Unlike movies, TV, and video games, books don’t have a rating system to label the “appropriateness” of their content for readers. As an author I shudder at the thought of some panel slapping a label on my book and potentially limiting my audience as a result of their opinion on the suitability of my work for a particular group of readers. On the other hand, I just purchased a Kindle for my thirteen-year-old and I certainly would not want her downloading a title like Fifty Shades of Grey, either on purpose or by accident! For the record I have yet to allow my teenage son and daughter to read my book because it contains adult language and a couple of “mature situations” that I believe they are not ready to handle.
Why do some authors put bad language and sex in their books? I can only speak for myself–I write adult fiction and, like it or not, many adults use bad language and have sex! It is a matter of authenticity and making my stories ring true to the reader. The way I generally write is to simply document the movie playing in my head–if a character in the movie happens to curse, then that’s what I type on the keyboard.
Is this type of content required to sell books? Obviously not! Look at the massively successful young adult works, the Harry Potter series and more recently The Hunger Games. I also just finished an adult fantasy that very much enjoyed and can’t recall reading a single swear word. Most commercial, adult fiction–especially the kind I like to read, mystery/thrillers–have intense characters, both good and bad that say things and do things I don’t want to expose my teenagers to.
Prior to publication, I remember submitting an excerpt of The WILCO Project to a panel of three folks who provided feedback on my work. All three gave me good reviews and comments, but one made the observation that using the f-word in the dialog was unnecessary. If all three had made the same comment, I might have changed it, but I left it in because that what the character said. Everyone has their own tastes and I have figured out that, as an writer, you are never going to please everyone all the time.
When it comes to books and judging if their content is appropriate for children, I am happy there isn’t a rating system. Parents need to monitor what their kids are reading and watching because one size will never fit all.