On a couple of occasions when I have been looking at books on either Amazon or Goodreads, I have noticed bad reviews based on the fact that the books contained a lot of swearing. One of the reviews was for a book that had received predominantly good reviews, and this particular one star review was based solely on the fact that the book contained bad language. There was no mention of the rest of the content.
As an author, it irks me when people leave a one or two star review based solely on the bad language in the book, which, let’s face it, probably makes up no more than 5% of the content. What about the rest of the book? Does it not matter that the author has toiled for months, or even years, to produce that book? And if the book is otherwise excellent, is that overlooked in that puritanical reader’s quest to banish all bad language from books?
The type of approach described above causes me a little concern because my own books contain more bad language than most. Although I haven’t yet had a bad review because of the swearing in my books, I expect that it is likely to happen sooner or later. The use of bad language in my books isn’t because I am being gratuitous in an attempt to shock readers. It is simply because I want my books to be authentic and to reflect the way the characters would have spoken.
Even if books are fictional, they are often a reflection of real life, and in real life people swear. Anyone who thinks they can eliminate the use of those words from the English language is on a pointless mission. Swearing is used as a form of expression, to convey anger or humour, or perhaps because the character being described in a novel would typically speak that way. This can reveal a lot about the character’s personality or environment. In fact, in my forthcoming novel, the bad language (and violence) are a fundamental part of who my characters are and, to remove it, would be taking something away from the characters.
So, what can authors do about these negative reviews from people offended by bad language?
I have included an introduction in each of my novels explaining why I have chosen to include swear words and slang, and apologising to those readers who may be offended. I did toy with the idea of putting a warning on the Amazon description page, but would this be taking it too far? After all, the books are crime thrillers, targeted at the over 18s, and the book blurbs give a good indication as to the content, with words such as ‘murder’, ‘killer’, ‘spliff smoking’, ‘thug’ and ‘shady dealing’. Surely, the readers of such books would expect some bad language as well as violence?
I would love to know your thoughts regarding this. Is it a good idea to put a warning on the product page, or not? Do you find the use of bad language in books offensive or off-putting? Do you agree with people giving bad reviews because of the swearing in a book?