Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Sensitivity Readers

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about critique partners and beta readers. One further category of note that has become much more visible recently is sensitivity readers.

What does a sensitivity reader do?
A sensitivity reader's job is to help identify instances of bias in your writing, particularly if you are writing characters of a culture, race, or other group of people to which you do not belong. Even if you do your research, you may put internalized bias onto the page when you write outside of your own experience. The sensitivity reader role exists to find that bias and help you eliminate it.

Where should you look for sensitivity readers?
Unlike critique partners and beta readers, sensitivity reading is best left to professionals. They have been trained to seek out specific language and critically examine the way you as a writer have portrayed your story. There are databases available for searching for a sensitivity reader of a particular group, and many are on social media sites like Twitter and have their own websites. You will most likely have to pay for their services, either by the hour or a flat fee for the manuscript. Keep in mind, you will probably need more than one sensitivity reader, just as you will need more than one critique partner. One person's experience as, say, a Chinese-American woman is not the same as another's. Having multiple perspectives can only help your work.

If you choose to employ a sensitivity reader, be open to their feedback. Some prior sensitivity readers cite pushback from writers as the reason they left their jobs. Remember that their feedback is meant to help you. It's hard to turn over your work to someone who, it seems, is looking for flaws in your work. But that's just what everyone else looking at your manuscript is doing. Just as a critique partner seeks out the issues with your plot or worldbuilding, a good sensitivity reader looks for problematic language as well, just with a different goal in mind.

Isn't sensitivity reading the same as censorship?
Sensitivity reading is not censorship. Censorship is telling someone that they can't write something, point blank. Sensitivity readers aren't likely to come right out and say that you can't describe a character's physical characteristics in a certain way; they're more likely to ask if you've done your research, thought about the way your phrasing will affect the story and the perception of the character, explored other options to write the same thing in a way that isn't cliche or damaging. It's a role meant to help you be responsible with your words, not to stop you from writing them.

Now go forth and be prolific - but do your research.


  1. I inadvertently do this job all the time. Whenever there's a Native American character. The overdone cliches are exhausting.

  2. If anybody here is in need of a sensitivity reader, feel free to check out my website for a full list of identities I can read for! (Hint: I'm very affordable.)

    Glanzman Sensitivity Reading


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