James Dawson, YA author, feels it’s somehow wrong to hold back on cussing in his fiction. He wrote an article about this in the UK Guardian called “Why Teens in Books Can’t Swear.” He thinks it’s unrealistic. He thinks it’s about gate-keeper censorship. You know, parents wanting to steer their children towards certain experiences and away from others.
Dawson’s approach to the whole problem is wrong-headed. This isn’t about the virtues and vices of fiction. Or about gatekeepers, especially in today’s ebook world. Or what experiences parents want to provide their children. And it’s not about art reflecting reality. Reality includes trips to the toilet, and yet we somehow fail to include realistic bum wiping in so many of our tales. Good heavens, have we betrayed our artistic integrity? No. We’ve just naturally chosen to include things that appeal to us and leave out others that don’t. Every book is an exercise in hundreds of such choices.
The fact is that Dawson’s forgetting that a fundamental aspect of the book trade is the trade. The buyer trades his or her money for a product (the book) that provides a service (the entertainment, thrills, chills, etc. of the reading experience) he or she values. A customer preferring one kind of experience over another isn’t censorship (the horror, the horror). It’s choice.
As an author, you make your offer. If folks like it, they buy it. If not, they don’t. Nobody owes you a purchase.
This means that in any business, and selling fiction is a business, the most sensible way forward is to offer your intended buyers something they are likely to value. Something they’re going to like. Something they want. If your buyer is thirsty and wants water, offer him a cold glass of water, not a waffle iron. And if you can’t bear to develop anything but waffle irons, then, by all means, develop waffle irons. Just make sure you offer them to the folks looking for . . . waffle irons.
This business of making offers also means that we package our products and services so that customers can easily tell what’s in the box. You don’t want someone to purchase your box thinking it contains breakfast cereal when in reality it’s a bunch of bolts.
Yeah, writing is an art. But offering it in trade to others is also a basic economic act.