Should authors use sensitivity readers?
I wrote a book! *leh gasp* Alright. Alright. Fine. I wrote… a first draft of a book. It’s got a plethora of typos, probably some pacing issues, needs a bunch of extra character development, but most of all, it needs readers who aren’t me. With the book I just wrote, I decided I wanted to do something new. I am a straight, white woman who created an entire new species whose individuals come in a variety of skin colors and sexual preferences. And because of this story, I will likely be ridiculed and bashed and scolded. Why?
Because we tell writers to write what they know.
Writers are supposed to write what they know, which is generally themselves, and we have seen what this has done. We had male characters for FAR too long. We’re got more female characters, but we still have mostly white characters. 99% of those white characters are heterosexual (depending on genre, obviously). And while the white authors have attempted to branch out and write other characters, they don’t truly know what it’s like to be Black or gay or lesbian or bi or Asian or anyone other than who they are. As such, they have done a pretty poor job attempting to write characters that are representative of other people in this world.
So how do we fix that problem?
Well, for one, we can support authors who are Black or gay or lesbian or bi or Asian or a combination of those and other things. We can support and offer opportunities to all writers, which we have done. Or, I should say, are doing. We have a LONG way to go still before we can truly say the publishing industry is inclusive (as we discussed in a previous week), and the truth of the matter is that many Black people may not have access to the education or grew up with the support that white people did in regards to English and writing. Many people of varying sexual preferences are still hiding from their families and the world for fear of persecution. The world has become more supportive and welcoming, but too much of it is not. For a large portion of the world’s population, there is still much to fear and much to improve.
Another thing we can to offer more and BETTER representation (remember, quality is MORE important than quantity here) to the various people of the world is to understand. Writers do research all the time for their stories! They’ll learn history, medicine, combat. They’ll find experts in those fields to interview and then proof-read their work for accuracy and yet when it comes to people of color and of varying sexual preferences, they don’t ask. They simply assume they know everything about what it means to be those people. And how did they learn that? The internet? The news? False. Fake. Half the truth. You won’t know what it’s like to be someone other than yourself until you ASK someone. Make friends. Engage. Broaden your mind and improve your understanding because that too can improve representation in fiction.
Where the fudge am I going with this?
There are actually readers nowadays who offer their time to read your story to ensure that it is factual in regards to race, religion, mental and physical illness, sexual preference, etc. They are called sensitivity readers! And there are TONS of them. I put out a call on Twitter for sensitivity readers who were gay, lesbian, or bi and I received SO many responses within just a couple days. People RTed and liked and shared and I now have enough sensitivity readers for TWO DRAFTS! Not just one draft, but two! These people – everyone, actually – want to be represented accurately. They want to see themselves in fiction and they are willing to donate their time to ensure that happens!
And I am so grateful for them!
I took a chance with this book. I have friends who are Black. I have friends who are bi. I have asked them questions and I have done what I can to understand and incorporate my knowledge into my story, but I still asked them to read AFTER I’d written it. I still needed them to approve of how I had represented them because my knowledge is still limited. I only know their lives from what they have told me. I don’t really know what it’s like. I didn’t witness their lives first hand and only by having them read it and critique it can I offer quality, accurate representation to people who I care about and whom I call friends.
But what do you think?
Should more authors use sensitivity readers?
Leave your thoughts below!
And check out my discussion from last week: