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The Geekwave

University of Utah

The Geekwave

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How can we protect Young Readers Online?

A Conversation on How we Advertise Books Online and in Stores

We need to have a serious conversation about how we as adults talk about books online. Since the beginning of the internet there has been a community of book lovers discussing their favorite reads and authors advertising their new releases. As a community we have prided ourselves on introducing others to a love of reading, trying to spread the joy as far as we could. However, over the past couple of years I have seen a disturbing trend of adult books, and content relating to them, being readily available to young readers and it needs to end. 

What do I Mean? 

When I say adult books I am not talking about fantasy or science fiction books that are catered to adults and have more serious subject matter. What I mean is books that contain explicit material such as smut, sexual assault, and overwhelming violence. All material that we restrict from minors in almost all other forms of media. I will provide more specific examples of what I mean later in the article. This is not saying that these books should not be discussed on public platforms. I just believe that as adults online in a space where we know there are minors present, we should be more responsible with how we advertise and discuss these books. 


Before I get into it, I will state that BookTok and I have a love-hate relationship. I love the fact that reading has become so much more popular because of its influence but it comes with a myriad of problems that can’t all be covered in this article. The problems that we will be talking about today though are the ones that come from the romance sub-community.  

The romance genre already faces a lot of critique, a lot of it unwarranted, so this will not further that narrative. My critique comes solely from the fact that a lot of influencers on TikTok carelessly advertise books that are not suitable for young minds without any type of proper warning or deterrent. Countless times I have seen a book that I know is full of content that is barely suitable for the general population, much less minors, advertised without proper age warning or content warning. I know that these people are not doing it on purpose, but with an online presence comes a responsibility that they need to be aware of. 

Haunting Adeline (Cat and Mouse Duet Book 1) - Kindle edition by Carlton, H. D. . Romance Kindle eBooks @ romance is one of the biggest contributors to this problem. The name makes it seem more harmless than it really is, but this genre is focused on books centered around taboo subjects and no book exhibits this more than Haunting Adeline by H.D Carlton. This book is advertised as a stalker fantasy with a whole list of trigger warnings, that had to be added later I may add. These trigger warnings include SA (Sexual Assault), stalking, violence, etc. (please look up further trigger warnings if you ever decide to read this, I just don’t want to get too graphic). Not only do I find some trigger warnings to be dishonest, like a gunplay warning even though in the scene it is just SA, but I also find that sometimes they are not even mentioned when discussing this book online. Instead, its advertised as a fun sexy dark romance, which may be true to some, but not for young teenagers.  

This also is not just a romance genre issue, many horror and thriller books with very disturbing content go viral on the platform all the time. These genres can be better at supplying trigger warnings, but not to the point beyond critique. The book community on TikTok needs to be more aware of the young demographic it is advertising to. 

Now why should adults online who advertise clearly adult novels be worried about minors finding their content? Because it happens all the time. On the internet, communities need to police themselves because the big corporations are not going to do it for us. Most young adults know very well how easy it is to stumble upon graphic content of any nature while roaming the internet. So why are we making it easier for that content to fall into these kids’ hands? The TikTok algorithm does not know, or care about, the difference between a Percy Jackson TikTok with the #Booktok and a review of Haunting Adeline with the same hashtag. Children as young as 12 could be advertised this stuff, and with it being free on Kindle Unlimited, it would not be hard to access it either. So why are we giving the algorithm that chance? Creating a different hashtag could help with the issue, as well as making sure that we are properly labelling and warning in videos dealing with this kind of content could go a long way in making sure our community is a safe place for everyone, especially children.  


As a result of these kinds of books going viral, many bookstores, big and small alike, are adding these books to their shelves and advertising them in the front of their stores. On one of my many trips to Barnes and Noble this February, I walked past the rom-com display at the very front of the store and stopped dead in my tracks. Right on the table with a Buy One, Get One 50% sticker was a book named Credence. I am sure those who know what I am talking about know why this may be a problem. 

Credence: Douglas, Penelope: 9781660089055: BooksCredence by Penelope Douglas is another book people would label as dark romance, for a very good reason. It is a book about a 17-year-old girl (she turns 18 in the book, but she is 17 for a good part of this book) whose parents die, and she must go live with her step-uncle and step-cousins in the mountains. “Who is the love interest?” you may ask, and the answer is all of them! I am obviously not fond of this book in the slightest, I am putting down any adult who enjoyed this book, but I will never understand why. This book depicts step-incest, SA, and a lot of sexual content. See the issue yet? This book is not a rom-com by any means and should not be advertised next to books that contain just normal meet cute romances. But it was, and what parent would look at the cover and think that it could contain that kind of content? 

This brings me to my next point, now that these books are getting more popular, publishers have more interest in publishing physical copies of them. When you envision your normal smut book what do you think of? I think most people would say a shirtless man and a raunchy title. Now it is fun to make fun of these covers and their titles, but they serve a purpose, they advertise to buyers and to parents that these books contain inappropriate material. I am not sure if this is on purpose or not, but if your teenager wanted a book from Barnes and Noble and brought you one of those, you could immediately recognize that it may be inappropriate. The Credence cover does not give you that same courtesy.  

Now this is not really a problem that the community can just fix, obviously it has a role in influencing it but in the end, it is up to the store. This is more on the authors or the publishing houses. A book like Credence should not be able to easily blend into a table full of cheesy romances. Haunting Adeline to its credit has an edgier cover that gets the point across that the contents are going to be darker; the title also helps identify it. Something we can do as a community though is call this problem out, let publishers and authors know that the way that they advertise their book needs to be clearer. I understand wanting to have a pretty bookshelf, and books like that can be an eyesore, but the impact of having these books look more socially acceptable is exactly the problem. 


The online book community is something I deeply treasure, it has helped me keep my love for reading alive. So, while this article may have come on strong, it did so from a place of love. This problem was something I had been noticing for a while, from back when I was a minor in the community, and it was never something I thought I would talk about so publicly. But as an older sister, I was hesitant to introduce my sibling to the community I love so dearly because I did not want them exposed to that kind of content in an unsafe way. Then I realized that the community is full of teenagers my siblings’ age and that I wanted to try and protect them too. As a community we should want to protect our youngest members, learn from our mistakes when we were their age and make their experience more enjoyable, and most importantly, safer. If you see content like this online, politely call it out. Comment the trigger warnings on the post if the content creator does not. If you think that the content is particularly harmful, shoot the creator a polite DM expressing your concerns. If you are a content creator, I would only ask that you think about who is seeing your videos and make any alterations you feel is necessary. Together we can make our book communities online not only fun and informative, but safe for everyone as well. 

Check out other content on Geekwave, like my latest review Silver Under Nightfall!

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