Monday, January 28, 2013

To Rate, Or Not To Rate


I have been sitting on this topic for almost two years. Mostly because people tend to have strong opinions on the subject, and strong opinions can sometimes lead to vicious arguments. Especially in the comfortable anonymity of the internet. The reason I’m posting this, though, is because I want to know what you all think. Just, please, keep it civil.

Okay, so, book ratings. Many people think this is a horrible idea, and many people think it’s a good thing. I’m on the fence, so I really want to hear your thoughts on the matter. To make it fair, I will share mine. :)

On the one hand, I can see how slapping a rating on a book could misrepresent it by only focusing on the negative. It could also make kids rush out to buy it simply because of its label, which kind of defeats the purpose of said label—not unlike how music CDs with the ‘Explicit Lyrics’ label was snapped up by kids simply because it had that label.

On the other hand, we have a successful example of a rating system that is widely accepted by all: movies. It’s not perfect, but it does provide a loose guideline of what to expect when we sit down to watch it. Or when our kids sit down to watch it. We know that R-rated movies could have nudity, the f-word, explicit sex scenes, graphic violence (psychological or physical), etc. We know that PG-13 movies don’t have nudity or explicit sex scenes (but there could implied intimacy), there is profanity but no use of the f-word, and any violence won’t be as vividly graphic. PG movies take things one step further down, with no implied sexuality (what exists is romantic in nature, not sexual), limited profanity, limited graphic violence, etc. And, of course, G-rated movies have romance with no sex, no profanity, no graphic violence, etc. Each movie is different, though, and I still screen most movies before letting my kids watch them. But I like having that rough guideline to follow.

I also appreciate the ‘Explicit Lyrics’ label on music. My kids listen to the radio a lot, and when they hear a song they like, they will sometimes ask me to download it. There’s no way I’m downloading the version with profanity for them, so I appreciate the two versions, and the label that comes with it. Even though this label was initially met with resistance, it hasn’t gone away and it serves a good purpose to this day.

So, I don’t know. Generally, I’m opposed to labels because it reduces something or someone to less than what they are. But, at the same time, I can appreciate how helpful a loose, movie-like rating system would be. Especially for families that have kids reading at a much higher level (like my nine-year-old) and finding age-appropriate material can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. I do read the books that my nine-year-old reads, but there are so many out there that I can’t always keep up. Especially since he can check out whatever he wants at his school library, which has books for kids K-12. It’s a conundrum...

What are your thoughts? Have you had an experience where you’re glad there isn’t a rating system? What about an experience where you wish there was one in place?

10 comments:

Catherine Stine said...

I'm not opposed to it. For instance, I just wrote a NA romance, and I also write MG and YA. I'd want that NA to be labeled steamy, or for over 20 readers.

Nickie said...

I was reading on Beth Fred's blog where she purchased a new book from a light romance author she liked, only to realize it was a hot and heavy erotic novel. I think a similar rating system to movies would be a nice thing. I don't mind some mild language or violence, but I like to know ahead of time if it's going to be over the top. I actually got really ticked when I read 'Graceling' and there were several sex scenes not implied by the book's blurb. It felt like a bait and switch.

Garry G. said...

I think content rating would be a good idea, not necessarily just age ratings as there are with movies. There is a difference between a 16 to 18 year old reading a book with a few swear words in it, as opposed to a 6 or 8 year old.

I think they should be labelled for their content. Then again explicit sex or horror wouldn’t be in the YA section anyway, would it?

Sarah Negovetich said...

It would take some getting used to and there will probably be issues at the start, but I think this is a good thing. Lots of books are pushing the limits, which is great for the right audience, but this information isn't usually on the back cover.

The question is, who's in charge of the labels?

michellezieglerauthor.com said...

I think that at least a warning label would be nice. I do like, Nickie's comment about Beth Ford, bought a book thinking it was similar to other book and author had wrote to find out it was erotica. A bit of a surprise.
I guess that brings up the whole issue of should authors publish multiple genres under the same name too. Anyway Adult Content warnings might be a good idea.

Kelly Hashway said...

I kind of like when authors and publishers are upfront about adult content in YA. It covers them and warns the reader. I don't see anything wrong with that. I know some readers who stopped reading authors they loved because they encountered adult material in a story they were expecting to be strictly YA and more sweet romance than graphic scenes. I hate to see that happen, and labels might be the answer.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

I think it's a very valid idea for MG and YA.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I more want to know what you think of a book than the rating, though it's a quick way to rate a book on Goodreads that I often use.

I don't think I need ratings like R for books though. I think it's up to the parents to decide if a kid is mature enough to read a book. And it's too hard to rate.

MotherReader said...

I have friends, mostly librarians, who are absolutely opposed to it with the idea that it depends what would put books in what category, who decides that, etc.

Honestly, I think that there could be a good way to do that and the area that most concerns me is within YA where you have middle-school, liking boys, first kiss books and upper high school, sex and drugs books. I don't want to NOT have all these types of books, but YA doesn't mean what it used to mean and I think we should have a way to distinguish that disparity.

Logan E. Turner said...

I had the same thought as Sarah - who would create/maintain the system? Publishers would be the most obvious choice, but what about self-pubbed or indie publishing houses? How would things be consistent throughout.

I'm not opposed to the idea, but I think the number of books that come out each week greatly surpasses the number of albums/movies, so in practice I'm guessing it'd be a bit of a hassle.