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Warning the audience

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
In the Books of Binding, the first book starts with the aftermath of a goblin being hit by a lawn mower (and uses the f-bomb 51 times because our faerie knight has a potty mouth). In the second one, in the very first chapter, a demon eats a shape shifting therian rabbit alive. We bill ourselves as dark urban fantasy. I consider this to be warning enough.

Even with that, our readers are kind enough to mention that these books aren't for children in their reviews.
 

Malik

Auror
"a new kind of war," finishes your blurb. What kind of book did this person think they were getting, Hello Kitty's Island Adventure?

It was for a high-visibility award that was handled extremely poorly; the reviewers weren't allowed to refuse books based on preference or pass them on to other reviewers who are more receptive to the subject matter, the way professional, real-world reviewers do. This reviewer simply demolished everything she was handed that wasn't exactly what she liked. My understanding is that she still does.

Some of my crazier fans lost their minds. I'd made the mistake of alerting my mailing list as to which reviewer was going to handle my book for the contest, and HOO BOY did the horde go after her (citing very much the kind of thing that you did, above), and then her fans piled on, and I got a rash of one-star spite ratings, and around and around. I had to bring my publicist in on emergency money; it cost me over a thousand dollars to stamp all the fires out.

The irony is that the book that won the contest--which had landed a different reviewer than mine--makes Dragon's Trail seem like an episode of Teletubbies. If I'd been selected for that book's reviewer and the winning book had been selected for mine, I'd very likely have won. Many, many lessons learned overall.
 
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It was for a high-visibility award that was handled extremely poorly; the reviewers weren't allowed to refuse books based on preference or pass them on to other reviewers who are more receptive to the subject matter, the way professional, real-world reviewers do. This reviewer simply demolished everything she was handed that wasn't exactly what she liked. My understanding is that she still does.

Some of my crazier fans lost their minds. I'd made the mistake of alerting my mailing list as to which reviewer was going to handle my book for the contest, and HOO BOY did the horde go after her (citing very much the kind of thing that you did, above), and then her fans piled on, and I got a rash of one-star spite ratings, and around and around. I had to bring my publicist in on emergency money; it cost me over a thousand dollars to stamp all the fires out.

The irony is that the book that won the contest--which had landed a different reviewer than mine--makes Dragon's Trail seem like an episode of Teletubbies. If I'd been selected for that book's reviewer and the winning book had been selected for mine, I'd very likely have won. Many, many lessons learned overall.

Teletubbies are pretty horrifying though.
 
I put it right there on the cover, after getting my ass handed to me by a reviewer who "hates books about fighting and war."

Yeah, I was going to comment on reading various customer reviews on Amazon (for other books) to the effect that "1 Star! I wish I had known there was going to be ___________" or "Much too violent for me" or "Too much graphic sex!"

Now, having a troll storm hit you because of a single reviewer's fans and your own fans...is a bit different. Reminds me of some of the troll efforts surrounding various books and movies. A content warning wouldn't have been much help in that case, I think.
 
Im seeing a theme here of genre conventions meaning certain things should be expected (e.g. graphic violence in a military focused fantasy) and I agree that the blurb should give a good idea of what to expect. That's not even considering how it might affect trauma survivors, that's just good practice if you want to sell books, I would think. If a person picks up a book expecting a fairly light-hearted fairytale retelling (that takes kind of a loose approach to the nastiness of many fairy tales) and gets instead extreme gore, that's going to be disappointing.

In my experience, I've come across several books that randomly introduce scenes of sexual assault without me having been easily able to tell that was going to be in there. It's something I would expect a bit more from a very dark, brutal fantasy that depicts war in a very unforgivingly realistic light, but in a fantasy book that doesn't seem to lean particularly toward dark themes, it's very shocking to come across.

"Literary" fiction or the more Gaiman-esque "magical realism" stuff is really, really bad about having far darker and more triggering content than the cover and blurb could possibly lead anyone to expect. Some categories of book are a minefield because there's so many books whose packaging do not suggest their tone at all. I read a lot of extremely dark fiction (I wasn't expecting The Lies of Locke Lamora to give me any warm fuzzies, for instance, though I love the series with my entire heart) but I still dislike coming across disturbing things in books presented as something different. And it's just a personal preference for me. I don't find rape scenes triggering, but I still want to avoid them. I can only imagine what it's like for people who do have trauma related to an assault.

From what I have gathered, putting a warning on your book is not going to necessarily keep people from reading it. There are many readers who might be hesitant about picking up books from an author who is known to produce dark fiction because "I don't know what's going to be in it...or how bad it will be..." but that would be more likely to actually buy the book if the author or publisher themselves publicized information about potentially upsetting or triggering content. Not only does it relieve uncertainty, it creates the feeling that the author actually cares about the reader, which in my mind is a good thing.

Not to mention an author that cares about those warnings is likely to treat sensitive stuff like sexual assault with at least some appropriate gravity (instead of introducing female characters only to have them raped and then discarding them without developing them further, or some other stupid trope like that).

So, I feel like the fact that my current WIP is about an assassin might clue some people in that there will be killing in there. Ideally my blurb could also mention things like the fact that one of my supporting characters is a survivor of the sex trade, and so on. I feel like my last book, however, would deserve some more explicit warnings just because it doesn't fit a super clear genre category with established conventions and also not everything potentially triggering is an essential plot element.
 
Yeah, I was going to comment on reading various customer reviews on Amazon (for other books) to the effect that "1 Star! I wish I had known there was going to be ___________" or "Much too violent for me" or "Too much graphic sex!"

Now, having a troll storm hit you because of a single reviewer's fans and your own fans...is a bit different. Reminds me of some of the troll efforts surrounding various books and movies. A content warning wouldn't have been much help in that case, I think.

Even if the book contains something I find repugnant, I try not to let my personal feelings influence my ratings unless I feel like it was really unnecessary, handled badly, or something else like that. I rated a book two stars early this year not necessarily because it contained rape, gore, cannibalism, and all kinds of other stuff, but because the author was really gratuitous about it to the point I felt it interfered with his message and with the story in general.

It remains, though, that reviews are just personal feelings of readers posted for the benefit of other readers, and knowing these things is important to other readers. The reviews aren't to provide the author validation anyway.

I wish so often that you could provide separate star ratings for "I think this book was objectively good" vs. "I enjoyed this book." Because they can be very different things sometimes. I did not like American Gods at all, but I'm not exactly comfortable in calling it a "bad" book.
 
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