Discourse on Twitter, specifically book twitter, is a common and regular occurrence. I’ve covered these kinds of topics in the past, but recently an Indie Publisher got in some hot water for a ‘hot take’. Silver Shamrock Publishing went on a bit of a rant about Trigger Warnings. Specifically in Horror novels. It was a take that left many in the community upset and lashing out themselves.
I’ve done a post about Trigger Warnings in the past so my stance in today’s post will be more focused on the genre of horror as well as why what Silver Shamrock Publishing did caused the possibility of them closing up shop. I’d like to give a fair warning here that I may speak about Triggering Topics as well as warnings as I go throughout.
Silver Shamrock Publishing’s Mistake
Horror is a genre that is largely multi-faceted. It has many sub-genre’s within it so not all horror novels are the same. The argument that Shamrock used was that horror in and of itself is triggering and TW shouldn’t be needed. That because it’s fiction no one should get upset by the content. Also that in horror, authors should be able to write whatever they want and shouldn’t have to put any warnings on it.
Obviously this is a terrible take for multiple reasons but I’m also paraphrasing and probably missed a lot of what they said. I will say that I don’t agree with them at all. Horror can be extremely violent but it isn’t always the obvious ways that make horror scary. They can be in deeper ways as well. Ways that the author may not expect could be harmful.
Content Warnings have been a part of radio and television for decades. They are there for a reason. Obviously not everyone can handle reading rape, animal harm, or domestic violence. Having a warning that states that those topics are talked about, described or actually happen within the plot is important.
A work being fiction doesn’t write off the weight of the topic. It doesn’t make it easier for someone to swallow because the aren’t real people. I think the idea that this should be less triggering because it isn’t real is preposterous.
What Trigger/Content Warnings Are Really For
I read “Dead Inside” by Chandler Morrison. If that isn’t an example of a horror author writing what they wanted regardless of the content I don’t know what is. It doesn’t have any content or trigger warnings. That is a book that should have them. There seems to be a misconception that there is some rule that says every author has to have TW/CW before their books. So naturally people who don’t have triggers fight back with the idea. Like such a thing makes a person weak.
Weakness isn’t defined by Triggers. Traumatic events can leave lasting effects on a person but their trauma isn’t weakness. They’ve survived it and found a way to keep going. That’s strength. A need to protect themselves isn’t wrong.
What are they really?
First we have to knock down the false ideas of what TW/CW are. They are not spoilers. Their purpose is to give someone that needs them a heads up about what they may read. I think a lot of people assume they are some list of every thing ‘bad’ in a book with page and paragraph locations. That’s not what we mean. Yes there are some sites that offer that, but in the book itself it should be broad but also specific. Depending on the topic.
A good example would be stating that a book contains mentions of rape, acts of self harm and talk of suicide. That doesn’t give away the plot, that doesn’t tell me where in the book this happens but it does tell me that it happens. I can choose to read the book or not. They can be more specific, they can be more broad. But the idea remains the same. They serve as a warning to those that need it.
What they aren’t..
Censorship was thrown around about TW/CW. How? I don’t know. Spoilers would be talking about the scene itself, it would be giving page numbers and paragraph counts. It would be far more detailed and descriptive. This idea that TW/CW would ruin a book don’t make sense. You don’t have to look at that page. Turn it, skip it. It wasn’t placed there for you if you don’t need it. How does it being there, though, effect you?
It’s a question I often wonder about this. If you don’t have triggers, then you can simply turn the page. I usually skip to the first chapter without looking at the chapter index even. Stop acting like it harms you, or the genre, or the book. It doesn’t.
We also have to consider that Trigger Warnings and Content Warnings aren’t mutually exclusive. Triggers are specific like rape but content is broader like gratuitous violence. At least that’s how I believe it is, so please feel free to comment if I’m wrong there.
Storygraph TW Abuse
After the Silver Shamrock thread it was brought to everyone’s attention that some reviewers were abusing the Trigger Warning/Content Warning feature on Storygraph. The idea is that you can add TW/CW when you post a review and consistently AOC’s were having TW listed that weren’t actually accurate or needed a more nuance explanation. It caused those books to be complete misrepresented for their content. Meanwhile non-AOC books that had similar plots or content didn’t have these warnings listed at all.
Storygraph jumped right on it to fix it but it’s a gross misuse of the feature. It’s also a clear example of AOC books being rated/reviewed negatively without proper merit. We have to do better because no one deserves to have their work looked down on for petty reasons.
We must be better
Book Twitter is rife with hate on any given day. It’s something that I never expected to see but it’s there. Women are harassed. AOC are harassed. Men are harassed. LGBTQ+ people are harassed. Any given day someone is spewing hate at someone else. I wish for us to come together as a community. Let’s show everyone that there is love between us all. I’ve seen that too so I know it’s there. Hidden in the shadows sometimes.
We need to stop gatekeeping the thoughts and feelings of others. There is this idea that when you disagree that means you have to fight. We don’t have to fight. There is room to discuss and to learn. Twitter isn’t the forum to properly express your feelings. While I don’t agree with Silver Shamrock, I think that the hate that was sent their way wasn’t necessary. A thread from Todd Keisling on Twitter gives a little context to what I mean.
Constructive responses are what help change a persons mind. Telling them to hurt themselves isn’t the way to go. Silver Shamrock has deleted their twitter profile. There was mentions that they would be shutting down their press all together. I don’t know if that’s true but it seems like it. People took those words, that opinion, and they tore a person down because of it.
I can’t stand behind that mindset. I will never agree with everyone’s opinion. That’s just not likely, but I won’t tear them down because I didn’t like what they said. I will explain why I disagree, politely. Because it should be about showing them a different side to allow them the chance to change their mind. Let’s help change people’s minds not destroy them completely.