A word in favor of content guides

Somehow, books have maintained their status as one of the few modern entertainment mediums that are not subject to some kind “objective” rating system that advises consumers regarding the content of the book.

I suppose this is fine, but as a result have found myself reading a fair number of books without a clue regarding some of the content in them, and subsequently stopping because I simply wasn’t interested in some of the content.

I would prefer it if I could learn beforehand the nature of the content I will read in a book. This desire is amplified as my children grow older and select their own books. How can we choose books that we will dislike due to content we aren’t interested in if we have no way of knowing what the content is? I don’t know of a way.

For example, these days the movie rating system is not detailed enough to tell me if the content of a movie is something I want to watch. So, before I go to a movie or rent a DVD, I use the IMDB app on the iPad to take a look at the parental guide. I’m interested in seeing what kind of content the movie contains. Not just for my children, but for me. On several occasions, I’ve decided not to watch or rent a particular movie because I’m not interested in some of the content.

I suppose I miss out on some good movies, but I can handle that. I don’t need to see everything that most people would probably deem worth seeing. Content guides have benefited me. I’m aware of friends and family members that use content guides in the same way.

As far as I know, we don’t have the same resource for books. I’d like to suggest that writers take the initiative to provide content guides for their own books as a courtesy to those who would prefer to filter certain types of content.

Note that I did not say “parental guide” but “content guide.” Sure there are types of content that are inappropriate for kids, but there are also types of content I don’t want to experience. It’s that simple.

I imagine some people (both authors and readers) will object to these content guides on various grounds, but I view the guides as a courtesy to readers interested in them. Nobody is going to make anyone read the content guide beforehand.

As an author, I see content guides as beneficial. If someone knows beforehand whether they won’t like some of the content of my book, there’s a better chance that they won’t read (and subsequently rate) a book they won’t like. This will probably lead to higher ratings for books.

So, from here on out, I’ll be providing content guides for my books, and will be looking for them before I read other books. Will it stop me from reading a book if I don’t find one? Probably not, but I’ll probably review a book poorly if I find content in there that I don’t like. After all, I didn’t like it, and that’s what a personal review represents.


3 thoughts on “A word in favor of content guides

  1. I completely agree with you and have for some time intended to do the same with any of my future publications. I will probably follow much the same format as presented on http://www.screenit.com for movies, as it has a general brief synopsis at the top with various categories (sex, nudity, violence, profanity, intense situations, etc) labeled with a greater range (mild, moderate, heavy, extreme) as well as further detailed description of exactly what happens, why or how it was used n the story further below. I would be interested to know if you think the format presented there covers all the categories you would be concerned with, and if not, which others you might include, or I’ll just look in your future books to form a wider consensus.

    I know there are some book websites out there that are attempting to try and provide varying forms of content guides among books. Most of their problems is they either have a limited selection, or don’t include what I feel might be enough categories (I think clean books or good books or something like that is one I ran across. I’ll have to double check). I have also seen several blogs dedicated to the matter, one called LDSreads I think, but again, selection is limited. I have used Wikipeida several times to screen books, but again the same problems as before.

    But of course, screening media will all be so much simpler if every film and media producer voluntarily did it in all the titles and put such content guides into the book, or right on the product description page online, etc.

    I hadn’t thought of us IMDB to screen movies. I’ll have to try that one out as well.

  2. Nate, thanks for the comments. I do think the only way this can happen for books is if content creators do it themselves. There are just too many books out there for one place to handle them all. Unless, that is, Goodreads or a similar service allows something like this.

    I wasn’t able to get into Screen It. I had to create an account, and probably am not going to use the service. But from what you described, it sounds pretty much like what is on IMDB.

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