At first, that may sound silly, but think about it. The Christian market started back in the 70s and 80s as a way for Christians to avoid the profanity, sexuality, and otherwise anti-God worldview encountered in many novels. If books were rated for language and sexuality, people would have had an easier time avoiding that content if they so wished. Might not that have taken the wind out of needing to produce “clean fiction” under a Christian market label?
There are two groups of people I see that would appreciate a rating system.
1. Adults and older teens who don’t care to read that kind of thing.
Despite the prevalence of profanity and sexuality in our culture and lives, there is a sizable demographic who would rather not read it. Currently for this group, there is no foolproof method to know if a book they are buying has those elements, and if so, to what degree. Other than sticking to Christian market fiction, it is a gamble.
2. Parents attempting to discover age-appropriate books for their children.
An article by Jason Koebler in US News published May 18, 2012 notes concerning young adult books at the time:
Among the top 40 best-selling children’s books on the New York Times list between June 22 and July 6, 2008, one researcher found more than 1,500 profane words. . . . All but five books, including many targeted to kids as young as 9, had at least one instance of profanity.
(Is It Time To Rate Young Adult Books for Mature Content?)
While some may argue that children should be exposed to such realities, ultimately it is the parent’s responsibility to decide that for their children. Yes, children will hear it in real life, at school (though I didn’t much growing up), but it is one thing to hear it from your peers, another to be promoted by a book.
Children’s books, however, do have some help. Organizations like Common Sense Media rate books based on age appropriateness, as well as quality in educational developmental value. However, it isn’t exhaustive.
The debate about allowing more of profanity and sexuality in Christian market fiction has two sides.
On one hand, to allow it goes against one of the main reason it came into being: to offer a haven from that type of literature. On the other hand, the reaction has swung so drastically at times to the other side as to be ridiculous and unrealistic. If Christian fiction doesn’t model healthy sexuality as opposed to conveying the message that sex is bad and to be avoided, who will? Some would argue that it at least needs to be brought back to a more moderate position.
A near-exhaustive rating system might have been doable back in the day. With the prevalence of indie publishing, it would be very piecemeal short of a law passed requiring it to be published. Most would consider that a violation of the 1st amendment.
I’m personally considering rating my books on my website.
In part because a series that has middle grade as its most rabid fans has one book with more mature content, at least 13 or older. I wrote the series intending them to be young adult, and it wasn’t until after I had written the last one that it became obvious that those stories were most popular among older children.
So what do you think? Would a ratings system have prevented the Christian market for books from existing? Do you think it wise for me to rate my own books on my website?