I just signed up for a promotion through The Fussy Librarian, which proved to be an eye-opening experience.
The Fussy Librarian has an interesting spin on the business of providing readers with book recommendations—readers can sign up to receive email notifications of ebooks based not only on genres of interest to them (à la BookBub), but also based on content preferences for language, violence, and sexual content, rated as None, Mild, or Extensive / Extreme.
Before you read further, if you’re a reader, think of a book you read recently and decide how you would assess the content based on these ratings; if you’re an author, consider one of your own books.
Based just on the terms None, Mild, and Extensive / Extreme, I filled out a form submitting The Sense of Death for consideration (it will be featured for $0.99 on 1/1/16!). Then I started questioning my responses. The assessment seemed so contextual—for example, an assessment of the level of violence will differ depending on whether one is using Arthur Conan Doyle or Thomas Harris as the point of comparison. So I wrote to the Fussy Librarian asking for guidance, and got this:
Extensive profanity. Frequent use of the f-word or any use of the c-word (either of them) or mother-******. R.
Mild profanity. Occasional use of hell, damn. The f-word once or twice. PG-13.
No profanity. G or PG.
So I had to change my rating from “Mild profanity” to “Extensive profanity” since I use the f-word 17 times in The Sense of Death. I’ve only ever gotten one complaint about the language in my books, and that was from a friend who, I think, was wishing I would be a little more lady-like in my language. (That said, it did take me a minute to figure out what the second c-word was.)
Explicit descriptions of violence. Reserved for deeply unsettling scenes, including scenes of torture, rape. or incest. Think “American Psycho,” "Hannibal," or most of Chuck Palahniuk’s work.
Extensive violence. If a character dies a violent death, it should get this rating. Suicides also merit this rating. R.
Mild violence. A little gunfire is okay (includes setting below). Fistfights, some gunfire. PG-13.
No violence. G or PG.
So I had to change my rating from “Mild violence” to “Extensive violence” since a character dies a violent death.
Explicit descriptions of sexual acts. Scenes that describe a couple having sex. All erotic romance automatically gets this rating. R or unrated.
Mild sexual content. Non-explicit scenes of sex are fine. Characters have sex but it’s off the page. PG-13.
No sexual content. Kissing and affection but nothing steamy. G or PG-13.
(I did wonder about them specifying that the Explicit rating applies to couples having sex. If it’s a threesome, does that somehow merit a different rating?)
I got to keep my rating at “Mild sexual content.” I once had a potential reader ask me if my book had a lot of sex in it. I told her, “Only one passing reference,” and she said, “Then I’m not interested.” Hoping I’m not discouraging any potential readers with that admission!
I thought the exercise was an interesting illustration of the different expectations a book’s author and its readers bring to a book! (Plus it made me think that The Fussy Librarian needed a “Moderate” rating between “Mild” and “Explicit / Extensive.” And that maybe there’s a space in the market for the Slovenly Hedonist site with a different rating scale!)
Did your assessment of your book’s ratings match up with The Fussy Librarian’s guidelines?