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  1. #1

    Controversial content - Does it affect publishers?


    I am currently hard at work on my latest novel, approaching the 40k word mark whilst only having started about a month ago.

    But my question today is not in regards to this novel, but rather the next one I am already outlining on the side for when I am done.

    Now the phrase 'controversial' can be up for debate, but I am not talking murder or rape, things that nobody truly objects to in a story (if part of the plot of course).

    In my particular example I have a character that does the following at one point in the story (my next story, not the current one):

    He takes holy books (Torah, Bible, Quran) and burns them (or otherwise destroys them, but most likely burn them).

    Now I am not one to self-censor, but with reactions to novels like "The Satanic verses" I wonder if that has in any way dimmed publishers to this sort of content?

    You may question my reasons for such a scene, but I assure you that they are not done to purely get a rile out of the religious, it actually serves a purpose in the story.

    So here I have a scene that is controversial, but I doubt I could cut it, nor do I feel like I want to cut it, just to avoid stepping on toes.

    But the real question isn't whether I like to self-censor, I know that I don't. But do publishers self-censor this sort of stuff? Would such scenes make it completely impossible to get it published?

    Has sometimes violent reactions to this sort of content made publishers reluctant to publish this sort of material?

    How does this sort of content influence your odds of getting the story published? Does it become almost non-existant? Does it only slightly effect it? If the story is good, would it matter?

    *I always enjoy a good religious debate, but I am familiar with SFF's position on those. For the sake of everyone's account, I hope we can avoid engaging in a debate of that nature.

    If possible, please try to stick entirely to the effect such content has on the chance of being published.

    If possible, try not to focus on judging the reaction that people have to such content. I would love that debate, but SFF is not the place.

  2. #2
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Near Austin TX
    Like everything else, the first question asked by any publisher would be "Would it sell?" If the subject matter suggests otherwise, then there you go.

    Of course, you are subject to the publisher's rules about what they will and won't accept - these are generally posted on their site.

    A new wrinkle is Pay Pal, which now refuses to do transactions on certain things it considers objectionable. Violent rape, bestiality, and the other usual bad actors as far as subject are concerned. Some publishers who use Pay Pal are now facing this issue, however most already have their own restrictions in place that are in line with Pay Pal's concerns.

    So, if your book is going to offend a broad swath of readers, then obviously there is an issue for any publisher to consider. Of course, if the offending character is the antagonist, then not so much. If, on the other hand, your book is construed as an attack on the major religions or is otherwise heavily opinionated toward that end, then I doubt you'll get much traction with any publisher save those whose general readership would love this sort of thing.

    My opinion, of course.


  3. #3
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Northern California
    Blog Entries
    I have no idea, but write what you want. What's the quote...better to write for your soul, than write for an audience without a soul?...Oh, let me go look it up...pardon me...

    Writer Cyril Connolly said, "Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self."

    Of course, if you do want someone other than yourself to publish your work, and you want a wide audience, then you might have to give up a bit of yourself. (shrugs)

    Mind you, that didn't stop Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc from getting their controversial stuff published. However, that's non-fiction, so they actually want controversy as it probably generates sales. There's also Phillip Pullman's series, His Dark Materials where the characters go after killing God (great reads by the way, that reminds me I have to finish the last one).

    Anyway, like I said, write what you want.

  4. #4
    Fictional Mountain Man
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Columbus, OH
    This is from a completely unprofessional source but as the saying goes there is no such thing as bad press. I can't really have an opinion on whether or not it will be published because I don't know how big that scene is to the story. But take into consideration that amount of public awareness things like harry potter got because certain people didn't like all of the overt Satan worship in the books. I would think that unless your character fornicates atop the books then takes a dump on them before burning them, you're probably in the clear. But like I said, not a pro so I can't really say. Just a thought. I also agree with the previous comment. Write the story because you want to write it, try to sell it later.

  5. #5
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Southern Oregon, USA
    Quote Originally Posted by Zalz View Post
    He takes holy books (Torah, Bible, Quran) and burns them (or otherwise destroys them, but most likely burn them).
    You may, of course, self publish; then your book is "up" unless and until another writer or a patron of the publisher complains loudly enough to have your book taken down. This does happen, by the way.

    Other than self publishing, you will find that policies differ from house to house. I was saddened, a week or two ago, to read of the death of Barney Rosset, the founder of Grove Press, a publisher dedicated to controversy and excellence.

    Do you have an agent? They're paid to know who takes what.

  6. #6
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Avoca Beach, Australia
    I was also grappling with this question and have taken the coward's (or pragmatist's) way out. I invented a new religion. That way I can be as sacrilegious as I like - make the point that needs to be made for plot purposes - without offending anyone (except characters in the story).

    This is only my own opinion, but I reckon you've got a cat's chance in hell of getting a publisher to invest in a book where the koran gets burned.

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