The first addresses an issue from a recent dialogue on Murder Must Advertise, an online writing group capably monitored by 2009 Anthony Award Winner, Jeffrey Marks. The discussion explored the pros and cons of using foul language in writing, particularly fiction. Various contributors commented that they had lost sales at book signings when potential readers questioned whether the book being offered included swearing/obscenities. Points of view ranged from the writer’s right/obligation to present information or dialogue that is honest and realistic to arguments that readers shouldn’t be exposed to material that they find offensive.
The bottom line, however, is sales. What makes a book sell? What keeps a book from selling?
Limiting our discussion here to strong language and two companion issues—graphic violence and explicit sex—let’s consider whether “shock” value translates into book sales. In other words, does the inclusion of one or more “shockers” turn readers “on” or “off”?
Statistically, I can’t answer that question. But like “R” rated movies, such books will no doubt attract a certain element of readers who are curious or who thrive on dirty words, blood and guts, and salacious scenes. Other readers, however, will refuse to buy these books because they are offended by the very things that attract the first group. Back to that bottom line: a significant number of potential readers may be lost.
So let’s examine the other side. Would the writer forfeit the same number of readers by penning a story so compelling that the reader wouldn’t miss the profanity, violence, and sex? Would readers who prefer hard-core language and details be offended if these elements were absent, but the gripping story kept them turning pages? In other words, can powerful writing win out over bad words, sex, and gore? And what is more important—harsh reality or appealing to the widest reading audience to sell books? What do you think?
Writer/editor/publisher Linda Lane offers “team edits” that benefit the writer because two (or three) sets of eyes are far better than one in finding flaws that make a manuscript mediocre and transforming that story into an enthralling work of art.