The use of sensitivity readers has boomed in the publishing industry. A new kind of beta-reader, they specifically provide feedback on representation in novels. If an author doesn’t share the same gender, race or disability as their characters and wants to check they’re not falling into stereotypes, they’ll ask a sensitivity reader to take a look at their manuscript.
If you’re seeking the help of a sensitivity reader and don’t know where to start, here’s some helpful pointers.
What’s Your Budget?
Sensitivity reading is an expensive service. You’re essentially asking someone to read an entire novel that they haven’t bought for themselves, one which might have offensive or triggering content inside. As a result, sensitivity readers often charge hundreds of pounds for their work, just like any other beta-reader or editor.
However, there are places that provide sensitivity reading for slightly cheaper prices. On Fiverr, I found people providing sensitivity reads for a wide range of budgets.
If you get a book deal, some publishing houses will provide sensitivity readers for you. If you’re self-publishing, you may want to set aside part of your budget for sensitivity reading if you think you’ll need it.
Who Are You Looking For?
If you’re looking for a sensitivity reader, you’ll already know what representation you want help with.
To get the most authentic perspective, it’s a good idea to find a reader as close to your character’s identity as possible. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. As humans, we have multiple identities and experiences that often overlap in the same person.
If your character is Black British, they’re going to have different experiences and perspectives than a Black American. Similarly, an autistic woman is going to have a different perspective to an autistic man. To get the most useful feedback for your manuscript, try and find a sensitivity reader as similar to your character/s as you can. If you’re having trouble finding them, try posting a callout for sensitivity readers on your social media page, blog or website.
Are They Qualified?
This kind of fits in with my previous point, but I’m talking about a different type of qualified here.
Just like any other beta-reader, it’s important to hire someone who’s experienced in reading manuscripts and editing them. Although you can ask willing family and friends to give you feedback on your representation, it’s better to find someone completely disconnected from your life who knows what makes a good story and what can be done to improve it.
On Fiverr you can read reviews left by previous customers, while the websites Writing Diversely and Dot and Dash, LLC list the experience of each sensitivity reader.
More writers than you think do beta-reading and sensitivity reading on the side, to earn some extra cash and help improve the representation of their identities. It’s worth researching writers on social media to see if they provide this kind of service.
Catrin is a Welsh writer of the strange, fantastical and morbid. This is no better demonstrated than in the young adult fantasy horror she is currently writing. When not writing, she sometimes emerges to give advice to other writers, whether through feedback or blog posts such as this.