All You Need To Know About Sensitivity Reads

Hi all! Stacey here with part two of our new series called Stories for All, in which I hope to examine how writers can create stories in which all readers can find themselves. In today’s post, special guest Justina Ireland will be telling us all we need to know about sensitivity reads. Take it away, Justina! 

If you’re writing a story with a main or secondary character from a culture or identity different from your own chances are you might be considering using a Sensitivity Reader. So what is a Sensitivity Reader, and how do you know if you need one? Read on for some insight:

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 don’t make a potentially embarrassing mistake, like confusing aspects of Chinese and Japanese culture or using them interchangeably, but they are also NOT a guarantee against making a mistake.

How much does this cost?

That is usually between the reader and the author. If the reader is a friend the payment could be as simple as a beta read in exchange. Writing in the Margins recommends a basic minimum of $250 for a high level overall read on a manuscript (60,000-100,000 words).  The manuscript should be free of glaring errors and should be nearly submission ready, meaning it should be a later draft and something that has been reviewed by others.

Please keep in mind that $250 is the starting point for this kind of a read through.  A few readers are also editors and may offer additional services.  In addition, sensitivity readers with more reading/writing experience may charge more.  We recommend inquiring as to the rates of the reader prior to sending any material.  In addition, we advise sensitivity readers to get their payment prior to reading.

How Do I Know I Need One?

For me, I err on always making sure my slip isn’t showing. Whenever I write within a culture that I’m not considered part of I have someone read to make sure I haven’t included any problematic language that will undermine the intent of my story. In addition, I also have readers from my own ethnic group read to ensure I haven’t internalized any problematic language or stereotypes. It’s too easy to perpetuate such damaging ideas, and I’d rather work to keep my work as free from it as possible.


c04fatswJustina Ireland enjoys dark chocolate, dark humor, and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows. Writing in the Margins is a website she founded to mentor emerging authors whose stories have been silenced by history and societal oppressors, and which maintains a Sensitivity Reader Database to aid those writing outside their culture.

One Response to All You Need To Know About Sensitivity Reads

  1. Janice Hampton Oct 26 2016 at 9:15 am #

    This sounds like a great resource. I’m a white woman writing and the hero of my current WIP is Korean American. I’ve never thought of hiring a Sensitivity Reader, but it sounds like a great idea. One of my good friends is Korean American and I’m planning on interviewing her mother sometime soon to ask her a lot of questions since she grew up in South Korea. I want to get this right and not offend anyone. Thanks so much for talking about this topic.

    Janice Hampton

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