607. RT Rewind: March 2016 Ads & Features


Sarah Wendell: Hello there and welcome to episode number 607 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, with me is Amanda, and we are looking at the ads and features from the March 2016 issue of RT Book Reviews. We have cowboy heads growing out of the dirt and a dude who looks like he’s on fire, and we’ve got an in-house definition of what Castle Bangenschloss really means. And we also have a really angry reader letter who wants self-pub authors to stop using the same stock images? It’s wild in here, y’all; come join us.

Do not miss the visual aids – podcasting: extremely visual medium. We have a link to a post with all of the images that we’re talking about, and you can listen and follow along with the post; there’ll be a little player at the top. Embeds are fun, and I’m having a lot of fun with this project.

And if you are enjoying the Romantic Times Rewind, may I politely request that you tell a friend about us and perhaps, if you are feeling thumb friendly – ‘cause, you know, you type with your thumbs – if you are feeling thumb friendly, would you consider leaving us a review? I have asked for reviews in the past, and my gosh y’all came through, thank you. Reviews make a massive difference in putting the show in front of listeners who like podcasts like this one.

I want to say a special thank-you to Ephemerily, who said:

>> I love getting to peek behind the scenes and learn about authors and what goes into writing their books. I also really appreciate the inclusion of books on women’s health and other issues in addition to all the great romance novels.

Thank you, Ephemerily! Ephemerilil-, Ephemerily. I really hope I’m saying that right. Either way, thank you so very much for the review.

And if you have a moment and the inclination, your review would be deeply appreciated.

I also want to say hello to Wistful! Wistful is one of the newest members of the podcast Patreon. The Patreon keep me going, makes sure every episode has a transcript that is hand-compiled by garlicknitter – hi, garlicknitter! [Hi, Sarah! – gk] – and you’re supporting independent media, which right now is really important, so thank you. If you would like to look at the Patreon, it is patreon.com/SmartBitches. Your support would mean a tremendous amount.

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All right, are you ready to get started with this episode? Let’s do it! On with the ads and features from March ’16 of RT Book Reviews.


Sarah: Shall we look at the ads and features of the September 2015 issue?

Amanda: Yes, and I think it’s funny that – for everyone listening – we just recorded a bonus episode, and we talked about fandoms?

Sarah: Yes, we just recorded the – hang on; I’ll tell you which one it was – we just recorded the February 20th bonus episode where we’re talking about fandoms and cover art.

Amanda: And now our, our cover star is Cassandra Clare.

Sarah: Absolutely nothing to talk about there, really; not at all. Not at all a, a lore or history. So the cover is, I think in terms of composition, we talked about this with the Kresley Cole cover, that the book covered up so much of the illustration? Like, it covered all her hair? This is a much better –

Amanda: It’s the same thing!

Sarah: But this is a much better use of the composition, because the illustration is nearly there in full, and if you look at the cover, the two upside-down spikes of the, of the, I guess those are spires from a church? Maybe those are steeples? I don’t know. They’re both visible. So they’ve put the book in the lower left corner, so most of the cover art is the cover, and I think it’s a much better use of both elements, and it’s also really gorgeous art. Like, she’s underwater; she’s, like, losing her sword; of course she is using a sword with her hair long and unbound, and what looks like chiffon dress? Maybe sh- – it’s very flowy. Definitely what you want to be sword-fighting in. But the cover is Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare, and Cassandra Clare is one of those people that I find really difficult to talk about because – speaking of fandom – there’s a lot of instant rage-hate that is directed at Clare, and bringing her up means, for me, often a difficult-to-manage Comments section, and there’s, there’s actually a couple authors that I do  not talk about for the fact that I don’t have that much time in my life to weed the comments, because even though the comment is the responsibility of the person leaving the comment, it will all be attributed to me, and I have to be mindful of that. Even though it’s very obviously, to me, that I did not say that; that’s in the comments; no! It was on Smart Bitches, so Smart Bitches said it. And that’s, that is the, that is the job that we do, but I have to be aware of that when we talk about things or don’t talk about things, and Cassandra Clare is a person who’s very hard to talk about because there is a lot of history there, ‘cause she moved from fanfic to writing, but I don’t know all the story, and I said, Amanda, do you know this whole story? Like, there’s a whole Wikipedia about this.

Amanda: And I said, No, I don’t, but I know someone who does.

Sarah: Everybody knows who, somebody who does, and I just want to say, I, I love that! [Laughs]

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: Somebody’s going to remember!

Amanda: Stephanie, my previous roommate of, oh, nine years, maybe? We were roommates for a very long time. Huge Cassandra Clare fan. Huge fandom person.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Huge fic person. So I knew exactly who to text, Can you help sum up and debrief us?

Sarah: If you are not familiar with Cassandra Clare or are, are fuzzy on why that name has so much weight to it, Stephanie is here to make it clear. Thank you!

Amanda: Thank you, Stephanie! She sent me a, a, a long, longish text that I think was pretty thorough and pretty neutral-ish.

Sarah: And to be clear, Stephanie works in publishing, so is very familiar with how the sausage is made here.

Amanda: Yes. So Stephanie says:

>> Back in the early aughts, Cassandra Clare was penning Draco and Ginny fanfic on FanFiction.net. Cassandra Clare was a big-name fan at the time, which means a very prominent member of a fandom community. Like, fans of this fandom knew who Cassandra Clare was. While most of that trilogy was her own writing, she lifted passages and phrases from the published books, though out of print –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: >> – and from other fanfiction writers without giving credit and passing it off as her own. There was a whole take-down and exposé by someone in the fandom about it. All of this doing comparison side by side, and there was a lot of back-and-forth about Cassandra Clare sending her fans to try and dox those talking about it or trying to ruin her reputation. I don’t think it was ever confirmed that she was behind it, but you can check me on that. However, that trilogy was taken off FanFiction.net because it became the basis of what she reworked in, into the Mortal Instruments series.

And then Stephanie also sent me a link for anyone who wants to do a deep dive on fanlore.org, and it’s called “The Cassandra Claire Plagiarism Debacle,” and we’ll, we’ll link it in the comments if you want to read further.

Sarah: There, just to give a sense of how big a thing this was back in the day, the fanlore.org wiki for Cassandra Clare has like nine total different full pages about every aspect of this, of, of the whole incident, and I just want to say, we’re talking about early aughts. Wow! What a different time. She was one of the first I remember who moved her fanfic into publishing, and now that’s extremely commonplace, and I know –

Amanda: Oh yeah.

Sarah: – for a lot of people in fanfic communities, that is considered, to put it mildly, that is considered dishonorable behavior. I don’t actually –

Amanda: Really! I mean, I can’t keep up with it anymore. Like, normally –

Sarah: It was considered dishonorable behavior, I think. Now I think it’s so commonplace it’s kind of like, Oh, okay. That’s where great writers –

Amanda: Yeah, ‘cause –

Sarah: – get discovered, because the barrier to entry is so low.

Amanda: I feel like it happens so common now, too, ‘cause I remember early when people thing, when things would get acquired from a fanfic to be published, it was a big deal and people would know, but now when we do Hide Your Wallet, we have some commenters of it’s like, Oh, this was, like, a, a ReyLo fic, and I’m like, Oh my God, I had no idea. That makes sense now, like, reading the description or, like, looking at the cover art or whatever. But I, I feel like I – not that it’s more commonplace, but I’m definitely not as on top of what is getting published traditionally from fic anymore, because it’s not as a big deal, I suppose.

Sarah: Mm-hmm. Shall we, shall we move on to the ads and features?

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: Okay, so I need to talk about page 2 and page 3. So this is a tale of two pages. We start with page 2, which is an ad for Christine Feehan’s Dark Promises. And this is a terrible ad from a graphic perspective. It is hard to read; it is cluttered; it is flat; it is monochromatic. The cover is a shirtless, waxed dude with an owl that looks like it has just emerged from his crotch. Like, it’s just –

Amanda: I mean, I don’t know what you want, Sarah.

Sarah: – flying forward out of his –

Amanda: This is a Christine Feehan cover.

Sarah: Oh yeah, it’s absolutely – he –

Amanda: Like, this –

Sarah: – he birthed an owl from his bellybutton prior to this image being captured. But the problem is, the cover is off to the side, the background is this sort of gray-green wasteland of trees and a gray sky, and then there’s an, there’s a cover copy over top of that, and it is very hard to read. It, it just, it, the, the, it’s just, there’s just many things wrong with the layout, and I’m like, Oh, wow, this is a really terrible ad. Like, I’m super bummed that, like, woof! This is not a good ad! Wow! That’s really a bad ad for page 2! And then I scrolled to page 3.

Amanda: Surprise! You thought that one was bad!

Sarah: Page 3! What the shit is happening here? Okay, so first of all, all of this will be in the visual aids, and you should take a look! This is the Maitland family saga, and we have Moon over Laramie, which is a close-up of a guy’s intense face, giant head, just the head, floating over the mountains next to the moon. So is he the moon or is the moon the moon? You don’t know, because they’re both floating in the sky. And then under that – [laughs] – is –

Amanda: The Christmas tree man is my favorite.

Sarah: You like the Christmas tree man?

Amanda: That one is my absolute favorite, yeah.

Sarah: Tell me about Christmas in Cheyenne, and then I will attempt to describe what is happening in Lost in Wyoming. [Laughs] Oh my God!

Amanda: Yeah! So –

Sarah: Speaking of covers!

Amanda: – there’s a Christmas tree –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – with red and gold ornaments and, you know, yellow, little twinkle lights –

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: – and I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be, like, a stack of presents? And the –

Sarah: It’s very small. But yeah.

Amanda: Yeah, it looks like presents. And then there’s another large man’s face with a cowboy hat, and he’s got a thin little mustache, and he’s looking down at the little presents, and I just love how it looks like he’s, like, emerging or, from the tree or fusing with the tree.

Sarah: He is one with that tree. And he’s looking at the presents like –

Amanda: I like…

Sarah: – What?

Amanda: Or, or you know, like, you hear stories of when people chop down their own tree and they realize that there’s, like, a bird’s nest or a fucking squirrel still in the tree?

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: I just imagine this family chopped down this tree, brought it home, and was like, Oh shit, there’s a cowboy in our tree.

Sarah: [Laughs] In our tree!

Amanda: We forgot to check for cowboys before we brought the tree into the house!

Sarah: So then there’s –

Amanda: And now he’s emerging from it.

Sarah: This is…Lost in Wyoming. Okay. So –

Amanda: He does look lost, in fairness.

Sarah: He is growing out of the dirt! [Laughs]

Amanda: And lost half his body.

Sarah: And his head and his neck and his collar are – [laughs] – because it’s faded, they just faded the, and they feathered and faded the edge of the image and just plopped him in some dirt. It looks like he’s growing out of the ground!

Amanda: Like a cabbage patch!

Sarah: He’s like – [laughs] – he’s growing, and the…the title is Lost in Wyoming, and it’s like, What, did they, did they lose his head on the ground, and that’s why it’s there? Like, what is happening? He’s growing out of the dirt. Wow! And that’s page 3.

Amanda: That’s page 3!

Sarah: I could just, you know, hit Stop, and we could be good, because I don’t think anything in the rest of this magazine is going to top this, right?

Amanda: I don’t think so.

Sarah: No, nothing can top the Maitland family saga.

Amanda: Lost in Wyoming.

Sarah: Thank you, Vivian Sinclair; this completely made my day.

So the Letter to the Editor, I’m sorry to inform you, is very boring. There is a really great picture of Essie Davis because Lady Kathryn of Barrow has discovered Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and they are indeed great. But the letter doesn’t tell us how to live forever or talk about saunas, so –

Amanda: So the Letter to the Editor –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – now that we mention it, reminds me of being on a phone call with my mom. ‘Cause she’s telling me what she’s watching these days; she’s telling me, like, what new medication she’s on or what, like, new weird supplement she’s taking. Just, like, a random list of facts, of things that have changed with her since I last talked to her two weeks ago.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s like a, instead of a Christmas letter at the end of the year, it’s by phone. Yeah, my mother-in-law is the same.

Amanda: Or it’s like, Have you heard of this really popular piece of media that’s been around for ten years now?

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: Or whatever. It’s like, Yeah, mom, I’m – or she’s watching Bones all the way through for like the tenth time.

Sarah: Not, not, I don’t get any tips on how to live forever.

But then on page 5 we have a full-page collage – collage! – of the RT holiday party, which was very well attended –

Amanda: I love this.

Sarah: – by people we know! [Laughs]

Amanda: I recognize so many people.

Sarah: Oh yeah. And you know that RT had to throw a pretty great holiday party if they got all these publishing big machers in there, and Jude Deveraux attended this party? I would –

Amanda: She sure did!

Sarah: I would be beside myself if I ended up at a holiday party with Jude frigging Deveraux; my God! But there’s, like, a display of, you think that’s cheese balls? Or you think those are falafel? There’s a whole, there’s a meat tray; there’s some – I mean, they got some catered stuff; hopefully it tasted good. I’m sure there was a bar. But yeah! They’re, all of these pictures are people that, like, we used to work with and that we know! It was very cute!

Amanda: Also, like, you know, the HarperCollins team?

Sarah: Yeah!

Amanda: They’re not there anymore!

Sarah: Nope! Yeah. What a fun little time capsule that is.

Amanda: I know.

Sarah: So you wanted to look at page 6.

Amanda: Yeah, ‘cause – [laughs] – this is the Mail Bag section, where people can write in. They do, like, the Social Calls where it’s, like, talking about stuff happening on social media. But the only Mail Bag that they got is called, it’s Review Source 101, and it feels like tech support? And it was sent in via email, and it says:

>> Question regarding the RT Review Source: How can I look at reviews? I was thinking I could go to the web page and find an area called RT Review Source and scroll through that, maybe by month, author, or genre. I subscribe to book bug, BookBub, and they got me started on Bella Andre. When I learned you’d be reviewing self-published books I knew I wanted to follow. While I don’t agree with your reviews one hundred percent, I am close to ninety percent. Thanks for explaining this to me.

And then the magazine writes back about where you can find RT Review Source online and how to access it.

Sarah: Yeah, you have to search for it because they didn’t create a menu item for it. First of all, this person is very good at user, user interface? Like, they’ve made it very clear, this is what I want to be able to do; I should be able to do this, and it’s not happening? But also I read this letter and thought, Was this a plant?

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Did they make this up? Did they make up this letter? Did somebody who was mad that there isn’t good user interface on the website, somebody who wanted the menu item and got shot down, did they write this letter? [Laughs]

Amanda: Possible. Or maybe the, maybe the Review Source wasn’t getting the traffic that they wanted and they realized that people can’t access it, so they planted this to, to hopefully see if more people would know how to find it. [Laughs]

Sarah: The next article is by Elissa Petruzzi, who always wrote great articles for, for RT. This is called “DIY YA: A Look at Self-Publishing YA in 2016.” So prepare ye for a time capsule. First –

Amanda: This is wild.

Sarah: – it mentions Amanda Hocking. Do you remember everyone losing their Goddamn minds over Amanda Hocking?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Multimillion-dollar deal for what was self-published; it was one of the earlier big, big, big self-publish deals. But it also mentions Wattpad, and people who were in charge of writing and publishing partnerships at Watt-head, Wattpad, including Ashleigh Gardner, who I knew for a long time, one of the things that Jennifer L. Armentrout says in this article that I think is very, very interesting is that self-publishing in YA is a challenge if you’re not doing something like Wattpad, because the barrier for e-retailers of books is allowing teens to access without credit cards. Or, or teens using a credit card of their parents to buy the books they want to read, which their parents might not want to, might not want to purchase for them. Wattpad is free, and fanfic is free, but the other place where kids get a lot of, and teens get a lot of books is the library, and libraries not acquiring self-published books harms YA readers who are devoted to getting books from the library, so the major problem isn’t necessarily a platform or access, it’s knowing that your audience has a very specific set of shopping options and trying to make sure that you’re in one if not all of them.

Amanda: Like, I remember Smashwords, too; when we’d go to the RT Book Lovers Con, we would get a USB drive –

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Amanda: – in our, like, swag bags –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – just filled with Smashwords books.

Sarah: Sometimes I get a royalty statement from Smashwords, and it’s like eight-six cents.

Amanda: Well, that’s more than, that’s eighty-six cents more than you had yesterday.

Sarah: Earlier today, it’s true!

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: But yeah, this is very much a time capsule, isn’t it?

Amanda: YA is such a luxury in that a lot of people are getting hardcover releases.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Like Stephanie, who is an adult and has her own discretionary income, primarily reads YA, and she will almost always buy hardcover.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Always, and hardcover’s not cheap!

Sarah: There’s an interesting quote at the end here from a librarian:

>> When I hear the word gatekeeper, it brings to mind someone keeping something out. I absolutely do not feel that way as a librarian. Yes, I do decide not to purchase certain books, but it’s not because I want to keep my students away; it’s because they don’t fit with our selection policy or aren’t age-appropriate. I want to expose my students to a wide variety of books and hope they will find something they like. My goal is to connect students with books that they will actually read and enjoy. If being a gatekeeper means opening the gates so my students can find the stories they’re looking for, then sign me up.

That was a big wad of nonsense is what that was. [Laughs]

Amanda: Well, I think it’s interesting, too, of, like, gatekeeping is usually used as a way of meaning you keep it closed.

Sarah: Mm-hmm! Yeah. Who gets to come in and who does not.

Amanda: But if you’re a gatekeeper, you can choose to throw the fucking gates wide open –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – if you want.

Sarah: It’s also interesting to look at the idea of self-publishing YA as something that has multiple facets, because we’re still moving out of, but still somewhat in, the period of time where self-publishing often implied to people in professional capacities lack of professional editing, lack of professional production, substandard product.

Amanda: Which is so strange, because, like, when I do Books on Sale stuff? We have so many people who comment, I wanted to like this book, but it really needed an editor, and it’s still, like, a traditionally –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Amanda: – published book.

Sarah: Well, they, they laid everybody off; there’s like four, four and a half editors between all the houses. I don’t know if anyone knew that.

Amanda: So there’s no editors left; sorry. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah. It’s all, it’s all AI; that’s the problem.

So the next article is also very cute. It is by Mari Mancusi about switching from romance to YA, and I thought this was very, very cute. It’s a good profile article; she wrote it herself. But the thing that I like that reminded me of something that you’ve been, you’ve said before:

>> YA isn’t about looking back at being a teen. It’s being that teen now. You want it to feel legit. You have to get into their heads, that their thought processes are different, the world is immediate, the emotions are raw, and what might seem inconsequential to an adult might feel like the end of the world to a teen. Whereas romances tend to draw on a lot of backstory where something that once happened to the hero or heroine shapes their reactions to current events, in teen fiction that past is happening now, and those experiences need to be on the page.

That is a –

Amanda: That’s great.

Sarah: – really, really good explanation of the immediacy of YA.

Amanda: Yeah! And I feel like that’s the biggest complaint that I often see of people reading YA, and it was like, Oh, these characters are immature or they’re impetuous or –

Sarah: They’re teenagers!

Amanda: They’re teenagers! If that’s not –

Sarah: They’re doing their jobs! It’s like complaining that your –

Amanda: – if that’s not something you want –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – then –

Sarah: – don’t read that. It’s like complaining that your toddler is sick. Toddlers being sick is their full-time job. They put in overtime.

Amanda: They are a walking germ.

Sarah: I thought this was a really, really good article for their Pros on Prose section, ‘cause it is a really important difference, and a lot of people moved from YA to romance or from romance to YA.

Amanda: And we’re still seeing it.

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Amanda: We’re still seeing authors, like, make that sort of transition or, like, go back and forth.

Sarah: Her first adult title never stops making me laugh.


Sarah: I wanted to talk about this guy on page 19, but you also had some comments about page 19. So page 19 –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – is an ad for smittenword.com, which was the Bantam/Dell/Ballantine/Loveswept/Flirt blog. This is still when publishers all had their own blogs. There is a cover for Risking It All by Christi Barth, and it is that guy. You know this guy. Both, he’s a, he’s a white guy, he’s got a lot of muscles, his pectorals are very big, and he is ripping his shirt off. His arms are up, and he’s sort of peeking at, peeking at you, and half of his face is covered by the shirt. And when you see this cover, you are going to know, Oh, I’ve seen that guy! I know that guy!

Amanda: This, this cover, and this sort of style of cover, where it’s like the overhead reach and everything’s, like, pulled tight, the muscles and skin are pulled tight –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – if you move the, the title out of the way, ‘cause the title’s covering his nips –

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: – if you remove that, the shape of his body and, like, where the abs and nipples are remind me of when you look at a stingray from the bottom up.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: You know what I mean?

Sarah: Yes. Very true!

Amanda: Just flat, and you’ve got, like, the little, like, slits for eyes, and then, like, the weird little, like, gill/ab-y areas? It reminds me of a stingray if you’re looking at –

Sarah: You’re, you’re not wrong!

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: You’re not wrong! What was your, what was your comment on this, on this page of ads? This is four, eight, twelve different books.

Amanda: Yeah! So I, my eye was immediately drawn to the cover of Resist by Missy Johnson, because a man is groping a woman’s boob, full on.

Sarah: Oh yeah, he’s getting to second base!

Amanda: Yeah. Right on that cover. And that’s where my, like, my eyes can’t stop being drawn to that. I was like, What?

Sarah: In terms of composition, it’s the, it is one of a few black-and-white pictures, but it is the brightest white on the page.

Amanda: Oh, that is a good point.

Sarah: So that’s going to draw your eye.

Amanda: And it’s Loveswept, and that was, like, digital only, right –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – Loveswept?

Sarah: So we have – [sighs] – oy vey – Where Are All the Jewish Girls in Romance? And it’s, I mean, it’s fine; it’s absolutely true. This was about two years after I self-published my Hanukkah romance? It’s still newsworthy when there’s Muslim and Jewish characters; it’s still like the rep –

Amanda: Yep.

Sarah: – is a primary element of telling people about this book. But I will say, this article features Dahlia Adler, who we are fans of.

Amanda: She’s, she’s been at this for a while!

Sarah: That’s right! Well, when, when she lost her writing job at Barnes and Noble with, and didn’t know that she lost it – she had to keep asking if I’m, if I’m, am I still employed? It was really, really tawdry – but I, we asked her to come and do queer romance roundup, roundups once a month, because she knows so much about books that are coming out. So much. She’s like you; she’s one of those people that’s like an encyclopedia of books and just knows so many titles and when they came out and what they’re related to.

Amanda: And she has a, a very popular Patreon. My roommate Sarah, I think – or not Sarah – my roommate Stephanie subscribed or was a patron – she might still be one – where Dahlia would give you, like, personalized book recommendations –

Sarah: Oh, how clever!

Amanda: – and, like – and I don’t know if you would get the book that she’s recommending to you based on the tier or if you would just, like, get an email with your recommendation, and then you can, like, choose to, to pick it up or something like that.

Sarah: Absolutely monetize that skill. That’s, that is –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – that is an art. That is an art…

Amanda: Yeah, if you like queer romances –

Sarah: Dahlia Adler!

Amanda: – and you’re looking for, like, a personalized book recommendation service –

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: – check out her, check out her Patreon.

Sarah: But it’s interesting to see March 2016 and March 2024, we are still looking at a largely homogenous, nondescript Christian character base in romance, and the inclusion of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu characters is, is still, it’s still newsworthy.

Amanda: So I wanted to talk about this ad on page 25 for Sourcebooks Casablanca, and I didn’t get it until right this second.

Sarah: [Laughs] All right –

Amanda: So it says –

Sarah: Well, take me through it.

Amanda: – it says, so it says “Spring Forecast” and then “The Mercury Is Rising,” which is in title case.

Sarah: Yes.

Amanda: So “The Mercury Is Rising,” and then “at” –

Sarah: Which is lowercase.

Amanda: – is in lowercase –

Sarah: Right.

Amanda: – and then I’m like, Is this a Mercury is in retrograde reference? Is this, like –

Sarah: You went straight for astrology there!

Amanda: I know! ‘Cause, like, Spring Forecast? That’s where my brain went, and then I’m like, I, then I also went like, Mercury in your bloodstream? Like, are these people being poisoned? And then I realized, Oh no, they’re talking about a thermometer, the mercury in a thermometer, as in it’s getting hot?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: But also, you mentioned spring, which is weird, ‘cause I would think it’d be summer if it’s getting hotter. I don’t know; this tagline just confused the shit out of me, and I hate it. So, and I also don’t like, why is it in title case?

Sarah: Why is “Is” capitalized and “at” is not?

Amanda: Yes! Or why is any of it cap-, why are we capitalizing Mercury? If we’re talking about the element, wouldn’t it be in lowercase? If we’re talking about the planet, it’d be in, it’d be capitalized.

Sarah: You, I love how you went straight for astrology here in trying to puzzle out what the hell they were talking about. [Laughs]

Amanda: Because Mercury was capitalized! That’s why I was like, What’s, what?!

Sarah: Yep! And we have Her Fierce Warrior from the SWAT team of alpha wolves? I think this is a SWAT team alpha wolf maybe? Or maybe it’s a –

Amanda: I don’t remember this one.

Sarah: – spinoff. But yeah, the mercury is rising. That guy on the cover of Elizabeth Michels’ The Infamous Heir

Amanda: Is everywhere.

Sarah: He was everywhere on every cover for a while, but he looks so bored. Like, my guy, your leg is on fire.

Amanda: Especially since, like, something’s on fire behind him.

Sarah: Your leg is on fire! Don’t be bored! Get up!

Amanda: Well, maybe that’s why the mercury is rising –

Sarah: Yeah!

Amanda: – ‘cause his house is on fire.

Sarah: ‘Cause he, he’s got a little heat problem.

So on page 27 there is an ad for Shadow Mountain Publishing, and it is a Regency twist on My Fair Lady, and the cover has two problems: one, there’s this really thin banner at the top, and in a little insignia – I don’t think that’s the right word, but there’s a little, like, medallion in the middle, and it says “A Proper Romance.” Which, okay. I mean, I guess you’re saying it’s clean, but proper? Then you look at the people on the cover. It’s a photograph, and that woman knows what an iPhone is. This woman has iPhone face. She, this is, this is clearly not a – I mean, obviously not; it’s a photograph. This was always my mental disconnect with photographs on the cover of historicals, because I’m like, Color photography did not exist, and so I am disconnected and confused now. But that’s just my brain, and my brain is weird. That woman looks like she knows what an iPhone is. That’s a –

Amanda: And I don’t, I –

Sarah: – very modern expression.

Amanda: – don’t like what, I don’t like how the dress fits on her. It looks –

Sarah: It’s very baggy!

Amanda: – both too small and too big.

Sarah: It’s very poorly tailored, yeah. And it looks kind of like an apron. But yeah, she’s, she’s got this sort of grin, like side-eye. She, she’s not a proper romance! She’s spilling some extremely hot tea right now; that’s what that expression is!

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: So then we get to page 34, and this is a full-page ad for Kristen Ashley, and this is the Unfinished Hero series, and none of these covers look like romances!

Amanda: I, these were so popular.

Sarah: …wild to me! So I’m going to say something that sounds unkind, and I do not mean it to be, but I fully understand that this sounds like I’m damning with faint praise: for me, Kristen Ashley is the perfect read when my brain is exhausted and I want to read something, because Kristen Ashley will tell you every single detail. You do not have to do any, like, constructive lifting. She’s going to tell you what the room looks like and what color the pillows are and what color the bedstand is and what color the bedspread is and whether or not it’s quilted. She’s going to give you all the detail. It is going to be a very relaxing experience, because she’s going to tell you everything, and that experience is, for me, has been very unique to her writing. It’s like, I’m exhausted; I need a vacation read; my brain is fried; perfect. These covers don’t look like romances; they have big block letters. It looks like a Clancy novel; it’s like Clancy font.

Amanda: The thing that bugs me is that the titles are the hero names.

Sarah: Get the hell out of here.

Amanda: Yes. So the titles are the hero names, and I –

Sarah: [Laughs] This is not the series I read, so I didn’t know that. That’s funny!

Amanda: Yeah, the titles are the hero names, and I had to double-check to make sure I was right.

Sarah: Knight, Creed – wait, the hero’s name is Raid? Like the bug spray?

Amanda: Yeah, so –

Sarah: Ah –

Amanda: – his name is Raiden? R-A-I-D-E-N?

Sarah: Ohhh really!

Amanda: But Knight, that’s, that’s the fucking Knight Rider, okay? That’s the Knight Rider car to me. And then, like, I’m sorry, Sebring? Like a Chrysler Sebring? Like, I can’t get on board with these hero names, and, like, I, like, that’s the one reason why I never picked these up, because I can’t deal with the names, like someone’s first name being Knight? No, thank you. His name is Knight Sebring, by the way, so Sebring is the surname. Just, ooh, Linus made a noise. He didn’t like that either.

I, I read some of them and didn’t really, I read them, the Chaos series, which has a motorcycle club? Not for me, but I did think what she was doing way before her time was her Fantasyland series –

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: – that she did. I thought those were so cool. I think I only read the first two, and there’s five. But I –

Sarah: That’s the one I was thinking of with the, She’s going to tell you what the bed looks like, what the pillows look like, what the colors hanging on the wall.

Amanda: And it looks like they’ve had cover redesigns, too.

Sarah: Of course they have!

Amanda: I mean, they’re not bad; they’re fine. They remind me a lot of the, the Kresley Cole redesigns, where it’s mostly black, except for like a, a face feature in the middle?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: But yeah, I thought that series, which came out in 2011, was like a –

Sarah: No, it’s almost…

Amanda: – it’s a fantasy romance in 2011!

Sarah: Would you say that it is rrromantasy?

Amanda: Oh God. I would!

Sarah: Yeah!

Amanda: I would say that.

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: ‘Cause she gets transported to, like, a, a fantasy world. So yeah.

Sarah: These, this was such an interesting cover strategy. I don’t even know if this is the publisher at this point or these were self-pubbed, but these don’t look like romances; they look like Tom Clancy novels.

Amanda: I think they were self-pubbed, but I don’t remember. I remember Kristen Ashley did a lot of self-pub.

Sarah: She, oh yeah, she was massive in self-pub, but also, she was cutting edge in so many ways. She was one of the earliest book authors in self-pub that I remember being described as Pringles? Like, you read one, and there’s nothing else like it, so you’re just going to read the next one and the next one and the next one. I remember seeing early Twitter, somebody saying, Oh my God, I just discovered Kristen Ashley, and somebody replied and was like, All right, see you in two months! Bye! [Laughs]

Amanda: Yeah. There’s, there’s, I wish, I’m sure there’s a German word for it –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: – Castle Bangenschloss?

Sarah: Yes. That’s what Castle Bangenschloss means!

Amanda: Where, where you discover an author that you really like, and then you peek at their backlist, and it’s like dozens of books, and you’re like, I know what I’m doing for the next couple months. I don’t have to think about what I’m going to read. I get to get excited about all these different series.

Sarah: Yep!

Amanda: That’s a Castle Bangenschloss for you!

Sarah: That’s absolutely Castle Bangenschloss.

Amanda: Yep.

Sarah: Now, on page 61, there is an ad, and if you don’t look at any other visual aid, I hope you will look at this one, because it is a, it is a journey. So this is for the City Nights series:

>> Titillating tourism at your fingertips, your passport to erotic romance

From – all right – [Tear-gare]? [Tear-gar]. Tear-, tearg-, T-I-R-

Amanda: [Tear-gear]!

Sarah: T-I-R-G-E-A-R-R. [Tear-gar]?

Amanda: Maybe it’s a soft, a soft G? [Tur-gee-ay]? [Tur-gee-er]?

Sarah: Could be, could be [Tur-zheer]. I, I’m pretty sure that’s a, a Celtic language, or, or maybe it’s Gallic? I’m not sure, but I –

Amanda: It’s Irish, by the way.

Sarah: Oh! I was in the right language family! So in the background is a, a whole bunch of landmarks, like, the leaning tower of pizza – pizza – the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and a Buddha. You know, like, oh, here we’re going to travel around the world. But up top is a guy in his little shorts with no shirt, of course, embracing this woman who’s wrapped in a sheet, but behind them has been Photoshopped in, poorly, two gigantic passports for the size of these people. Like, these passports, she could wear them over her boobs; it’s a big passport.

Amanda: They’re like a dinner menu.

Sarah: They’re huge! They’re massive! And they’re really badly Photoshopped in; like, you can sort of see where the fade line was drawn? And all I can think of is, do you know how long it takes to get a passport right now? They’re very expensive –

Amanda: A lot…

Sarah: – and a pain in the ass. You should not have sex on top of your Photoshopped passports. It seems like a bad idea. Please do not tell me Tirgearr is still in business.

Amanda: It is! It is. Because it says at the bottom, What’s coming up in 2024.

Sarah: I’m actually kind of excited that they still exist? It’s a small, independently owned publishing company of commercial, adult, genre fiction! Hell yeah, still in business! Oh my God, and at the bottom they have links to BlogSpot.

Amanda: They sure do!

Sarah: I love this! Oh my – hell yeah, still in business.

Amanda: They have a YouTube channel. Is there anything on it?

Sarah: It’s going to tell me how to say the name. I hate mispronouncing things; I feel like a –

Amanda: They pub-, they were publishing stuff a year ago on YouTube.

Sarah: Well, they, I would like to ask them questions about their passport Photoshopping tendencies, and I want to say again, do not shtup on top of your passports; that seems bad.

Amanda: Did you see their merch? They have a House of Tirgearryen/Game of Tomes.

Sarah: Wait, what?

Amanda: Books Are Coming. Yeah, it’s a Game of Thrones merch, but for their publishing company.

Sarah: Oh, I, I, I think I want one.


Sarah: I think I want one of these T-shirts! So it’s this Triskelion-style logo with –

Amanda: Only fifteen bucks, plus postage.

Sarah: – Celtic, Celtic-style illustrations of dogs in a circle, and it says House of – I mean, it is Tirgearr. I, that’s amazing. I’m so excited they’re still in business! I, I, I’m all excited for them now!


Sarah: Then we get to page 71, and it’s time to take a look at the panels on R, on RT Book Lovers Convention. This is just a preview of some of the panels; the actual ad for the conference is later? Look at these panels. Okay, we have “Fantasy Straddling the Genre Divide” with Grace Draven, Darynda Jones, and C. L. Wilson. We have “The Kickass Fantasy Heroine” with Thea Harrison, Darynda Jones, Tamora Pierce, and Grace Draven. “Anatomy of Paranormal Romance: Love, Myth, and Magic” with Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Darynda Jones, and Jessica Clare, and then –

Amanda: I think I went to that one.

Sarah: – this fricking panel – you know they got the big room for this – “Paranormal Antiheroes We Love to Hate,” moderated by Ilona Andrews with Nalini Singh, Kresley Cole, Grace Draven, and Darynda Jones. That panel –

Amanda: Yep.

Sarah: – must have been awesome! Amazing!

Amanda: These are so cool.

Sarah: Such good people.

Amanda: Yeah, we, we went to that one!

Sarah: Went to that RT Book Lovers?

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: Trigger warning: this was the one that was at the Rio.

Amanda: Yeah, and I think this was also the one I was trying to remember. What hotel was the one that we were at in Reno?

Sarah: It was at the Peppermill.

Amanda: That’s, I couldn’t remember the hotel.

Sarah: And you remember I had gotten a, a large room, I had gotten a suite because I was recording the podcast episodes with authors in my room, because it is impossible –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – to find a, a quiet place in a conference hotel. I had the most ongepotchket bathroom. It was coral marble. It was huge. It could have been its own bedroom; it was just absurd, and it was holy-shit cheap.

Amanda: Yeah, Reno is the one that we all took edibles and did a podcast recording, but the Rio was where I met a lot of our Aussie readers, Aussie romance scholars –

Sarah: Yes.

Amanda: – Aussie romance bloggers, and I made friends with them, and Claire, it was her birthday – I think twenty-first birthday, if I remember correctly – and so I went with the Aussies to go see the Chippendale show that was happening in the Rio hotel! So –

Sarah: Amazing! That seems like a –

Amanda: That was, like, the highlight.

Sarah: – really good time.

Amanda: It was a very good time of, like, and I kind of miss, like, making con friends, where, like –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – you make friends with people at the conference, and maybe you keep in touch, but maybe you don’t? And just having that little time capsule of, like, memory, of, like, the stuff that you did with strangers, and it was fun, and it was great.

Sarah: That’s, like, the best RT experience, right? Where else are you going to get together with a bunch of Australians and go to the Chippendale show?

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Page 91 is in the section for RT’s convention, where they’re advertising the convention, and it’s, you can still register; here’s where we’re going. There’s a party from 10:15 to 11:45 sponsored –

Amanda: Could never do that again. Like, I’m old.

Sarah: I’m, I’m long in bed; that’s not happening.

>> A Night with the Bad Boy. Bad boys know how to drive us crazy. What’s better than the sexual push and pull of a bad boy? Nothing. Join these beloved authors who write your favorite bad boys for a fun night of celebrating these delicious men.

What is the agenda? I need to know what’s going to happen.

Amanda: I remember, I went to that one!

Sarah: No! Tell me everything.

Amanda: And, like, they, they put handcuffs on you when you arrived. They just put one handcuff on you; they didn’t handcuff your wrists together. But yeah! You would walk in, and they, like, hot, shirtless men would slap a pair of handcuffs on one of your wrists. I remember that one. And they were, like, cheap ones, so you could usually take it off if it’s, like, too tight or whatever. But yeah, I remember that one.

Sarah: That’s very carceral!

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Heather Graham’s Anything Goes Paranormal Party.

Amanda: Good for Heather Graham, keeping these parties going.

Sarah: Heather Graham’s family is the Von Trapp family if they were from Vegas. They are, it’s like a whole family of show people, theater people. They’re just theater people all the way down, and it’s glorious, and Heather Graham throws a great fucking party.

Then we get what Amanda calls the basic cable section. [Laughs]

Amanda: It’s like public access! You –

Sarah: The public access section. It’s RT Review Source, a book review service for every author! And it’s –

Amanda: I still don’t understand what this is.

Sarah: – self-published and paid reviews, basically, is my understanding, but I could be wrong about that. It’s not clear, anymore than five-star Gold is clear. It’s just, okay, sure!

Amanda: And this is what that woman was trying to find online in the Mail Bag. She was trying to find this online.

Sarah: Yeah, she was trying to find these reviews online, but they did not seem to be present in a way that was easy to locate.

And then if you go to section S10, Supplement 10, there is a whole – [laughs] – there’s a whole article about – this is amazing to me – online video platforms and how to get the most out of them. Now, I just want to remind everybody, this is March 2016, so we’re talking about Blab, Periscope, Google Hangouts, Skype, and YouTube. But the writer’s comment on YouTube is:

>> For occasion-based marketing only. A launch or something significant like a life event announcement. Make it interesting and personal. Keep it short, 120 seconds max. Also, upload directly to Facebook; algorithms work better that way.

Amanda: Now we have TikTok, everybody!

Sarah: Now we’ve got TikTok, and also 120 seconds max on YouTube? No! YouTube is for longform content now!

Amanda: I also wanted to back up a second and go to the cover of the Review Source?

Sarah: Oh!

Amanda: And just look at these – like, this is like a, like a Cover Snark buffet.

Sarah: What do we got here?

Amanda: If you keep going, yeah, and we have Bound to a VampireColleen is the name of a book; Blinding Fate, where it’s like through a window, and I don’t know if they’re trying to do like a, a blinds sort of pun? And look at the horse! Look at the size of that horse.

Sarah: Oh my gosh! What’s wrong with it? Why are those people melting into the leaves?

Amanda: Yeah, these covers are something.

Sarah: Bound to a Vampire, that, does that guy have two heads?

Amanda: Oh!

Sarah: I think that’s a two-headed person! I think that’s, that guy has two heads!

Amanda: It’s giving me Nicholas, The Lords of Satyr.

Sarah: [Laughs] Which one of them is the seeker?

Amanda: [Laughs] I mean, two heads, am I right?

Sarah: Ah, yeah! Yeah! Yeah! You’re not wrong! Wow. That is a buffet of Cover Snark.

Amanda: Right?

Sarah: Goodness.

Page Supplement 13 is an article about going from blogger to personal assistant, How My Love of Books Led to My Lifelong Friendships and a Dream Job.

Amanda: We had this article. Not this same article, but this same topic many times.

Sarah: Yeah. Now, page 18 is a very interesting article, given the conversations that we’ve been having about cover art and the change of cover art. And this person is a reader, and they wrote a very angry article about the fact that the same stock photos are used on different book covers, and they are very mad. And I wrote, What the hell is this whining weirdness? Like, they’re just so mad that the same stock image has been used on different books. Like, this is really pissing them off. Quote:

>> Until I did my research, I had always assumed that cover art was original to the book and author. I’m honestly rather disappointed that some of the beautiful and vibrant covers I treasure on my bookshelves are not as unique as I first thought. While I will always continue to enhance and broaden my reading scope and simply enjoy the pleasures of a good book, I sincerely hope publishers and indie authors will be more diligent and take the reader into consideration when reusing cover image.

Are you fucking kidding me? Take the reader into consideration in terms of does the cover actually market the book effectively and accurately and safely? But, like, don’t reuse stock images? What? Oh my…

Amanda: I mean, yeah, like, for self and indie pub, the authors are paying for that shit out of their own pocket. They don’t have an art team that can design a wholly unique cover.

Sarah: Did she, does this person really think that every cover, every book cover is unique to them?

Amanda: And why is it special? Like, is it special because it grabbed your eye and made you read the book? Is it special because you realized that, like, the cover accurately reflects the book?

Sarah: I’m guessing here, but I think that the cover image be-, the image of the cover and the image of the book has come to represent the emotional experience that they had reading that book, which was a big emotional experience for them, and so seeing that image on a book that didn’t give them that emotional experience is jarring. I get it; it’s weird to be like, Oh wait, I know that guy’s back! Oh wait, we, we just talked about that guy ripping his shirt off! How many covers have we seen with that guy? That guy’s been taking his shirt off on like sixty books.

But, like, you should think of the reader because it’s not special? Are you for real? One thing I, I’m doing an inter-, I’m editing an interview with two cover designers who used to do the photography and the art of a lot of Old School covers, and one of the things they told me that blew my Goddamn mind – SPOILER for another episode that you might have already heard by this point – publishers used to send models, like Wilhelmina models – model-models – to the art directors and the artists for these romance covers. That’s why you would see these same types of guys or same model, like Ewa da Cruz from soap operas was on like thirty covers for a while there. Wilhelmina was billing publishers millions of dollars a month for the number of models that they were using for all of these covers. Those were all unique creations, and eventually what happened is that certain models would only work with these two artists. Like, I will not do romance covers with anyone other than you, because it is not a safe environment, because you’re in these super intimate, grasp-y poses, because they created a safe studio space, ‘cause it was two women, and they were very specific about what they wanted, but they would do one cover after another after another after another, like ten in a day. Nobody has that budget anymore for every cover to be unique. Are you for real? Are you kidding me? Wow. I can’t believe this was published. This is absurd.

Amanda: Yeah, I’m very curious how this was pitched.

Sarah: This is a strange thing to be, like, demanding: How dare you not think of my feelings when choosing your stock art?

Amanda: I think it’s kind of funny to see the same one. I don’t –

Sarah: I think it’s, I think it’s like, Oh, you know what? That is a good image; you have good taste.

So what did you think of, of this, of this issue of Romantic Times?

Amanda: I think in terms of, like, ads and features, not the weirdest of the bunch we’ve seen.

Sarah: No, not the weirdest by a long shot, no.

Amanda: I still don’t understand Review Source, and I think some of the features in the Review Source we’ve seen already in the magazine, like the fan to PA? We’ve seen that in the actual magazine before.

Sarah: Oh yeah, we’ve seen that in the supplement, too. They’ve done that type of article before.

Amanda: But, yeah, Review Source still confounds me as a concept. [Laughs] But I do love seeing of a period of time where I was an adult and could remember these things –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – and not like a teen and a, you know, my brain was mush? So I really liked seeing more recognizable stuff for me?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Because I feel like I also have, like, more to talk about?

Sarah: It’s also interesting to see an article about self-pubbing YA and the role of gatekeeping in self-pub that keeps books out of young readers’ hands, and then they have a whole separate section for the self-pub reviews. And that is a very interesting contrast. Also, a lot of the reviews in the Review Source were paid for, which I understand them wanting to differentiate from the, the magazine itself, but it’s still keeping the self-pub stuff separate in a way that they’ve been arguing about in the magazine proper, which is wild.


Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode, and we have left Castle Bangenschloss, Castle Bangen-Castle, for the last time.

I will give you a sneak preview: next month we are looking at April 2005, a long time ago. It doesn’t sound like a long time ago if you say 2005; I think that’s like, you know, two years ago? But no! That’s nineteen years ago. As you do. So we’re heading back to April 2005. Do not miss those episodes if you’re curious and you want to put them on your calendar! That will be April 5th and April 19h.

As a reminder, do not miss the visual aids for this issue. You can find a link in your show notes, you can find them at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast, or you can just go to rtrewind.com. You get all of the RT Rewind content.

I would love to know how you’re enjoying these episodes. I’m having a really great time, but I would love to hear from you and tell me, you know, what you think! You can email me at [email protected]. You can talk to me in the comments of these posts, ‘cause we are, after all, a blog.

As always, I end with a terrible joke, and this comes from Malaraa. As part of our Valentine’s Day exchange, we did a card exchange for Valentine’s Day in the Patreon, in the Discord, and it was delightful! And I got jokes. So thank you, Malaraa.

How do you keep a jewelry store safe on Valentine’s Day?

Give up? How do you keep a jewelry store safe on Valentine’s Day?

You locket.

[Laughs] Thank you, Malaraa! Thank you to everyone who has joined the Patreon, who has told a friend, who has left a review. Being a podcast and being a blog in this era is a weird time, and I am really, really grateful for all of your support.

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we’ll see you back here next week.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

[end of music]

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