Sunday, March 13, 2011

Should authors voluntarily put parental advisories on their ebooks?

My first two ebooks (Dead Dwarves Don't Dance and Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds) are hard-boiled, gritty cyberpunk novels with lots of crime, violence, and other adult content.
My next ebook is going to be a Young Adult action adventure aimed at kids (although grownups should also enjoy it!).
I am concerned that kids who like my YA ebook will buy my cyberpunk ebooks which are not appropriate for them.
Therefore, I have decided to voluntarily place a parental advisory in the Amazon/B&N description of my cyberpunk books. It reads something like this:
"For Parents: Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance is not appropriate for children under 16. This book contains intense action and frequent violence (shootouts, explosions, brawls, murder), suggestive language and scenes (not explicit), drug use (alcohol, tobacco, fictional future drugs), and cursing."
I believe that this is a small price to pay to help parents determine what their kids should and should not be reading.
What do you think about parental advisories for ebooks?


  1. I might suggest a change, Derek. Instead of listing a specific age, just say something like "..DDDD may not be appropriate for all readers. This book contains..."

    Do you really need to list a specific age? What is OK for some 12 year olds might *never* be OK for other readers at any age. If you tell the reader what is in the book, you're warning them about the content.

    Honestly though, I read DDDD. There's nothing in it that isn't on prime time TV, which in theory is supposed to be OK for even young children to view.

  2. I'm of two minds, actually. I agree that allowing parents the information needed to understand what their kids are or might be reading (or otherwise consuming) is of importance. Especially since I'm a firm believer that parents have and should exercise that responsibility. And I'd surely rather have you do it voluntarily than have it forced on you.

    Your choice not to use different nom de plumes for your various genre efforts drives this decision, I think, as you want to control some of the cross-pollination that might occur.

    The biggest downside I can see now - having put a 18+ on one of my works - is that the information might put off adult readers who, fearing the content that might drive the warning, choose not to purchase based solely on the warning rather than making the decision based on what is actually in the book. And given the ease of 'one-click' shopping, I'd guess that if a YA wanted to get a copy of it, they could wrangle a way.

    Still, having control of it sounds like the better way to go. I'd give some thought to not including the parenthetical comments - TMI, in my opinion. And I don't think I'd do it at all until the YA book is out and has sold more than one or two copies.

    I think I'm glad that my work has too much suggestive stuff to ever be thought of as YA, though the genre sells.

    Thanks for including us in your thought processes and results.


  3. Hey Derek,

    I don't think a message to parents or guardians is necessary for your adult books. The old cliche does ring true and prospective readers should be able to judge by the cover that Dead Dwarves is not for kids. For one, the guy on the cover is an adult. Kids books don't have adults as protagonists - and book conventions tell us the person on the cover is the hero of the story. Also your blurb will also make it clear that this isn't a story for kids or even teens (although many teens will read it - I know I would have.) And finally, you don't have it categorized as a kids book on Amazon or anywhere else I'm guessing. I think you're over thinking it. Put it out there, let people buy it. You can't control what parents/guardians expose their kids to, so don't sweat it. I would be very surprised if you got even one email from a disgruntled adult who mistakenly gave the book to their child.


  4. Derek,

    I think your heart's in the right place but maybe you should consider what is really likely to happen. Putting a warning up is likely to make the books 'forbidden fruit' and kids that might not have been attracted to it originally may flock to it for that reason.

    As a parent (of kids long grown), I'm all for parental controls but the sad fact it that too many parents don't utilize them even when they're available.

    I don't think there's a good answer to this, but I'd been inclined not to issue the warning. I don't think it will have much impact and may in fact do more harm than good.

    However, it's really anybody's guess at this point so I think you just have to go with your gut.

  5. I have three kids, all three years old and younger (yeah, we didn't waste any time). Maybe I'm still too early in this parenting thing, but all this "not suitable for kids" crap really annoys the hell out of me. Kids are FAR more sophisticated than most adults give them credit for. Hell, I remember becoming addicted to the movie Aliens at around age 10 or 12. I remember sneaking my Dad's Playboys at around the same age. I understood the realities of sex well before that, when I saw a Nova episode that documented the incubation and development of the human fetus throughout a woman's pregnancy (and my Mom explained where sperm come from). My wife knew it even earlier, but then she grew up on a cattle farm and witnessed bulls and cows together, and helped birth calves, so maybe she's not a representative example. The first movie I ever saw was Star Wars (in the theater at age two and a half). In the years since, I saw MANY movies with all sorts of violence and scariness, and I'm not a sick twisted freak. Well, not THAT much of one. I believe the quest to continually shield children from the realities of life will only result in one or more of the following: 1) Excessively sheltered kids who are unable to deal with life in any meaningful way and will always come crying to mommy and daddy when things are unpleasant, 2) An unintentional tyranny that stifles any and all deviation from whatever the commonly accepted "normal" happens to be at any particular time, 3) A civilization of pussies who refuse to stand up for themselves (we're 2/3s of the way there already), and/or 4) Deluded, self-absorbed, and utterly repulsive parents who insert their noses into everyone else's business whether it is desired, polite, and proper to do so or no (we're already 8/10s of the way there already.....freaking hippies.....).

    In summation....don't sweat it.

    Michael Kingswood
    michaelkingswd (twitter)

  6. I also read DDDD. I was surprised by the newly added parental advisory. I applaud you for taking the high road about the content. In this case, I do not believe it to be necessary. Just my opinion, but DDDD was not too over the top with the content and would think that the newly placed advisory might not be needed. Thanks for your blog Derek.

  7. A reviewer recently read one of my thrillers and warned me that I should have an advisory for language. She said this was a common practice. I was a little surprised, because it is clear from the genre, cover, and description that this is a real thriller, not a kid's book. Not only that, but I chose to publish it as 'having adult content' under Amazon and Smashword's guidelines. I thought this choice was more than superficial and would affect the search results, etc. Perhaps I was mistaken?

    I went ahead and added a very simple "contains mature language and situations." I have doubts about it for all of the above-mentioned reasons. I'd hate to think I'm turning some readers off who think the warning means things are worse than they really are.

    I looked at some other best sellers and didn't see any advisory anywhere. The big guys don't seem to be too worried about it.

  8. Darek,

    First, good luck breaking into the top 20. :) (Yea... last thread.)

    I'm all for this. If parents are not involved with what their kids read... bummer for them. I wouldn't put 16, I'd put 14. I know, a nitpick, but by age 14 kids are exposed to worse and DDDD really is mild compared to some of what is out there.

    My parents would have appreciated this note... and would have ignored it. One way they 'fueled' my reading habit was to 'mistakenly allow' age in-appropriate content into my library. By 'mistakenly allow,' my dad would give me 'by mistake' hand me down books that were 'a bit mature.' Those were the ones I re-read. ;)

    So if kids buy this 'in rebellion' to their folks, it might not really be against their parents wishes...

    Put in the warning. It probably will increase your 12 to 13 year old market presence. I'd rather they read DDDD than watch The Matrix or Bladerunner. Yep... that mild.


  9. If I was an adolescent, your warning would make me want to read you books MORE.

    My oldest is 10, so I can appreciate the motivation to put the warnings on your cyberpunk work, but I don't think it's necessary. As a parent, I often take a quick examination or do a little background research before my kid reads something.

    So maybe put a warning elsewhere, maybe on here via link from Amazon, for example.

  10. It never hurts to give people more information about a book.

    Also I am in agreement with the other comments above where it might help sales. Giving a warning to kids is like putting sugar on the grown to get ride of ants.

  11. Hey, Maybe we've hit on a great marketing tool? We all put advisories for sex, language, and violence on our books and watch the sales numbers soar!

    Seriously, I think your heart is in the right place, but, realistically, too many parents completely ignore such warnings. The parents who would care would probably preview the content before letting their kids download.

    Actually, you now see why traditional publishers always made authors take pseudonyms when writing in a different genre. I know you considered doing this, but wanted to grow YA readers into your adult fiction.

    Did you consider taking a version of your name, perhaps keeping the surname intact, for YA and then using website to meld the 2 personas?