Chuck Wendig (of whom I’m a big fan and more than a little jealous) posted about an app called Clean Reader. Long story short, Clean Reader sanitizes a book to take out all of those naughty, corrupting, no good words (like ‘poop,’ or ‘Mike Huckabee,’ I imagine). A lot of authors are very upset about this.
Chuck talks about a concept called Authorial Consent. Basically, his issue is that he hasn’t consented for his work to be sanitized in this manner, and therefore it’s both legally and ethically unacceptable.
The main problem I have with this is that authorial consent is a nonexistent concept, and our society already recognizes this. To clear up a few misunderstandings first:
No one is infringing on your copyright
We modify art — and ignore ‘authorial intent’ — constantly
Once it’s in the world, your art is not yours. And that’s okay.
Lots of artists have trouble with this concept, and I can understand why. As much as successful authors like to say “Your story is not your baby!”, well, it’s pretty clear that your story is your baby, in some sense. Or, perhaps not your baby — perhaps it’s you, a part of you, and it’s understandable that you don’t want people changing pieces of you without your consent.
But that’s simply not how it works. By far, the most important thing about a work of art is the meaning a reader or viewer gets out of it — and of course, that is the one thing that authors absolutely can’t control (oh god, how some have tried, though). You can write a gripping, emotional tale of a young black man navigating an oppressive society dedicated to protecting its prison industrial complex, and sadly some readers are simply going to see “lol yup, black people are all criminals.” It’s a shame, but there’s nothing you can do about it.
Similarly, you shouldn’t think you can control reactions to a certain word in your book, no matter how long you spent slaving over its choosing. And I think that Chuck would agree that, of course one can’t control the reaction to our words. But once we agree on that point, I don’t see why we have to be oh-so-protective about how our work is read. The reaction is the single most important part of the whole thing, and if we can’t control that, then why bother to try to control the rest of it?