Elevate Your Book With a Sensitivity Read

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Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash

The characters you create are yours to keep, but when they lack depth due to a narrow viewpoint, readers and people in marginalized communities suffer. Sensitivity readers can give you a clear understanding of whether your writing perpetuates oppressive beliefs toward marginalized people. 

What Is Sensitivity Reading?

Unlike manuscript critiques that dive deep into various major elements of your book — structure, exposition, writing technique, and so forth — sensitivity reading is a much more focused evaluation of your manuscript. Specifically, sensitivity readers look at portrayals of people of color and other marginalized populations in your manuscript to identify problematic language such as negative stereotypes, biases, or clichés.

Sensitivity reading brings out the authenticity around marginalized voices by helping authors provide diverse perspectives and stories of inclusion. Sensitivity reads, also known as authenticity checks, are not new to the publishing process. What is different now is checking for authenticity around marginalized voices, whereas previously sensitivity readers only examined the authenticity of a story’s plot and setting.  

What Does a Sensitivity Read Offer Authors?

Sensitivity readers collaborate with the author ahead of time to understand the focus of the sensitivity concerns, whether that’s the representation of people in the BIPOC or LGBTQ+ communities, differently-abled people, or neurodiverse people.

A sensitivity reader may also provide a balanced evaluation of your overall work; however, a sensitivity read is not a comprehensive critique of your manuscript. Many professional sensitivity readers offer full manuscript critiques as well as editorial assessments as a separate service.

You don’t have to wait until your manuscript is complete to get feedback from a sensitivity reader. In fact, being proactive can save you work in the long run. Ask for a consultation before you begin writing to ensure your book is free of bias from the outset. 

How Do Sensitivity Reads Work?

Many editors use the ROAARS system created by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. Evaluation work now rests in this method, which is a handy acronym for categories frequently highlighted by majority culture:

  • Race
  • Orientation
  • Ability
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Sex

If you want to learn more, check out their text, Writing the Other: A Practical Approach. It is a perfect place to start for a deeper understanding of writing diverse characters. 

The controversy around sensitivity reading is misleading. Some authors view sensitivity reading as a form of censorship of their work. However, that is not the case; sensitivity readers are not interested in creating or promoting censorship. This service exists to elevate writing, authors, and publishing. We all want to see more diversity, but not at the expense of terrible tropes.

For authors striving to be inclusive of diverse perspectives, a sensitivity read is the best investment you can make to ensure that your book portrays diversity in an authentic, respectful way.

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Former LAEWG member.

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