Sensitivity readers are a hot topic, and you’re probably approaching this article with a lot of feelings. Maybe you hate the idea of hiring a sensitivity reader, or maybe you think it’s the solution to a host of problems you’ve encountered in publishing. Whether you like the idea or loathe it, you should understand exactly what sensitivity readers can do for you.
Editing Not Censoring
If you’re serious about writing, you already know the value of a good editor – of several good editors. A polished book usually goes through developmental, copy, and line editing. Often writers go multiple rounds with developmental and copy editors. It’s all about polishing ideas so they best express and communicate your ideas.
Sensitivity readers do the same thing. We all have intrinsic biases developed over a lifetime of living in our own unique corner of the world. There are plenty of people who will forever spell “through” as “thru,” too. You need the right kind of editor for the situation.
A good sensitivity reader won’t “censor” your work more than any other editor. They may sound scarier, but they’re really not.
We can’t live everywhere, do everything, and understand everyone else’s life experiences. Still, dynamic novels feature diverse casts full differences that play into the drama, foster interesting conversation, and make memorable encounters.
There are many kinds of sensitivity readers. They can help you avoid racial cliches and unintentional stereotyping. Others can guide you to a better understanding of LGBTQ+ characters. Struggling to write as a different gender? There are sensitivity readers for that, too.
Broadening Your Audience
If you’ve ever read a book by someone who is clearly male writing a female character and wanted to either laugh or hurl the book against the wall, you understand the value of sensitivity readers. Sometimes we struggle to truly understand someone different and just layer them in our own perceptions. Girls don’t constantly think about their chests. Full stop. If your story is full of women waking up and thinking about how glorious their chests are, missing how wonderful their friends’ chests were, etc. you need a sensitivity reader, stat. Because, without one, you’re losing half your potential audience – namely anyone with boobs.
There are billions of readers who aren’t white, cis, straight, able-bodied, male, etc. There are sensitivity readers who’ve not only lived relevant experiences, but are specially trained to work with writers. By taking this extra step, you reach other demographics who would be interested in a story with characters who look, think, love, and live like they do. Without a sensitivity reader, you risk alienating that demographic instead.
You have nothing to lose by hiring a sensitivity reader. It may be uncomfortable, and it will likely require some self reflection as you discuss how you portray different minorities, but it’s worth the effort. If you’re willing to let an editor break your heart over so many other aspects of your writing to improve the finished project, why wouldn’t you hire a sensitivity reader to do the same?