Friday, March 25, 2022

Reader warnings

I read a blog post of yours from 2017 about trigger warnings. I am writing a YA mystery/thriller and want to add a note to readers that the book does not glorify abuse/suicide/etc. with the hotline provided. Should I add this to my manuscript? I have gotten different answers from professors and thought it may help to ask an agent their opinion. 

Your intent is pure and to be respected.
But let's think about how this looks in the real world.

You're trying to assauge your readers' hesitation on those two hot button topics---but you don't know what drives that hesitation. Is it the mere mention of abuse or suicide? There are readers who don't want to read any book that has those things in it.

Is it the idea that characters dealing with these problem is "glorifying them"?
That's a pretty skewed viewpoint; abuse and suicide happen in real life. Talking about it isn't the same thing as glorifying it. At all.

The one thing you can do is write as honestly as you can about topics that are difficult to talk about. You're not responsible for anything but your own words.

How someone reads them is their responsibility.

As to including any kind of helpful information, the only problem with that is books are in print (we hope) for decades, and information like this can be outdated.

The better place for this is on your website, or in your social media, where you can update it.

Your job is not to manage your readers' expectations.
Your job is to tell the truth as you see it, as honestly as you can.


nightsmusic said...

Morning! *waves* Yup, still around...

There will almost always be something in a book that will trigger someone. For me, it's animal cruelty. I don't buy books until I've read reviews and even then, I might miss something. I don't watch movies where a principal animal dies (see because I've seen enough things I can't scrub from my brain. But I'll read the reviews on books and there have been a few I've taken a chance on anyway and have ended up having a love affair with the entire series so the one book I ended up having to skim through parts of didn't put me off the author.

Authors can't worry about what will trigger someone. If you worry about every little thing and no, I'm not dismissing a trigger, such as one person in a thousand who reads your book shouldn't mean you never write that book. If every author worried about that, there would be very little fiction published. Write the book of your heart and let the reviewers take care of mentioning anything that might trigger something. Trust me, they will.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Janet, Excellent input. "How someone reads them is their responsibility."

The abuse many of the animals have suffered, before coming to our sanctuary, is chronicled in my first three books. Tough reading for some - but I tried to make each chapter ultimately uplifting and hopeful.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

well said. And belated Happy Birthday to Colin.

Craig F said...

Thank you OP for this question, and thank you my Queen for your answer.

In this particular point in history writers need to be re-ensured about a lot. I live in a Red state where our legislature has gone down the nut trail. We have many issues that really need to be addressed, but they wanted to make political statements about CRT, parents rights and the Don't Say Gay Bill..

The county next to mine just pulled 16 kids books for porn. They proved it by taking things out of context. Theses books also had characters who were of color or genders different than that the accusers.

No matter what you write, if it has any redeeming value, someone will be triggered, so go ahead and write it. If you do it eight, you will have more support than those against you can muster.

Beth Carpenter said...

I applaud the OP. You're trying to be kind, and that's never a bad thing. However, I agree that how someone reads a book has to be their own responsibility. Language, sex, body mass index, religion or lack of religion, a car with a woman's name, snakes, the name "Marsha"--I've seen reviewers point out all those things as particular triggers for themselves.

MaggieJ said...

Janet, this struck me right between the eyes:
"Your job is not to manage your readers' expectations.
Your job is to tell the truth as you see it, as honestly as you can."

Recently on TheLitForum we have been discussing how to handle age differences in a historical novel. In my WIP, I have a budding romantic attraction between a man of 27 and a young woman of 15. That kind of age gap wasn't that unusual in the nineteenth century, but some people seem to find it "creepy" and I was letting that inhibit me.

I'll be little braver now, thanks to your words. So glad to see you back!

~ MaggieJ

Katja said...

I 'met' someone on Twitter who started her book with 2 pages of trigger warnings. Then I saw reviews saying "too much" and the author being unhappy with that.

In other news, I am currently in my beloved Zurich/Switzerland and I don't want to return to the UK next week. 😭
We are just off to the Alps again. 😍

I have managed to get my book on the shelf of a (decent sized 👌) bookshop here in Zurich. I'm totally thrilled ☺ 😊 🤗.

Have a wonderful weekend, Reefers.

Ryan Neely said...

This is a concern in many realms of writing, and something I've been researching and exploring for quite some time now. After countless discussions with fellow authors, with readers, with professionals, the only conclusion I have been able to reach mirrors what Janet says here. The reason for this seems to be that there is such a broad spectrum for what constitutes "glorification" that said spectrum will shift from individual to individual, often with any one particular individual bringing his or her own baggage to the work and interpreting (or misinterpreting) what you've written by seeing it through the lens of his or her own experiences.

nightsmusic doesn't watch movies where a principal animal dies, and we should respect that. What that means, though, is that if we were the author of such books (or movies) as Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, or Turner and Hooch, nightsmusic isn't our audience, and that's fine. There are other people who will be our audience.

In the above example, however, there will always be an argument to be had to suggest that it is inhumane to use an innocent animal as a literary device to act as a catalyst for change for a human, even in fiction. Arguments like these, however, can come from anywhere and on any subject and if we spend our entire lives second-guessing what we've written because we're afraid of offending or triggering someone's traumatic past, we'll never write or publish a thing.

As Janet has said, "Your job is to tell the truth as you see it, as honestly as you can."

Sometimes that means creating characters who do and say things that are offensive. Sometimes that means tackling topics and subject matter that is difficult to talk about. And sometimes that means being brave enough to develop a theme that says, "This is what I think today," even if what you think runs counter to the current cultural norm. Ten years from now, your ideas on those subjects might change, but the point is to do you and tell a compelling story, not to tell people they shouldn't read your book because it might deal with something they're uncomfortable with.

BJ Muntain said...

In the first chapter of my novel, I have a couple female administrative assistants. One reader was triggered by the "sexism".

These are two female-dominated careers. Often, I find that males forced into such roles just scream "look how unsexist I am!" And sometimes the males in these professions are given female characteristics, which negates the non-sexist claims. I'd rather put women into male dominated professions, and uplift the female dominated professions out of the "women's work" class, showing them to be important team members. As they truly are.

I'm not going to have a trigger warning saying: "women in female-dominated professions".

I can understand trigger warnings for some things, but wouldn't that be at a publisher's discretion, more than or as much as the author's?

Julie Weathers said...


At the Surrey conference, one of the authors said you can kill anyone you want, but don't kill the dog.

Unfortunately, in my Civil War novel, people and animals die. One of the generals lost 27 horses and he loved his horses. Wept over them. There's nothing I can do about the cold hard facts of war.

Maggie Yes, I saw that conversation and was a bit surprised. My husband was 13 years older than me. My in-laws were 16 years apart and were closer to your characters. Bill was born in 1890. What an interesting man that was.

I wouldn't worry about it. Remember the kerfuffle about "A woman wouldn't wave a Confederate flag and sing Rebel songs at passing Union troops."?

"Uh, this scene is based on a historical event."

"I don't care. It doesn't make sense."

I love those two characters in your story and I want them together. Who doesn't like a bit of a bad boy?

You can't anticipate every thing that people are going to object to these days because some people object to everything. Just write the story the truest way you know and stop whoring it out to paraphrase Hemingway.

nightsmusic said...

Ryan Neely Funny you should mention Old Yeller. I watched that movie. Once. When it was debuted on Disney on TV. I will never watch another movie where the principal animal dies. Never. That was the final straw to a string of things in my young life I never want to see again. But you're right. That's my choice and I would never, ever expect an author to write to me. Like I mentioned, the author must write the book of their heart. They can't write to someone who is triggered by spiders or sneezes (yup, read that complaint!) or showers a la Psycho or anything one can dream up under the sun because surely someone, somewhere will have a complaint about something in an author's story that triggers them. If so, don't read the book! It's that simple.

Julie, my friend. I would manage to get through a historical book because it IS historical or based on historical events and for me, that's a bit different. I would skim and believe me it would be tough, but I'd get through it. I can't change the past and I don't want to bury it or deny it either.

My original post still stands and pretty much is in line with what Janet said. There's something for everyone in the trigger department. It's not the author's responsibility to quantify that trigger. It's the reader's responsibility if they have one to read the blurb, read the reviews and then decide. I hate seeing reviews for books by brilliant authors done by readers that were triggered because they're reading the book two years after it was published, there's review after review containing said trigger and they only noticed it once they started reading it. Shame on them.