With each passing year, our world is gradually becoming more and more concerned about respecting the voices and experiences of people and groups who, historically, haven’t had a say in how and if they are represented to the general public. This may have been due to race, religion, gender, cultural background, or physical and mental disabilities, among other reasons.
We’ll put aside the argument of political correctness for the moment. The fact is that writers have a responsibility to their readers to represent the world in the most honest and genuine way possible.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t include elements and characters from other people groups. That wouldn’t be true to the diverse world we live in. However, it’s impossible for any one person to be an expert on all peoples and groups, especially if they’re not a part of that group.
Sometimes, we need to bring in an expert. That’s where sensitivity readers come in.
What is a sensitivity reader?
Sensitivity reading is a specialization within the publishing industry, just like proofreading, copyediting, and book design. Often, but not always, sensitivity readers might also do other publishing tasks, like editing, but some specialize solely in sensitivity reading.
If your writing includes characters or elements from groups you don’t belong to, it might be a good idea to hire a sensitivity reader to make sure you’re not misrepresenting a group (and potentially alienating readers). The sensitivity reader will read through your manuscript and give you a report on how it could read to those groups they represent.
What do you look for when hiring a sensitivity reader?
If possible, you want someone who is a member of the group they’re reading for, or at least has some special understanding of that group.
For example, if a character in your book is Korean, you’ll want to look for someone who either is Korean, has close ties to that region of the world, or has studied the people/language/culture extensively, not someone who has read a couple of books on Korea or knew someone from Korea in college.
However, having a connection to the group in question isn’t enough. A good professional sensitivity reader is trained in sensitivity language and triggering wording. They’re not just combing through your manuscript for what they find personally objectionable.
While a professional sensitivity reader is more likely to meet these criteria, if your budget is tight, you might look for beta readers or peer reviewers who could represent the necessary groups. Just make sure they still have the proper qualifications described above.
What is a sensitivity reader NOT?
A good sensitivity reader isn’t some oversensitive left-wing nut or paranoid right-wing nut with a political agenda just looking for an excuse to rip your precious manuscript apart. That’s not the person you want to hire.
You’re looking for a true professional who is genuinely interested in making your writing the best it can be and helping you reach as many readers as possible. They should be able to explain to you why they’re making the suggestions they are.
If the person you’re considering hiring doesn’t show a genuine interest in helping you improve your writing and representation of other peoples, move on. They’re not the one for you.
Also, a sensitivity reader doesn’t have the power to force you to make changes to your manuscript, unless you’re working with a publisher who insists. The sensitivity reader’s job is to bring issues to your attention, but it’s your choice on how to proceed after that.
Remember that sensitivity reading isn’t about catering to oversensitive people looking for something to be offended by. It’s about being thoughtful, deliberate, and intentional with our words. It’s about asking for help in truthfully representing people groups we’re not a part of.
It’s not about censorship; it’s about making informed decisions based on the perceptions and experiences of our intended readers.
Nothing will ever equal the expertise and value a trained professional editor can bring to your writing project. However, not everyone has the funds or opportunity to take every project to a pro. And if you do decide to hire an editor, the better shape your manuscript is in, the less work the editor has to do and the less they’ll charge for the work.
I’m in this position myself with this blog. It’s just not practical at this time for me to pay someone to edit each week’s post, so the burden of self-editing falls on me.
Editing your own work is difficult at best. Assuming you have the technical skills and grammar and punctuation knowledge, your mind still often refuses to see your own errors clearly. Even professional editors face this challenge.
But there are some tricks I use (and you can, too) to catch more of those errors and typos.
Last week, I wrote about some of my thoughts on the importance of sleep to our health, focus, and creativity, and I promised to talk this week about the changes I’m making in my own life.
Whether you’re writing or editing, anyone who works in publishing and the written word needs to be reading. Reading within your genre is important, sure, but broadening your range has all kinds of benefits.
I love fiction. It’s my way of unwinding at the end of the day, but I try to balance that with at least some nonfiction. I may not read as much of it as I do fiction, but it’s still a part of my routine.
So, what am I reading now? So glad you asked!
I just finished Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, and it’s made me reconsider a simple, essential part of my daily routine that I routinely neglect: sleep. It’s also been eye opening to consider how regularly shorting myself on sleep could be having a negative effect on my concentration and creativity.
When someone mentions copyeditors, the first things that come to mind are probably books or magazine and newspaper articles. But we work on so much more.
If it involves the written word and is presented to the public, chances are it could benefit from an editor’s touch.
Admittedly, there are some things that just aren’t worth paying a professional for, but what about your website?
I grew up in an interesting time, in that generation when home computers were just starting to become normal. I also learned to type on a typewriter in a class in high school, where I picked up a habit that I’ve since had to unlearn.
We were taught to place two spaces after the punctuation at the end of each sentence. Perhaps you can identify with this habit?
However, modern word processing programs are designed to automatically adjust the spacing, making multiple spaces unnecessary and even counterproductive.
You may have heard me mention manuscript evaluations before. I even offer them among the other services listed on my website. But what are they, and what can they do for an author?
In the editing world, there are several services that overlap, and which ones you choose depends on a lot of factors. (For more on how to decide what kind of editing you need, see my blog post on the subject.)
One of the most common questions people ask when looking to hire an editor is How much will it cost me? It’s a completely reasonable and important question, but it’s also deceptively difficult to answer.
It’s similar to hiring a contractor to do some remodeling on your house. You don’t want to overpay, but you also want someone who will do a quality job and finish the project within the deadline and budget.
Microsoft Word is the go-to for most word processing. While its quirks will occasionally drive you up the wall, it’s still the best software on the market.
Part of its appeal, especially for editing, is the Track Changes feature. Track Changes allows everyone working on a document to see what changes have been made, easily accept or reject those changes, and communicate through the Comments feature.
However, if you’re unfamiliar with Track Changes, don’t worry; you’re not alone. If you haven’t been trained as an editor or worked with editors, it might be one of those million functions of Word that you’ve just never thought about learning.
Let’s face it. Word has a lot of features, and very few of us have the time to learn them all. And generally, it’s really not worth our time to learn them all.
But if you’re serious about writing and plan to work with an editor at some point, you will need Track Changes. Fortunately, it’s really not that complicated.
Here are a few things you can learn to make working with your editor a little smoother.
If you plan to go the route of traditional publishing, you may want to hire a professional to help you get your manuscript in good enough shape to catch the eye of an agent or acquisitions editor, but the bulk of the burden for editing will fall on the publisher.
However, if you plan on self-publishing, you are your own publisher and are responsible for making sure your work is ready to meet your readers’ standards. But many self-published authors (especially those new to the craft) don’t have a lot of funds to throw at the project.
While it’s really not a good idea to try do everything yourself, there are some tasks that can be done for free or at a lower cost, freeing up your funds to pay a professional for the things you can’t do on your own.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.