Bites

In light of the more recent pre-publication book censoring going on, I’m glad Mari decided to take a stab at a not-often talked-about aspect of book banning and censoring. Thanks for contributing, Mari!

My books, up until this point, have never been challenged or banned. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been censored. But my censoring happened at the editorial level. As in–the things that were objectionable were taken out before the book ever reached store shelves. Few people ever talk about this kind of censoring, but it does happen. The reason? Because publishers want to sell books to the school and library market.

A few years back, I wrote a tween novel that took place in school setting and there were several teacher characters. As a daughter of two teachers, I grew up knowing that teachers aren’t always the cardboard cutout paragons of virtue they appear to be when standing in the front of the classroom. They’re adults. They drink, they smoke, they go out and they even have…gasp…lives outside of school! All perfectly legal, of course. But not something they necessarily want to share with their students.

In a deleted scene, my heroine flees to the bathroom, to escape some pretty awful bullying. There, she meets one of her teachers, who’s sneaking a smoke, and they have a conversation. But I was told that the smoking needed to be deleted, because it didn’t paint the teacher in a positive light.

The teacher was an adult. Smoking in this country (at least for now!) is still perfectly legal for adults. I didn’t have her offer a cigarette to her student. I didn’t glamorize the smoking (in fact, she laments that she should quit.) But I needed to take it out of the novel because the publisher didn’t want to alienate the school and library market.

In another section, one of the teachers (who’s the football coach and an overall jerk) mutters under his breath, “I’m too hung-over for this” when dealing with a difficult student situation. Again, I was asked to delete it.

I don’t blame the publisher–they are running a business and that business is selling books. If they feel these kinds of things could alienate a large section of their market, well, then it’s in their best interest to take them out. And because neither passage was necessary to tell the story, I agreed to do so.


But what that wasn’t the case? What if we needed Mrs. Reilly to smoke to show something important about her character? What if we needed the male teacher to be hung-over to illustrate why he acted like he did? Would the objectionable content be permitted to stay in? Or would the intent of the scene or book have to be compromised?

It’s a scary thought. And one I don’t think most people consider when talking about banned books. We talk about books that are banned or challenged after publication–but at least those books are available to read if someone were to seek them out. The other books–the books censored before publication–well, those are lost forever.

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