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Romance Book Editors Need Trigger Warnings, Too

The world is a difficult place right now, and many of us are more fragile than ever. This, as well as the increase in awareness around trauma and mental health, is why content warnings in books, otherwise known as trigger warnings, are becoming more popular.

And I'm all for it. Trigger warnings don't spoil books for readers; they empower readers with the information they need to determine if a book is a safe, enjoyable read for them, or something they can't handle right now.

The same goes for book editors. Most book editors have topics they'd prefer not to, or cannot, work with. I know I do! But while content warnings in books are becoming commonplace, the practice hasn't picked up quite as much steam in the editing world. Many editors are given manuscripts to read that don't warn them about triggering content within, and that needs to change.

Now, I don't think the lack of content warnings for editors is malicious, or that authors are to blame. I think it's just an oversight, something people forget because being an editor often means working with many different types of content. I've niched down into one genre, but the breadth of the romance genre is so vast that I can get a query about editing dark romance featuring abuse and morally grey characters, and a query about editing a closed-door, inspirational small town romance in the same day.

But regardless of genre, book editors need content warnings. So how do you, a book editor, and perhaps a romance book editor in particular, protect your wellbeing and ensure that the manuscripts you read are safe for you?

Step 1: List your triggers on your website

Many editors have their triggers listed on their websites. I have mine on the home page of my site, along with the romance sub-genres I don't edit—mafia and dark romance—because they, more than other sub-genres in romance, are known to contain triggers. Including your triggers in your "About Me" section is also a good idea.

Step 2: Include a statement in your intake form about triggers

If you have a form, either on your website or as a PDF, that you send out to prospective clients to collect information about their project, include a box that tells the client what content you cannot edit due to triggers.

Last year, I started including a question about triggers in my client questionnaire, asking clients if their book had any of the following triggers (and then listed them). And this worked well for a while, until I had a client who didn't understand the difference between consent and dubious consent, and I ended up reading half a manuscript that wasn't safe for me.

That's why I'm recommending you include a statement, in bold, at the top of your form, where the author is most likely to see and read it.

And, if you want to be absolutely certain you're both on the same page (ugh, forgive the pun) give your definition of each trigger, e.g., "Dubious consent, which I use to mean acts of physical intimacy where vocal or implied consent is not explicitly clear, and one of the characters involved in the act might have misgivings about participating).

Step 3: Mention the triggers in introductory meetings

Some of you might be thinking, "Come on! This is overkill!"

And to that I say: I'd rather mention my triggers three different times, in three different forms of communication, than get surprised with a triggering manuscript.

I've also never had a client react negatively to me confirming that their manuscript doesn't contain my triggers. Most just confirm that yes, they've read the form and no, their book doesn't contain any of those triggers, and then we move on with the meeting.

Step 4: Include a clause about triggers in your contract

I started doing this last year after one too many surprise triggers in projects, even after including the statement in my intake form and mentioning my triggers in Zoom meetings.

Now, I have a clause in my contract that says if I encounter "any of the following triggers" (I include the same list from the client questionnaire) in the manuscript I'm editing, I'll have to cancel the contract and the client will be required to pay a $50 fee. 

Some people might see that and think it's unfair, that I shouldn't be charging people for what's probably a simple mistake.

But my mental health is worth the $50. 

I hope that in the future, clients automatically list content warnings along with the word counts and genres of their projects, but in the meantime, I'm doing everything I can to make sure the books I work on are safe for me, and I encourage you to do the same.

Until next post, happy reading and writing!


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