Before my author friends and writer enemies alike join forces to storm my blog with pitchforks and torches in an effort to burn this idea down, I politely ask that they all read this monster-sized blog post from start to finish before building my gallows. I will be going into detail about the why. After that, if you feel I’m wrong and need to have this digital castle burned down, then so be it.
It all begins with a common-knowledge misnomer, and expected age range for a certain genre that some popular authors write for. I’ll begin this possibly stormy ride with the Young Adult crowd.
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen. That’s the so-called official range. Some readers and writers alike aim for the teen ages, and may want to define their own version of YA as thirteen to nineteen. I’ve actually encountered a few readers, face to face, who insists that YA is a range designed for thirteen to seventeen, and anybody eighteen and older should be considered an adult.
As you can see, there is a hodgepodge of beliefs over this system, yet there is nothing concrete. There is no official system that nails it all down, delivering a rating system that is designed to be identified so a book can be marketed to its proper audience.
So why would we need such a thing? Movies have it. Video games even have it. Those who classify themselves in Children Books do a rather good job at defining their age boundaries. However, books for everyone else who isn’t a thumb-sucking human, the written word that is designed to teach, entertain and expand grown minds, doesn’t.
So Daniel A. Roberts, what is your convoluted take on all of this, and why are you trying to mess it up for everyone else?
It all starts with something called discovery. That is a term used for when an author writes a book, and it gets discovered by a certain audience of readers. It can be a niche genre, like Paranormal Thrillers. It can be a major genre, like Romance. That audience discovers a novel, that author reaps the benefits in royalties and recognition. In turn, that inspires the authors to continue writing for that audience. Such inspiration can be huge to that author, an important element that can generate an entire series.
What has all of this to do with a rating system? Today, most publishing companies and online distributors require publishers and authors alike to choose their genre. However, there is another small selection to make in a different spot. It usually says in some form or another: In order to protect minors from viewing inappropriate material, please let us know whether this book contains language, situations or images inappropriate for children under 18 years of age.
This is the unintended catch-22 for most writers and publishers. Most publishers won’t select this for their novels aimed at the YA market. Even though there is sex, or massive killing sprees, or somebody yelling “Son of a bitch!” or anything else you can find in most PG-13 movies that are made from these novels, if they become popular enough.
Let me use one of those popular examples. The Twilight series. Each and every movie, with the killing and the eventual sex scene where Edward breaks the bed, and nearly breaks Bella with it, along with a huge battle over the half-vampire daughter where heads are ripped off left and right, when did any of that become appropriate for your thirteen year old? Fifteen year old? Each and every movie is PG-13, so according to the ‘official’ moral voices, your 13 year old should be able to watch undead sex and massive killing scenes. That is a moral argument for another time and another place. I’m here to discuss the issues I’m aiming at, but the example was required for the rest of my discussion.
What would have happened if the publisher of Twilight decided to follow that broader based description for 18+ and checked that box that said: In order to protect minors from viewing inappropriate material, please let us know whether this book contains language, situations or images inappropriate for children under 18 years of age.
I know exactly what would have happened. Twilight would have been hidden along with the entire Erotica line, even though Twilight is not erotica fiction, and might have never been discovered in the first place. It might not have gotten popular, because if the teenagers searched for the title, it would have been blocked from their viewing. Parents might have gotten more upset if their teens started buying Twilight books from the same digital front-end that displays a title called Getting Laid By My Ex-Nanny. (If any such title exists, my apologies. I made that up to make my point.)
This is where a writer like me gets punished for having a moral compass. Take for instance, one of my novels that is a combination of Science Fiction, Comedy, Fantasy Magic and Action. It is not Erotica of any sort. Defenders of Valinthia. Most people who see the cover thinks it’s light fiction for a young reader, when it’s not. Most people who download it, enjoy it on an entirely different scale. This is a seriously loaded novel, where a war gets fought between Science and Magic. People do die. Body parts get blasted all over a field of battle. Gnomercy (Cool Gnome Warrior) cuts off the head of an enemy space marine. An entire squadron of starfighters gets smashed by magic wielding dragons, and so much more, and yes, it’s also a Comedy. How can something that violent be a comedy? You would have to read it to believe it, and some have gone down that road. What they got was fictional entertainment. If they would have selected to filter out Erotica, because that subject is 18+, they would have never found Defenders of Valinthia.
What is the most important part, Defenders of Valinthia is aimed at the 18+ crowd. This isn’t something I want your fourteen year old to read. I will admit this now, if I read it when I was fourteen, I would have loved the novel something fierce. I was fourteen when I read The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. There was a ton of killing, adventure, wars and magic in that novel too. When I pulled it off the sales shelf at the real world book store, it was in the Fantasy section. It wasn’t with the Erotica novels. Those were in the back, in a room that was blocked off with a black curtain, and if an under 18 kid tried to go inside, the sales clerk would holler and chase them out.
For Defenders of Valinthia, because I checked the box that said; In order to protect minors from viewing inappropriate material, please let us know whether this book contains language, situations or images inappropriate for children under 18 years of age. That means it gets hidden with all of the Erotica titles. If you go to the retailer’s online preferences and check the box that says you don’t want to see adult materials like Erotica, so all of that sex-erotica stuff doesn’t litter your search results, you will never, ever find Defenders of Valinthia, because it’s just as blocked off.
I could advocate for a measure to get Erotica placed onto a digital shelf all of its own, like that back room that was sectioned off with a black curtain where only adults who seek Erotica titles would go. I made mention of that a few times, some years ago, to get swamped by people saying I was off my rocker.
It’s easy to point out a problem. Today, I’m going to step it up by suggesting a solution that would ensure this never happens again. Let us develop a rating system where novels can be explored online, where 18+ (Adult) doesn’t mean splashing Erotica all over your web browser if you choose to see 18+ titles.
Before I go much further, it must be said that I’m not anti-Erotica, even though it’s not my cup of tea when it comes to reading. That market has a following all of its own. Authors who write Erotica are making big bucks. I don’t want to deny them their readership, it’s their money, and hey, they’re all adults.
Some online retailers refuse to carry Erotica titles, but they earn the disdain and ire from those who provide them a product to sell. The actual content of Erotica, like sex and violence as part of their formula, worries non-erotica writers something fierce. There is violence, swearing and sex in other books. Will they ban those next? They might, because that author also avoided the 18+ check box, because they didn’t want to be made invisible to most readers who don’t care for Erotica, but are aimed at adults who might want to read that cool Crime-Thriller they wrote. Which is the burning problem from square one. How can you write about crime and not have violent or suggestive themes?
Erotica is a niche readership. Even most adults don’t want to see the sleazy covers and taboo titles mixed in with their search results. It’s enough to hurt the discovery for the authors who use their own moral compass and do select the 18+ box, because they feel their novel isn’t right for that thirteen year old kid. But then, there looms the ‘hide my book from all adults who doesn’t like Erotica’ effect. (Yes, I started that last sentence with a conjunction on purpose. I must be an evil maniac at heart, right?)
So, what kind of self-imposed rating system should be used? Notice, I said self-imposed. We should, as a community of writers, develop our own system to let our readers know exactly what they are going to read. There are some books that categorize themselves. Children Books are a great example. They do a stellar job identifying the reading age, and nobody forces them to do so. It’s for their customers to see and decide if that is what they want to buy. Again, we have the YA range of expectations. None of that should actually be eliminated, but expanded upon.
You heard me right. Lets expand the expectation and actually target our novels directly at the age ranges, and with what to expect in our literature, from cradle to grave.
I suggest a Front Matter (usually the first page after the title) listing that can be included right after any ISBN or Copyright claim. Here is an example.
18+ Audience | Violence | Mild Cussing | Sexually Suggestive Themes – No Actual Sex
13 to 19 Audience | Blood and Gore | Violence | Fright & Shock Scenes
18+ Audience | Blood and Gore | Rape | Murder | Genocide
9 to 12 Audience | Arguments | Parental Confrontation Issues | Social Behavior Problems
3 to 5 Audience | Safe for Everyone
That is what I’m talking about. Every Ebook retailer in existence lets their customers view a sample of the written product, including the Front Matter page. This way, the 18+ check box can be avoided, and those who browse the book before buying will know exactly what they are getting.
If anything, change that 18+ check box to say “Check if this is Erotica” and do give them their own digital realm so shoppers who like that stuff can browse it. Leave the rest of us alone to offer our unique worlds, with unique villains and awesome heroes to battle each other, to do what they do best, and not worry about being lumped in with Taboo Sex listings so those who are looking for that sort of thing doesn’t cross lanes by accident. Better yet, so that writers like me will know for a fact that my writing will appear in a search meant for an adult audience, but not meant to be blocked off from adults who don’t want to view Erotica titles.
Or am I really off my rocker for wanting such a thing? Discuss it with me in the comments below. Let me know how you feel about this subject.