When I publish new chapters of “The Star and the Ocean” or any other piece of writing I’ve done online, I put it in three different places in three different ways:
First and foremost, a complete and uncensored version of my writing goes here. Being my own author site, I make the rules and control this space’s functionality. I like that.
Secondly, I post excepts on Tumblr with links to the places where you can read the chapter or piece in full. It’s not that I’m trying to be tricky or anything, it’s just that once a post has been reblogged, you lose control of the content.
And, finally, I post on Wattpad. I enjoy using Wattpad as a platform for sharing my work, primarily because it is a community that exists specifically to read and write. Without question, this is the source of most of my reads and I’m grateful for it.
For better or worse, Wattpad is also the platform that has the most restrictions. It makes sense: there are a lot of young users in that community and the site has an obligation to make sure it remains a safe space for everyone. As such, they have some pretty cut-and-dry content guidelines, which go into detail regarding what kind of content would earn a story a “Mature” rating – i.e. something intended for readers 17 and up.
Stories that include sex scenes (not just mentions), scenes or themes of self-harm, or graphic depictions of violence are all considered Mature; a distinction I think makes sense and is fair.
What’s a little less than fair is what happens to stories that get rated as Mature.
Right off the bat, Mature stories are completely invisible to readers that have indicated that they are under the age of 17. Unlike, say, DeviantArt, which will show a placeholder graphic to users under a certain age, these stories simply don’t exist. But for the sake of argument, let’s give them this one and agree not to tempt kidlets with forbidden fruit.
What really gets me about the Mature rating on Wattpad is that stories that get categorized as such, 1) do not appear in general searches, 2) do not get ranked, and 3) cannot be featured in any hot lists.
Call it an overreaction if you want, but suddenly the system established to protect younger users feels like it’s stepping into “punishing Mature works” territory.
The things is, it’s hard enough gaining readership on Wattpad without having your story’s potential so severely limited right out of the gate. I’m all for keeping impressionable young people away from truly sensitive subject matter, but I also think there’s got to be a better way of doing it.
Why am I bringing it up at all?
As of right now, the only “Mature” thing about “The Star and the Ocean” is Em’s language. Em’s a “fuck, shit, goddamn” kinda gal. Now, as far as I can see in the content guidelines, swearing isn’t against the rules. Still, in the name of being sensitive to younger readers and selfishly allowing myself to stay safely in the realm of the Everyone rating, I censor curse words. I know, I’m a f*****g saint.
I get the occasional comment from people asking if it would just be easier for me to rate the story as Mature, post the uncensored versions and be done with it. And every time this happens, I feel obligated to let them know what a Mature rating does to a story so that they can at least try to appreciate why I’m erring on the side of caution without giving in to changing my rating altogether. I mean, it’s not like I’m writing smut here.
But the truth is, it won’t be much longer before I have to make a judgement call on the self-censorship. The story may have started out cute and fluffy, but it won’t be long before it begins to wade into truly Mature territory, and then what do I do?
Do I keep censoring the story – sometimes to the point of making whole chapters only available here and redirecting Wattpad readers accordingly?
Or, do I bite the bullet and shove the whole damn thing into a Mature rating and hope for the best?
I’m basically just talking to myself here but if you, dear reader, have any insights or advice for me, it would be greatly appreciated!