Lola’s Ramblings: How to determine if a book has triggers or other content you want to avoid

Posted July 12, 2018 by Lola in Lola's Ramblings / 12 Comments


Lola’s Ramblings is a feature on my blog Lola’s Reviews where I ramble on about a book related or a non-book related topic. These are discussion type of posts where I talk about a topic and readers can weigh in on the topic in the comments. Usually these posts are everything that doesn’t fall under any standard header, like tours, cover reveals, memes, challenges, recaps or reviews. Lola’s Ramblings posts are discussions of a certain topic and my point of view on them. The banner for this feature is designed by Michelle from Limabean Designs.

So it’s been a long time since I did a discussion post, but one morning I just suddenly got hit with inspiration for this post and decide to go ahead and write it. So here we are. I was thinking about how tricky it was to avoid triggers sometimes in books, the awesome trigger warning and spoilers thing Riptide has on their site and Metaphors and Moonlight’s post about talking about sex in reviews and her point about how details about sex in reviews can help other people decide whether they want to read it or not. And it somehow combined into this idea to write a post about how to determine if a book has triggers and other content you want to avoid or know about beforehand. Sorry for the long title, I couldn’t figure out a way to make it shorter and still be clear.

Triggers and other content you want to avoid or know of beforehand

I have a few triggers I want to avoid in books I read and I have discovered some techniques over the years that help me figure out if a book has them or not. One thing I learned is to listen to that little niggle of doubt I sometimes get that a book might contain certain content or isn’t for me. My intuition is usually right, but I don’t always listen to it. Besides actual triggers there are also some topics I prefer not to read about in my books, but they might not be a deal breaker either. Often in those cases I would like to know beforehand if a book has them, just to be prepared or so I know it’s there and I skim/ skip the scene in question. Same goes with tropes or type of romance. I love friends to lovers tropes and might be more hesitant to pick up a enemies to lovers book. I am okay with reading about most types of romance (MF, MM, RH etc), but I do like to know beforehand what to expect. So this post is about all those things and which tools there are to determine whether a book has any of them.

How to determine if a book has triggers or other content

There are different techniques I use to determine if a book has any triggers or content I was to avoid or be aware of. With most books I just glance at the blurb/ cover/ review or however I first come across a book and decide whether I want to read it or not. But in some cases when I am unsure or want to know more I look at the other things as well.

  • Blurb. Really in most cases the blurb is the best way to determine if the book has any content you don’t want to read about. Some blurbs have actual trigger warnings, but even if they don’t there are often subtle hints or mentions. It probably depends on the actual trigger or content you’re looking for, but often each one has specific words to look out for. And words like tragedy, dark past, dark, secrets etc can hide a bunch of triggers as well. So you know to look a bit further if a blurb mentions any of those to make sure if it has the trigger or content or not.
  • Cover. In some cases the cover can be helpful. Mostly if you want to read or avoid certain type of romance or genre. The cover usually gives a good feel for the genre and maybe a few themes if you’re lucky. There are certain trends and themes covers usually follow. Like certain genres usually have a certain feel and in many cases you can determine the type of romance, by how many characters are on the cover and which genre they are. This isn’t always the case tough, but it’s a good starting point. I also have seen a few covers hint to a certain kink or specific theme, which can be helpful if that’s something you want to know or avoid. Usually covers aren’t very specific, but in some cases they can help.
  • Goodreads genres/ shelves. This is something that can be very useful for more common triggers/ themes and type of romance. And mostly handy if the book has a lot of reviews. Just click on the “see the top shelves” button while on a Goodreads page for a book and scroll through it or use ctrl+f to search for the word you want to see if it’s there. If enough people have shelved the book, chances are you can find the most common triggers and themes in the book there.
  • Reviews/ book blogs. Reviews or book blogs can be a great way to learn about triggers or other content a book has. If there is something you want to avoid chances are someone else thinks the same and might mention it in their reviews. There are also reviewers who specifically mention possible triggers or content type in their reviews. You have the best chance to find something helpful if the book has multiple reviews, but you only need one review that does mention the thing you’re looking out for to know whether the book has that content or not. This was also something that got brought up in Metaphors and Moonlight’s post about talking about sex in reviews that details about sex in reviews can help other people decide whether they want to read it or not. And while reviewers can never mention everything in their review, that’s the good thing about different people having different opinion and things they pay attention too.
  • Author website or publisher website. I also sometimes will look at the author website or publisher website if most of the other techniques didn’t bring me any clarity. Sometimes there is extra information on the author and publisher website. And I want to give a shout out to Riptide who has this awesome feature on their site for each of their books that lists everything from type of romance to triggers. Which really is a big help. If you want to see an example of what I mean check out this page for To see the Sun, which I recently requested form them. If you go to the tab warnings they have some triggers and sensitive topics mentioned there and if you click additional details and then click toggle all details then you see a lot of information about the book. It often contains some spoilers, which why I think it’s awesome they hide that information by default and you click only on the specific category you want to know about or toggle all details. That information has helped me multiple times already when it came to books they published and helped me decide whether I wanted to read the book or not.
  • Ask a reader, reviewer or the author. If all fails and you still aren’t sure if the book has any content you want to know about beforehand, asking the author of the book or someone who has read or reviewed the book can help as they can tell you exactly what’s in the book or not. I also have a note on my review policy asking authors who sent me a review request to let me know if their book has certain topics in it.

Ofcourse most of these techniques can just as well be used to determine if a book has a certain topic or content you do want to see. Even tough I focus here on discovering topics or trigger you want to avoid, sometimes you want to know if a book contains a certain topic because you do want to read about it and then these methods will work too.

Problems with determining if a book has triggers or other content

While in most cases you can figure out if a book has triggers or not. Sometimes you run into problems.

  • Few Reviews. When there are few reviews it can be hard to learn a lot about the book. I often have this problem with books I find on Netgalley or when I am offered an ARC for a book that isn’t released yet as there aren’t many reviews yet.
  • No hints in blurb. There are also times when the blurb has no hints about possible triggering content. I wrote a post a while ago about the topic of trigger warnings in blurbs or not and I can definitely see why some authors or publishers decide not to include that in their blurb.
  • Reviews don’t mention this specific thing. Not everyone has the same triggers or content they want to avoid, so it’s possible a book has troubling content for you, but none of the other reviewers mention it.
  • Uncommon or rare trigger/ content. And there at cases where your trigger or content you want to avoid is pretty rare or uncommon. Either rare in the sense that not many people have that trigger or rare in the sense that not many books have it. Or it’s only a small scene and won’t show up in reviews.

One of my recent DNF books had some of these problems. It had a disturbing (to me) scene where one of the side character killed her own pet rat, which is a super specific thing I couldn’t stand and DNF’d the book for. But before I posted my DNF review no other review has mentioned this incident and it had a bunch of reviews by then already. Later I did notice another reviewer who also mentioned the scene. So that goes to show that sometimes it can take a while before a reviewer mentions something like that. The blurb didn’t give any hint of this scene, which makes sense as it was only one short scene and most people probably wouldn’t find it as troubling as I did. In this case the only way to figure out about the scene was to ask someone, but as none of the reviews or other information mentioned it or hinted at it, I wasn’t aware I needed to ask anything. So even with all the techniques available, sometimes you just won’t know until you actually read the book. Although at least then you can mention it in your review and maybe help another person out.

So there are definitely some cases that even if you are careful and check everything you can still end up with something troubling. But the above mentioned techniques definitely have helped me avoid some books that I might have picked up otherwise.

Do you have any triggers or content you want to know about in books?

Which techniques do you use to figure out if a book has any triggers or content you want to know about?


12 responses to “Lola’s Ramblings: How to determine if a book has triggers or other content you want to avoid

  1. Great topic. I think I like to mention them when I’m reviewing the book and say you might want to pass if this sort of thing will bother you.

    • It’s good to mention possible triggers. I only mention them in my review when I think to mention it or when it’s something I personally didn’t care for.

  2. Great post! It’s true that sometimes you can’t always be aware of a trigger in books, but it is nice when reviewers or publishers (like Riptide) try and give as much of a heads up as they can. Obviously nobody wants to unnecessarily spoil a book and that can happen when revealing triggers, so it’s tricky. There are a couple topics I tend to avoid but for the most part, I don’t really have any triggers.

    ShootingStarsMag recently posted…Book Reviews: Imperial Stout + Tight QuartersMy Profile

    • I agree you can’t always be aware of a trigger in a book before you start reading, but it is great when publishers and authors try to give you a heads up. I really find it nice Riptide has such a comprehensive list of themes and such for each book on their site.

  3. Great discussion post! I don’t have a lot of triggers but I do have plenty of things I’m not interested in reading. Harming of small children is one of them, since I’m a Mom and I can’t turn it off to read books anymore. Thankfully this is something I can usually suss out in a blurb or in reviews since it’s a trigger that many other people identify with. I do use blurbs and reviews mostly to figure out content.
    S. J. Pajonas recently posted…Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Wrestling – Traveling In Japan Series 2018My Profile

    • I think it’s good to know which topics you rather not read about. I can see why harming children would be a no for you as you have kids. That is something that’s usually quite clear from the blurb indeed or reviews as I can see how that would be a difficult subject for more people.

  4. Great topic!

    I really can’t think of anything to add to either list for deciding if a book is too much ‘xyz’ for my taste. I think what people call ‘dark romances’ are ones I look really hard at before deciding. I also investigate what sort of ‘BDSM’ is involved when a book indicates its that sort of romance.
    But, I also avoid a few tropes and those are actually the hardest to suss out whether its in the book or not so I have to rely on reviews. As you say, the trouble comes when its an early ARC and there aren’t any reviews. Let’s just say, I’ve DNF’d a few that showed up without warning in the book or I had a mediocre read b/c I really don’t like the tropes. LOL

    Such a fine balance between spoilers and trigger warnings, but I think if one patterns their reviews so the warnings are set apart from the main body of the review then people can choose to read it or skip it. I suppose a ‘hide’ like a spoiler could be used, too.

    Good reminder about keeping some things specific in a review to help readers decide.

    • I always look a bit further when a book gets described as dark or dark romances as it can be hard to know beforehand what that mean exactly. Some tropes can also be hard to sniff out indeed, the review can often be handy in those cases. The early ARC ones can be difficult as then there aren’t as many reviews yet. I also have had some DNF’s because the book had some content I didn’t care for and didn’t know beforehand.

      And it sure is a hard line between spoilers and trigger warning I think having the trigger warning be set apart or hiding behind a spoiler tag if possible is a good way to make sure those who want to know can find the info and those who on’t want to be spoiled don’t.

      And think in some cases specific comments can really help others decide whether a book if for them or not.

  5. Great idea for a post! I don’t really have triggers, but this seems really useful for anyone who does. And even I have certain topics I don’t really like to read about, or certain topics that I just can’t handle when I’m in certain moods.

    I do use the top shelves thing sometimes to find out certain things about a book. Also sometimes, if there’s something specific I want to know, I’ll just go to the book’s GR page, click “read more” on all the reviews, and then ctrl+f. Like you said, no one review is going to contain everything, but that’s why it’s helpful when there are lots of reviews. And I’ve also noticed some publishers are really about content/trigger warnings on their sites. That seems to be mostly indie pubs though.

    But yeah, triggers and things like that can be so specific, so sometimes it can be hard to know ahead of time.
    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight recently posted…Book Review: What Fate Portends (The Frost Arcana Book 1) by Clara CoulsonMy Profile

    • Thanks! I have a few triggers and a bunch of topics I like to be aware off beforehand or like to avoid where possible, so I get to use these techniques quite a lot.

      Good to hear you also use the top shelves thing sometimes, if a book has a lot of reviews the top shelf thing can be really handy. I agree it mostly seems to be the indie pubs that put content/ trigger warnings on their site. I really find it handy when they do that.

      And sometimes there is just no way to know beforehand as they really can be specific.

  6. A great post, Lola. And… there are times when I’m feeling more raw about some issues, depending on what is going on in my personal life. And that is the time when I become especially wary about picking up books I can’t cope with.

    • Good point that sometimes it really depends on the moment whether you can handle certain topics or not. Those are the times I prefer to pick up an author I already know or a book I know won’t contain any difficult topics.

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