Trigger Warnings — Two

The general consensus to the question about whether to put a trigger warning on a book seems to be ‘No’ based on the responses to the last post, which got a lot of comments.

But that doesn’t mean I can get away with not using the overt design features to warn and advise.

Starting from the beginning, the beta- and first-readers need to be advised of any level of potential risk. For these readers, there is no cover, the title may not be the final word/s, and the genre may not yet be chosen (for mine, it usually will be, but I’d still need to tell the first reader).

The cover is the most obvious notice of the contents. I’m notoriously bad with covers, so I’d need the help of those who aren’t colour-blind and can draw more than a straight line with a ruler (and understanding how light and shade work might also help).

The title also needs to reflect the contents without being ‘on the nose’. Or on the nose, if it’s comedic (which I can’t do — no sense of humour in this head, just ask my kids). I did well with the cover and title for Diaballein (but I chose the name of the antagonist from the definition of the word). The title is close enough to devil that people should understand what’s going to be inside. The cover was done by someone else based on my instructions (I may need to let them make more decisions in that regard).

With some of the other stories, the titles are not so great. ‘The Old Woman & the Mad Horse’ doesn’t say rural thriller, does it? Okay, the subtitle might do it, but the story isn’t really a spy thriller. It’s about a spy retiring to the country, but what’s the genre for that? I can only use what’s available in the book store, and if I add one more genre to the pile, that book may be the only one resident — and that means no one will find it! I’ll work on it.

And ‘On The Cards’ is way too generic. It doesn’t say urban fantasy, or dark. I don’t think this story is too dark, but I’m the writer, and some of the things I’ve seen in the world are so much darker than … well, than almost anything in fiction. I have a skewed view in that regard.

And in ‘Herja’, I like both the cover and the title, but it’s also poetry-prose mix in a style that’s not standard. I like that story and the cover (to me, it’s an oil painting, best seen from a step back). The original version also had black and white internal pics, but the eBook file size got so big we’d have to pay people to read it. Pity, but then browsers don’t see much of the interior of a book when previewing …

And I’m not saying anything about the anthology covers. For cheap and free books, the covers can’t cost me more than the stories will earn — but I will, in future, make the covers and titles much more genre-specific. I promise, hand over heart and no fingers crossed behind my back.

Or I’ll sub short stories to other publishers, like the one below.

And I’ll ensure the cover, title and blurb/discussions will all be clear and definite about genre and contents.

Like this one:


Thanks to all who responded to the initial question. It’s important to hear and understand, because the world changes all the time, expectations change, and we lose readers by not knowing what they want and need.

14 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings — Two

      • As I don’t get many reviews, and the early (pre-publication) readers don’t always get the cover, or the final title, or the final blurb, I may do warnings for the pre-readers as a separate issue, and if they bring up any further points, I’ll add those to the blurb in a similar form to the movie ratings thingy (but they’re different in each country, so I may have to define the meaning as well).

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      • But psychologists seem to change their recommendations on a regular basis … I suppose nothing in life is static, and we grow and learn as we go — isn’t that what stories are about?

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      • Well personally I didn’t find any clinical psychologists that backed up the claims I’ve heard touted about trigger warnings (their origins, though coming from a good place I’m sure, aren’t backed up by any studies. On the other hand, there are studies in the other direction, questioning their usage- some of which I collated on a post I did a while ago on the topic).

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  1. My innate response to these posts, Cage, is that it is better, from a psychological point of view, for people to face their fears rather than avoid them. That being said, some people just cannot do that due to their backgrounds and psychological make-up. As I said in my previous comment I don’t think genre requires a trigger warning but specific things like rape or suicide might. I wrote a short story for Nightmareland anthology which included a suicide and one reviewer mentioned that this had really upset him and he thought there should have been a trigger warning.Personally, I’ve never been upset about anything I’ve read to such an extent so I would never have thought of it. Reading about cancer upsets me a bit as my mother had cancer and went through treatment. I wouldn’t not read a fiction book which included a cancer theme but I do avoid autobiographies about cancer.

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    • I do think there are safe ways to face fears, and story was one of the strategies I used with the foster kids, but the world has changed since then, and younger people are much more aware of events and situations that trigger. But then, maybe they should face those fears without being confronted by the reality of it, as in, read about the conflict/problem in a book of fiction so it ceases to be so fearful. Mind you, if someone told me to read books where my painful memories of the death of [I can’t say more; it’s still too hard to deal with] … would doing that make it easier to live with the pain? I’ll trial it and read a story I know will cause the pain, and see if it has any effect. It’s not much chop if I say to people they should face their fears in a safe place and yet not do it myself.

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      • What you have said here is what my 17 year old son has said, but he too has never faced his fears through a specific book. He suffers from PTSD and OCD. I realised that you have something traumatic in your past when I read your last post. Such things take a long time to ease. I still have nightmares about my son dying. It is horrible, I wake up in a panic.

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      • Time doesn’t always heal, it only ensures that other people forget. I think every person has some trauma or traumatic event somewhere, and I found with the fosters that the easiest way for them to talk about/through their personal monsters was to make a fictional story about them, as if it’s happening to someone else. then they find a way to choose differently, if they want to and they’re ready.

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  2. Pingback: A Content Warning | Cage Dunn: Fibber, Fabricator, Teller-of-tall-tales

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