The Value of Sensitivity Reads

To start with, let’s talk about beta reads. A beta read is sharing your work with anyone between writing it and submitting it for publication. Literally anyone. This sounds necessary, right? After finishing a manuscript, the first step isn’t to ship it off to your dream literary agent. You revise, and you solicit opinions from trusted friends. Those friends, whether or not you label them as such, are your beta readers.

If you’ve embraced beta reads as part of your process, there’s no reason to shy away from sensitivity reads — a sensitivity read is just a targeted beta read! While beta readers will evaluate the strengths of your story as a whole, sensitivity readers work with manuscripts that are near completion in order to evaluate how certain identities are represented on the page. My main objective as a sensitivity reader is to help you avoid stereotyping, tokenizing, or excluding people on the basis of their marginalized identities.

I don’t claim to be perfect, and I don’t claim to speak for the entirety of any of the communities I represent. But here’s what I can do: I can offer my perspective, as a queer, black, mentally ill, nonbinary person. I can spot some of the ways your work could harm me or people like me. I can educate you, as much as you are willing to learn. I can help elevate your story and clarify your ideas before you seek publication. I can also offer a young person’s point of view; given the rates at which trends, language, and culture change, I can help make sure that your work is relevant and that it will resonate with today’s youth.

Here are my qualifications: I have a background in academic writing, so I’m experienced with conveying complex ideas clearly. I’m studying creative writing in an accredited program, and therefore have access to all of the informational resources of a major university. Due to my studies, I’m familiar with workshop environments and writing critique letters — I know how to give constructive feedback and help improve a story without changing its basic plot or premise.

As a final reminder, sensitivity is attention to detail and dedication to getting something right. I can help you use your imagination compassionately, by approaching identities other than your own from a place of love, empathy, and understanding.

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