Profanity in YA – how many f-bombs are too many?

I had an interesting email from a publisher the other day. They really love my verse novel and are thinking of publishing it. As usual (welcome to my life) there is one caveat. There’s a plot point in this novel that concerns the use of the , ahem  C word.  Now, in nowhere in the book is the c word actually spelled out, but I do make coy references to it, for example like this:

                   When my C

                   Is hung Up

                  No more will I be

                  T-cher’s pet.

Anyway, long story short, the publisher isn’t going for it. They suggested some big changes to this plot point that would eliminate this word all together. I started with an offer to take out the coy spellings out and just refer to it as “the c word”. We’ll see how that goes. I hope it works for them.

Look, I know the c word is powerful, but the manuscript also contains the word, completely spelled out, bullshit. And there are another couple of instances where characters say “f*ck”

My question is, with all the violence in YA books, with all the implied sex, how is a little profanity going to hurt teen readers?  Teens talk this way, they certainly watch movies with this kind of language (apparently you are allowed one “f bomb” before a movie goes from PG 13 to R rated, or something like that). Maybe books should be rated like that too. I wonder what the movie rules are for the c- word?

Personally, I might support warning labels on books (can you imagine how this would improve sales?). I would certainly support them if, in addition to profanity warnings, there were other options such as “This book contains weak and cliched plot elements” or “This book contains a passive heroine” (I’m looking at YOU Bella Swan).


3 thoughts on “Profanity in YA – how many f-bombs are too many?

  1. Very much enjoyed this, and it helped a lot. We weren’t sure what the policy was on profanity and we just so happened to have written a YA series which is based around five seventeen year old boys. I don’t know what world other teen-boy’s are in, but in the one I grew up in, boy’s had potty mouths. I think this is young guys problems, that they put books out with Edward’s who young boy’s cannot relate to at all. For us, we felt being true to young men and giving them something they could relate to and feel was more real. I totally agree with the violence issue. If I had to select a dirty deed, I would much rather my male character have a slightly naughty vocab. then having him do evil things to other kids or hurting young girls. Thankyou for your post.

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