Frequently Asked Questions
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What is a sensitivity reader?
Former database and OG of sensitivity reading, Writing in the Margins, defines it as, “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 for 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." - Writing in the Margins
In addition, sensitivity readers also check for cliches, tropes, and authenticity. Even though there is no one way to be, minority communities have cultural norms and sensitivity readers can help you stay true to those norms.
What it’s not
Sensitivity reading has encountered more than its fair share of cynicism and skepticism. From the name (some folks bristle at the word “sensitivity”) to the purpose itself. Everyone has implicit biases and those biases can manifest in your writing in ways you didn’t expect. No amount of research can prevent that, but an editor with an eye on those biases can help you.
It’s not censorship, it’s development. All books need development editing, copy editing, and proofreading to catch errors and improve a book. Sensitivity reading is another tool to make your book the best it can be. Few publishers are requiring some books to have a sensitivity reader but most publishers do not. Sensitivity readers are not stopping an author from writing diversely, they are preventing misrepresentation or harm from bias.
Rates & Timing
Sensitivity readers are independent workers and can set a rate however they’d like. The Editorial Freelancers Association has recently updated its table based on a survey of editorial freelancers. Based on a survey of readers you should expect to pay $.01–$.019/wd. For more information and to see alternatives rate structures visit the EFA Rate Chart
50k words can take a reader approximately three weeks to return feedback to you. Again, all readers are independent so the turnaround time will vary. You should approach a reader for a project at least three weeks in advance of your desired turnaround time to assess their availability. It is possible that it could take over a month before you receive your feedback. Plan accordingly.
What should I expect?
This will depend on budget and timing so check with your reader. Once you agree on timing and rate you should receive a date to expect feedback. Feedback should come in the form of a letter/report and possibly inline comments.
You may want your reader to sign a confidentiality agreement or vice versa. Sensitivity readers make no claim to make your book perfect, especially because they have no control over the finished product. Ask your reader if you can add them to the acknowledgments or share that you hired them before you do so publicly.
When do I hire one?
At the least, your manuscript should be finished and proofread for grammatical errors before hring a sensitivity reader. From there it’s up to you, some writers like to have a sensitivity reader look at it before querying to present their best work. Some wait to see what their agent recommends. If you are very concerned about the representation of your book I recommend getting a sensitivity reader before you query.
How to hire one
You should feel comfortable that your reader fully fits the identity and expertise that you’re looking for. Also, your reader should have some experience in writing and/or editing.
How do I become a sensitivity reader?
The best sensitivity readers are able to provide tough feedback professionally. You should be able to explain why so that person can understand and fix it. Get an online presence so folks can check you out, and get in contact with you. This can be a simple as a twitter account