Thursday, August 18, 2011

Should Books Be Rated?

When you go to the movies, you have the advantage of knowing (somewhat) what to expect in advance by the ratings system. Right? My question for today is whether or not books should have some sort of rating system as well.

On the whole, I've been getting really positive reviews for Yesterday's Tomorrow. I'm grateful and humbled and excited that so many people have enjoyed the story. However, I was recently asked a question that kind of blew me out of the water. This particular reader, while she had enjoyed the story and gave it a good review, seemed perturbed by the actions of the characters, especially considering this was a "Christian" book.

Well. Okay. I'm not going to rant about how I feel about the expectations put on the Christian publishing industry in general. Or the expectations that seem to be out there for what should be 'acceptable content' for a Christian book. I am very blessed to be with a publisher who sees beyond the pasture out back and wants to venture forth into the town. Perhaps even into the saloon. Horrors.
But I'll talk about all that another day. Maybe.

I hear a lot said about authors knowing their readers - we're supposed to know who we're writing for and what they expect from us. This is difficult, especially for a first-time author like me, who has no idea who will pick up my book.
Rather, I say reader know your author.
This will happen over time. You know what you're going to get if you buy a book by John Grisham or Nicholas Sparks. You know what you're buying when you purchase a book from Barbour or Steeple Hill, for example.
When you see my book, you may not be familiar with OakTara Publishing. You probably have no idea who Catherine West is or what my books will be like.
All you know is that my book is being sold as "Christian Fiction".
What are you expecting?

If you haven't read Yesterday's Tomorrow yet, I will tell you right now, you will not get fluff. You will not get cookie cutter characters who always do the right thing and never fall into sin.
If that's the kind of read you're after, you won't like my book.

I suppose there are always going to be people who will be offended no matter what. You can't please everyone. I know that and I'm certainly not trying to. In fact, I'd rather those folks not even read my book if they're going to be scarred for life by it.
But really, would it help to have a sticker on the back saying "This book contains scenes that may make your eyebrows shoot skyward and your jaw drop..." Really?

I am a Christian. My book contains Christian themes. But I don't think it's fair to lump all "Christian Fiction" Into one category. I retain the right to be different.
That doesn't mean there isn't the same message. It's just written in a different way.

To be honest with you, I'll give my book a PG13 rating.

What do you think?


jamie said...


I agree that you should not be limited by the title Christian Fiction as there is a lot more sex, violence, maiming, and killing in the Bible than there is in Yesterday's Tomorrow.

I also think if someone read the back cover or any of the 50 reviews than you would get a sense that your book has some real life examples in it.

In my own comment in Amazon, I would of liked to see some more of the time in the Prison, some of the gap between Luke's disappearance and arrival, although it might of been harsh, it would of given us a sense of who he had become.

So would a rating system help, maybe, but also I think that a family-friendly comment in the front cover that this title includes topics on < a list > and leave it at that...

- fan number 42 -- jt

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I do think authors should be allowed to write what they want, within reason, but I agree that there should be some sort of rating system installed. As a parent I do worry that someday my teens will pick up a book that by all means looks harmless and entertaining only to find that there are scenes or language that they would be uncomfortable with because we try to stay away from such things.

Sometimes you think you can tell by the backflap and first pages what the book will be about, but I have found that some end up pushing limits I didn't forsee. For some people this is fine, but for others I think, like movies, there should be tags such as: extreme violence, sexual activity, swearing etc.

For me some of these are okay to a degree, and sometimes I get pretty strict. For others, they may be completely strict, unbending to allow anything like this to be read by either them or their children. And others still could care less about content and more about how entertaining it is, or how the writing is.

For me: YES.

Amber S. said...

I appreciate how broad the Christian publishing industry is now, and I love that characters can be real! :) When I took a class last year called Literary Criticism, we discussed the downfalls of labeling things "Christian" - ie: Christian music, Christian fiction, etc. Because what does that mean, exactly? Our professor noted that things can't be Christian - only people can. I think what we call "Christian fiction" should be fiction honoring God and carrying deeper themes that ultimately point to the truth of Scripture and the truth of who God is. I don't think "Christian fiction" should be about perfect people - because there aren't any perfect people, so that would be untruthful, and probably not very helpful... (Although I do think that characters ultimately making good choices and learning from their mistakes is very important!)

Anyway, I wanted to add that I review for a site called Radiant Lit, and we actually DO include movie ratings at the end of our reviews. I can see how it would be helpful for people to know ahead of time what to expect. :) Here's the link to the site:

Thanks for the discussion!


Sherry Kuhn said...

Great post Cathy and food for thought. That's certainly been a hot topic lately as we see Christian fiction becoming what I call edgy. I personally like edgy. Meaning... I like reading about people who aren't perfect dealing with issues that I might be dealing with. Seeing how they gain victory encourages me. I've read and loved Yesterday's Tomorrow so I know the behavior of the characters the person is referring to. But that's also reality...just read your Bible. It's full of sinful but redeemed people. The Bible doesn't hold back on showing us how sinful we are nor does it dance around the consequences if we disobey God. I'm wondering why Christian Fiction should be any different. That said I'm not sure how I feel about rating a book but I think if we did that the first book we'd have to mark is our Bible. It's definitely PG-13!

Tracy Krauss said...

I suppose rating books might be useful to some, but I also wonder if this type of system would further segregate certain titles. One nice thing about a book (as opposed to a visual medium) is it's probably easier to close the book thatn to erase the visual imagery that you may have found offensive.
Perhaps honest revies and frank information on book flaps etc. are still the best way to go...

Catherine West said...

Great insight everyone! I think the problem we're running into is that there seems to be a group of people who assume that all Christian fiction is squeaky clean and sanitized. Over the past few years, some publishers, like mine, are getting away from that and publishing books that have realistic characters and situations in them. My passion is to show that everyone struggles, Christian or not. If you can't talk about the sin, how is the reader to fully understand the redemptive process? And just labeling a character as a Christian should not make them perfect. Sanctification does not automatically occur with salvation. We are on a journey and nobody will 'get there' until we finally meet Him face to face. It's been my experience that there are a lot of readers of CBA fiction who put far too many limitations on faith for my liking. But to each his own and I have to agree that if they read reviews, if people are giving honest ones, that should help them decide whether or not to pick up a book.

Tracy Krauss said...

Hey Catharine - I awarded you the 'Liebster Award' today on my blog. You might want to check it out. :)

~Lisi P. said...

I'll have to check out your book! Blessings :)