Wednesday, April 15, 2020

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop - Caution! Warning Ahead

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)
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

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


  1. Music with objectional lyrics is usually labeled.
    Some genres come with givens. With space opera, you know you'll get something akin to Star Wars - possible deaths and a little violence.

    1. Exactly! Giving a content warning isn't a spoiler, it's a heads up to potential readers so they know how to proceed.

      thanks for stopping by

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