It’s Not Often Easy and Not Often Kind*

IconLabelsI’ll bet you’ve had the experience of reading a book (or part of one) only to wonder why you’d wasted your time. I know I have. And with all of the great books out there, it makes no sense to read (or finish reading) books that aren’t worth the effort. The problem is, though, that most of us don’t have a lot of time available to decide whether we want to read a book or not.

Wouldn’t it be nice if books came with simple labels that could help you make that choice? Ever civic-minded, I’ve come up with an idea that I think would help a lot: a series of easy-to-understand symbols that could be placed on books. Here are a few I had in mind. I know you’ll think of others:
Drunk and Dysfunctional

This symbol is the ‘drunk and dysfunctional’ symbol. It tells you that the protagonist is a demon-haunted detective who can’t get beyond personal problems. Readers who want to avoid such protagonists need only glance at this little icon… and move on. Readers who like this sort of detective can explore the book further.
Helpless Female

This symbol is the ‘damsel in distress’ symbol. You know the sort of book, I’m sure. The helpless female is trapped by the villain, or can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Or the killer preys on beautiful young (and careless) women. One look at this icon, and readers who prefer strong female characters will know to look elsewhere for a good read.
High Body Count

This useful little icon is especially for the benefit of readers who don’t care much for a lot of violence or a very high ‘body count.’ Yes, it’s the ‘body count’ symbol. And it’s all you’d need to alert you that you may want to shower after you read to remove the gore.
Serial Killer

Related to that icon is this one: the ‘psychopathic serial killer’ symbol. Some readers don’t mind books about serial killers. But if you’re fed up with them, and prefer other kinds of plots, this icon will let you know that you’re probably better off looking elsewhere for your next read.

Some readers don’t mind suspending their disbelief – or even letting it move out for a while. But a lot of readers prefer not to do that. Wondering whether the book you’re considering will stretch credibility too far? Look no further than this handy ‘Improbability’ icon. You’ll know right away that the book will probably end whatever relationship you have with your disbelief.
Recycled Plot

A lot of readers would like some originality in the plots of their books. Admittedly, there aren’t that many credible motives for murder, for instance. But there are always ways to make a story a little different – something new. The trouble is, there are a lot of books out there that use the same plots over and over again. That’s why I designed this symbol – the ‘recycled plot’ icon. It’s all you’d need to let you know that you’ve read this story before, just with different names.

Cardboard Characters

And then there’s the matter of characters. A lot of readers prefer character-driven novels. And even those who like other kinds of books probably like solid, rounded characters. If you’re not sure whether the book you’re thinking of getting has those characters, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to check for this symbol, the ‘cardboard cutout’ icon? It’d tell you in an instant that these characters are one- or two-dimensional.
TBR Alert

Of course, many books are excellent reads. They have well-rounded characters and appealing plots. They keep the reader engaged, and are well worth the effort and time it takes to read them. Want to know which those are? This symbol, the ‘TBR Warning’ icon, would be very helpful, I think. Not only would you know this was a book worth exploring, but also, you’d be reminded to think of the many books you still haven’t got to yet…

So what do you think? Should we adopt a set of icons like this? Which ones would you add?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Sebastian’s Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?


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58 responses to “It’s Not Often Easy and Not Often Kind*

  1. Hmf. Unfortunately, I have no artistic talent – can’t draw a straight line with a couple of rulers – so I’ll have to let somebody else design this: how about a pen dripping blood on a document, to warn readers that the arrogant and unlikeable old man or old woman who rules the family with his/her iron fist and delights in changing wills and heirs almost daily is guaranteed to die before page 25?

  2. That’s brilliant, Margot! I’m all in favour of the kind of symbols you suggest. You’ve already really covered this angle, but I’d love to see one specifically for gratuitous violence. Perhaps a murderer carrying out the grisly deed with a knife, gun and poison at the same time?

  3. What a brilliant idea Margot – I’m all for those and think that the logos you have chosen cover the most common decision points needed – I applaud you for your creativity.

  4. This is a great idea. I like the ones for lots of violence or the ‘psychopathic serial killer’. I would not mind a symbol for books that include graphic sex or a large romance component. And it always depends on the reader as to what is good and bad in a book.

    • Thanks, Tracy 🙂 – And I really like your idea of an icon for graphic sex and for romance. Some readers like, or don’t mind, those things. Others want to avoid them. As you say, everyone’s different. That’s a fabulous addition.

  5. Margot: Not adept at icons I actually use a bold DDB for double digit bodies at the start of a review for a book with a high body count.

    As to another icon the scales of justice would certainly mark legal mysteries. How to set them up to show up for “good” or down for “bad” is not easy. Evenly balanced works fine for alright.

    • I like that DDB code, Bill. I’m sure there are a lot of other codes too, that people could use. Hmm… you’ve got me thinking of good possibilities for another post, so thank you :-).
      As to the scales of justice, I like that idea an awful lot. You’re right, though, one would have to decide which direction the scales would tip for which rating of a book. Hmm…..more good food for thought, for which thanks.

  6. I love love love this post and these ideas. Perhaps if we can convince publishers and booksellers to use these symbols, Margot, the community of crime fiction bloggers could take them up.

    My addition is based on a (wonderful) street sign you see on Australian freeways, which says WRONG WAY – GO BACK. This is for the books with one plot twist too many (plus the Hollywood films that should finish 5 mins before they actually do!).

    Let’s see if this link to the sign works:

    • Thanks, Angela 🙂 – I would love to be able to convince people to use icons such as these. It would be, I think, a good way to direct people towards the books they want (and away from those they don’t!).
      And I adore that sign you shared! Thank you! It’s fabulous for the twisty book. And you have a point about the Hollywood ending.

  7. Fabulous ideas Margot – would make choosing books so much easier 🙂

    I’d like an icon for unresolved sexual tension between leading characters that goes on for too long but I’ve no idea what the image should be

    • Thanks, Bernadette 🙂 – I’d like to think it would, too.
      I like your idea very much of an icon for unresolved sexual tension. That plot point annoys me, too. Hmmmm….an icon…perhaps a hand holding a match just one bit away from a candle or some such thing. I’ll have to think about that. Thanks for the ‘food for thought.’

  8. I think that there needs to be some kind of warning that the book that you are looking at is part one in a serial. There will be no plot resolution, just a cliffhanger at the end. You will need to read the whole series before anything is revealed. I hate starting a serial book, getting to the end of it, and being left out to dry.

    • Oh, that’s a great idea, Bill. I think we really do need some sort of warning like that. Perhaps a little cliff icon or some such thing. I’ll definitely have to work on that one. It’s just as annoying, I think, if one’s not warned that a book is the second or third in a trilogy, and you’ve not read the first.

  9. I loved this post and your icons. How about a heart for a gratuitous romance storyline that is unnecessary to the plot? Or maybe this one would be used more often in screen adaptations!

    • Thank you, Caron 🙂 – And yes, we most definitely need some sort of ‘unnecessary romance’ icon, like a heart or something. I’m all for love, but not every crime novel needs a romance sub-plot.

  10. I love these! Best of luck getting publishers to adopt them!

  11. Reblogged this on Angela Savage and commented:
    Crime fiction blogger extraordinaire has come up with a wonderful plan for simple labels to help readers choose which crime novels to read — and which to avoid. Have a look at Margot’s suggestions and feel free to add your own in the comments. My favourite is the ‘improbability’ icon.

  12. What terrific idea! Great symbols Margot – hah – esp the D&D (growing tired of this) as well as the serial killer graphics (hate serial killer books). Unfortunately I don’t think publishing houses would be overly enthusiastic about using the symbols – it would mean that they would have to get rid of the cookie cutter & actually seek out imaginative, unique works.

  13. Col

    You can have a yawn for books that are possibly over a certain length, ones where the author uses fifty words instead of one.

  14. Brilliant, Margot, you need to patent this system 🙂

  15. Margot, this is a very clever post. I liked all the possible icons including those suggested by other commentators. Maybe, we could have either a death’s head or the Grim Reaper for strange, weird, and horror stories.

    • Thank you, Prashant. I am richly enjoying the suggestions everyone’s making, too! And I love your idea of an icon for weird or horror stories. I think it would be a terrific and useful symbol.

  16. Ha, ha, I love these! I’m also all for the ‘yawn’ for those books that could have done with some judicious editing…

  17. Brilliant! Brilliant! Especially the flying pig!! 😆

    We need one for excessive strong language, and, oh, please! Can we have one for unremitting misery? (I think the formal expression is domestic noir.) Perhaps just an image of a woman sobbing brokenly…

    • Oh, thanks, FictionFan! Yes, I admit to a sneaking liking for that pig. You have some great ideas here. Perhaps some of the classic symbols (#&^@) superimposed over a page or something. And I know what you mean about unremitting misery. At some point, it all gets a bit much, and it’s as well for readers to be aware of what they’re in for first. Yes, someone sobbing bitterly would be great for that icon.

  18. Great icons, Margot. Those would definitely come in handy while trying to sort through all the wonderful books that are available.

  19. Very clever, Margot! I like it.

  20. Brilliant! Let’s make them into rubber stamps and hit the libraries with them! I’d like one with a ball of yarn with bits sticking out all over, for plots with too many plot lines left dangling. And one with a dog chasing a ball that has gone beyond the horizon – for plots far-fetched. Let’s go into biz.

    • Oh, I adore your suggestions, Jan! I’ve read books with both kinds of problems, and they’re annoying! I think you have a great idea to put it all on rubber stamps, too. It’d make the work much easier for libraries. – Thanks, too for the kind words 🙂

  21. Hi Margot, Great collection of symbols and a very clever concept. Once again Les sort of beat me to the punch. However, and this one admittedly is a close relative of the ‘recycled plots’ symbol, how about a symbol with a fireplace and sherry & biscuits on a stand nearby to designate a cosy mystery in British setting? 🙂
    And of course a Walther PPK to designate a Fleming-esque sort of spy story. Also, perhaps a pyrex flask for unnecessary technical detail, and somewhat related: I love the idea of a ‘yawn’ icon for books that are way too wordy.

    • Thanks, Bryan. And I love that ‘yawn’ icon idea too. I think Col nailed it with that one. And you hit on something else that’s more common than I wish it were: books that have too much technical detail. We do need something for that, and I like the flask idea. And yes, readers would want to know if something is a spy novel (and why not use the PPK?) or a cosy mystery. You folks are giving me such fantastic ideas! I think Jan’s right and we could have a business.

  22. I like your icons. Perhaps I would add one that could be added to some books in libraries (although I cannot think of a design): “This book has never been checked out or read by anyone since it arrived in the library; therefore, be brave, first reader, be brave!”

    • Thanks, R.T. I like your idea of encouraging library patrons to try new books, too. I’ll have to think about a good icon. Perhaps something like a strong-looking hand opening a book or something of the sort. Whatever sort of icon it is, I think you have a great idea.

  23. Margot – can I use these instead of writing reviews- I would then have much more time for reading 🙂

  24. Reblogged this on Reading, Writing and Riesling and commented:
    What fantastic logos Margot – great ideas!

  25. This is wonderfully creative, Margot. How about an icon for “slow starter”? A book that takes forever to get going, filled with info dumps and no real plot in the first quarter of the book.

  26. Kathy D.

    I love this idea and call for all publishers to use these icons.
    I was thinking through what annoys me in books, including earthquakes which divide pursued and pursuer (have read this), suspects who the reader has never heard of who turn up at the end to be the culprit, evidence which suddenly turns up in the denouement — although I did love Perry Mason endings years ago and Hercule Poirot’s and Nero Wolfe’s revelations which the reader didn’t know.
    But for impossible endings, the flying pigs icon is great.
    Also, the one for danger is appropriate. Just saw an old movie with Lucille Ball, a detective mystery (she was the assistant) and someone goes up the 31st floor of a building after being told to do so by a villain. He does it. Of course, the window is open and the guy is pushed out. I was yelling, “Don’t go there!” It was curtains for him. So, it wasn’t “damsels in distress,” but an obvious dangerous trap that someone walked right into. Is there an icon for that?

    • There ought to be, Kathy. People who walk into those obviously dangerous situations always make me wonder, especially if the author has led us to believe the person is otherwise intelligent. And I agree that the miraculous ending and ‘out of the blue’ sort of clue need an icon as well. Perhaps a lightning bolt or something would work. I like your ideas a lot!

  27. Sue

    Super clever post and so enjoyable to read all the comments. You’re on a winner here.

    In our local library there are various symbols used to indicate the genre of the book and within that genre label there are other stickers indicating sub categories. Obviously they are not as comprehensive as the suggestions here.

    I love your symbols.

    • Thank you, Sue 🙂 – Our library uses genre symbols, too, so I think I know what you mean. Who knows? Maybe these icons could be helpful in libraries everywhere…

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