Thursday, June 23, 2022

Dear O'Abby: Tell me about sensitivity readers

 Dear O'Abby,

My publisher recently mentioned that as a company, they were using sensitivity readers more regularly as part of the editorial process.  This is a term I've heard a few times in quite a negative context and I was wondering if you knew anything about them and their process.  I have a book on submission with my publisher at the moment and am a little concerned about the impact a sensitivity reader might have on the story.  I don't want to offend anyone or be cancelled, but I have written a book that I believe only I could write because of my unique experiences and identity.

Do you know anything about this process?

Best wishes, 


Dear Sensitive,

I understand your concerns, but they should be unfounded.

I know there is a lot of fear out there, particularly in kid lit, about sensitivity reads and cancel culture and how the "woke" love to pile on books, sometimes even before they are published for their perceived mis-representation of certain groups.  Is it any wonder that publishers, who hold the financial risk in this situation, are taking steps to mitigate that risk?

A sensitivity reader is basically someone from a community represented in your story who isn't there to cancel you, but to ensure that the representation of that character is authentic.  For example, if you have a Taiwanese character in your story, your publisher may get a Taiwanese reader to do a sensitivity read to make sure the culture is represented in a realistic way.

Obviously people from all cultures and communities are different and have different experiences of being a part of that community, but having a sensitivity reader doesn't have to be scary.  In fact, having a person with a different experience of that community can add additional depth and nuance to a character by giving you a different perspective. And if you are writing outside your community, it is a way to ensure you are not portraying that community in a way that is inauthentic or offensive.

It's important to remember too, that the editorial process is a collaborative one.  You don't have to accept every suggestion your editor makes.  The same goes with sensitivity readers.  If a suggested change doesn't resonate with you or contradicts your own experience, you don't need to make the change.

Hopefully that helps allay your fears! 

X O'Abby

1 comment:

Steven Arellano Rose Jr. said...

As you said, a sensitivity reader isn't there to cancel, or censor, the story. They are there to authenticate it and therefore say where the depiction of a culture needs to be more accurately portrayed. After all, we authors shouldn't rob our readers of truth or accuracy because to do that would be misleading to our readers.