Over at Dystel & Goderich’s website, my agent John Rudolph ran a post about the WSJ fallout over an article that attacked YA fiction as being too dark, too depraved. John posed an interesting question as to whom amongst the gatekeepers bear the responsibility for disseminating such material to the children and young adults – the publishers or the bookstores?
Personally, I sort of have a stake in this discussion as I expect my series, The Revelation Saga, to garner a certain amount of attention for being controversial on its take on certain religious subjects.
I remember the late 80s when some pop groups began to surface that used explicit lyrics in their songs. There was the inevitable, and perhaps even justified, response from parental groups that objected to the sale of these records to children under a certain age. They demanded labels be placed on packaging and that selling the explicit material to a minor become a criminal offense. In fact, I believe here in
a sales clerk was actually charged for selling one of these records to a minor. Alabama
Is this where we’re heading with YA books? Admittedly, even experts remain muddled on the definition on what is YA and what isn’t. Heck, you’re lucky if YA gets separated from other children’s books in certain bookstores. Truthfully, I’m of two minds on ratings. On one hand, I want to help parents know what they are putting in their kid’s hands when they buy my book. But this concern assumes that the parent is still the gatekeeper on what their children read. With digital access and every kid with a smart phone in their pocket, is this even possible?
On the other hand, and I’m almost hesitant to admit this, but getting a Parental Advisory label slapped on my book practically ensures a greater interest from some consumers. Going back to the 80s, my friends and I, teenagers at the time, flocked to the record store to grab 2 Live Crew’s album the minute it became parental contraband. And yet, having my work reduced to a short list of warning descriptors on a label gives me a very uneasy feeling and no doubt diminishes the value of the work as a whole.
To see the possible future of book ratings, one only has to look at the video game market. Mass Effect, a wildly successful game, fell into the crosshairs of parental groups when it was labeled as having sexual content. Examination of the content in question would reveal that it was arguably no worse than situations found in many primetime network television programs, and hardly even rose to the level of soft core, yet outrage ensued. But the game sold millions. Did the outrage hurt sales? Not likely. It seems to have perhaps enhanced them.
So, what is the answer when it comes to adult content in YA books? Publishers I believe should be free to publish, without the oversight of censorship shadowing their efforts. And shelf space is a finite resource in bookstores. It may not be feasible to categorize for content.
Is a rating system the answer? What are your thoughts?