Aug 7, 2017

Sensitivity Reads || Guest Post by Ava @ Bookishness and Tea

Hello bookworms!

Writing diverse books comes with the inherent responsibility of getting your rep right. But the book community has endless resources to help you along the way, and sensitivity reads is one of them. And as marginalised readers, we can reach out to be of help to authors who are attempting to do justice for their selected rep.

So today we have the wonderful Ava to share some things about being a sensitivity reader! Without further ado, let me hand it over to the expert here.

As writing characters of marginalized identities has become a bigger and bigger important thing in the book world, so has the need for sensitivity readers, and that is something I’m so, so happy about. I’ve been offering sensitivity reading services for about six months now, and while I definitely don’t consider myself an expert, I was honored when Mish contacted me about writing a post for this year’s Learnt It The Hard Way.

What is a sensitivity reader?

‘A sensitivity reader reads through a manuscript for issues of representation and for instances of bias on the page.  The goal of a sensitivity reader isn’t to edit a manuscript clarity and logic, although that may be an additional service offered. A sensitivity reader reviews a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language.  A sensitivity reader is there to help make sure you do not make a mistake, but they are also NOT a guarantee against making a mistake.’
Why are sensitivity readers so important?

Sensitivity readers offer advice and feedback on an author’s portrayal of a marginalized identity they share with the character in the manuscript. While not a guarantee of perfect representation, they are most definitely a step toward that. Whenever an author writes a marginalized character, they should look for multiple sensitivity readers to get the most feedback on that representation possible, because no marginalized identity is a monolith.

It is important to get sensitivity readers even for identities that the author shares with the character, because internalized biases exist.

Sensitivity readers can catch problematic sentences, scenes, or even themes of an entire story. They are slowly becoming more of a standard in the industry, but definitely not enough of one. We still have a while to go before they become normal for every project.

My experience as a sensitivity reader

I first heard of sensitivity readers through Twitter, when I saw people I followed offering sensitivity reading services. I did some research, and then realized I could do this. I could help authors improve their queer representation. I launched my services a few weeks later, and I’ve had a really great experience with them.

Because of the expense of sensitivity reading, it’s a slow business. I’ve read a few full manuscripts, but I’ve also done more scene sensitivity reads, when the marginalized character is only present for a chapter or a few scenes. I like to think I’ve made a difference in the authors’ stories - no book I’ve sensitivity read has been perfect, and I’ve always caught multiple things that stand out to me as no-no’s.

Are you wanting to start your own sensitivity services? I have a few tips!

If you belong to a marginalized community and want to help authors with their representation of that identity, sensitivity reading might be for you!

Note: Sensitivity reading is not always pleasant. Authors may accidentally include extremely hurtful or triggering things, so it’s something to be aware of before you begin offering services.

If you have decided to offer sensitivity reading services:

  • Set up a page that potential clients can visit with information, and make it clear what you’re offering.

What identity/ies can you read for? How much do you charge? What kind of projects do you accept, and which do you decline? What are clients receiving in return for their money? These are all questions that should be answered on a page with info about your services. Because I already had an established blog, I created a page on it for my services, and that’s worked perfectly. If you don’t have a blog, you need to create some sort of site for potential clients!

  • Be aware that it might go slowly at first.

Even now, six months after beginning my services, I do not receive many emails asking about my sensitivity reading services - 90% of people want my beta services. And it makes sense! How many people are writing bi/arospec/pan/wlw characters, have books ready for sensitivity reading, have the money, and want to hire me? It’s a small number, and that’s okay. You just need to realize before you begin your services that you probably won’t have a project to work on all the time, and it’s okay. You’re not a failure.

  • Do not let someone convince you to do it for free.

Unless your client is a very, very close friend or someone you’re trading services with, you should be getting paid for sensitivity reading services. Your time and effort is worth something, and sensitivity reading can be a lot of time and effort. Even if the author is unhappy with your notes upon completion of the read for some reason, they paid for your time, and you need to get compensation for that! I require half of the payment before I begin the read, and half when I finish, so I know that I will receive the money.

  • Once you get a project to work on, set a deadline for yourself, and stick to it.

Let the author know when you’ll get notes to them by, and then get notes to them by that date. Prompt, on-time readers are the ones authors are going to recommend to their friends and return to. Of course, unforeseen circumstances might arise, and then let the author know as soon as possible that there will be a delay. That’s fine. But in all other cases, you should stick to the date you set.

  • Know the number of projects you can accept, and learn to say no.

There might come a time when you receive multiple emails about your services, and you want to do all of them, but you can’t. You need to know what you can actually complete without stressing yourself too much. You might have to decline someone and let them know when you will be able to accept it. That’s okay. You (and your school, work, children, etc) take first priority.

I hope this was an informative post about sensitivity reading, and if you decide to offer your own services, I wish you all the luck! Feel free to message me on Twitter at bookishwithtea or email me at bookishnessandtea AT gmail DOT com if you have any questions, or just want to chat. :)

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