Book Trigger Warnings: An Easy Method You Can Use to Vet Books Before You Read

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Trigger warnings for books can be helpful so you know what you’re getting in to before you read. But books don’t come with ratings the way movies do, so how can you get a heads up on content warnings in books? Here’s the method I’ve been using for years to vet books so I don’t waste valuable reading time!

Open book with magnifying glass on the pages

Finding Content Considerations for Books

Have you ever regretted reading a book?

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I used to regard books as sacrosanct, containing an inherent “goodness” simply because they were books. This view was only natural as books were highly esteemed in my family, frequently read, and given considerable real estate in our home. And of course, all the books we owned and read were good, so…

However, as I gained a broader knowledge of bookland, I came to realize there are quite a few books that aren’t “good” (on various levels), or that simply aren’t worth my life’s time to read. Other times, there are books that may be a great read for someone else, but aren’t my cup of tea or aren’t a good choice for my current chapter of life. And now that I have kids, I want to make sure they’re not encountering content that would be inappropriate for them.

But what’s a reader to do when there are so many book recommendations and reviews coming at you from the media, or friends, or book blogs like this one? A lot of times, word-of-mouth will get me interested in a particular title, but I still need more concrete information in order to decide whether or not I want to invest my reading time in it. Specifically, I like to be aware of content issues or “trigger warnings” in books, especially if I’m choosing from the bestseller list or recent releases.

For many years, I’ve employed a handy trick to quickly assess whether or not a book will be worth my time. Any time I hear of a book I might like to read, I vet it first by strategically using the search feature on the book’s Amazon reviews. I’ll show you this trick so you can use it for curating your own TBR!

How to Check a Book for Trigger Warnings

  1. Go to the book’s Amazon listing. If there are multiple listings per book, and the reviews are not amalgamated, go to the listing with the most reviews.
  2. Scroll down to the reviews.
  3. At the end of the “Top reviews from the United States” section (or whatever country you’re searching from), click where it says “See all reviews >”
  4. Then scroll to the “Search customer reviews” box and type in your search terms.

Now what exactly are you searching for? You’re looking for things that could make or break the book for you. You want information about the content in the book, so there’s no unwelcome surprises when you read. To achieve this, get as specific and granular as possible with your keywords. Here are some ideas for content consideration keywords to search for:

  • abuse
  • trauma
  • miscarriage
  • graphic
  • explicit
  • crude
  • violence/violent
  • language
  • profanity
  • racial slur
  • animal cruelty
  • sex
  • dark
  • suicide
  • trigger warning (some reviewers will actually state a list of potential trigger warnings in their review)
  • content (people will connect this word to phrases like “graphic content,” “content warnings,” etc., so this covers a lot).

You see, when writing reviews readers often mention hot-button issues (if they’re present in the book), because most people write a review with the expectation that other people will read it, and it’s a natural instinct to be helpful there.

If you’re a teacher or parent and want to screen a book for inappropriate or questionable content for your kids, you can search any of the above terms, and might also add these:

  • bullying
  • behavior
  • parents
  • kissing
  • attitude

Searching these terms will pull up reviews where readers discuss how these topics or relationships are handled in the book.

Let me walk you through an example of how you might look for book content warnings using this Amazon review method.

Let’s say you want to read some contemporary fiction, and you’d like to check out Kate Morton because I mentioned her on this site. However, you just finished a book that was too dark for your liking, and you really can’t handle anything violent right now. You want to know what you’re getting in to with this new-to-you author before you get too deep in one of her books.

You head to the Amazon listing for The Lake House by Kate Morton and scroll down to the reviews:

"See all reviews" link on Amazon book listing

You click the text that the red arrow’s pointing to in the screenshot above. Then, you type “violence” into the “Search customer reviews” box:

"Search customer reviews" search box on Amazon book listing

Amazon will pull up all the reviews that contain your search term, and the search term will be highlighted within the review! This is extremely helpful for zeroing in and getting the context quickly.

Search results in an Amazon book listing page with the search term highlighted

You can tell from the results above that The Lake House won’t have any violent surprises! Similarly, if you don’t get many results for a keyword, it usually means that that trigger isn’t present in the book, or isn’t an issue. I should give the caveat that sometimes you’ll find opposite takes on the same keyword! One reviewer might say “there’s no overly graphic scenes,” while another warns “far too graphic for my taste!” Skim these reviews for context and to get an idea of how your own opinion might align with the reviewer’s.

More ways to use the Amazon review section to vet books for content

You can use the Amazon review section for more than just identifying trigger warnings in books. Use it to search for emotion-related words to see why readers liked or disliked a book. Here are emotion-related words that readers commonly mention in their reviews:

  • disappointed
  • frustrated
  • glad
  • hate
  • shock
  • unlikeable
  • confusing
  • boring
  • overrated
  • amazing
  • worth the hype

You can search for things related to the plot, too. For instance, if you dislike books with a sad ending, you can search for the word “ending” to see what people have to say about it. Other ideas:

  • coincidence
  • unlikely
  • plot
  • conclusion
  • characters
  • stereotype

I’m sure more search words will come to mind as you think about what you want in a reading experience. And hopefully as you use this method to weed out duds from your TBR, you’ll discover you have a little more time to read the books that will actually enrich your life instead.

Reading a Kindle book outside

More Ways to a Better Reading Life

Book Trigger Warnings: An Easy Method You Can Use to Vet Books Before You Read
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29 Comments

    1. Good, I’m so glad! It’s really rare these days that I read a book without quickly running it through this process first! If you go off of the blurbs on the back of the book, any book sounds amazing…so this way you can find out the “behind the scenes” info that isn’t just there for marketing!

  1. What a great idea! Life’s too short for reading duds, and challenging enough without reading personally upsetting topics. Thank you! This will be very helpful.

  2. This is SUCH a good tip! Bless the reviewers that take the time to include trigger warnings in their reviews. I try to, but it’s tough to work out everything that could possibly trigger another reader. Personally, I’m highly sensitive to anything happening to dogs (and other animals to an extent, but dogs in particular) – it’s rare that I get a heads up on that. Maybe the Amazon trick is just what I need! 😉

    1. Yes, I appreciate that you are so considerate in your reviews! Sidenote: I also always feel like I get a good sense of the book from your reviews, and even if I don’t end up reading the book myself, I find the review interesting (and sometimes hilarious) to read!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this tip! I had never thought of that before, but I will definitely be using it from here on out!

  4. This is really good! I need to try this sometime… I tend to stick only with authors that I trust, so I don’t read a lot of books outside of my “comfort zone”… Montgomery, Alcott, Austen, Oke… and so on. I’ll use this method and branch out to something new. Thank you!! 😄

  5. This is really good! I need to try this sometime… I tend to stick only with authors that I trust, so I don’t read a lot of books outside of my “comfort zone”… Montgomery, Alcott, Austen, Oke… and so on. I’ll use this method and branch out to something new. Thank you!! 😄

  6. This is like a refined version of what I already do. I’ve been reading the Amazon reviews for a long time. I’ll see if this makes the process a bit more efficient.

    1. Yes, Amazon was mostly about books back in the early days, wasn’t it? There’s a wealth of reviews built up over the years, so this definitely helps speed up the vetting process if you want to save time!

  7. I can’t thank you enough for this. I’m one of the more sensitive readers I know, and even my mother recommends books that I consider too much for me sometimes. Thank you so much.

  8. Thank you for this helpful information. I use Amazon frequently to see if a particular book is something I want to read, but I was totally unaware of this feature. I will definitely be using it in the future.
    I recently found your site and have started the reading challenge for 2023 – my first ever!

    1. Thank you for joining the reading challenge! Yes, I use the Amazon reviews trick all the time and it’s certainly helped me curate a better TBR with less disappointments!

  9. I just tried this vetting process but has it changed? I’m not able to locate a box or anything that prompts a search in the reviews themselves. I’ve tried the Amazon app and through the Safari browser, both on my phone. I haven’t tried on my computer, yet. Thanks!

    1. Unfortunately, I think Amazon removed this functionality on mobile. I have no idea why they would do that! Hopefully it will come back. In the meantime, you can still definitely use the search feature on desktop!

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