s numbers tank.

    So a discussion of how covers appeal to certain audiences–and what happens when books are mis-covered–is valid in my view, but ridiculing one or two covers out of a bunch is the sign of someone trying to make themselves appear smart, when they, um, aren’t so much.

    Sympathies again. I loved the rooster on the cover AND in the book. Especially since I know someone who bought a wild and weird “garden rooster” ornament (

  5. I really dislike the cover bashing. I saw a similar review at Amazon about Baen covers that implied snide opinions about the novels themselves. I didn’t understand then why someone that hates space opera would buy it and then review the cover and Baen publications in general. Besides I enjoy some of those covers.

  6. Wait…Tor.com is not Tor?
    OK, I’ve changed my mind.
    They’re not a lazy reviewer.
    They DO have an agenda.

    We should sic The Bloggess on them.

  7. I read the review in question. It seems disingenuous to spend most of the review mocking the cover, and then to spend precisely 2 sentences discussing what comes between the covers — which 2 sentences could have been written by anyone who had read up through the first scene of Chapter 2, and no farther.

    Truly execrable art can grace the cover of a great book. Tor’s reviewers should know that.

  8. I frankly adore the rooster.

    A discussion of cover art, what it conveys as opposed to what it’s intended to convey (does the wrapper reflect what’s inside?) would be fascinating. Within the last day or two I read a comment from a guy about the “tits and tats” covers on the Mercy Thompson books, along with the assertion that publishers must think guys are easy. He was. . .somewhat stunned to be told that the target audience for those books are women.

    And the Liaden reader who told me, apologetically, that he couldn’t read Carousel Tides “because he was an engineer” may well have been reacting to the fact that there’s a glowy girl and a Night Mare on the cover. . .

  9. Jeez. I read the reviews for what’s inside. Why snark at the cover? I noticed decades ago that the cover rarely has much relationship with the contents

  10. Oh an tell the engineer to grow a spine. As a 14 year old HS freshman girl, I remember carrying around Norton’s _Exiles of the Stars_ in school and it has a nekkid green woman on the cover. I survived, even after my history teacher grabbed it off my desk to wave around and emphasize a point. He did put it down awful quick

  11. It’s a wonderful cover, Sharon, to match a wonderful book. That I will review anon. I saw it and immediately thought “WTH she has to get a carousel rooster for the slot? What’s this gonna mean?”

    That’s good metaphoric illustration.

    I vote we tell The Bloggess about it. A new feature–Rooster Ridicule Rant.

  12. After thinking about it for a while, I wonder if what we see in reviews like this is a shade of the same kind of defensiveness you see that makes people like that engineer bashful about reading books with those covers. They feel somehow embarrassed about reading a book with a cover that appears unusual to them, and feel the need to “lampshade” it so the readers know they “noticed” it, too.

  13. Two points that haven’t been mentioned yet…
    As a bookseller, I can tell you covers can really effect the sales of same. A really poorly designed cover can (rightly or wrongly) turn people off to the contents.
    And as a reader, I often look at the cover of a book to help me picture salient points. Like how big is a turtle like Edger compared to Val Con? True example. So when the designers get something wrong, like portraying Miri and Shan on the cover of an omnibus that contains two stories about Miri and Val Con, that just bugs me over and over again. Of course I bought the books anyway, and in duplicate, because I love the series. So, grain of salt…

  14. I haven’t been able to figure out YET who those two people are on the omnibus cover. OTOH, according to the latest royalty statement (which, let us remember is at least a year out of date by the time we get it), the omnibus volumes were doing pretty well, so what do I know?

    I agree that the wrong cover can turn readers off of a book. And that discussion may — may — be a reasonable area of discourse for a reviewer. Simply mocking covers because they’re produced by a particular house seen as an easy target — not so much.

  15. I have long ago learned not to trust covers for a very good reason, artists do not read the book and get rather vague instructions. How many times have we seen covers being available before the author finishes the book.

    Covers attract you, as long as the book is displayed but what you most often see is just the spine, with title and author. A good title is more important to me than any cover and of course the author often attracts my attention first.

  16. It’s really a mixed bag. David Mattingly reads the book before he paints — when there is a book. When there’s not a book, we talk with him and together identify a scene/character that may be appropriate for the cover. Then he works with the Baen Art Department. ‘way back in the Dark Ages, Del Rey gave Steve Hickman half of Agent of Change, so he could get a feel for the characters, but at that time writers and artists weren’t supposed to talk to each other. The Baen Art Department worked with Eric Williams for the first two Carousel covers; I gave him input for the third cover — character descriptions, plot summary, &c — and then he and the Art Department shifted that down into art.

    But in essence, yes — the cover is a sales tool. It’s purpose is to entice you to pick up the book and open it.

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