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?
I recently participated in a writers group meeting that was attended mainly by traditionally published authors. One attendee mentioned that she had asked a self-published writer how she knew when a book was ready without the input of a publisher. The response was that she published when she felt she was sixty percent “done.”
Sixty percent?? That was horrifying, but I couldn’t come up with a way to express why.
Then I attended a charity event in Maine where one of the items being auctioned was a beautiful hand-built dory (that's David Rockefeller, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, admiring it). And I found the metaphor that expressed why sixty percent was unacceptable, and that encapsulated my own approach to writing: writing is a craft in both senses of the word, and the author owes it to the readers to send them off on their journey in a well-built, seaworthy vessel.
Then, in a serendipitous coincidence, a link to this video--“Artistry on the water: Wooden motorboats”—appeared on my Facebook feed. Does the boat-building metaphor hold up?
Sanding? Check. That’s every word I wrote and then had to strip away to allow each sentence to run smoothly.
Fastening? Absolutely. That’s ensuring that each chapter has a logical and solid place in the frame of the story, and links seamlessly to those on either side.
Varnishing? As they say in the video, many circumstances must align to ensure a high quality finish: not the least, a talented editor. (A gorgeous sheen can be most elusive without a second pair of eyes on the craft.)
That sounds like more than sixty percent to me.
So did I end up with the nautical Steinway that the “Artistry on the water” video rhapsodizes about? I think my books are more like the pleasing and trusty dory that earned Mr. Rockefeller’s approval.
I feel that there’s a lot of value to plumb with this boat-building theme. To provide a platform to do so, I have established The Indy Author Facebook page to engage with you--please Follow me on this voyage!
Whether you are an author, creating the craft, or a reader, making a voyage in it, does the boat analogy ring true for you? Please post your thoughts at The Indy Author!