Change propels a story. When a character makes a choice, things change for them. These changes are not always ones that are positive for the character; sometimes these moments cause them to experience things that are harmful to them. As a reader engages with these characters and stories, these potentially harmful things can, in turn, also harm the reader emotionally or mentally. As one of the two acquisition managers at Ooligan Press, part of my job is to assess the manuscripts that come through Ooligan Press’s slushpile for anything that can be potentially harmful for our first readers at Ooligan Press as well as later readers once a book is published. We’ve recently implemented a content warning system on our Submittable page (the way we get manuscripts from authors) in order to have authors self-assess their work when they decide to submit their manuscript to Ooligan Press. This has allowed us to not only prepare our readers at the press, but to also be more knowledgeable about the manuscript ourselves.

But what if an author doesn’t feel that their work needs content warnings? For a lot of authors, content warnings may be a new concept. Others may be deeply familiar with them, as they show up more often in some genres over others. So how do you work with an author who is struggling with this idea of labeling their work? For us at acquisitions, since this process starts from the very beginning, we hope to show authors that giving your work content warnings does not mean that it’s out of the running. Some authors may think that content warnings are a way to gatekeep their work and that is not our intention.

As acquisitions managers, we see a lot of manuscripts come into Ooligan Press. Most authors understand why we ask them to include content warnings. However, for others, this is something they’re not willing to do. When we had a query come into our inbox and the author said they didn’t think they needed to do content warnings for their manuscript, we both found that to be a bit of a red flag. We did end up requesting a full manuscript, but did ask the author to be sure to include content warnings for their manuscript, as we are a learning press. Ultimately, the author never sent in their manuscript. Is it because of our content warning request? We’ll never know.

Balancing the request for content warnings and respect for an author is not always an easy job. It requires patience and understanding, especially when an author feels that you’re trying to gatekeep something they may have been writing for years. However, ultimately it is our purpose as acquisitions managers to protect the readers of the manuscripts that we end up publishing at Ooligan Press. By gently helping authors understand why we’ve chosen to include content warnings at Ooligan Press, we hope to create a way for readers to fully engage with the novels we publish in a way that is safe for their mental and emotional health.

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