Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Controversy Surrounding Sensitivity Readers

Recently there’s been some conversation about the role of sensitivity readers in works of literature during the pre-publication process. 

I, in all honestly, had never heard of this as a job before (it is!) and was, naturally, super-duper curious. So, folks, let’s talk about what a sensitivity reader is and their role in the publishing world, as well as what exactly went down on Twitter. Of course, I’ll also give you my opinions of what’s up.

What is a Sensitivity Reader?

This is a job, usually paid for by the publisher or author, to make sure that the book in question represents marginalized groups accurately. They look for bias in the work, and looks for triggers, racist remarks that could be used against groups of people (color of skin, religion, gender, sexuality). This is done before publication so that if/when something is found that needs to be fixed, it can be fixed.

There is no set number of sensitivity readers that can be employed for a single work. In fact, the more the better (I think) because then you get a variety of perspectives and opinions.

What’s Up with Twitter?

It goes like this: someone was hired and PAID to be a sensitivity reader and got so frustrated with the racism against Mexicans in the said work of fiction (it’s a YA book, but for reasons, I’m not going to disclose the book or the tweeter. I’m sure if you looked hard enough you can find them both!) that they ranted on Twitter about the racist remarks.

This brought up a whole pot of things. People were arguing about whether she should have disclosed anything at all since it was her job to help the publisher and author with the book’s representation of marginalized groups.

What do I Think?

I think all feeling as completely valid. I get that she was angry, and offended, and so, so incredibly hurt. However, she had a job to do. By going viral she violated an agreement—whether or not it was put to paper (the confidentiality, I mean) between her and the publisher. I mean, they went and got a sensitivity reader because they had concerns. Those concerns were found to be there and in the book and super hurtful.

This is what she agreed to read for though. Give the author and chance to fix it. Explain where the author went so wrong. Paint the author the picture that you see, the one that hurt you so much. Now that you’ve gone onto social media though, publishers and authors aren’t going to trust you. That person who tweeted all that out?

There’s a pretty good chance she isn’t going to get another gig as a sensitivity reader. I think that’s good. She wasn’t doing what she was paid to do, with the discretion that she was paid to do it, once she went live.

I sincerely hope the author fixed all her racist remarks and understands that what she wrote was wrong.


  1. I did not know what a sensitivity reader was until just now reading your post. You learn something new every day :-) That's a great idea though, sensitivity reading. I agree with your take on the situation. It's completely fair for her to be upset and offended, but to go tweet about the book definitely seems like a violation of confidentiality whether they put that on paper in a contract or not. It's unprofessional. As you said, the point was that the publisher was concerned about hurtful things and that was exactly why they hired a sensitivity reader, because they wanted to fix it.

    1. Hey! I'm glad to share the sensitivity reader knowledge! And yeah, all feelings are totally valid, but she was hired for a reason--to point out privately to the author + publisher what needed some fixing! Thanks for stopping by, darling <3