#Authortoolboxbloghop – Caution! Warning Ahead

CW post

Happy April. I hope everyone is staying safe and in good health. I’m getting this out later than usual because honestly I forgot. The days are bleeding together. I’m home-schooling the kids. It’s just been a lot. But, I remembered when I got up, so here we are. A new #Authortoolboxbloghop.

Today I’m talking content warnings on our books. Depending on how active you are on social media, you’ve probably seen the debate pop up every so often. There are usually two camps: yay or nay.

The main reason the nayers seem to be against content warnings are spoilers. They feel that giving a heads up will somehow ruin the reading experience. I saw one person comment that if readers couldn’t handle whatever then they shouldn’t read the book. **Insert major eye roll**

If a person doesn’t even bother to give clues in the blurb that the story may contain triggering content, how is a person supposed to know to avoid it. And believe me I’ve seen some deliberately vague blurbs and later read the reviews and get hit with some whoppers.

So, yeah, I’m camp yay. Content warnings aren’t spoilers. They are a polite thing sort of like movie ratings. If you see a rating that says R for sex, violence, etc, then you know you can avoid that movie if those aren’t things that appeal to you.

And I get it, you never know what will be upsetting to readers and therefore can’t account for everything. That’s when you have to use your best judgement. It won’t be perfect. I had a friend that wrote a story and there is a passing mention that the heroine’s mother *may have* died of cancer. This character is never on screen, and that really is the only time it’s brought up. Her death was secretive as part of the overall plot. My friend got dinged in a review because her story didn’t have a content warning about cancer. It was not depicted, only mentioned, and yet that was enough to bother someone.

My feeling is, when in doubt, warn. Now, when you’re an indie author you have more control over this. My book Anything Once has a subplot dealing with infertility. I knew that is a sensitive topic so I wanted a warning. It wasn’t as easy to get as you’d think it should have been.

I’m rambling. Sorry. Let’s bring it around. How do you know what you should warn about? Well, these are a few things that come to mind for me. Your mileage may vary, especially depending on what genre you write.

Sexual Assault

Death (especially of a child)

Infertility

Abuse (including animal abuse)

Drug/Alcohol *this isn’t if the friends are having a drink at happy hour, but more if addiction is a central part to the story)

Violence (including domestic violence)

Eating disorders

Self-harm

Again, these are just a few, but from the circles I’m in, seem to be the biggest ones talked about.

How you word your content warning is up to you. Take a look at how others do it to get an idea. This is the one I have on my first novel, Fiendish:

Fiendish is a dark and twisted take on Beauty and The Beast. This story contains mature themes meant for readers 18+. The story contains sexually explicit scenes, some that may contain dubious and non-consent, adult language, and graphic violence and may be considered offensive to some readers.

I put this at the end of the blurb on the product page so it’s upfront and can’t be missed.

This is the one on the inside of my book, Anything Once:

This novel deals with issues of infertility. This is a subject that can be sensitive to some readers. It is a matter that each couple handles and reacts to differently. Sensitivity readers were used, and I did take the feedback offered under advisement when crafting those parts of the story and tried to give it the care and attention required.

I wanted this on the blurb, but instead it’s on the inside of the book just after the table of contents.

Two different warnings, but give the necessary information without “spoiling” the book. As writers I think it’s the responsible thing to do if you’re writing about tough topics to make that clear to the readers. Sure, jokes can be made about this being a “soft society” but I don’t feel that way. Now days people aren’t as quiet about what hurts them emotionally and mentally as in days past.

Not every reader cares about whether there is a warning or not. Subject matter doesn’t get to them and that’s great. But it doesn’t take much more additional time to add a sentence or two in order to give a little extra protection to those it may bother.

That’s it for this month. Hope you found this helpful.

Until next time
~Meka

13 thoughts on “#Authortoolboxbloghop – Caution! Warning Ahead

  1. emaginette says:

    Interesting. I’ve not considered this. I think one can be vague about the exact content and still include a warning so the reader can make an educated choice. Like you said, it’s in the phrasing.

    That is better than the reader getting to a point, gasping, and closing the book and any future sales for good.

    Not all books are for everyone. We should get that and be respectful of our readers needs.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Liked by 1 person

    • Meka James says:

      I agree. How you phrase it can leave it spoiler free while also giving readers a heads up of what to expect. And yes! Much better for the reader to know in advance rather than be blindsided and you lose potential sales since they can no longer trust you. 😦

      Thanks for stopping by

      Liked by 1 person

  2. S.E. White says:

    I’m firm camp “yes” to content warnings, as well. I think readers would *rather* be spoiled (if it can even be considered a spoiler) than to run head-on into something which causes them to spiral into a bad place. To me it’s almost like physically assaulting them with the hurtful content of the book if it comes unexpectedly. It should be up to the reader to decide if the trigger is something they can handle, or not. And they can’t make an informed choice without that content warning.

    I know that seems like strong wording, but I’ve run into triggering content in a book myself which was hidden in the last 25% of the book, not even hinted at in the blurb, and I felt betrayed. Almost physically sick. When I read the Goodreads reviews for the book the same issue was mentioned by a lot of other readers (should’ve read the reviews first! lesson learned). So yes, authors, content warnings please.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Meka James says:

      Exactly! The warning gives the reader the information they need to make the choice that best suits them. And sometimes they can handle the content even if it normally might be something they avoid. It all depends on their mood and mental space at the time. By withholding that information you are doing more harm that could have been avoided.

      See, and it’s stuff like what you encountered that the content warnings can help with. No one wants to be slammed with something upsetting that they were unprepared for. It’s not a fair thing to do to the reader. Especially when a sentence or two could have saved or prepared them.

      thanks for stopping by

      Liked by 1 person

    • AuthorSarahKrewis says:

      I read a book recently from BookSprout and it had a scene where the character was forced to give oral to her teenaged babysitter (male) when she was 4 yrs old. I about burned my damn kindle. I was glad when she asked for feedback because I was honest with her. As a mother, I do NOT need to know about that. It could easily be done without giving that visual.

      Liked by 1 person

      • S.E. White says:

        Wow I have no idea in what context that would make sense, but it definitely screams CONTENT WARNING. It’s okay to just tell us the character had a really bad childhood and has a very warped view of sex, without going into tons of detail 😦

        Like

  3. lalanquist says:

    This is why I put content warnings at the bottom of my reviews because often they aren’t put in books! And honestly, let’s just take a second to think about the spoiler concerns. The biggest spoilers are things like “death of a major character”. If, say, you picked up one of the Game of Thrones books before they got popular, and you saw a content warning of “death of a major character” or “violence” or any of the other really graphic things that happens in the series, you won’t know when it’s coming or who it’s going to happen to! 😩 This is why I’ve never understood the “nay” side.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Meka James says:

      I see other reviewers do that as well and it’s smart. Yes, you can put warnings and it will still leave enough mystery as to not give things away as you stated. It’s a simple thing that shows the writer gives care to potential readers. Easy peasy.

      thanks for stopping by

      Liked by 1 person

  4. raimeygallant says:

    I’m in the yes camp as well, but I have gone back and forth about this. I wait six months, read more articles, wait another six month, read more articles…I keep waiting for someone to come up with a solution for this that works for all books.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. raimeygallant says:

    Whoops. Pressed post comment by accident. I tried devising a solution myself at one point, a voluntary, standardized form authors could grab and post in their books or on their websites, etc., but it was coming up with the list of all potential triggers that made me stop and realize I wasn’t the best person to be creating the form. My list was getting extensive and I didn’t know what I was missing. Anyway, this is a great post and it helps me because it makes it easier to think about.

    Like

  6. AuthorSarahKrewis says:

    Wow! I didn’t even think about this. Not that I didn’t care, but just totally slipped my mind. It’s something I’ll need to think about when it comes to my WIP as it deals with a disease and miscarriage. I don’t want to spoil my story and these are HUGE overall plot points. Will be looking in the best way to place trigger warnings without giving too much away.

    Like

  7. Louise Brady, Author says:

    I think content warnings and ratings are essential. There are certain things I don’t want to read about and I’d rather be warned upfront than get halfway through a book and find something I can’t deal with reading. Review copies seem to list warnings more often in the sign up sheets, and fanfiction always has them, so why shouldn’t published books?

    Like

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