Are more warnings needed in book descriptions?
Is book censorship in danger of limiting creativity and freedom of expression?
I recently watched a discussion unfold on Facebook about whether The Abattoir of Dreams should have trigger warnings in its description. The person who started the discussion stated they had finished the book, thought it was good, but that ‘there really should be a statutory warning on book covers and blurbs, if a book deals extensively with child abuse’.
This comment then led to a debate about the pros and cons of trigger warnings. Trigger warnings are defined as: a statement cautioning that content (as in a text, video, or class) may be disturbing or upsetting.
As the discussion was taking place in a crime fiction group, many people didn’t see the need for warnings as they’d expect topics such as murder and abuse to be included anyway. The overall opinion was that the book description should make the content of the book clear, so that readers are aware of anything they’d prefer not to read before buying the book. I think that this approach is easier for both publishers and indie authors to implement
I asked best-selling crime thriller author, Peter James, for his opinion, and he told me that he never would put warnings on any of his books. His personal belief is that we live in an age where there are far too many warnings anyway.
Marissa Farrar, paranormal romance author, states, ‘I feel like someone should be able to tell what sort of a ride they’re in for when they read the blurb. If they don’t, maybe the author didn’t make such a good job of writing it’.She also goes on to say, ‘if you’re looking at a horror book, you’d expect to be scared, you shouldn’t need a warning. If you don’t like a book, you can always choose to put it down.’
The Boar.com (the University of Warwick award-winning students’ newspaper) also discusses this issue, and concludes with this: ‘Trigger warnings have their use in some areas, but trying to place warning signs before all painful discussions will not make us stronger. Trigger warnings in texts are ultimately unhelpful and decrease literature’s ability to shock us, invite us to question things or to take action. After all, history has proved time and time again that there is nothing about literature that is not disturbing.’
I asked author, Betsy Freeman Reavley and co-founder of UK publisher Bloodhound Books, a few questions about trigger warnings. Here’s what she said:
Do you think trigger warnings are useful?
I believe that readers want and expect different things from different authors. If a writer walks on the dark side and delves into taboo or distressing subjects it is worth mentioning this in the description. Not every reader knows about the writer whose book they might pick up and some people do not like to read about subjects they find upsetting.
Could book blurbs be in danger of being full of warnings if they’re used more widely?
Yes. The beauty of fiction is the lack of censorship and it would be a shame if this changed. Apart from anything else, it is possible that if descriptions became full of warnings they would also end up becoming spoilers.
Have you used any for your own books, or for other books by Bloodhound authors?
To date, we have never put a warning on any of our novels. However, for my first novel the publisher included a warning and it is something that we are now considering doing for any titles that may contain extreme violence or distressing scenes.
Crime thriller author, Cheryl Elaine, uses both the wording of her book blurb plus a reader advisory notice (suitable for 18yrs +) for her novel, No Ordinary Girl. She told me that her readers have appreciated how the blurb was written and that a warning was included. The book is graphic with scenes of violent sex and torture.
I agree with the general opinion shared above. A book description should tell a reader about the content and overall theme of a book. If a reader then starts to read it and finds it’s not for them, they can put it down.
Are you an author who has used trigger warnings on your books? What was the response from your readers?
When you’re choosing a book to read do you wish there were more warnings, or do you know what to expect because of a books genre?
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
As always, thanks for your support.
All the best,