Common Sense on Barns & Noble

By | April 1, 2010

I just caught wind of the article Judy Blume: Too hot for sixth grade. I’ll be the first to admit that none of my audio stories are fit for a sixth grader. But the article discusses two topics that caught my attention.

First, “age appropriate” ratings. The article describes how the B&N web site only lists Common Sense Media’s age ratings without describing how that rating was decided. As the article’s author states, people mature at different rates, and what will interest one person at age 10 won’t interest another until their 13. I for one, didn’t develop an interest in sexually-related literature until I was in my late twenties. And didn’t even learn about BDSM literature until my late 30s. Had anyone tried to tell me anything about sex while I was in highschool, I’d have dismissed them as a nuisance.

But on the internet, I have chatted with men and women whose interests in BDSM developed anywhere from the ages of 13 to 45. While I’d never introduce a 13 year old to BDSM, when one asked me some well thought-out questions, I answered her honestly. But had I given that same information to a 30 year old who wasn’t remotely interested, it would have gone in one ear and out the other. So I’ve come to the opinion that “age appropriate” ratings are rarely useful.

The article also quoted author Sarah Dessen as saying, “I worry it’s breaking a book down into these pieces that don’t do justice to the whole.” I understand this concern, but I also understand that many people who read fetish literature deliberately look for those pieces.

As an author, I understand what Dessen is saying. Every novel is a work of art that is crafted; ideas are presented with technique and skill and integrated into an adventure. If I tell you that a novel is about a time traveler who meets different philosophers from the 11th-19th century, does that tell you how well the author treats the philosophical arguments within the context of the book? Does it tell you if the character will be interesting to you? I think not. Likewise, if I tell you that one of my recordings shows you how to accept sexual submission, does that tell you how well I treat the subject within the context of the recording or if you’ll be able to identify with the character? Not likely; You need a detailed read (or listen) to discover this for yourself.

Terry Pratchett’s novels Going Postal and Small Gods are great examples. The man is a genius satirist. No half-page description can do justice to the art he creates in those full-length novels.

But listing the “pieces”, the elements of the story, do help people decide whether the book or recording will be interesting to them. When I bought femdom erotic hypnosis recordings, I specifically looked for recordings that included conditioning and triggered erections. And I specifically tried to avoid recordings with smoking or humiliation. I got very upset with Lady Lita after buying her Harem – Eastern Delight recording because the recording included a smoking scene that wasn’t identified on her web page. I was equally upset with MzDominica because her descriptions didn’t mention that the recording I bought contained humiliation.

So marketing sometimes needs to be about the pieces; even though the story is so much more.