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Making the Most Of Your Sensitivity Reader Feedback

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Finally! Your sensitivity reader has returned the feedback on your project. The big bold letters at the top of your inbox might as well be a billboard, “Drop Everything, The Feedback Has Arrived!” For some folks this is exciting. They’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. But for others, the feeling is more trepidation. What will it say? How much revising is there to do? Where do you even start?

We've created a guide to help you through the post-feedback process. What to do first, what gets prioritized, and how do you go from comments to revisions?

First, I want to stop and acknowledge that receiving a sensitivity reading isn’t easy. It can feel more personal. than, Finding out you’ve written something offensive can feel like someone is pointing a finger directly at you the person, not the writer. This feeling is reasonable. However, sensitivity readers are professional, we aren’t judging you. Most of the errors we see are from outdated language and learned stereotypes about marginalized people.

Anything learned can be unlearned if you’re willing to do the work. Our goal is to help your writing be the best it can be just like any other editor. That being said, that feedback is still sitting in your inbox, here’s what to do next.

1. Prepare for the feedback before you get it.

Check in with yourself days before the feedback is scheduled to arrive. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are your worries?

  • What are you hopeful for?

  • How do you cope with stress? ← If needed, do one of these things.

2. Are you ready?

Make sure you have the time as well as the mental and emotional capacity to read your feedback. Try to be free from distractions (from others and yourself). You should have at least an hour to review what you’ve been sent. You owe it to yourself and to your sensitivity reader to give this feedback your undivided attention. If you are someone who finds it hard to concentrate for long periods, think about the tools and tips you’ve learned to stay focused on a task. Do your best to mitigate the outside distractions you can control so they don’t compound.

3. Go!

Start with the editor’s letter (you may not always receive one if your project is short). It will give you a big-picture view of what your sensitivity reader has determined. The good, bad, and neutral. After reviewing this you should have an idea of how much high concept level revising you will need to do. Here are some tips on how to make the most out of this letter:

  1. Read it once for understanding. Don't make any notes.

  2. Read it again, write down your questions for yourself and clarifying questions for your sensitivity reader

  3. If given additional resources, be sure to review those.

  4. Check-in with yourself...again. How are you feeling? Go back to that list you made in step one.

4. Time for inline comments

Now that you’ve read the editor’s letter you may have an idea of where the bulk of the comments will be in your draft. Don't sweat the number. How many comments you have has little to do with the quality of your writing. Some readers like to add a lot of positive and neutral comments. Some are minor issues that appear throughout the text. These steps are similar to step three:

  1. Set aside more than an hour in case there are numerous comments.

  2. Read it once for understanding. Don't make any notes.

  3. Read it again, write down your questions for yourself and clarifying questions for your sensitivity reader

  4. If given more resources review those.

  5. Take a break, especially if you went directly into inline comments from the editor’s letter.

5. Plan your approach for revisions.

If you’ve received other types of editorial feedback before you may already have a method of tackling feedback. If so do what you know works best for you. If you could use some suggestions for an approach here’s what I recommend:

Have a system - Organize similar comments and separate them into high-level concerns (concept, plot, character descriptions, character arcs, setting...etc.) and sentence-level changes

  • Address high-level changes first.* Often these changes inform smaller ones. Imagine rewriting a paragraph to resolve a sentence-level change only to then rewrite an entire scene to fix a stereotype.

  • *Some people like to address minor changes first to “get them out of the way.” It could be helpful to feel productive if you're feeling stuck and don't know where to begin.

Make sure you understand the feedback given to you before revising.

  • What do you need to learn or unlearn to make revisions? For example, let's say your reader found a stereotypical character. Do your homework on what that stereotype is, how it is typically represented in media, and understand the ways it shows up in your story. Once you understand how a stereotype shows up in your work then you can begin to address it.

  • If you disagree with a piece of feedback (this is allowed) check in with yourself. What exactly do you disagree with?

    • Do you disagree with the comment outright? Remember, you hired them because they have the knowledge and experiences you may lack.

    • Or does their comment not fit the context or intent of your writing? In other words, the comment isn't wrong but it is based on a misinterpretation of your writing. In that case, you may want to consider rewriting that so it's more clear.

Don’t forget the positive feedback. It's very easy to get wrapped up in fixing the wrongs but a part of revising is also to get things right. If you received positive feedback that you can repeat in your story, do it!

6. Take your time and do things your way.

  • If you thrive on a reward system, try doing a part you’re dreading first then give yourself a reward when you’ve finished it.

  • If you’re having a hard time getting started, begin with something that sounds fun (or at least not dreadful).

  • If you’re stuck, move on and come back to it later.

7. Consider a second round of feedback or consultation.

Once you've completed your revisions or new outline consider getting another opinion to ensure you've made the appropriate corrections. Especially if the first reader recommended high-level revisions. This can be from the same sensitivity reader or a different one.

Download the PDF workbook version Now What? A Guide to Sensitivity Reader Feedback which summarizes this post into a printable guide through the post-feedback process.

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