Trigger Warnings for the Modern Reader

The first time I ran into the idea of trigger warnings, I was working on revising my first (and eternally unpublished) novel, and writing a second (or third, or fourth, or fifteenth). I was on the NaNoWriMo forums, talking to people I didn’t know particularly well, whose names I no longer remember, and who were probably not writing in the same genres as I did.

And somewhere in the conversation, someone “suggested”–with more than a hint of self-righteousness–that I should put a warning sticker on my book.

I took it as a joke. Something like those parental advisory stickers that used to come on music, back before music came off the internet. And why wouldn’t I? I mean, the title of my book was something like “Slicey-Dicey Serial Killers of Death,” the cover–if it had gotten that far–would likely have shown a dead woman (or some portion thereof), and it would certainly have been shelved under murder and mayhem in the bookstore or library.

What more warning could you possibly need?

That was before e-readers. Back then, the question was pretty simple. Trigger warnings, yes or no? And since publishers mostly only publish one version of a book at a time, a little debate, and then everybody gets stuck with the same answer.

Now, to be quite honest, I don’t just not want to be trigger warned, I very much want to not be trigger warned.

But…

We’re not talking about some over-arching trigger-police running amok in the libraries, stamping things with stickers, anymore.

When I read a book, more often than not, I read it in my preferred font, at my preferred size, and that impacts… exactly no one other than myself. When I buy a book, I frequently do it in an internet store that remembers my previous purchases, and makes individual suggestions. When I search for a book–on Google or in the store, itself–the ads I see aren’t the same ones you see. And there are parental controls on my devices, even though my only child uses a litter box.

Everyone sees their own internet.

Trigger warnings don’t have to be a sticker on the front cover, anymore. They don’t have to be front and center, spoiling the book for everyone. It is not a zero sum game.

They could be–like my preferred font– a personal setting either on a sales website or on your e-reader, itself. People who need them see them, and I don’t. You could even use it as a marketing tool. (that little red exclamation point means they’re there, if you want them.)

And they could be incredibly detailed.  Wanna be warned about abuse, but not be told in advance that Beth dies? Fine. Set your reader settings that way.  Want your warnings up front, or chapter by chapter? There could be a setting for that.

It’s time to move on. We’re at a point where we could easily move from static, one-size fits all trigger warnings to customize-able trigger controls. And put the reader in control.

 

Lagniappes, Giveaways, and Finding YOUR Fans

I love it when people give me free books.

Aside from the obvious–someone is giving you a free book–it’s a great way to get past all those unconscious biases and read something completely out of your comfort zone and find something you wouldn’t pick up on your own.

The first strangers I remember handing out free books were the Gideons. Motel room Bibles, first–seems like I was always on a road trip of some kind as a kid–and later, the suit-and-tie men who stood outside schools and passed out teeny-tiny New Testaments in bright colors. One of my great-uncles was a Gideon, and you could always go over to his house and read the Bible. And since he was also kind of an ersatz missionary, you could “read” the Bible in more languages than I can count, some of which used a completely different alphabet.

Laugh, if you want, but it was one of my first introductions to foreign language.

Later on, when I was a Bookseller, we had a communal shelf for the Advance Copies publishers sent us, and the books rotated in and out fairly quickly. You’d read it, and then bring it back (most of the time) and add a post-it with a few notes on your thoughts. Obviously, the ones  with the most post-its were the most desirable.

Yes, there was a range. There were tech manuals in back that had probably been untouched since the dawn of the Epoch, and which were probably… just fine as that goes… and occasionally, you’d wind up with a note or two that shredded something.

But you still got that exposure to things you might not ordinarily buy or even read. Would I put out money for a History of the San Francisco Sewer system? Probably not, but if my friend liked it, and it was free…

And then, comes the world of e-books. When I got my first e-reader, it seemed like everything was free, and if it wasn’t… well, wait a week. People were fiddling around, trying to figure out the business model for e-books, and the first digital-only imprints were being born. And somehow, people still made money.

Just not the company that made that first reader. In time, their store wound up being swamped by “Free.” You could search, but you couldn’t find anything under the piles and piles of “Free.” The algorithm seemed to make no distinction between “real” books and the “books” some high school kid kicked out over the weekend. Probably because it didn’t make a distinction between giving away copies and selling them. It wound up closing.

Moral of That Story? There is a difference between attracting your own fans, and attracting the fans of Free.

So, moving right along…

The solution at least a couple of traditional publishers have come up with is offering “free” ebooks, but only through their newsletters, and off their own websites. That way, they’re focusing on people who care enough to know, instead of on the whole internet.

I get a couple of newsletters that have a regular Book of the Month type giveaway (and an associated discussion group, if you’re into that). I think they’re probably doing fairly well in terms of attracting “their” fans instead of a bunch of bargain hunters. One of them is Tor, and the other is a much smaller, University press that trades in non-fiction.

On the far end of things, I’ve heard the idea that you shouldn’t be afraid to give away all of your work (eventually) because your true fans won’t be able to wait and will wind up sending money, anyway. I’m not sure I totally believe that, but it does seem to work for some people.

So, what do you think? If you give away books, how do you make that work for you? If you don’t, what led to that decision? And if you’re in some other industry, how do you handle the giveaways?

Businessy Me.

A couple days ago, one of my co-workers sent me a picture of everything that was going wrong in my absence. (Everything.) And also, I’m not supposed to mention the rat. (There’s a rat.) And apparently, people have been asking her to post my schedule so that they don’t have to deal with my new counterpart. (They would probably ask me, personally, but I am quite frightening.)

I don’t understand it. I mean… counterpart has been well trained. Somebody pointed at my work area and said “You’re doing that tomorrow” and everything.

I’m learning a lot about running a business from this job. Mostly by negative example. I’m seeing a whole lot of short-term choices being made, and a whole lot of higher policies that incentivize those short-term choices.

And I’m starting to see the effects of making short term decisions.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the company as a whole, but I have the feeling the writing’s on the wall for this particular town. (We’re in a downward spiral of cut jobs, lose income to bad customer service, cut more jobs to make up for the lost profits. I don’t really expect it to level out, and I know I don’t have the power to fix it.)

I could actually see what I’m learning being useful, if I could figure out a way to market it. Fabulous business advice such as:

  1. You can’t meet long-term goals with short-term solutions.
  2. If everyone who works with a manager thinks he’s incompetent, he probably is.
  3. Never mistake a retention problem for a hiring problem.
  4. More training, less hiring. (And less firing.)
  5. Don’t get in the way of peoples’ true passion. You’ll lose.
  6. Don’t expect everybody to share your idea of success.
  7. Understand other peoples’ personal goals, and help them meet them.

I’m not sure how those would relate to a writing business. I’m not likely to have an HR department. But you never know… I might find a use for them.