{DISCUSSION} Fiction Rating System

Should books have a rating system similar to movies?

A couple weeks ago many of you lovely readers, bloggers, generally epic people (๐Ÿ˜‰) joined me to discuss violence in fiction and also trigger warnings. From what I could tell of those discussions, people agreed that while violence has a place in fiction, it can be both shocking and crippling for certain readers and that’s not what reading is about. The bookworm community is supposed to be inclusive. We’re supposed to protect our own and close ranks when someone is under attack and this includes their mental health while doing what we all love: reading. However… that doesn’t always happen.

I’m not talking about the community. The community of bookworms I’ve met from around the world is amazing! No, I’m talking about the publishers preparing their readers for the type and depth of content in their books. They don’t really always do a very good job. This has been very harmful to readers that might be triggered by certain content or even readers in general who are unprepared for the type of content being displayed.

This is NOT okay.

Publishers have an obligation to protect their readers. If they’re worried that ratings or warnings will lose readers then they are delusional because scarring a reader is 100% going to lose you a reader not just for this book, but likely permanently. That being said, I think there is any easy, cross-the-board fix for this problem and I’d like to bring it you all today to get your opinions!

๐Ÿค—ย Fiction Rating Systemย ๐Ÿค—

This may sound a bit difficult because of the sheer variety and range of content out there that could be displayed, and many people believe that certain age groups of fiction don’t really require it because that age group is fair game (ie adult). Well, okay. Maybe? I don’t know, but for now, we can ignore the adult age group and focus on YA (because YA is really the discrepancy area on how much violence and graphic content is allowed [at least based on past discussions]ย and since we’re not creating a new age group in fiction any time soon…ย ๐Ÿ˜’) And I’ve seen a couple of options thus far that could be utilized or evolved. So, let me break them done, eh?

1) Universal RPG Rating System

For those of you who aren’t writers, have not spent copious amounts of time writing on the internet, never done fanfiction or roleplaying, RPG means: Roleplay Gaming. However, I’m not talking about video games or real-world live-action roleplays, I’m talking about writing roleplays. There is a world of writers online who create characters and play them against each other to both advance their writing skills and potentially play out there OTPs (after all, it’s way more fun when you have no idea what the other character is going to do next. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) This rating system works as follows:

No swearing or mature language permitted. No sexual content permitted. No violence permitted.
Infrequent, mild swearing is permitted. Mild sexual innuendo and references permitted. Mild violence is permitted.
Swearing is generally permitted, with some limitations. Sexual content is permitted, with some limitations. Explicit violence is permitted.
Swearing and mature language is permitted. Sexual content may be described in detail. Extreme violence is permitted.

For this, you would just pick the number that you want as your rating and line them up as follows: 3-2-2.
This means any language is open game, but sex and violence are limited to not-explicit material.

The Universal RPG Rating System was not designed for YA, though. This content ranges from middle grade to graphic, graphic adult and the rating system is helpful for people to find potential RP partners that use the same rating as they will and therefore the same content. Or it can act as a warning to stay away from a thread if you’re underage or sensitive to certain content. But, it’s not designed for just YA and it’s not designed for published fiction. So, let’s look at something that is.

2) Clean Teen Publishing

Clean Teen Publishing is a smaller publishing house that was brought to my attention by one of my fellow bloggers and amazing discussioners, Shanah. Their rating system is quite a bit more involved and doesn’t is designed for YA in published fiction. The categories they look at for the books they publish are: Language, Violence, Romance/Sexuality, and Drugs/Alcohol/Smoking. In other words, things that can be impressionable on young minds. And they use a rating for each of these from 1-5 with 1 being very minimal, but still present and 5 being explicit and graphic.

But these are just two options of rating systems I’ve run across and they are most definitely not an end-all-be-all, which is why I want to now turn the discussion over to you guys. What do you think about having a fiction rating system? What age group(s) should it be used for? Where would we put the rating for each book? And what categories/level of categories do you think should be added to appropriately rate fiction? I have my idea, but now I want to know yours!

What do you think?
Should there be a fiction rating system?
Leave your thoughts below!

And check out my discussion from last week:
Likable Main Characters

31 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Fiction Rating System”

  1. Ack how did I miss this post! Yes! Obviously Iโ€™m totally behind a rating system! As a mother I think that YA books especially need a rating system since theyโ€™re directed to such a broad age range and varying levels of maturity. But I know that there are subjects that some people (adults included) who really donโ€™t want to read about certain things for their own personal reasons and they deserve fair warning. Books are to be enjoyed by all


  2. I used to do writing roleplays a lot last time! It’s really fun because we wouldn’t know what happens next, except I’ve never reached the end of a story before. ๐Ÿ˜›

    I also agree on having a fiction rating system! I think I mentioned this last time; video games have a pretty standard rating system that I think could work for fiction. Games have two ratings, one for age (everyone, 10+, 13+, mature, etc) and one for content descriptors like mild violence / violence, bad language, alcohol and drugs, etc. It helps when determining what a game generally contains before buying it. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha! I’ve never reached the end either. People generally disappear or we lose interest in your roleplay. :/ There’s only so much drama one can make, after a while. :p

      Exactly! Movies, video games, CDs even apparently have rating systems. So why don’t books? It doesn’t make sense. :/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, true. ๐Ÿ˜†
        I don’t know why books don’t really have a rating system, though if I were to guess, it’s because books have a longer history than movies, games and CDs? That no one wants to mess with what works. ๐Ÿค”

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a very interesting topic.
    Growing up there were definitely times where I read a book, and realized that if it was a movie instead of a book, I would not be permitted to view it.
    Of course some could argue that reading something graphic is not the same as seeing it, and often stories will allude to rather than blatantly describe graphic content.

    I think I would prefer the Universal RPG Rating System, or something like it, though I’d be tempted to add a fourth variable for tone.
    Some stories, because of the ideas they engage, may be very dark/depressing, while others might be uplifting. There are definitely times where, more than anything else, I want a story that rights the wrongs, and rewards those who are kind and generous.

    I’d be tempted to put it in one of the first pages, so that audiences already have some opinion about the book before seeing it.
    I imagine some would want one to be age specific, like the film and TV rating systems we now have, but I think it would be a useful tool for everyone, a better way of gauging what type of story you’re getting into.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Author here.

    It always seemed strange to me that CDs could have warning labels on them, but not books. Warnings on CDs are about the lyrics, THE WORDS, not the music itself (unless you’ve recently encountered a particularly violent piano). So, why is it different for books?

    I learned the hard way that it’s up to the publisher to create the book’s descriptions, blurbs, and trigger warnings. This is completely out of the author’s hands and not always handled in the right way โ€“ which reflects poorly on us anyway.

    As for ratings on books affecting salesโ€ฆ there’s a chance that someone won’t pick up a book because of a high violence/language/sexual content rating. However, my experience has been that if a person is offended by a book (actually offended, not “I just didn’t like it”) they tend to return the book anyway to get their money back and also take to the internet to rant about the book to anyone who will listen โ€“ which could hurts sales more than the rating system would have in the first place.

    I always admired the Romance genre for having “heat ratings” so readers could easily pick out whatever they prefer โ€“ a sweet, Disney-like romance or a raunchy BDSM novel. No one has to be disappointed with a “fade to black” love scene or offended by a paragraph-long description of a penis. You pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into, for the most part.

    As for censorship, I’ll admit I’m not well-versed in the ramifications of introducing rating systems or how it’s affected other industries. Grand Theft Auto is one of the best-selling video game series of all time, despite its rating and accompanying warnings. I do know that an “R” rating on a movie can hurt sales (because you lose the teen audience at the theater) and can cause production studios to “soften” the content to a PG-13 rating. Still, seems like Quentin Tarantino is doing just fine.

    Anyways, that’s my two cents. I’m not sure if it’s “necessary” for the industry. It just always baffled me that there isn’t one.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can see a voluntary rating system for YA. Something like your second system would work. For adults? I’m not sure. The trigger warning, sure. The problem is, there is always a group out there that politicizes rating systems. Sometimes religious groups will boycott stores or whatever to force them not to carry content that they don’t like. Rating systems are always the first step to censorship.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh… you mean the people who literally have nothing better to do with their lives than impede upon other people’s lives? Oh yeah. I know them. -.- They are a plague upon society that is literally sucking the joy, life, creativity, and individuality out of society. And yet… they support teaching books in schools that are BLATANTLY about racism. Right… >.>

      Anyway, I definitely am not saying it needs to be mandatory and I highly doubt that publishers will ever actually implement this (those bigwigs think they know everything and honestly don’t truly care about the mental health of readers, just the sales. Not sorry for calling them out on their bullshit [also reasons why I’m pretty much blacklisting myself in the publishing industry. BAHAHAHA!]) but where was I? Oh yes! I also don’t think it’ll be implementable in adult literature… Adult literature is quite a bit larger, more vast, and just more varied, I feel like. YA itself is still a very cliche niche that allows this kind of thing, but I also think it’s the most important time in development and should be treated as being important. What we read as children can affect us as adults. Thus it should be paid attention to. Thoughts??

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What we read as children can affect us as adults, but I think the more a child reads, and the wider the variety, the better. It isn’t kids that read too much X, Y or Z that I’m leery of once the reach adulthood, it is the kids that don’t read! They turn into adults that don’t read, which then want our kids to only read books with their narrow viewpoints, like books that are BLATANTLY about racism….. Hmm, did we go full circle? I do think kids are impressionable, teens included, but, as long as they’re not reading a bunch of those racist books, I think they will be alright no matter how many times they “accidentally” read a book with sex that’s a little more graphic than Dad would like or a little more violent than Mom would care for. But, as i said before, a voluntary rating system for YA could work very well. At the very least, the parents would have a better idea of what their kids are reading without having to read every single YA book out there…


  6. I am liking that first rating system. I am all for the rating system and the trigger warnings. I don’t think its just about having content be too mature, it’s first about protecting readers from triggers, second about warning parents about books that young kids shouldn’t be reading, and third about warning readers about content they do not enjoy reading in a book.I think if a few of us could come up with a nice rating system and trigger warning message we should begin using it and help spread it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YAS! You, Adrienne, are getting an invite to the secret club! whispers password

      Seriously, though, I completely agree. I find it amazing some of the opposing arguments for a rating system:

      1) it’s not necessary because people will just stop reading if they don’t like a book [except, they might’ve already been scarred at this point. So, way to be an insensitive ass, you jerk author.]

      2) Well, teens are just going to seek out those high rated books and read them specifically when they shouldn’t [except that it doesn’t prevent anyone from buying anything. it’s not a legal aspect. It’s a personal preference to inform and protect readers who do care about it.]

      Neither of these are justified arguments for not having a rating system and until someone comes up with a legitimate reason for why we shouldn’t have one, I will continue to promote this. (P.s. that secret club is getting a project that I’m releasing in November. I hope you’re ready to commit. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I mean, I can understand those points because I will stop reading a book if I am offended or don’t like it, but you have the better point of it being too late by time someone hits trigger content in a book without a warning. That goes back to The Lauras, the book where the 13 year old girl was forced in to an act and graphically described the different senses of said act. There was nothing warning against that for the book, so someone who would be triggered by that has already hit that point and will now have a devastating experience.

        Teens are always going to seek out things they shouldn’t. The ratings and warning are meant to warn responsible parents against content and to warn readers against triggering content, and unenjoyable content. It would benefit authors greatly too because it would lower the chance of low ratings due to disliking or being triggered by content.

        I am definitely ready to commit! I look forward to working on this with you and others! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

        1. YAY! I apparently can’t make a chat until I get one more person. :p So… digs through the applications Hahahaha!

          God. I honestly can’t believe there are still books out there that have such graphic content in them without any warning. I mean, I understand the need for such awful content in books. It’s important to bring awareness to such things and creative whatnot, but I think it’s also necessary to prepare people. We do it for movies, video games, EVEN THE NEWS!!! Not having trigger warnings at the VERY LEAST is just completely irresponsible of the author/publisher. (Is it bad that I want to write like a horror story with graphic blood and guts and throw some trigger warnings in it just to prove a point? :p )

          Oh yeah! I didn’t even think about that! Having warnings would definitely catch some of those ratings, which I’ve seen far too often. People don’t like being caught off guard. They’re ten times more likely to start a shitstorm when it does happen, though, bringing really bad publicity to the book. :/

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I feel the same way. It’s totally up to the writer what type of content they want to put in the book, but having a warning would help everybody out just the way it does with movies. There are a lot of people who would know to avoid certain books if they knew about the triggers or graphic, gratuitous sex and violence, but there are many people who seek that stuff out too, so I don’t think it would hurt sales or anything.


  7. It didn’t used to be the case but I’m probably against ratings on books. I’ve listened to Patrick Ness speak a couple of times on the subject and he makes some very convincing arguments.

    Firstly, readers will find the level that is right for them. If a book is too grown up it’s unlikely they’ll understand it, they’ll get bored and give up. Or if it’s a topic they don’t like they’ll put it down.

    Secondly, they could have the opposite effect than intended. Young readers will seek out the books with all of the warnings and read them in secret (who didn’t sneak into 18 rated movies when they were 14). As soon as you tell someone they’re not allowed something or it’s not suitable it’s all they want and could be seen as cool.

    I do think there should be trigger warnings for difficult topics like abuse, suicide etc but in many cases a warning could give away a major plot point. It’s definitely not an easy one for publishers. Maybe instead of a rating, some kind of online resource which lists books with certain triggers. Then individuals could check whether a book they are planning to buy/read could be a problem for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Ali! I’m super blunt so… I think this Patrick Ness is an insensitive idiot who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. ๐Ÿ™‚ Even so, I respect your opinion and I would very much like to discuss with you. (I love discussing more with opposition than agreement. SHH! Don’t tell anyone. Hee hee!)

      To your first reason, I disagree. Just because it’s too ‘old’ for someone doesn’t mean they won’t understand it. A 13-year-old may not be old enough for sex (in my culture), but if they come across a graphic sex scene in a book, they’re still going to understand it. Additionally, a child understands that violence is wrong. They may not be old enough for reading about violence (as we don’t want to strip away their blissful ignorance too long), but they can understand the implications behind it should it show up in a book they pick up.

      As to it being a topic they don’t like, I would really like to direct you to my discussion a couple weeks ago on trigger warnings. It seems you understand trigger warnings, but we discussed a VERY important aspect in that discussion that I’d like to bring up: a traumatic event should not be used as a major plot point, especially one that needs to be treated as a spoiler. Suicide, rape, abuse, etc are not plot points. They are events that happen to a character and if that’s the author’s big reveal then they may want to re-think their story because I can’t honestly imagine how that could be a plot twist.

      Side note, I personally don’t believe readers should have to go look at a website to determine if a book has a trigger in it. That should either be eluded to in the blurb (most popular choice among discussioners) or posted somewhere inside the front cover. Trigger warnings are a responsibility of both the author and the publisher and to say anything less is, quite frankly, insensitive. But again, this is my opinion. Perhaps you have a reason for why you don’t think the trigger should be inside the book? I would like to know. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Okay! To your second point, (I swear I talk too much. Hahaha!), I don’t think that’s a legitimate argument for not having a rating system. But let me clarify why. The rating system is not a legal obligation that prevents people from buying a book outside of their appropriate rating… guild or whatever. It’s not even telling people ‘you’re too young to read this.’ A rating system is simply an advisory tool to help readers choose the level of content they want to read about. Yes, there are going to be people who seek out the explicit books, but for goodness sakes. They could honestly go online to a dozen different free writing sites for that kind of thing. Heck! They can go to fanfiction.net and find excessively explicit content. OR! They could just buy adult books. It’s the same thing. A rating system is not changing anything other than putting some numbers (somewhere) that tell them the level of content in the book.

      But again, this is just my counter-argument to yours? Perhaps you have another counter-argument? ๐Ÿ˜€


      1. I think I’ve misrepresented Ness if that’s the impression I’ve given. He’s actually all about making sure young readers get the books they need, that they’re represented and feel included regardless of gender, sexual orientation or whatever. I think it’s more that no one or no book should be put in a box which is what ratings run the risk of doing.

        It needs to be the reader who decides whether a book is appropriate for them, as everyone is very different and provided topics are presented in the right way there should be an openness in YA fiction. Yes give a guide to content but maybe not a rating.

        I probably shouldn’t have said young readers won’t understand certain things, it’s more that it won’t interest them for any length of time if it’s at the wrong level. With sexual content for example there might be the initial ooh there’s a sexy bit but I can’t believe a 13 yo boy would stick with Fifty Shades for example.

        I wouldn’t have any issue with books having an indication of level of violence or sexual content etc but I do think it’s likely to have the opposite effect than intended and yes it would let parents know what their kids are reading but it runs the risk of parents or schools banning books which just pushes them underground.

        In terms of trigger warnings, again I think it’s fine to have a warning on the book or inside but there can be so many different things and at different levels that can be a trigger I don’t know how you can list them all. Personally I avoid any book with animal cruelty or suicide and would like to know which books have that so I can avoid them but I don’t necessarily want to know if one of the character’s dies at the end, or someone has a car accident, drinks alcohol, has an argument with their parents etc. I’ve seen reviews which more or less list the whole story as a trigger warning and thought well there’s no point reading that then. I mean, fair enough triggers can be very specific but a lot of the time I want to be surprised by a book, to go in blind and not know the whole story from a trigger warning.

        I do think warnings for more serious triggers would be a good idea but how do you decide which ones are serious because every trigger is serious for that person. That was why I was thinking it might be better to have it the other way around, to let people see which books could be a trigger for them in one place. It means you’re not having to list every potential trigger and spoiling (not the right word I know) the book for certain readers who don’t want the warning about that issue but still protecting those who do.

        And I’ve just responded with a lot of talking too. Basically I think I’m saying, yes give an indication of content and potential triggers but maybe not in the form of a rating.


  8. The 0 – 3 system seems, to me, a great idea. Films are currently rated, but different countries have different rating systems so standardisation seems the way to go. The numbered rating system does not prevent readers from buying/reading the book, but if standardised will allow audiences to know what sort of content is in there.
    I imagine one difficulty that could arise in America; should a title be rated 1 or 2, is it likely to be banned in some states? I cannot find a single title that is banned in the UK, but in America, many states have a banned book list – so students won’t get to read them in school – for example – “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (โ€œprofanity and atheismโ€). I read this book then passed it on to my, then, 14 year old daughter to read. It has as it’s protagonist an autistic boy. Profanity and atheism is not an issue in the UK and so anyone can access this title.
    I still think a ‘warning’ or rating system of some kind is great, but I worry that some authors would feel they might lose potential customers in America because of it.
    The idea of banning books worries me greatly, it is tantamount to dictating what may or may not be read; because authorities apparently know what is best and we the readers do not have common sense to make choices!

    Great discussion topic by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why, thank you, Alexandra! I’m glad you like this topic and it’s something I’m honestly debating starting to implement into my own book reviews because I think it would really help readers in the future. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Exactly! The rating system would not be a hard line like we see with admittance into movies. Readers would still be able to read and buy whatever they want, but they can be more informed (and potentially protect themselves) and parents could have a better idea of what their children are reading. I know there has been some issues in the past with parents finding out after the fact the things their child was reading were inappropriate for their age group. (Granted, some of that is up to the decision of the parent. But anyway!)

      Oh. Good. God. Let me just quickly state one thing: People who ban books because they don’t match their own personal view of the world and promote their won personal agenda SERIOUSLY need to stop being so damn narcissistic and trying to push their views on EVERYONE around them. Banned books is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Worst part is that the books that have been banned aren’t even that bad, but racist books from back in the day are ACTIVELY TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS?!?!? RIDDLE ME THAT! No, I don’t understand, but I also like to consider myself an open-minded person who believes people can make their own decisions.

      Hmm… as to the author bit, I can’t honestly say why authors would worry about this. I mean, if my book had graphic violence like ripping people to shreds, I don’t think I’d really have an issue warning my readers about that. Granted, if you’re writing about rape or torture and you’re not giving your readers advance warning about such things, and are worried that if you do, they won’t read it, well… those probably aren’t the people who are going to read it anyway. Besides, the rating system isn’t a line-by-line of all the scenes in the book that could be problematic. It’s simply a guideline to determine the level of content in the book. But maybe I’m wrong. I’m not published and I don’t truly know how a rating system might impact sales, but I know that some of the novels I’ve written have a) graphic violence and b) mild sexual content. I have no problem sharing that up front because I know some of that isn’t appropriate for younger readers. :/ THoughts??? (I love this discussion!!!)


  9. I love this idea. Implementing it may be difficult but I 100% agree that there should be some kind of rating system.

    I also think that many publishers or even readers look at the category the book is put in (children’s, YA, or “adult”) and see that as a rating system. Personally, I see something in the YA section to be PG 13, but that’s not always the case.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I know. Getting published to actually do this will be near impossible, but book reviewers could. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      And I think the age groups are too broad. They really aren’t specific enough, in my opinion. Age group would be more for what age of reader the book is geared for, but violence can still exist in YA that might be a bit above PG-13, you know? I think reasons could offer more specificity for the type of content in the book. Thoughts?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yeah, I agree. We as the blogging community could create and hopefully spread a rating system. I think we almost have an obligation while promoting books to give content warnings.
        When I say I see YA as PG-13 I think that it more of a broad view of the category. There are books that are on either side of that line, some being completely fine for, like a 9 year old to read, and some that should be geared toward older or more mature readers. Having some kind of system would help push people to or away from the right books.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hmm… See, I think that’s the problem. YA is currently a vary broad range of age groups trying to conform to one. (Though, I personally think 9 years old would considered middle grade. There is definitely a cut off in there somewhere.) However, isn’t it at age 18 that children are allowed to see R-rated movies? And yet, the YA age group is supposed to encompass up to 20 years of age, which doesn’t make sense because some of that 18+ content isn’t really appropriate for younger readers, but it’s still in the same group. Am I making any sense? (I honestly feel like I’m rambling. Hahaha!)

          But I definitely believe we should try to implement something as bloggers. (I’m actually hoping to throw up a post in November calling book bloggers to action on this with a universal system for YA fiction. I would LOVE to form a group chat [probably on Twitter] about this and get some feedback.)


  10. Well warning should obviously exist. Now which official rating system shoulf be chosen I don’t know but explicit sex, drugs, rape etc. Should certainly be mentioned. As far as violence is concerned this is rather blurry as some would see killing a rabbit violent for kids books while other would see it as a non event. I think something like the first system you mentioned would really be useful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mm. Violence is a bit of a fuzzy subject, but then so are most of these. Some people believe sex is a normal, natural topic and should be allowed in fiction without ratings or warning, but others don’t. That’s really the biggest problem at the moment. Everyone sees the story differently and has different tolerance levels, which causes some distress for people with lower tolerance levels.

      I think that violence could be easily summed up as any form of violence, whether it be animal, human, or otherwise. After all, the object of the violence doesn’t make it any less violent, does it? Though I am curious that how you would rate violence as you have seen such discrepancies about what is and what isn’t violence. Thoughts?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mmmmh let me think…
        Under the age of 8 I would say that even killing an animal is violent.
        From 10 to 13 I would say hitting people is violent (as in a father beating his son or children beating another one as in bullies)
        From14 to 16 add killing people intentionally
        Above 16 torture and rape and all the rest.
        Why 16 and not 18? Because in our day to day world with the news etc. I think our kids are confronted to violence at a rather early age. Denying this is just hypocrite.

        Liked by 1 person

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