Content Warnings in Books: When Done Right and Wrong

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I’ve read a lot of books that had content warnings at the beginning. A content warning (also known as a trigger warning) is a notice about potentially sensitive content that allows individuals with mental health triggers or past trauma to prepare themselves or opt out if the content is too much for them. It’s similar to movie ratings with a brief summary of the rating. Some individuals regard them as spoilers, while others need them for the reasons outlined before. I think they can be very helpful when done right. However, I’ve seen multiple instances of these being done incorrectly. So, I thought I would go through them.

Usually, these content warnings are on a separate page at the beginning of the book usually after the copyright page or before world maps, depending on the book. Some authors explicitly state “Content Warning” at the top of this page, while others do “Author’s Note” or “Important Note”. My grievances with these do not come from the title of those pages but rather how they approach listing out those warnings.

To the authors who, in my opinion, mishandled these trigger warnings, please know that I mean no hate when I use your books as examples. I just think they could’ve been done a lot better.

So, when do I see these done right?

When the author lists out everything that could be potentially harmful mentally to the reader within the book without having to play a game of hide and seek with the content warnings.

Example where this was done right:

The contents are very dark with triggering situations, such as non/dub con between the main characters, graphic violence, human trafficking, child slave trade, stalking, child trafficking, child sacrifice, mentions of child death, kidnapping, near-death situations, and explicit sexual situations. There are also particular kinks such as gun play, somnophilia, bondage, breath play, and degradation.

Carlton, H. D. Haunting Adeline (Cat and Mouse Duet Book 1).

So, you can see everything that’s going to occur without having to go searching for them. Especially if you’re reading a physical copy of a book. Granted, with the Cat and Mouse duet by H. D. Carlton there is a more in depth version on the author’s website as the book was taken down in the past due to the warnings. But you still get a sense of what might be potentially triggering from what is told directly at the beginning of the book.

Another example where the trigger warnings are listed out in a “Foreword” by the authors and a full list their website would be the Royals of Forsyth University series by Angel Lawson and Samantha Rue. However, the warnings are almost identical with slight nuisances between the two. Self-harm is listed in the book, while suicide themes is listed on the website. Otherwise, every listing is pretty much the same so you don’t need to go to the website in order to see what they are.

Another great example from a book I read recently is This Gilded Abyss by Rebecca Thorne. The entire content warning is at the beginning of the book without pointing to go look somewhere else. Or any of Ruby Dixon’s books as those are all laid out at the beginning without you having to even go to a website to find that information.

When have I seen this done wrong? Or when do I consider it wrong?

When the content warning you have to go searching for outside of the book. Examples of where this occurred: Monsters & Muses series by Sav R. Miller. Yes, there is an adult and dark romance content note at the beginning of the book but to get the specifics you have to go to the author’s website. At least if you are on Kindle, you can click on the link that brings you directly to the page with the content warnings. However, if you are reading a physical copy you have to go find a phone or computer to look this up. One thing I will note with this author’s website, there’s a dedicated page to it with each book that take you right to the content warnings rather than a listing for the book. So, it’s very clear where these are without having to scroll far to find them.

An example where I thought this wasn’t done the best would be Beyond the Play series by Grace Reilly. There’s a mention to go check out the author’s website for the content warnings, but there’s not . Also unless you’re on Kindle, you’re going to have to flip to the very back of the book just to find what the website URL even is. Then when you click on the book once on the website it gives you the book blurb before at the very end in small print you see the content warnings. Not the easiest to find and other than a sentence about there being one, you have no information about what it might be while looking at the book itself. Plus, that page is seriously easy to miss. Especially as it comes after a long sentence about trying to stay truthful to the realities of college hockey and college sports.

I have also seen where author’s direct you to their website, but all I was able to find were the book listings themselves of where to purchase rather than the content warnings. I don’t remember a good example of where that happened, but I have seen it before. Which was extremely frustrating. Or when an author only put the content warning at the end of the book blurb on their listing to buy the book. It should be within the book itself, not a scavenger hunt to find.

Love ya,

Mae Polzine

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