Tag Archives: sensitivity reading

Authenticity reading. Part 2: Becoming an authenticity reader

In Part 1 of this two-part series, Crystal Shelley explained what authenticity reading is and isn’t, why it’s important and how editors can help their clients by recommending it when relevant. In Part 2, she shares how professional editors can add authenticity reading to their services.

Here’s what will be discussed in this post:

  • Decisions to sort out first
  • The process of doing the job
  • Where to find clients

Offering authenticity reading as a service

If you’re passionate about assessing writing related to your identities or lived experiences, you may consider adding authenticity reading to your services. After all, many professional editors are in a prime position to do this because working with clients, assessing writing and crafting feedback are all muscles that are flexed daily. Let’s take a look at some of the key aspects to consider when deciding to become an authenticity reader.

Preliminary decisions

Before you dive right into calling yourself an authenticity reader, there are some considerations to work through first.

Topics

One of the first decisions you have to make is what topics you’ll read for. What social identities do you hold that writers might hire you to assess? What unique experiences have you had? Think about the representation you’ve read that’s made you angry because it was inaccurate or harmful based on what you know or have experienced. That might be a topic you can read for.

Training

There’s no formal training that qualifies you to become an authenticity reader. That said, resources exist to provide information on what you need to know to offer this service, such as a recorded webinar and booklet from the Editorial Freelancers Association. Before I started offering authenticity reading, I also scoured the internet for articles and discussions about it, especially from the perspectives of authenticity readers.

Pricing

As with editing, there are no set prices for authenticity reading, so you’ll have to decide what to charge. I’ve seen fees ranging from £0.004 to £0.015 per word. You won’t be making direct interventions to the text but will instead be leaving feedback, so your working pace will likely be faster than it is while editing. At the same time, consider what you’re being asked to do. There is often emotional labour involved in authenticity reading, and you may be reading text that is harmful or even traumatising.

Your limits

Know what you are and are not willing to read. Many of the topics that authenticity readers assess are related to personal identity or lived experience, and there’s a chance that the writing might include representations of hate, bias, microaggressions or past traumas. If there are certain topics you won’t read, screen potential clients for this type of content before you agree to a project. There’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries and taking care of yourself, especially when you’re often being asked to approach writing from a place of vulnerability.

Doing the job

Once you’ve worked through the preliminary decisions, you have to be prepared to do the job. Your task is to use your lived experience or expert knowledge to provide feedback to the client, but what does that actually look like? Every authenticity reader has their own process, but these are the steps I go through for each project:

Set expectations from the get-go

In Part 1 of this series on authenticity reading, I outlined several common misconceptions about authenticity reading. In the proposals I send to potential clients, I dispel these myths right away because I want the client to know what they can and should not expect from authenticity reading.

Clarify what the client wants you to focus on

Some clients will simply say that they want a general read, whereas others have specifics they’re concerned about. I always check if there are certain areas the client wants me to pay attention to, such as terminology, whether an experience is accurate, or if a character is stereotyped.

Read the manuscript

I read the entire manuscript once, and I make notes of what works well and what should be reconsidered.

Leave comments in the manuscript

As I’m reading, I also leave comments in the manuscript, as I would in an edit. I want the client to know my impressions, and I leave feedback on specific elements of the writing. I’ll write a comment if a word gets misused, if a character’s description is problematic, or if I have a positive or negative reaction to something specific.

Write a report summarising feedback

I turn the notes I took while reading through the manuscript into a report. Because I mainly work on fiction, my report is usually broken down into sections on plot, characterisation, dialogue and behaviours, cultural elements and settings, and conscious language. If I have resources to share that will reinforce my feedback, I’ll include those as well.

Answer the client’s questions and concerns

Once I deliver the marked manuscript and report, I’ll answer whatever questions or concerns the client has about my feedback. This is usually done through email, but I also do phone or video calls if requested.

Finding clients

Once you’re ready to do the job, it’s time to find clients. There are many avenues through which to reach potential clients, and these are a few ideas to try:

Business website

Add authenticity reading to your website as an offered service. Be sure to list which topic(s) you read for.

Social media

Talk about authenticity reading on social media so that your followers know that you’re offering the service. I’ve also seen tweets when indie authors or publishers are looking for readers – you never know what’ll pop up. You can also join the Binders Full of Sensitivity Readers group on Facebook. (Please note that this group is for readers of marginalised genders only.)

Directories and databases

If you’re an editor of colour, join the Editors of Color database and sign up for the job list. Add authenticity reading (or sensitivity reading) to your CIEP Directory entry so you’ll pop up when prospective clients do a keyword search.

Publishers

Many book publishers and presses hire authenticity readers and maintain databases of freelancers. Consider contacting publishers to let them know you offer this service and what topics you read for.

Final thoughts

Authenticity reading is an important and rewarding part of publishing that you may want to consider dipping your toe into. Even if editors don’t formally offer it as a separate service, we can still leave feedback for writers based on our identities and lived experiences – to help writers avoid doing unintentional harm, and to help readers see more authentic representations of themselves and their experiences in writing.

Are you interested in becoming an authenticity reader? Let us know in the comments!

 

About Crystal Shelley

Crystal Shelley is a licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Rabbit with a Red Pen, where she provides editing and authenticity reading services to fiction authors. She is the creator of the Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors and serves on the Executive Committee of ACES: The Society for Editing.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: Hours of happiness by Jr Korpa; Read by Ishaq Robin, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Authenticity reading. Part 1: What editors need to know

Authenticity reading, often called sensitivity reading, is a service that all editors should know about, because it plays a valuable role in the publishing process. In the first part of this two-part series, Crystal Shelley explains what authenticity reading is and isn’t, why it’s important and how editors can help their clients by recommending it when relevant.

Here’s what this post will cover:

  • Authenticity reading at a glance
  • Topics that authenticity readers assess
  • Common misconceptions
  • The value of authenticity reading
  • Recommending this service to clients

Authenticity reading at a glance

People want to see themselves, their identities and their experiences reflected accurately in media, but too often the representation on screen or in writing is problematic. One way in which writers can craft stories or text that’s accurate, respectful and validating to those being represented is to hire authenticity readers.

Authenticity readers, commonly called sensitivity readers, evaluate the way an identity or experience is portrayed in writing. They’re usually hired when a writer is writing about topics outside their lived experiences, where it’s easy to get things wrong.

For example, an author may write a story that features a character who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and if the author does not have OCD, then their portrayal may be inaccurate, stereotyped or harmful. They can work with an authenticity reader who has OCD to evaluate the story and characterisation, similar to how one might consult a subject-matter expert.

Topics that authenticity readers assess

Many people have the impression that authenticity reading is only used for assessing race and cultures, but there are a variety of topics that can be reviewed:

  • Social identities, such as race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, spirituality, disability, body size, socioeconomic status and neurodiversity. Authenticity reading is especially important when evaluating marginalised groups.
  • Experiences that are difficult to capture without having gone through them first-hand, such as being a family caregiver, going through the adoption process or working as a sex worker.
  • Subcultures that often require in-group knowledge to portray convincingly, such as military, gaming or fandom culture.

Common misconceptions

Those unfamiliar with authenticity reading often misunderstand what it is and what its intent is. Here are just a few of the common misconceptions I see:

Misconception #1: Authenticity readers seek to censor writers

This is by far the most widespread and damaging criticism of the service, and it’s also untrue. Authenticity readers provide feedback on representation, which allows writers to make informed decisions on how to proceed. A reader may recommend that the writer seriously reconsider elements of their story – or not tell it at all – but that’s out of concern for the harm that may result from the writing. Ultimately, writers aren’t forced to make a change, no matter how egregious their portrayals may be.

Misconception #2: One reader can represent everyone within a demographic

An authenticity reader can only critique based on their own opinions and experiences, and they do not act as a spokesperson for an entire group.

Misconception #3: Authenticity reading can serve as a shield from criticism

Some writers hire an authenticity reader in the belief that their work will become immune to negative reviews or publicity, which is not how it works. First, as mentioned, an authenticity reader does not represent everyone, so they can’t guarantee that another person won’t take issue with what’s written. Second, the writer doesn’t have to do anything with the authenticity reader’s feedback, so just because an authenticity reader has worked on a project doesn’t mean they approve of its contents. Writers should hire authenticity readers because they want to write respectful, accurate representation – not because they want a pass.

Misconception #4: Authenticity reading is used only for fiction

Authenticity reading can be useful for any type of writing, not just for fiction. Whenever a writer is writing about topics or experiences outside what they know, especially those that should be handled with nuance or sensitivity, an authenticity read may be beneficial. I’ve read textbook passages and non-fiction guides as an authenticity reader.

The value of authenticity reading

Developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, formatting, indexing – all of these have their place in the publishing process. While they each serve a different function, they all work towards the same goal: giving readers the best experience possible. Authenticity reading also plays its part, and these are only a few reasons why it’s a valuable service:

When writers write outside what they know, there’s room for error

And when those errors result in misrepresenting, stereotyping or erasing the identities and experiences of communities – especially those that are marginalised – harm can result. Authenticity readers can help minimise that harm.

Research can only go so far

Even if writers do their due diligence by seeking resources to help them understand the unfamiliar, they may not be able to capture it accurately or authentically. Authenticity readers can help fill in writers’ knowledge-gaps and strengthen the work.

Harmful representation can lead to damaging consequences for writers

When representation is poor or harmful, readers might leave negative reviews, critics might blast writers on social media or publishers might cancel contracts. These can all lead to financial losses for writers. Authenticity readers can help writers avoid the mistakes that lead to outcry before publishing.

Recommending this service to clients

Editors are educators who talk with clients about various stages in the publishing process, such as developmental editing, proofreading, indexing and book design. Authenticity reading is a service that editors can talk with clients about too.

We are usually among the first people to read a piece of writing, so we’re often asked for our impressions of the text or the story. If we’re working on a project that we think may benefit from an authenticity read, we can check with the client about whether they plan to work with someone who has first-hand experience of the topics being covered.

If you want to recommend that a client hire an authenticity reader, here are a few options you can suggest for their search:

Wrapping up

Authenticity reading has been around for many years, and it’s only now becoming more understood – and used – as editors, writers and publishers witness the harm that can be done by inauthentic or problematic representation. Editors who recognise the value of this service and who know how to talk to clients about it can be part of the process of doing good. In part 2, I share what you need to know to become an authenticity reader.

About Crystal Shelley

Crystal Shelley is a licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Rabbit with a Red Pen, where she provides editing and authenticity reading services to fiction authors. She is the creator of the Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors and serves on the Executive Committee of ACES: The Society for Editing.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: waves by Joshua Oluwagbemiga; book shelves by CHUTTERSNAP, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.