My (Unpopular) Opinion on the “Clean Reader” App

If you’re active in the writing or publishing community, you’ve probably heard of the new app called “Clean Reader.” If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a new app for e-readers and phones that has the power to censor the profanity out of your e-books.

Once you install the app, you can set it to either “off,” “clean,” “cleaner,” or “squeaky clean,” and this setting will determine which words are blanked out of your e-book. Where the author had written the F-word on the page, a white box will appear covering it. The “squeaky clean” version will even censor words like “breast” and “damn” (and can also change “damn” to “darn”). Words aren’t deleted, they are simply covered based on what settings the reader prefers.

Most of the response from the writing community toward this app that I have seen has been negative. I’ve seen Clean Reader compared to government censorship, and even book burning.

I’ll give some background information on me and my writing. In my novel MISSING PIECES, the F-word appears 73 times. I find using profanity in my writing helps my characters and situations sound more realistic. Each time I drop an F-bomb (or any other swear words, which are also prevalent in my writing), they are not there by accident or for the sake of adding swear words. I choose and place each one as carefully as I place any of my words. To me, my characters are human beings; human beings are not perfect, and human beings swear. I believe profanity has the power to convey emotions in characters, and also to enhance character development.

I am certainly not in favor of censorship. I do not want to read altered versions of books. If someone told me I was not allowed to read a book with profanity, or if I went to the bookstore and purchased a book only to discover the “bad words” had been whited out, I would be rightfully infuriated. When I read a book, I want to read it exactly as the author intended it to be read. When I someday have teenagers, I plan to let them read what they want. I am not going to be one of those parents who has to read through every YA book to check for mature content before allowing my 13 year old to read it. And let’s be real; teens have all heard those words already anyway.

HOWEVER, I do not have a big problem with Clean Reader.

Turn on the TV around 8pm and watch a prime time movie. Chances are, words deemed profane from the original movie have been blocked out from your basic cable programs and movies.

Turn on the radio and listen to a popular song. Chances are, words have been changed or deleted in order to be aired on public radio. Censorship like that occurs in our culture every day.

If I go to iTunes to purchase the aforementioned song, chances are I will have two options: “clean” or “explicit.” I can choose whether I want to buy the version of the song with profanity, or the version of the song without it. Music is art. I love music. I have tremendous respect for the writers and performers who work to create and make music everyday.

So why is that different from writing a book? Unlike the fact that we have options to purchase “clean” music, or watch the censored version of movies on prime time TV, we do not have the same options when it comes to buying books.

Personally, I will always choose the uncensored version. I want to experience a work of art – whether it is a book, or a song, or a movie – the way it was intended by its creator. I believe that any altered or censored version will never have the same impact as the original version. But that is also my opinion and my decision.

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when a book will be full of profanity; sometimes it isn’t. If you’re offended by certain words, you don’t necessarily know they will be there before buying a book. When you choose what movie to watch, you have a rating: “PG-13: some strong language.” You can go into it knowing 100% what to expect, and if you’re offended by “some strong language,” you can make the informed choice not to see that particular movie. Books don’t come with the same warnings.

As a social worker, I worked with a client with PTSD who had come out of a severely abusive relationship. A certain bad word, which her abuser called her regularly (hint: it began with a C), was a trigger to her. For her own mental health, she purposely avoided watching shows and movies which she suspected would contain that word. It’s easy to dismiss people who do not like reading profanity as “prudes” when we don’t have to walk in their shoes.

It’s easy to say as authors that we don’t want our work censored. I completely get that. But I do believe in giving readers the option to enjoy our work in a manner that makes the book more enjoyable for them. Many people read to escape, not to feel uncomfortable. If Clean Reader is the difference between someone reading my 73-F-bomb book and enjoying it, or stopping halfway through because they are offended, then I would rather the former. I don’t think some scenes will have the same impact without profanity, but really, are you going to lose sleep at night because that song on the radio had the B-word bleeped out? It’s the same song.

No one is forced to download the app, or use it. It’s a matter of personal choice. I don’t have a big problem with it.


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  1. What if we’re also totally against bleeping on radio and television :(?

    If Clean Reader (and bleeping) was opt-in for the creator, I totally wouldn’t have a problem with it! Personally, I WOULD rather someone not read my book than miss out on the moments that I intentionally constructed where a reader is supposed to feel uncomfortable and upset. But I also recognize that there are a lot of writers who feel differently. If Clean Reader sought my permission before giving the option to censor my language, I’d be on board.

    I even understand the power of triggers. I have a bad one too. When a character looks at an abusive relationship and asks “why does she stay with him?” it gives me outright panic attacks! And the C-Word is so vile to me that I hate the very sight of it. But as I say in my own blog on the topic, I use that word in my writing because I want the reader to feel triggered, emotional, and upset that a character they probably like said that awful word.

    I think it should be up to the author whether or not they give the reader that choice. Or the musician, or the director! I don’t think there would be too many complaints about an opt-in CleanReader. It’s the fact that they’ve taken the agency away from the creator that’s getting everyone’s goat!

    Your article made me think, though! My mother is one of those people who just curls up and wants to cry whenever they hear an f-bomb, and I know she’d love this app. UItimately, I’d tell her to skip my book if she couldn’t handle the few f-bombs and the one c-word that I deploy very strategically, but if there were authors who felt otherwise, she’d love to have that option.

  2. That’s a really good point! And I actually do agree, ideally, they should have to seek the author’s permission first.

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