Editing is more complex than striking through a grammatical error with a red pen. Multiple layers of assessment, proofreading, and feedback are needed to ensure a novel is ready for publishing. Once your prose has undergone the necessary checks for development, structure, and plot, it’s time to turn your attention to the authenticity of your work.
Also referred to as sensitivity reading, authenticity reading is crucial to ensuring that the story you’ve created isn’t unintentionally perpetuating any harmful stereotypes. We all have unconscious biases and implicit biases that we may not be aware of. An authenticity reader can provide a fresh pair of eyes to identify any problematic elements in the text and suggest changes to make it more culturally sensitive.
In this piece, I’ll dive into authenticity reading and why it’s an essential step in the editing process.
What is Authenticity Reading?
Authenticity reading is a form of editing that involves assessing the cultural sensitivity and inclusivity of a novel. The goal is to identify potential blind spots the writer may have and offer suggestions to ensure that the story remains respectful, avoids cliches, and doesn’t use language which could be seen as offensive or hurtful.
Here are a few things authenticity readers look for:
- Stereotypes: Are any characters, cultures, or plot devices portrayed in a way that could be seen as stereotypical or one-dimensional? Are certain groups of people singled out and treated differently than others?
- Cultural Appropriation: Does the work borrow themes, language, or symbols from a culture without permission or understanding its context? Are any characters or plot lines inspired by a culture without proper attribution?
- Inclusivity: Are all voices represented in the work? Does it accurately reflect the diversity of today’s world? Are there any characters that could be seen as tokenized or flat-out excluded?
- Language: Are any terms used in an offensive or derogatory way? Does the language contain outdated references or words that have become charged with negative connotations?
Unlike other forms of editing and proofreading, authenticity reading requires specialized knowledge—it’s not just about catching typos or fixing grammar. It involves an in-depth analysis of the story and its characters to make sure everyone is accurately and respectfully depicted.
Reasons to Hire an Authenticity Reader
Writing an inclusive and respectful story is complicated—especially if you come from a privileged background. No matter how much research you do or how well your intentions are, there’s always a chance that some unconscious biases can slip through the cracks.
Authenticity readers can keep you and your work in check by offering the following benefits:
They’ll See Your Blindspots
Authenticity reviewers pick up on subtle messages that could potentially be offensive to specific groups of people, as well as any language or ideas that are outdated or just plain wrong. Maybe you didn’t think twice about using a particular term or didn’t realize that all of your female characters played secondary roles.
These readers will be able to spot these issues and provide you with a better alternative to ensure your writing is inclusive and respectful. By addressing these blindspots, you can avoid inadvertently alienating or offending readers.
Skilled sensitivity readers possess a keen eye for subtleties that may not be immediately apparent to you as the writer. They are skilled at identifying language or ideas that could be considered outdated, inaccurate, or insensitive to specific groups of people. Their expertise helps ensure your writing resonates with a diverse audience and avoids perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
You may have unintentionally used derogatory or exclusionary terms without realizing their impact. A skilled reader will bring these issues to your attention. If the reader is also an editor, they can suggest more appropriate alternatives.
They can help you create well-rounded characters with depth and agency regardless of gender identity. Incorporating feedback from a sensitivity reader ensures that your work reflects values of fairness, inclusivity, and respect for all individuals who engage with it.
By addressing blindspots through their valuable insights, you enhance the quality and impact of your writing while building stronger connections with a broader range of readers.
They’ll Spot Inaccuracies
Outside of just checking for bias, these readers can help you ensure that your book’s facts are accurate. This is especially important if you’re writing about a culture or an era that you’re not familiar with.
It’s natural to encounter challenges when writing about unfamiliar cultures or experiences. A reader can tell you if something doesn’t ring true and suggest changes to make it more factually accurate.
Their keen eyes and knowledge can help you avoid situations that trigger disbelief in your target audience. Remember, accuracy lends credibility to your work, making it more engaging and trustworthy for readers.
They’ll Make Your Writing Better
The potential biases uncovered during an authenticity review may be distressing to hear at first. We all want to believe we’re beyond the need for such scrutiny. However, you can only start addressing unconscious biases you may have once they’re out in the open. By pushing you out of your comfort zone, their feedback can help you make improvements to your story that will ensure it’s resonant and meaningful for all.
It’s only natural to feel uneasy when our biases are brought to light. However, embracing this feedback and using it as an opportunity for growth is what sets us apart as writers and individuals. By acknowledging and addressing our unconscious biases and information gaps, we can create stories that are more authentic, relatable, and relevant to a broader audience.
Ultimately this feedback can make us better writers—and better humans.
When Should I Hire an Authenticity Reader?
Like all phases of the editing process, there’s a good chance you’ll be advised to cut, shift or rewrite some of your work. So while there’s no specific time to hire an authenticity reader, you’ll want to do it during a period when you can still make major changes to your book.
Ideally, consider hiring an authenticity reader before you start any line edits, perhaps before developmental editing. That way, if any substantial changes need to be made—such as rewriting a character or dropping an entire plot point—your book is still flexible enough to accommodate.
If you’re looking for an authenticity reader who can provide an objective yet sensitive assessment of your work, check out my editorial services. I can read for a range of topics, but am particularly experienced in medicine, BIPOC, exploited youth issues, infectious diseases, medical technology, non-profit administration, chronic illness, physical disability, LGBTQ+ youth, and health care professionals.