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.