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The Value of Sensitivity Readers

Sensitivity Readers are only for ‘sensitive’ people

Let’s reframe this. Sensitivity readers are for people who want to share their work while harming as few people as possible. ‘Being sensitive’ is something commonly attributed to neurodivergent, disabled, and traumatized folks. They’re harmed by more terms because they have experiences outside the ‘default’. The more marginalized intersections you exist on, the more layers to the metadata for processing a situation.

Humor me through a thought experiment. If you’ve never had an apple before, the only question is whether you’ll like ‘apples’ as a whole. Once you’ve had a few, it becomes which kind is your favorite. If you’re taken to a store with really fresh apples, you’ll have a favorite place to buy apples. Apple picking season comes along and you go to a few orchards to pick your own. By season’s end, you’ll have a favorite orchard type, and of those you’ll also have an all-time favorite orchard. The more you learn and experience around apples, the more background you have in that area. Now, if someone says all apples are terrible because they’ve only had a crab apple off the side of the road, that might upset you. Why? Because you know they don’t have the full picture. That person may refuse to hear you and your ‘apple expertise’ because they insist all apples are the same, even though you know from experience that’s not true. Frustrating right? The same goes for representation and situations that may require content warnings or thoughtful use of language.

The less experience you have with a situation or intersection of two or more marginalizations, the less likely you are to know that something could hurt people along that intersection. The more intersections you add, the harder it can be if you’re not from that group.

That’s where your sensitivity reader comes in. They can help you see where your work may need some sprucing up in order to not hurt people whose experiences differ from yours while still allowing you to tell the story you’re aiming to achieve. It’s okay that you don’t ‘just know’ how to avoid harm as long as you are asking for help and learning along the way. No one is an expert on everything, but we can all strive to grow our knowledge the best we can.

The extra checks take extra time, but leaving a negative review or a warning to other readers takes less time, and it will cause you to spend the time later. Also, is waiting a tad longer so harmful you’d rather harm large groups of people instead? You’ve put all this hard work into your novel to make it the best, so that people will love it how you love it. Is it not worth the extra effort to make sure the most people possible can enjoy it with the minimum amount of unintentional harm caused?

The phrase, ‘do it right or do it twice’ comes to mind. Folks who ignore this and instead choose to skip this step often have to backpedal, apologize, and scramble to find a sensitivity reader with immediate availability to aid in changes post release. As the world becomes more aware of the different ways intersecting marginalizations can affect people, the more likely readers are to point out both the tactfully and tragically done.

Now burdened with this knowledge, I’ll ask you: Are sensitivity readers really just for ‘sensitive people’ or are they for those who want their story to touch the widest potential audience with the least amount of harm?

Emeric Davis

You can book Emeric directly. You can also reach out to us here so that we can help connect you with Emeric or another experienced sensitivity reader. We believe strongly in this work and encourage every writer to add this service to their pre-launch checklist.

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