I’ve talked about trigger warnings in my discussion series, Beyond the Blurb, before. And while numerous bloggers, readers, and reviewers champion them, sometimes they aren’t always clear in the publishing industry.
Book Twitter has been talking nonstop about Leigh Bardugo’s adult novel, Ninth House. From the sale of ARCs to copies being hoarded by bloggers, this book is in high demand. Anything Leigh creates, everyone wants. One concern that has popped up is the content in the book. Justine from I Should Read That brought up the lack of trigger warnings listed in the ARC (I warn you now that the Tweet below is graphic, so if you want to read the full thread, click on the photo below).
For months, Leigh has marketed Ninth House as an adult book with graphic content. You can also call it grimdark, which is a violent or realistic subgenre. A good example is Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns or even George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. However, I haven’t seen any warning of it being a grimdark title though. Yes, she informed her readers it’s not like her YA series. I’m fine with that. And my issue isn’t with her. My issue is with the publisher itself. I’ve discussed why bloggers should use trigger warnings, but publishers need to understand the delicate reasons why they need to start advocating for them. Here’s my take:
Putting Trigger Warnings in Books May Help Prevent Situations like This One
Natasha Ngan, the author of Girls of Paper and Fire, has trigger warnings in her debut novel, which touches on heavy topics that may cause unwanted situations with readers. And I commend her for it. I do. And I respect her even more. Hypothetically, if this publisher were to go the same route, perhaps the Twitter storm wouldn’t have occurred. We don’t know that though. However, I do know I would have been happy to see those warnings.
Calling a Book “Dark” Isn’t Enough Anymore
“Dark” as a warning is subjective. It doesn’t help the reader, especially her younger ones, understand what they’ll soon read. Simply saying the book is dark or has graphic content doesn’t explain in detail or give a clear understanding of what might affect someone. I hesitated reading Coralee June’s Sunshine and Bullets because the author called it a dark romance, which it clearly is. However, it doesn’t contain any sexual assault, just graphic scenes. It is one of my favourite books now. What I appreciated about her honesty is her use of warnings in most, if not all, of her books’ blurbs. Yet the word “dark” isn’t a synonym for rape, torture, death, or abuse. It isn’t. Frankly, it’s a rather dull adjective that doesn’t give the reader much explanation.
Ending the Marketing of Adult Titles to Young Readers May Help Alleviate the Issue
The problem here is that the book was marketed at YALC, the YA Lit Con at the London Film & Comic-Con. Was this convention the appropriate venue to market the book? No. Since Leigh is primarily a YA author, there should have been more consideration with the trigger warnings.
I understand young readers will gravitate toward adult books, especially if their favourite authors write in that category. And I was one of them. And I don’t ever want people to think I want to censor titles. No. Unless the publisher can cross-promote the book in two different age categories, then we should separate the marketing. Upwards of 55% adult readers are the main demographic for YA books, I understand that. But if the publisher is marketing the book as adult, then don’t attend a YA book convention and hand out samplers.
Showing Warnings in a Book Allows Readers to Pick if They Want to Read It
I’ve talked about this topic before. So it comes as no surprise that I’ve put it as another tip. As a child sexual assault survivor, I want to know what I’m reading. I’m fighting my mind twenty-four hours of the day, and I do not need a book unsuspectedly to remind me what happened. However, finding another survivor battle through what I’ve gone through is powering. But I need warnings, people. I do. I need to prepare my mind and tell it that the story will be rough but liberating.
I respect Leigh for writing about a difficult subject. I do not want people to assume I’m on the cancel wagon when it comes to her. No. Not at all. She’s giving me a voice when I haven’t had one in decades. And sometimes I can’t speak about what happened. But I decide if I want to move forward with a mature book. And other readers should be given the same courtesy.
Listening to Readers May End Tension in the Community
Gollancz, a UK publisher that handles Orion Publishing novels, has surprised most of the book Twitter community by deciding to put content warnings in the book. I rarely see this action taken. I never thought a publisher would listen to its readers and side with them. But here we are.
Once I heard about this change, I couldn’t help but be proud of its step forward. Easing tension in the book community will build a better relationship among readers, publishers, authors, and reviewers.
14 thoughts on “Beyond the Blurb | Publishers, Not Just Readers, Should Advocate for Triggers Warnings”
I’ve missed the entirety of this but I can only agree with putting trigger warnings in all books. We might look at the publishers for this, since they publish the book, but I think we should also look at the authors since they know EXACTLY what small things that might be triggering are mentioned in their books. If those two parties would work hand in hand, problem solved?
I’ve seen some books with trigger warnings already but sometimes it’s lost in the general information on the book (mostly on the page with the publication info, somewhere in between), which is.. good in a way since triggers are mentioned, but it isn’t OBVIOUS to people picking it up because.. truly.. who else but reviewers minds the page with that info really? I certainly didn’t before I started reviewing books..
They should just add a page with “TRIGGER WARNINGS” or “MIND THESE SUBJECTS” or something like that.
I definitely think trigger warnings should exist in books. A few times before I’ve been surprised by some, without warning, and it wasn’t the best feeling in the world! I also think the authors should be the ones putting trigger warnings in their books. The publishers may help because sometimes, as an author, you miss things because it doesn’t seem too much for you, but still.
I didn’t like that so many people were canceling Leigh because I kept hearing that she indeed did say that this was an adult book, that it deals with heavy topics (I wasn’t ever at any conventions or talks so I don’t know what she exactly said, but I do know that she said something). I think trigger warnings should exist in books. I would have been prepared to read about the incest in The Roanoke Girls if I had known about it. Luckily, someone previously told me that that was going to happen so I had some type of warning.
Man, i really don’t get the fuss and all the refusal… It’s pretty much standard to put this info (along with the age recommendations) up for films, series, stuff on telly. It really isn’t that hard, and they could just slap it onto any book, really
This was a good take on an issue that people usually overlook in the book reading community. As someone who has read multiple books this year with very triggering content and received no prior warnings, I appreciate this perspective. Especially in regards to calling a book “dark” since that can cover a multitude of different things without making the author talk about specifics. I was told Black Leopard Red Wolf was an “African Game of Thrones”, little did I realize it was only called that because of the incessant rape and gore throughout the story. If authors or publishers could put more content warnings out, I think a lot of issues could be avoided.
I think that publishing companies should 1000% include trigger warnings, especially in books like this. I do see lots of popular books out there that include graphic content that a lot of people neglect to mention in reviews and synopsis blurbs, and I think it would help a lot of people if publishers normalized adding CW.
Completely agree with your point of view. I think having to research every single book before hand (like I’ve seen some argue) must be a pain, especially if you plan on buying something on a whim in a bookstore. I feel like adding trigger warnings wouldn’t even take anything away from the actual book itself. I really don’t understand why more publishers don’t do it, as even from a business stand point (I know this isn’t the point, but for large corporations it probably is) it would be much more favourable, and would show they care about their readers rather than selling a bunch of copies to people who will eventually stop reading due to lack of TW. Really though-provoking perspective thanks for this post 😊
I 10000000% agree about not advertising adult books at YA conventions. I mean, how many times does Jay Kristoff get on Twitter and scream about Nevernight NOT being YA… and where was Darkdawn just promoted? YALC… It’s ridiculous, really. If publishers want to have a convention for adult books, then have a separate convention. Or have a separate room for older readers. What happens if a young teen who loves Illuminae finds Nevernight because it’s marketed at an event for teens and YA readers? They will read it of course!! Stabby assassins at murder boarding school? Sounds just like Vampire Academy (but with more smut and a lot more murder…), but very inappropriate!!!
(Also agree on all your other points. But this one ^ bugs me…)
[…] Siobhan wrote a great post about trigger warnings! […]
Yes, yes, yes to all of this. Also, as a fellow survivor:
YES. It’s not that we want these things not to be written at all — we just deserve the right to be informed of what we’re getting ourselves into.
THIS! I think a big problem is the promoting of adult books at YA conventions; even with crossover appeal, publishers really should take the effort to pub warnings up for books that teens may pick up. Especially since you know, books like Nevernight and Poppy War and SJM are marketed to YA audiences… and in the case of the first two authors, they are adamant the books are not YA.
Content warnings aren’t bad. We have them for tv shows and movies, and I’d like to know if there’s going to be graphic violence or sexual assault in a book so I know to be in the right headspace to pick it up. There’s a reason I haven’t read Girls of Paper and Fire yet — I need to be able to handle it.
[…] Siobhan @ Siobhan’s Novelties is at it again with a fantastic discussion on the reasons publishers should advocate for trigger warnings in books. […]
[…] Siobhan @ Siobhan’s Novelties talked about content warnings, and why publishers should advocate for them! […]
[…] many within reading communities calling for more content warnings in books, publishers themselves have been largely absent from this debate. I don’t entirely blame them for […]