By Louise Ure


I’ve long been a fan of unexpectedly funny warning labels. Like the one on the chainsaw, telling you which end of the saw to hold. 

Or this one, for a set of small screwdrivers.



Euuwwww. Where do they get the idea they need to tell us something like this?

I’m even more appreciative of the sly warnings like this one from a U.S. clothing manufacturer in 2006.



A blogger in England recently decided that warning labels also needed to be applied to newspapers and magazines, lest the reader be taken in by a product that did not perform as expected. His suggestions included:




I’ve taken his idea of warning readers a step further: I think we need warning labels on books. Come on … you know the vast majority of Americans don’t read the depth and breadth of fiction we do. They only know the names of the books on the front table at Barnes & Noble, or the title of a book that’s been made into a movie.

We could provide a list of resources and suggestions for them, sure. But wouldn’t it be more fun to warn them away from a purchase they won’t be happy with?

In the spirit of providing this community service, I’ve prepared a set of templates you can print out in the privacy of your own home (Avery labels 5162 in the U.S. and L7651 in the U.K.) and take down to your local book palace for use.

Slap this one on any of my books, or on Karen Olson’s first series. Those half dozen readers who complained so vocally to us would have appreciated it.



Or how about this one on any of the Stieg Larsson books:



I’m personally going to stick this one on the remnant copy of a certain book when the Warner Brothers movie comes out.



And I know a small army of people who would like to print out pages of this one:



This warning label belongs on most “literary fiction”:



And I think Fran at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop might agree with me that either the Angst label or this one should be affixed to the newest James Ellroy oeuvre:



My personal favorite though, is this one: a warning to prevent heaving books across a room:



TSTL is, of course, “too stupid to live”: a character trait found all too often in amateur detective crime novels.

So go ahead. Let me know which pdfs you want. Take ‘em to the bookstore. Future readers will thank you for your work today. But I can’t promise that booksellers or librarians will.

So what about you guys? What warning labels would you like to slap across a book? I’m at the ready to make the labels for you.


44 thoughts on “Warning!

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    One book company really did: "A small publishing company is under fire after putting warning labels on copies of the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence and other historical documents.
    Wilder Publications warns readers of its reprints of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense, the Articles of Confederation, and the Federalist Papers, among others, that 'This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today.'”
    That's wrong. However, I wouldn't mind seeing a label such as "Warning! Reading this book will cause you to lose track of time, ignore your responsibilities, and call in sick to work until completed." I just got the new CJ Sansom yesterday and wish I could do just that.
    Sadly, those warning labels occur but it really did happen and the company learned about it probably through litigation. Some people *are *TSTL. How about a wallbanger alert: "Hazardous to walls when thrown with great force." "This is a BOOK: to be read and enjoyed not used as a threat against teens." "Green energy: This book powered by imagination."
    Ok, I'm done. Can I call in sick?

  2. JD Rhoades

    I LOVE this idea! How about:




  3. Grace

    What fun!! Thanks for the post. My brain fogged mind would love to come up with a witty warning for HARQUELIN ROMANCE books which really should have a warning label.

  4. Gretchen

    My favorite real warning sign is the one above the sprinkler head in hotel rooms. A hanger with a circle and slash. I think it means some idiot hung their clothes from one. I'll bet it was a wedding dress.

    For your book labels?

    Warning contains incomprehensible dialect and obscure regional references.

    Can be used as a sleep aid

    Or do not operate heavy machinery until you are sure of how this book affects you.

  5. Alafair Burke

    Love these! How about: "Warning: Known to induce sleep; do not hold over your face while reclined."

  6. Lorena

    There are people who won't read what I write. There are people who write (and read) what I refuse to pick up. Something for everyone, in other words. But if you want to warn them away from a book, how about an all purpose: I hated it, but go ahead, you might like it.

    Or, for those books (one of your almost hidden cover shots reminded me) where the author wrote a few good ones, but then started giving the heroine (and it's a different heroine in each book, not a series) the SAME backstory….(sigh). I vote for: Heroine might grow and change, author hasn't.

    Or, for certain bestsellers-that-ought-not-to-be-bestsellers: This book is evidence that 1,000,000 people can most certainly be wrong.

    Thanks for the chance to get my daily snark-fest out of the way early 🙂

  7. Sandy

    A wonderful, fun post! Thank you. And, of course, you didn't even touch on all those TV ads for pharmaceuticals, such as the one for some antidipressant: WARNING: Could cause suicidal tendencies.
    Here's mine for THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELL.
    WARNING: This book will suck you in, twirl you around a few times, and, in the end, spit you out when a whole bunch of folks act and die like idiots.

  8. MJ

    You know, I was with you until you dissed Cat's Eye, my favorite Atwood (though I will admit that literary fiction in general is much navel gazing/angst/deep revelations and no action). Ellroy should always have a warning lable, for many reasons.

  9. Louise Ure

    MJ, you weren't supposed to recognize the Cat's Eye cover! I was looking around for a vacuous literary novel on my shelves and couldn't find one.

  10. Eika

    Oh, god.

    WARNING: Ending contains Deus Ex Machina to end problems without resolving plot. No sequel.

    And THAT is why Stone Wolf by Seabrook is still the worst book I have ever read.

    Or this one, on some other novel I disliked: WARNING: If this weren't a classic, no one would read it.

    And the ultimate WARNING: The dog dies.

  11. Dudley Forster

    A favorite actual warning label – Found on a toner cartridge for a laser printer. "Do not eat toner."
    The Consumer Product Safety Commission now requires a nausea bag to be included with the sale of this book.

    Do not read in any area with breakable objects.

    Do not read in the presences of small children – book causes spontaneous streams of profanity.

    Decision to publish this book was made while using a controlled substance.

    Do not listen to audio book while driving or operating machinery – book may cause spontaneous uncontrollable laughter.

    This books is sold for use as a doorstop only.

    This book is sold based on the author’s name, not quality of content.

  12. Karen in Ohio

    Dudley, from long years of grazing at the sale tables I have often wondered if half the publishing industry wasn't on controlled substances. Who made the decision to put into print some of those insane titles?

    I don't have any suggestions, but my book club just read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I didn't even realize until the book club discussion that it was based on the story of Macbeth. With a lot of other stuff thrown in. And yes, the ending. Ugh.

  13. Judy Wirzberger

    Notice: Please begin the book on page 142. Nothing happens before then.

    On The Last Child
    Warning: This book ends.

    On Rita Lakin's Getting Old is a Disaster
    Warning: This book is meant for casual reading and relief of depression.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Wonderful post.

    How about a warning label I'd use all the time:

    "The writer of this thriller has undertaken no research whatsoever and any claims by the publisher about the 'authenticity' of this author's work should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Be prepared to overdose on testosterone by chapter ten."

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    OMG, the presidential disclaimer label on clothes! I love it!

    On the book label front, I think Lorena wins:

    "…for certain bestsellers-that-ought-not-to-be-bestsellers: This book is evidence that 1,000,000 people can most certainly be wrong."

  16. Louise Ure

    Dudley, I AM one of those (although I've read all three Girl Who books). Lisbeth is a fascinating character but I hated the writing. And we have so many other — better — kick ass women characters in the genre. I'd take Charlie Fox over Salander any day.

  17. Allison Davis

    Dudley gets the prize…excellent.

    I took a torts class in law school where the professor dedicated the entire class to warning labels…all courtesy of lawyers of course. You can find hundreds of them now, and someone paid dearly for that. (Failure to warn can be a tort…how stupid people can be is amazing.)

    (Who am I?) Warning: this book was written by committee in 3 weeks and reads like it.

    (Who am I?) Warning: This book is just like the last one and I still don't know who I am.

    Warning: book contains patronizing male mentor who betrays young female protege (the other half of Dan Brown's books)

    ok, too tired to be very funny this morning. Very enjoyable post.

  18. Gar Haywood


    PLEASE don't even get me started on Jilliane Hoffman. We'll be here for days.

    My suggestion for a tag: WARNING: You're bigger than this. You're better than this. Put this stupid, overhyped book down. NOW.

  19. pari noskin taichert

    My favorite label on a product so far was on huge, oversized dominos: Caution! Choking Hazard.

    Yeah . . . right . . . maybe for a Stegasaurus.

    On a book:







    Now, I'm not cynical, and love most books I read. But . . .

  20. Gar Haywood

    Oh, and one more:

    WARNING: This is a "mystery" that does not actually function as a "mystery." The surprise ending will not be a surprise, and is not supported by anything preceding it. However, because the author is a renowned literary figure, and has read one Michael Connelly novel and watched at least three episodes of "Columbo," his publisher has given him a six-figure contract to write a complex who-dunnit, which reviewers have soiled their pants raving about, completely oblivious to the fact that the book works as a "mystery" about as well as a corkscrew works as a screwdriver.

  21. Judy Wirzberger

    I love it when you tickle our creative bones and have us experience The Joy of Writing.

  22. michael

    Warning: Reading has been found to increase intelligence and open minds to new ideas. Read with care.

    Warning: Does not contain vampires, werewolves, or zombies. We apologize for the writer.

    Warning: 4.3 trees died so you can impress people with the cover.

    Warning: Reader using literary classic cover over latest from Harquelin.

    Warning: No real people were harmed in the making of this book, just from reading it.

  23. --Deb

    Addendum to Michael's:
    Warning: Reading has been found to increase intelligence and open minds to new ideas. This book, however, will suck IQ points faster than you can say … what was I talking about?

    Warning: Emotional roller-coaster ahead. Please make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened.

    Warning: Opening this book may lead to addiction.

    Buyer Beware: This excellent book, not being written by a famous author, will shortly be out of print and impossible to find. Buy early. Buy often.

    Warning: Better than the film adaptation, but through no fault of the author's you will forever visualize the main character as ___________ (insert actor's name here).

  24. dave arnold

    It's like Will Durst said; "Modern consumers are so stupid they need warning labels printed on cans of brake fluid so they won't drink the stuff."

    Book jacket label? How about, "Excessive use may cause paralysis."

  25. Fran

    I do agree, Louise! Although I'd probably add "angry" to the disclaimer, just so you know you're not getting something humorous. Although if you're buying Ellroy looking for laugh-out-loud funny, you have more to learn than I can teach.

    Can we also have "Warning: Read this one, skip the next in series and go immediately to book 3 (or four or whatever). Even good authors drop the ball sometimes."

    Now I'm going to be making imaginary labels for all my books!

  26. anonymous

    : – )

    Great idea, Louise. I have always been behind social acting up.

    BUT…… I don't agree with those who think that Larsson can't write. Common, People. Just who do we think we are here, hmmmmmnnnn?

  27. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Sorry I'm way late to the party, Louise, I'm traveling.
    But…..funnnnny stuff! Cracked me up.

  28. susan d

    Like MJ, I gasped in shock at the sticker on Cat's Eye, my second favourite Atwood (after Lady Oracle). And using Atwood as a stand-in for vacuous navel-gazer….? oh dear. But I'll bet she'd laugh at the idea.

    Thanks a LOT for the French laundry label. That shines.

  29. Karen Olson

    I'm coming into this a day late, but I LOVE the label I could put on my first series books!

    A guy at the newspaper had a six-inch inflatable parrot on his desk. There was a warning on it: Do not use as a flotation device. Huh??

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