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Is There a Market for ‘Clean’ Books?

In the two days chatting with Alex Zabala y’all commented more on language than sales. Interesting perspective into my readership.

what do readers want?He and I, like some of you, choose not to use certain words. I’ll not get into the “they’re just words!” discussion just now. I’m more interested in what makes good writing, and, slightly less important, what sells.

Can you sell a book without profanity in it? Obviously you can. Alex Zabala’s Treasure of the Mayan King has sold 6,000 copies.

Does avoiding (or including) profanity in your book widen your market, narrow it, redefine it? Or is it immaterial?

That’s a question for readers, not writers.

Since all writers are readers, let’s chat.

(I realize this informal survey will have limited reach, since I get about 50 visitors a day here. But let’s have some fun and maybe learn something. And, the fun part: I’m not trying to start an argument, or get on a soapbox or provide one for someone else. Let’s be friendly about it, eh?)

  1. Do you specifically search out ‘clean’ books, those without sex, violence, and profanity?
  2. How strongly do you avoid books with profanity? Do you stop at the first inappropriate word? Do you stop when the language is extreme? Or do you ignore it and focus on the story?
  3. In the past, have you proven support for ‘clean’ books by purchasing them?
  4. Some authors feel that this is how people talk, so your dialog should include realistic profanity. Do you think there are occasions where finding the right word means using profanity?

As writers, words are the tools we use to create art. I don’t make judgments about how others write or what they read; it’s not my place. But I’m curious, as someone who intends to market mysteries without profanity or overt sex or violence, whether the market is as large as Disney and Pixar’s success might suggest, or if that’s wishful thinking.

13 thoughts on “Is There a Market for ‘Clean’ Books?

  1. I think it partly depends on the target audience. I’m currently writing for the teen level, specifically for nieces and nephew, so profanity and sex are non existent. Violence is minimal and isn’t graphic. Personally, I’ll read just about anything. If I know ahead of time that a book has lots of sex and swearing, I steer clear because it’s not the kind of book I want to read.

  2. Joel, you should be getting more responses here; so I’ll leave one…a simple one:

    #4 — with caveats.

    I don’t mind either way. I feel pretty much the same as you do, re “I’m more interested in what makes good writing.” But #4 suggests that we “should” use profanity because that’s the way people talk. That’s way narrow.

    When the story does not call for it, or when the story regards some culture or subculture that doesn’t swear or that is discreet in its sexual openness, then why would a writer add anything so merely inappropriate?

    Conversely, if the story is about Mafia or inner-city gangs, obviously throw it out there, put it in! It “belongs.”

    I guess that’s all I have to say.


  3. I purchase, and read “clean books.” That’s my preference. I’m not going to condemn you if you choose profanity, and explicit sexual contents. It’s your prerogative, but I will not buy your book. Blessings.

  4. Wow! It looks like we started a firestorm. I like it! Nothing warms the heart like controversy!!

    Now think about this: of all the reviews I received, not once did ANYONE (sorry for yelling) advise that I add profanity or sex scenes to my book.

    Tom Bentley said he does in his books, well that is his prerogative and as Joel said: in this forum we will discuss writing styles. I am not trying to start a censorship campaign.

    Everybody can write what they want.

    My angle is the clean angle. I wanted to prove that I could write a good clean story and I did, it was a challenge and I met it head on! And it was successful!!
    Also, I REALLY do believe that out of 8 billion inhabitants on earth there are at least one million (literate) people trolling the Internet looking for these kind of books.

    My goal, therefore, is to cater to those million people. (If I sell a million books I won’t have to wear that cheap suit you see in my picture. Just kidding). However, I strongly feel that books should have rating like movies. Then readers can choose to read the books accordingly. That way nobody’s feelings get hurt and we can all get along!

  5. 1. Do I specifically search out “clean” books? Yes. I go over the back cover and skim through.
    3. Yes
    2. Drop the book at the first bad word. It depends a lot on the tone. It feels different if the occasional bad word slips out as a reaction to shock or if the MC, other characters, or the author is trying to impress with verbal slop.
    4. My Dad had no religious convictions so I heard a lot of cursing at home — not 4-letter stuff, though. In my mind I go over a scene and know what the character would probably say, but I’m not going to put it down on paper that way. My readers can do without hearing “the profane right word” just as I could have done without it.

    But now to go one step further in this discussion: how soon do I recommend a book that isn’t “clean”?
    Two weeks ago I read an awesome book, RAINWATER by Sandra Brown. It paints a very realistic picture of drought-ridden Texas.
    I’d love to do a book review on my blog and give this a five-star rating
    (with the warning “Some profanity.”) But…

    I can’t in good conscience endorse the book because of the immorality. I can understand the situation the characters found themselves in; I can sympathize. It’s all realistic–in fact an aunt of mine went through a somewhat similar situation, with the same end result.

    Life throws curve balls; people do fall and have regrets, but I can’t say, “Read this great book” when it portrays adultery as wonderful and right. Too bad. It’s a great (i.e., true-to-life) story.

    1. I gave Larry Brooks’ Deadly Faux a 5-star review because it is a 5-star book. I mentioned the language in my review, and Larry and I even had a chat about it. His point was that he felt it was right for the people and situations. I won’t argue what another writer wants to write.

  6. That is why I think books should have ratings. That way we aren’t SHOCKED when we pick up a book and find out it was written for kids and not adults!

    I mean…what 55 year old man wants to read about Sponge Bob Square pants!??

  7. 1. Yes. I agree with Dr. Johnny Velazquez. I simply choose not to read certain types of books and certain authors. Likewise, there will probably be people who choose not to read my books because they’re too mild for their tastes. I don’t try to make other people conform to the way I write and don’t appreciate it when I get told to “spice it up a little.”
    2. It depends. If a book starts out with strong language on page 1, I stop. If the first profanity comes later and is lightly sprinkled throughout, I may read a little more (depending on how strong the language is), but if I find it’s littered with language, violence or immorality or other objectional (to me) material, I stop. for example, I enjoyed Sue Grafton’s stories, but stopped reading because I couldn’t handle the language. The same goes for TV shows and movies.
    3. Yes, of course.
    4. Profanity isn’t how *all* people talk. Yes, it’s out there, but few people use it around me because a) they know it makes me uncomfortable and respect me or b) they don’t speak that way either. I’m uncomfortable being around a lot of profanity in real life, so why would I want to read it? If there are situations that warrant strong language, it’s possible to find other ways to write that (show, don’t tell, anyone?) without profanity. If nothing else, the character can mutter something under his breath and the reader can imagine whatever they think the character said, whether it’s darn or something stronger.

    1. Hulloo again, Nina!

      As writers, we should keep our eye on our own compass, not another’s, as you say.

      A common thread in this thread has been total abstinence from anyone suggesting what others should or shouldn’t do. I appreciate one and all making this a discussion of writing, not morality.

    2. Thank you, Nina. Kudos to you for not compromising your values. I’m currently re-writing a faith-based script, which deals with the lowest of the lowest. There’s quite a bit of violence, as the story is centered around some of the most notorious gangs in LA. We will not be using profanity, and guess what! The funding source is quite pleased with the way the project will be presented. Look at the film, “God is not dead.” It has done quite well. The same goes for other Christian films. Yes! I do believe that there is a market for such stories, whether they be in book form, or on the screen. Blessings.

  8. Always interesting to hear what others prefer in reading material! I prefer books with no to light swearing. If there is a lot of swear words pr bad language in a book I won’t read the book.

    Romance is better with things left to the readers imagination. If the book has a more detailed sex scene in it, I skip over that.

    Glad that there are authors that write clean books and hope that more are written.

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