Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings

This is a post I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s about trigger warnings. When are they appropriate? And who decides what content is controversial or upsetting?

I started thinking a great deal about trigger warnings when I released Sweet Sorrow a couple of weeks ago. For a while, I was on the fence about adding a trigger warning, but I finally came to the conclusion that although the book isn’t graphic, I should give readers an opportunity to make an informed decision before reading.

I’ve used trigger warnings in the past. I used one with The Fifth Circle because that book deals with sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and mental illness. There are some graphic, disturbing scenes and I felt that it would be important to add a trigger warning for those who are dealing with their own issues and are trying to avoid books that contain such subject matter.

I understand it isn’t possible to put trigger warnings on everything, nor is it possible to list every conceivable trigger. I don’t think trigger warnings should be mandatory, but as an independent author who has control over my book blurb, I would like to help readers avoid an acute panic attack if I possibly can. After all, I don’t want to tread on someone’s recovery when, for me, it’s as simple as adding a sentence at the end of the blurb.

Trigger warnings aren’t about avoiding hurt feelings or preventing offense. I use trigger warnings to let readers know when there is content depicting abuse or violence, but I’m sure there’s other subject matter in my books readers might find offensive. Some people might be offended by the interracial romance in one of my books. Or they might be offended by the foul language in another. Like I said, this isn’t about preventing readers from being offended. I use trigger warnings to help readers who might be struggling with PTSD and anxiety resulting from abuse or sexual assault. Other authors might choose to identity other triggers. And, yes, other authors might choose not to use trigger warnings at all.

I would really like to have a thoughtful discussion about the use of trigger warnings. I’d love to hear your opinion; however, please don’t leave comments about how our society is sissified and how when we were kids, bullying built character, and parents beat their kids for their own good, and yada yada. Please be sensitive. There are some people dealing with truly horrific trauma, and I don’t want to make light of their pain. “Get over it and move on” is not helpful advice.

What do you think? Are there any authors out there who have added trigger warnings to your book descriptions? As readers, do you find trigger warnings helpful? When are they necessary? Are they necessary at all?

83 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings

  1. If the use of trigger warnings were largely rational, I could understand their use. But a lot of people are mandating their use on perfectly acceptable literature to suit their own narrow points of view. It reminds me a lot of book burnings. When used for a generally logical reason such as yours, these warnings can be useful. How do you use them? Inserted into the book itself or placed on the book cover or blurb?

    Like

    • I’ve used trigger warnings on two of my books. I just add a sentence or two to the end of the blurb. As an indie author, I can do it the way I want, so I’ve chosen to only point out instances where I’ve depicted abuse or assault. If I chose to point out bad language or every time a character had a drink of alcohol, it could spiral out of control pretty quickly. I guess trigger warnings are at the discretion of the author or publisher. In my opinion, that’s how it should be. I don’t think trigger warnings should be mandated. What I find upsetting might not be what you find upsetting. And it’s entirely possible someone might find “triggers” in my books that I didn’t identify, because to me, they aren’t triggers. It’s one of those things that gets really tricky, which I why I wanted to get some other opinions on it. Thank you for commenting!

      Like

  2. I totally needed to read this. I’ve been struggling with writing a book review of my latest read as I couldn’t finish reading it. It was unsettling and I thought to myself how I wished I had known what some of the content was going into it. I think warnings are good, yes! Including that in the Amazon description is helpful, I think. I will link to this post when I write the review for Poetic Parfait. Your words have helped me! Great timing to publish this one, thank you.

    Like

    • Glad I could help, Christy. It’s a tricky issue. When I published Sweet Sorrow, I didn’t use a trigger warning, though I considered it. I finally added it later. I’ve wavered back and forth on this. I don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all answer. It’s sort of up to the authors to determine whether or not to add a trigger warning to their book. Thanks for commenting. It’s good to get some insight from the reader’s point of view.

      Like

      • Yes, your post actually gave me the courage to go back and write a first draft of a book review for my latest read. I just finished the draft. I had been putting off even thinking about it because honestly I was in a funk about something I read in it. I totally felt alone about the issue until I read your post here. You helped me through a tough time, Tricia xo

        Like

  3. I’ve been wondering about this myself and recently put the question out there to the blogosphere. The responses have been both thoughtful and all over the board. My latest book is grim and violent, which I have been quite forthright about. Sexual violence and an “off-stage” rape are by far the most triggering elements of the book (in my opinion), but it is also contains graphic violence, profanity, and one loving, but explicit, sex scene. Plenty of opportunities to offend a reader. I like your distinction between triggers and general offensiveness. I certainly don’t want to trigger a reader. I’m interested in the responses you receive here. Thanks for exploring this topic.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your comment. If a reader is offended, they can leave a bad review or they can send me an email. People recover from being offended. If a reader is triggered, they might not recover so easily. It’s so simple for me to add a sentence to the end of my blurb – a sentence that can help a reader make an informed (and possibly critical) choice. It’s not so easy for a reader to un-read something that triggered a severe panic attack or depressive episode. I appreciate your sensitivity to this issue and the compassion you have for potential readers.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t put a trigger warning on my book when I published it. I added it today, two weeks after publication. My blurb is vague and doesn’t even hint at the darker content, so I decided to add a sentence to warn potential readers. I understand why you’re torn. It’s not an easy decision to make.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve only heard about trigger warning recently and haven’t been sure exactly what they meant. Thank you for the clarification. I haven’t read anything nor written anything (yet) where this might have cropped up.

    Like

  5. I’ve been thinking about this too. One of the main characters in my novel in progress is a sixth grade girl who has been incested by her stepfather. No graphic abuse scenes — my focus is on the adults who gradually come to suspect what’s going on and are trying to figure out what they can do that won’t make things worse. I want to make people at least a little bit uncomfortable — not survivors of incest and other abuse but the ones who stand by and convince themselves it’s none of their business, nothing is wrong, etc. How much will I disclose in PR or back-cover copy? No idea yet.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about the whole idea of trigger warnings. “This book may be hazardous to your peace of mind”? Honey, I want it to be hazardous to your peace of mind. I want it to unsettle you and make you think. This is what I expect from every book I read, fiction and nonfiction. If I didn’t think there were similar readers out there, I wouldn’t be writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have mixed feelings too. I think books should sometimes push readers outside their comfort zone. Part of my initial hesitation in adding a trigger warning to my book is that (like you said) I wanted to make people feel a little unsettled. I wanted readers to think. With books about rape or abuse, it’s supposed to be upsetting. These are tough subjects to deal with.

      My most recent release deals with the aftermath of rape. It isn’t graphic and I think it might be helpful for some people dealing with the issue because it shows the main character seeking helping help and recovering. I eventually decided to add the trigger warning for those who really can’t handle reading my book. I think I can safely remove the trigger warning if I rewrite my blurb.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank the Gods and Angels that be for conscientious writers like you, Tricia. I don’t think any book dealing with heavy duty topical matter should be without them. Sadly, I have not been in a frame of mind to cope with more than the shocks that pummeled my senses to death and began reading things, pieces, books, etc that contained very disturbing scenes a little too close to what I have lived through from 2012 to now. When I wanted to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (as suggested by a psychologist friend, go figure), I was so grateful the book store clerk warned me there was a rape scene. At that time I could not read it. Later, in a different frame of mind and in complete safety from every source in my life, I was able to take the reading on and wish I’d had Lisbeth Salander’s smarts to exact some justice in my own life. Sadly, I don’t. But I appreciate all who post warnings because even seeing a horrific post pass by on the Facebook pages has caused me tears and to delete persons who persist such postings without trigger warnings. When the thing says “Trigger Warning,” I have the option to just leave it, pass it by, but if there is no trigger warning at the top of the piece, I can sometimes be so mentally stunned and shocked by what I see that I can’t keep that person as a friend because they are not safe for me. Even I, on stronger days of writing, have to employ them myself and I know people appreciate that because not all of us can afford to be traumatized repeatedly by scenes all too familiar to us in the real world. I know an army Seargent who cannot, due to PTSD, even set foot off his own front porch most days. On the days he can, he can’t afford anything that drives him back, deeper inside himself, traumatized all over again. I spent from 2012 – 2014 taking classes and workshops on developing coping skills for PTSD survivors. I have all those skills in my tool belt now. But, I can still be triggered, especially if I don’t see it coming. If we knew what would trigger us and could predict it, we wouldn’t need trigger warnings. Thank you so much for your wise way of being in the writing world. You may never know how many of us appreciate your thoughtfulness of posting a trigger warning because many of us don’t even want to admit we have PTSD or enduring trauma, there is such a shameful cast on it all by those who simply, as I have come to learn, do not know any better. Trigger Warning is all a book or piece needs to say for me to tread carefully and abandon it if I must. No more detail than that is required for me to know there could be some traumatizing scenes ahead. I have read Paula Sharp’s Crows Over a Wheat Field and Jane Hamilton’s Book of Ruth as well as many other fine writers. That, however, was when I was a director on the board at the rape and sexual assault centre and my day job was working with victims of domestic violence. I was a much stronger person then, capable of so much more than I am now. If I were to read either of the books I mention that are heavily focused on domestic abuse and violence as a fresh set of eyes now with no trigger warning, I would be in tatters for days after ward. So, with all that said, and the world knowing much more about my experience, skills, etc for context, please do keep the Trigger Warnings. Much love and appreciation for your way of being in the world, Tricia, you rock! ❤ ❤ ❤

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Janni. Your comment helps tremendously. I appreciate you sharing your story. This is definitely a good argument in favor of trigger warnings. There are real-life, living, breathing, hurting people who appreciate a warning before delving into certain topics. This isn’t just a debate for some people. This is a critical issue for someone in recovery.

      Again, thank you for coming here to lend your perspective as a reader who is in favor of trigger warnings. You’ve given us all a lot to think about.

      Like

      • You are welcome. Since I have been on both sides of the fence (not needing triggers and now being grateful for them as well as worked with people who were traumatized and a person with two books out there, herself), I wanted to add my voice. Trigger warnings don’t have to literally say “trigger warnings” if there is enough on the cover or book blurb, I will be able to discern if I should proceed or leave it for a while. You are so correct in saying this isn’t a debate. It isn’t. It’s about humanity and kindness in my book of life. Thanks again for this timely piece.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been more in favor of ratings on books, similar to movies and TV show ratings. That would cover a lot of the issues. The problem with trigger warnings is, as you point out, when to stop. I’ve even read articles about universities considering trigger warnings on some of their lectures! My internal question was what could they be teaching today and why didn’t we have it in my days at college! (just kidding) We live in a different world today, much more aware of other people’s pain and suffering. They even rate the video games today … why not books? Make a system, designate where it should appear on the book, and we will all be informed as to the subject matter coming into our homes.

    Like

    • I haven’t really given ratings a lot of thought. I’m not sure if ratings would help with identifying triggers unless they do what they do on movies and TV shows where they identify “contains strong language, etc…”

      Trigger warnings for college lectures? I think if someone is in therapy and needs special accommodations, they should talk to the professor ahead of time. But triggers warnings for the whole class? I’m not so sure about that.

      Like

    • This is a great idea! Rating systems just like everything else in life. Wonderful! Let’s hope the powers that be recognize and implement a rating system. That would solve everything and, I believe, even boost the credibility of a writer over those who are against same. As a writer, I am responsible for what I write and have no problem adding a rating system to anything I write (I often write very sharp and very dark so I am certain I could employ a rating quiet easily), great concept.

      Like

  8. You make some valid points here, as do your commenters. I agree that it could be easy to overuse trigger warnings, and that’s something to be worked through. I think aiming to avoid causing a panic attack is laudable and a useful starting point, the trouble is what causes panic attacks in people? We can never cover all options but certainly rape, DV, and mental illness are valid topical areas. Child abuse?

    Equally though, I would like to see more content disclosure. There seems to be more fuss made about graphic or even not-so-graphic sex scenes and swearing than there is about vicious sadistic torture scenes or horrific abuse of women. They might not trigger a panic attack but they certainly can give nightmares. And you don’t how know bad something is going to be until you’ve read it eg sawing limbs off conscious victims, ripping their eyeballs out, slicing women’s breasts off.

    Like

    • Good point about violent content. I’m not a fan of violent content. It’s not a trigger for me. I just don’t like it. I have stopped watching television shows or movies because of it. When I was a teen and my mom started letting me watch some rated R movies, she used to say, “it depends on why it’s rated R.” If a movie had sex that was shown in a loving manner, she’d let me watch it. If a movie had extreme violence or abusive sex, it was a no. (But then she let me read Stephen King when I was 13, so…)

      I like what you’re saying about content disclosure. I would certainly appreciate knowing in advance if a book is going to have extreme violence.

      Like

    • Content disclosure sounds like a good idea as well. I have award winning well known writer friends who suffer no anxiety, panic attacks, trauma or PTSD, yet they have shut books and been unable to get past passages where humans or even animals were being tortured or abused. I will never forget one friend who I always thought able to take anything because she can also write anything so well. She phoned me and asked if I had read a certain book. Yes, I told her, it was such a good book! Well, she said, I can’t get past that image of the cow so I am putting it down, it was just too hard to take. My friend is, as I was once, an animal rescuer and has seven pets in her home. She has won countless literary awards, strikes you as a tough as nails person (not by her look, by her intelligence and ability to cut to the chase in any matter) and yet a dying, bleeding cow halted her reading and she has never picked up that book since. Gratuitous violence is something we all need to be cognizant of as writers. It’s like the sex scene for me, I do not need graphic details. I can figure out for myself if they had sex just by a few hints that let my own mind see the rest. So agree on content disclosure.

      Like

      • Hi Janni

        I can totally empathise about the animals, that’s another aspect that makes me put a book down (another animal rescue person here).

        I find violence far worse than sex. I can read all the sex scenes, but in fact I tend to skip them because they are all pretty much of a muchness. Dialogue can be much more sexy.

        Sex scenes don’t give me nightmares though. Gratuitous violence has done. Not for any trigger effect, but because of the sheer horrific descriptions. I’ll be honest, I wonder why people even want to read it, let alone write it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nice to connect with another kindred spirit. Agree sex scenes don’t jar me either but I realized upon reading your reply, I skip them too! LOL So true dialogue can be much more sexy and there is a sameness to sex scenes no one can deny, lol. I know what you mean about the gratuitous violence. I took a 15 year old niece to a movie of her choosing for her birthday (with her mom’s approval). She chose Hannibal. I was looking away so much to avoid nightmares and this was years pre-PTSD, that she started saying, “don’t look now, aunty” or would put her hand over my eyes, lol. Gratuitous, torturous violence finds no home in me either. Like you, I wonder why it does in so many fascinated with zombies, vampires, walking dead, etc etc etc I sure as heck hope this tv trend is not continuing but turns around to become something more thought provoking in a positive, uplifting way for all concerned. Thanks for answering what I said, seems we are on the same page on this one.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. There are two separate issues here.

    First, should a description of a work–novel, film, whatever–accurately describe the content? Absolutely. If you have a book that contains explicit descriptions of violence, then you should let the reader know beforehand. That’s just good marketing–if you describe a book as a “Crime Drama” and then deliver a book full of steamy sex scenes between characters who are peripherally described as criminals, you’re going to get angry readers.

    However, I believe that my mental health issues are my own responsibility, not the responsibility of a novelist or filmmaker. There have been books that I stopped reading because they were too intense for me, and movies that I have walked out of. There are others that I didn’t buy in the first place because the description led me to believe that they would be.

    Placing the onus of a “trigger warning” on an artist is to de facto require an artist to be a psychotherapist, and that’s not my job as a writer. I’ll let you know up front that my books contain violence, and some weird sex, and other-worldly horror. You can decide for yourself if you want to risk reading them.

    Like

    • Better content description – definitely. I’ve read “romance” novels that contained questionable consent and abuse. Romance? I don’t think so.

      I don’t think authors should be required to add trigger warnings. It would be impossible to list everything that could be a trigger. If my book has a scene that upsets someone with certain phobias, is it my fault I didn’t list that as a trigger? No. I can’t anticipate every trigger or phobia. I’ve made a choice to identify some triggers, but I don’t expect every author to do that.

      I like what you said about not being responsible for your reader’s mental health. Maybe there’s a better way to do “trigger warnings.” Better content description would be a way to identify some “triggers” without putting a warning label on the book.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is very helpful.

      Like

      • “However, I believe that my mental health issues are my own responsibility, not the responsibility of a novelist or filmmaker. There have been books that I stopped reading because they were too intense for me, and movies that I have walked out of. There are others that I didn’t buy in the first place because the description led me to believe that they would be.

        Placing the onus of a “trigger warning” on an artist is to de facto require an artist to be a psychotherapist, and that’s not my job as a writer. I’ll let you know up front that my books contain violence, and some weird sex, and other-worldly horror. You can decide for yourself if you want to risk reading them.”

        Speaking to the first paragraph above, this comment sounds very “blamy,” nobody is trying to make their mental health issues another’s responsibility. This is about “responsible writing,” period.

        Speaking to the second paragraph above: Trying to make another wrong or say they require an artist to be a psychotherapist is just so defensive where no defense is required. The simple fact is that books should have ratings as discussed above or enough content disclosure that a parent can decide if their teen should read it or if it might offend their avidly reading mother if given to her as a Mother’s Day or Birthday gift. Deciding for ourselves is the whole point. However, that point is completely lost if we are caught up in blaming, shaming or avoiding the issue which is “content disclosure.” End of.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t think that saying I take responsibility for my media inputs is blaming myself for the abuse I suffered as a child, in the same way that I don’t think that a diabetic who monitors her or his sugar intake is to be blamed for having diabetes. Blame or the lack thereof isn’t the issue.

          The issue is knowledge. I know what bothers me–I don’t know what bothers anyone else. As a reader, I can choose what I read and when to stop reading a book based on that knowledge.

          As a writer, I have no way of knowing what effect my work will have on a reader. The only way to write so that my work has no chance of upsetting anyone is to stop writing.

          Like

            • Nothing is wrong with disclosing content–I believe very strongly in accurately describing a work to be sold.

              My point is that I believe that the responsibility for avoiding disturbing content rests with the reader, not the writer. I don’t think that a writer, or an artist, or a filmmaker is under any moral obligation to label the content of her or his work.

              It’s a marketing decision. If I choose not to tell people that my books contain violence, that’s bad marketing, but I am not responsible for anyone’s reaction to my work. I would support a voluntary rating system–in theory–but such things have a way of gradually growing mandatory. The history of the MPAA, for example.

              Like

              • Well, you are very clear about where you stand. At this point I will just graciously say goodbye since I am 100 percent behind erring on the side of compassion in having warning labels as we do in all other aspects of media and, in fact, daily life. Entrenched attitudes can make no case for improving things for our fellow and female humans, the fear of change is often a barrier to a better way of being as I see it.

                Like

  10. After September 11, which experienced in person (I was across the street when the first plane hit, and I was watching when the second plane hit and when both towers fell), I went out to my way to avoid triggers. I may be the only person in the US who has never seen that footage of the planes hitting the towers except on the day itself (not counting the movie Bowling for Columbine — and I knew it was coming then).

    I would have appreciated some trigger warnings back then, but the general feeling seemed to be that it was everybody’s responsibility to watch that footage as often as possible. So, in the absence of warnings, I took the responsibility to do the research and find out what things to avoid. I didn’t own a television, but if I had I would have tossed it into the trash.

    The tricky part to me is when the trigger warning would also be a spoiler for the plot.There are some things I’ve written where even revealing the genre would be a spoiler. I’m not sure how to handle that.

    Like

    • So sorry for what you endured, I can’t imagine the feelings and appreciate your wanting trigger warnings for content. I don’t think a trigger warning would be a spoiler for a plot because it doesn’t mean you give the whole farm away, you just let people know there may be content they would rather not view (I have some bible thumping friends who do not suffer any angst or trauma but grow offended at so much, you never know what might tick them off next). I think what was said above about “content disclosure” or “rating systems” would perfectly address a lot of the concerns around giving away the plot. Do you still have trouble watching that footage? I ask this not to dredge it all up for you but to see if, after all this time, it still triggers you or not?

      Like

      • I still haven’t seen the footage, but I think I’d be okay with it at this point. Not that it would be fun, but it I don’t think it would trigger anything.

        For the first ten years or so the anniversary kind of got me down — I always made a point of plannng something I’d really enjoy on that day — but I barely notice it now. Of course the media has quieted down about the anniversary, and that helps.

        Like

        • I understand. Time softens things. What a marvelous way you developed to cope by planning something you’d really enjoy on that day. I love that. It’s among the techniques I learned in PTSD recovery classes/workshops since 2012 when I was physically attacked. I was once unable to even say their names (it was, sadly, by people I knew and trusted). I lost time, I spent so much time crying, I never thought I would stop and the nightmares were just so relentless for the first 1 1/2 to 2 years after that I often woke screaming and woke my upstairs neighbours. One of the attackers was my best friend of 20 years (she is an RN and every nurse I saw after that, I was nervous around), even everything I looked at – our favorite magazines: Victoria or Home and Gardens, etc, my photo albums, my love of all things white and pretty, etc – and there she was. It was so mind numbing that I longed to die to escape it all. I don’t long to die any more but I have developed coping techniques and very much appreciate you sharing one of yours as well as your experience. Thank you. So glad to know you are feeling better about things.

          Like

    • Anthony, I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how difficult it is to avoid television footage of September 11.

      Yes, it’s tricky to avoid spoilers. The trigger warning on my newest book is basically a great big spoiler, but until I can think of a better way to construct the blurb, I’m going to leave the warning there just in case. Or maybe I can think of a better way to construct my trigger warning. For now, I’d rather err on the side of caution. I’d hate to cause someone unnecessary distress.

      Like

  11. Anyone in favor of book ratings and trigger warnings might have a look at the Banned Books list that the American Library Association has been releasing annually for many years. Or at stories like this one, about Sherman Alexie’s YA novel being the most often challenged in U.S. libraries in 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/13/sherman-alexie-novel-tops-list-of-books-americans-want-censored-2014. Behind the impulse to censor is very often a desire not to be pushed out of one’s comfort zone. And the outsiders among us — people of color, lesbians, gay men, pagans, etc., etc. — know from long experience that our work often pushes the comfortable out of their comfort zones, even when there’s no graphic sex or violence in it.

    Like

    • I agree. It’s fine if writers want to inform readers in advance of what they’re going to find in a book, but any required system of ratings will go in a bad direction, and probably fairly quickly.

      Ulysses is widely regarded as the greatest work of literature in the English language in the 20th century, and for a period of years you’d have been subject to arrest simply for bringing a copy into the United States. Plus Lolita, plus Naked Lunch, and so on.

      PTSD is one thing and people being offended by… whatever is something very different, but if you open that door there will be ratings something like the movies (or worse), which mostly cover sex, nudity, bad language, and smoking (you can show a lot of blood and violence in a movie and still get a PG-13 rating).

      Me, I like to read about sex, nudity, bad language, and smoking. My writing has all of those, plus gay people, abortion, and incest.

      And more smoking.

      Like

      • Excellent point! Being offended by something is different from being triggered. There’s plenty to find offensive in my books. I refuse to warn people about strong language. I only warn against certain content that could possibly result in an episode of PTSD. Of course, I can’t guarantee other content might not upset or enrage people. There’s always going to be someone who is offended about something.

        Like

        • True There will always be someone offended by something and also true that no one is responsible for another’s ptsd. But as a writer I have no problem warning of violence, nudity or whatever. I think I should do this for all readers just because it is the decent thing to do, nevermind mental health. I don’t want granny buying something that will upset her and I don’t want my young nieces and nephews being exposed to what should be restricted content. It’s a matter of courtesy, really, nothing more. I would fully support a ratings system. That tiny symbol on the back of a book could eliminate a lot of questions, wondering and bad purchases we hate and chuck out because they were inaccurately labelled.

          Like

  12. I have this very problem. I think many of us do. Amazon has started asking book reviewers to select categories on books. Everyone just has different opinions on what is or isn’t graphic violence, some sexual content, etc. I read a book last year labeled romance. It was obviously erotica. I try to label my books correctly, but it’s a tough thing to do.

    Like

    • I always have a hard time labeling my books too. Sometimes there isn’t a perfect category. Or maybe your book fits in more than one (or two). The new Amazon review process is baffling. I’m anxious to see how they’re going to use all this new information they’re compiling.

      Like

      • Not all that baffling, really. Amazon is all about niche marketing. Categories help them target customers: “If you liked (or read, or bought) this, you might like this.” Commercial publishers are big on categories. It’s a marketing thing. Bookstores too. Over the decades writers have taken the hint. Many of them not only write for specific niches or sub-niches or sub-sub-niches, they can’t imagine doing anything else — it’s the easiest way to sell their stuff. Amazon wants information that can be easily sorted and quantified so it can put books into the appropriate niche and sub-niche.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Even the gravatar posting on WordPress.com requires a rating system for your gravatar photo. I like that. It lets folks know it’s okay or bans folks from seeing if they have blocked such content. To me, this issue has nothing to do with censorship or book banning of any sort at all and everything to do with responsible writing. Content disclosure and/or rating system or both solve all the problems in a responsible and accountable way for all concerned in my opinion. Just from what I am reading here, I can see the confusion, the varied opinions and the need to have something definitive whether it’s akin to movie ratings or not, just something to let us know this is okay for my kid to read or I will buy that book for Granny now, etc. Not as big a deal as many would have us think. Just being responsible in our writing. I even put ‘trigger warning’ above anything I post on Facebook that could upset some. That gives them the option of reading on or passing by which is their choice and responsibility to themselves but if I didn’t post that above and what I wrote upset someone, it is me who would feel very badly about that.
    Content disclosure and/or rating systems, please. 🙂

    Like

  14. I’d never even heard the term “trigger warning” before a discussion I was involved in the other day and had to google it, so I’d say I’ve never used one. I do try to “warn” people that there’s violence in my books, and in the beginning of my free ebooks I ave a thing that says it may contain sex, violence, and strong language but that’s about the extent I’ve ever gone. I think authors should do what they feel is right. If having it on there deters someone from buying the book, then chances are they weren’t going to like the book anyway.

    Like

  15. I think if the blurb is carefully written then a trigger warning is unnecessary unless the writer feels that the issue(s) therein is graphic enough to disturb people of a sensitivity for whom the book probably not be aimed.

    Like

    • So agree, Roger, if the blurb discloses just as warnings on news casts or tv shows do without defining the actual content, just a general heads up on what the reader can expect would work very well. Some books do this already with excellent book blurbs etc but as one commenter said above, she thought she was getting a romance and it was actually erotica. Not the kind of thing you want to make a mistake on purchasing if your mom or grandmother love romance novels and you don’t but are relying on integrity of the author to make your purchase.

      Like

    • I agree. There doesn’t have to be a big WARNING LABEL. If I can figure out a better way to construct my blurb, I can probably remove the trigger warning on this book. It isn’t graphic. It just deals with an issue that could be sensitive to some people, and I didn’t make that clear (or even hint at it) in the original blurb.

      Like

      • You are a conscientious writer and I like that about you, Tricia. If all were as thoughtful as you about how to best present their work to readers, this conversation probably wouldn’t even need to happen. A tiny symbol on the back of a book is not rocket science, it’s just a guide so others don’t wind up misled about content.

        Like

  16. I want to take a quick moment to thank everyone who has participated in this conversation. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I appreciate your feedback. I’ve learned a lot from everyone here. If I haven’t acknowledged or responded to your comment, I promise I’ll catch up with you tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to recharge. Again, thank you so much everyone!

    Like

    • Thank YOU, kind lady for even putting your toe into the very unpredictable waters of this topic. I applaud you for your bravery and hold my stance: The reader is NOT responsible for what the writer writes, the writer is. As one lady mentioned above when she thought she was getting a romance that was actually erotica. Not nice of the writer to pull that. As a writer myself, I feel terrible if I upset someone. I recently wrote an anti bullying poem to support #RespectArtists and it made so many people cry, I considered removing it because I felt so bad. Instead, I replied to them with sensitive and timely comments about what my objective was and they were totally onboard with me. Not rocket science, just fair and kind. Almost everything in the world has warning labels on it so why not books or at least a rating system so readers don’t open a bomb. I hope your post here is a catalyst for that much needed positive change for readers.

      Like

      • Thanks for keeping the conversation going, Janni. I worked yesterday and then had to deal with some personal issues in the evening. I didn’t keep up with this blog the way I should have.

        I’ve enjoyed reading the comments here. This is an issue that has a lot of gray areas. I’ve been torn on how to present my books and whether or not to add trigger warnings.

        I agree that writers are responsible for what they write; however, we are not responsible for how readers react to it. All we can do as authors is write a good book and be upfront about the content. Sometimes placing a book in the correct Amazon category is enough. Sometimes we need to consider the use of trigger warnings or an ‘author’s note’ at the end of the blurb. I hope other authors will consider doing the same. Even though it’s not mandatory (and I don’t think it SHOULD be), it can mean the world to someone else.

        If I tag a book as “erotica,” I don’t feel the need to add a warning that the book contains sex. If I tag a book as contemporary romance and there are scenes depicting graphic assault, I either need to change my selected category or I need to give readers a heads up. I don’t HAVE to, but it would certainly be the compassionate (and smart) thing to do.

        As a result of this discussion, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can probably remove the trigger warning on my non-graphic YA book IF I change my blurb. I’ve also decided to leave the trigger warning on The Fifth Circle.

        Thanks again to everyone who has left a comment. I hope this discussion has helped you as much as it’s helped me.

        Like

        • Love your phrase “upfront about content.” You say everything so well. So glad you got the wheels turning on this subject. Not many would take it on. Not only was it timely for me as a reader but also as a writer who has some darker works soon to be published. Thanks again for giving us your safe place to discuss this.

          Like

    • I couldn’t have said it better. Readers who are currently in a situation where they need to avoid certain triggers should proceed carefully. Maybe they could ask a trusted friend to recommend books. Not all books have (or should have) trigger warnings, and not all books with trigger warnings warn against all triggers.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Book Review: Einstein’s Beach House by Jacob M. Appel | Poetic Parfait

  18. Just one tiny example, wouldn’t mind a rating system at all, not just for readers who may get triggered but I hate erotica because it is just another form of porn and so many people (as in a lady’s comments above) keep trying to pass off their erotica romances as just romance, totally misleading and unkind to readers nevermind the trigger warning business, that’s another story on it’s own and has more to do with courtesy in my world than with anything else, just as tv movies state at the front, nothing wrong with that and everything right about it especially if you’ve got kids in the room. Here’s my first trigger warning piece on my blog. Written many years ago and published in a literary journal (NOT a vanity press thing either, the real deal) but just now published on my blog. https://jannistyles1.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/trigger-warning-nostomania/

    Like

  19. Thank you for this post. I do believe trigger warnings should be applied whenever a book deals with the horrors of society – rape, PTSD, suicide, serious abuses of any nature. When a person has experienced something traumatic, whether personally or to a close family member, it is a lot to deal with. The last thing a reader needs is to jump into a book without warning and have all the hurt and horror of an event come flooding back.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Tricia, you are such a kind soul, erring as you say on the side of compassion. You really got me thinking about this, I started recalling highly intelligent writer friends over the years who were so shocked in the middle of a book, they chucked it and they didn’t even have any trauma or ptsd or anything. Because of these memories and for survivors of trauma, I intend to use warnings wherever applicable. If I lose readers, that’s okay. I’d rather do that than leave people so angry (as some of my friends were) that they won’t read anything I author ever again. Stealing your phrase and “erring on the side of compassion.” Thanks again for this exchange, as one walking both sides of the line, I appreciate this very much.

        Like

    • So well said. I have friends who haven’t even endured any notable life trauma, authors with massive writing talent, and yet, they have stopped reading books because they were shocked and/or couldn’t stand to read on. I am certain those friends would appreciate warnings or a tiny ratings symbol, at least then it would be a choice and not something completely unanticipated.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I think I favour them, too. Was thinking about warning lines in a book synopsis and it could get challenging as in my recent dark post where I struggled with abuse or sexual abuse or child sexual abuse. I finally settled on “contains abuse” because the piece is under 300 words and doesn’t even fill a page. With rating systems, I can see a little icon on the back of a book that wouldn’t interfere with anything yet signify what one might be in for as a reader.

          Liked by 1 person

  20. Amazingly, I have… well… I’m not sure I can call it a trigger warning but it’s definitely a disclaimer on my books.

    They are pretty light stuff but they are set in a police state so there are some grim things; rape (off screen), torture (mostly off screen), abuse, violence, bullying, force feeding as well as more mundane snogging and swearing. However most of the nitty gritty is left to the imagination.

    To be honest, I wouldn’t normally bother with a warning but the book is enjoyed by a lot of teenagers, especially boys and so I feel I do have a responsibility to warn them about the content in a way that, were it aimed solely at adults, I might not. I suspect they are fine with it but their parents may worry and want to read the books first, so the disclaimer is really for the parents rather than my readers. It says that the books are around PG, that there’s moderate swearing and that they’re written in British English.

    Strangely the swearing and the British English are the things readers seem to have found difficult (go figure).The violence and torture and off screen rape hasn’t bothered anyone I know about so far.

    Part of me feels a bit health and safety mad leaving a warning but I’ve left it there because while my perception of my work’s rating might differ from that of others, at least if the warning is there they know to read on strong days or be on their guard and any parents who are unsure know to read it first.

    This is a really interesting discussion, and I will think about where and when I should add trigger warnings. Whether or not it’s the person dealing with the issues’ responsibility to choose, I want to help them avoid anything that might cause them pain.

    And that’s the thing, I suppose, as a writer, you can only do what you believe is right, what you’d like if you were suffering trauma and looking for stuff to read.

    Cheers

    MTM

    Like

    • Exactly, MT. I write YA as well, so I try to add an extra note on books that have themes aimed toward more mature teens. Books that are suitable for a sixteen-year-old might not be suitable for a thirteen-year-old. And, of course, every teen is different. All we can do is give readers a heads up about what sort of content to expect. It’s up to the reader or the parents of younger readers to determine whether or not content is suitable. All we can do is use our best judgement to help our readers make choices.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. This is a very thoughtful post and discussion. With a blog I suppose it’s possible to make the trigger warning only viewable to those who wish to see them. It could be something a reader could click on in the corner somewhere if they wish to be warned about the content. With books, it’s a bit trickier and depends on a lot of things. I would tend to agree that there should be trigger warnings if the author deems them to be appropriate particularly if it’s a YA novel that is targeted towards the older age range of YA. I think it should always be up to the author to decide whether or not they wish to include them. It’s a good healthy discussion for readers to have. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your comment. I agree with you that it should always be up to the author to decide. It’s been an interesting discussion and has given me a lot to think about. Thanks for participating in the conversation.

      Like

  22. It’s an emotive and personal subject, subjective for each writer and reader, I guess we have warnings and ratings for films and games, so why not books? Tricky question. I’m kind of on the fence with this one as there are some subjects I would want to avoid that drag up old unwanted memories, yet, sometimes it can be cathartic and helpful to read about experiences you’ve been through too.

    Like

Join the conversation...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s