Monday, July 13, 2020

Sensitivity [authenticity] readers

Your manuscript has a Black supporting character, and you are not Black.  You know several Black people, you did your research, and you believe you wrote carefully and respectfully.  But you'd like a Black person to read what you wrote and let you know whether you totally messed up, and if so, how you can fix it.

Welcome to sensitivity [or authenticity] readers.  A sensitivity reader is someone who fits the demographic [in my example above, a Black person] who will read your manuscript and let you know if there are any cultural inaccuracies, stereotypes, biases, representation issues, problematic language, etc.

Potential benefits – if you include characters in your manuscript that are “diverse”, and you don't belong to that group, it helps to make sure your research was accurate and you didn't cause more problems.  For me, I want to accurately portray my Black character, without stereotypes or problematic language, etc.  It's important to me, and it's also important that I learn whether I made a mistake BEFORE my manuscript is published.

A good sensitivity reader will let you know if you've unintentionally included insensitive or incorrect portrayals of race, sexuality, religion, physical disabilities, etc.  The end result will be a higher-quality book.

Potential detriments – the most commonly-cited detriment is “censorship”.  That a sensitivity reader will “prevent public discussion of difficult topics” because the manuscript will be “sanitized” of any potentially controversial topics or language.

Remember, YOU are the author.  If you choose to use the services of a sensitivity reader, take the information and comments as recommendations for improvement.  If they improve your story, then make the revisions. But if YOU don't think they serve the story, you don't have to make the changes. 

Articles explaining the benefits and potential drawbacks:

Sources for sensitivity readers [disclaimer: I have no personal experience with any of these.  Always do your research before giving anyone your manuscript or money.]

Have you used a sensitivity or authenticity reader?  Please let us know about your experience in the comments!

Update: Here are more links that were posted in the comments by an AWESOME blog reader!


  1. I both hire sensitivity readers and work as one. :)

    A few other sources your readers might also find helpful:

    1. Thanks! I've updated the post to include these.

  2. I recently worked with a sensitivity reader and found it so helpful and insightful. Would it be helpful if I mentioned this in my query letter?


    1. Check this blog on Thursdays [at this time I'm not sure which Thursday]. Our own O'Abby will address your question, and she's the expert!

  3. I'm using a queer diversity reader at the moment for my WIP police procedural which has a queer/lesbian MC. Some excellent feedback on more than just the LGBQT aspects, so I'd recommend using one every time. Just need a Welsh speaker now.

    1. Another vote for how helpful they are! Thanks for sharing.


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