This blog post is an adaptation of a presentation given by Erin Olds; it aims to shed light on the intricate processes of beta and sensitivity reading.
This is how Salt and Sage Books approach these tasks. You will undoubtedly find other editors and editorial houses who approach beta and sensitivity reading differently. Here, we’ll provide insight into our methods, with the hope that they’ll be helpful!
What’s a Beta Read?
Beta reads are an excellent vibe check. It’s a surface-level look at your piece by either an industry expert or a “whale reader” within the genre. This is great for the first draft and a final pass.
Beta reads answer questions like: Is the story landing right? Are my characters likable? Was the twist too obvious? Is the beginning boring?
What’s a Sensitivity Read?
Sensitivity reads check your impact. They offer a deep dive into specific representation within your story. Sensitivity reading can be done by industry experts with lived experience, qualified editors with lived experience, or a reader with lived experience.
Sensitivity reads answer questions like: Did I lean into stereotypes? How can I make this piece more inclusive? Are my descriptions about [X] accurate? How might readers from this group receive my piece?
Beta or Sensitivity Read: Which One?
The choice between beta reading and sensitivity reading depends on the specifics of your project. For example, if you’re writing a thriller for the first time, you might benefit from a beta read by someone who specializes in that genre.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a romance novel featuring characters from a culture different from your own, a sensitivity read could be more appropriate to ensure respectful and accurate representation.
The Order of Reads
As a general rule, if you are writing about characters outside of your lived experience, a sensitivity read should happen first because of the wide variety of ways that representation intersects with storytelling. Beta reads can happen with an outline or a full manuscript, giving you a reader’s-eye-view of the story. They’re also an inexpensive way to get an editor to look at your piece.
The cost of these reads varies; you can check out our cost page here. The main thing you’ll notice is that beta reads are significantly less expensive. They’re the least expensive service that we offer! The nature of the edit is more surface-level and therefore takes less editorial time than a sensitivity read.
Emotional labor is a major consideration with the cost of a sensitivity read. Bear in mind also that a good sensitivity read will take all aspects of your story into consideration–everything from the word choice to the world building.
Ultimately, beta and sensitivity reads serve different yet equally important functions in the editing process. By understanding what each process entails and how and when to use them, you can significantly enhance your work’s quality and impact. Remember, the goal is to create a piece that resonates with readers and respectfully represents various perspectives.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about beta and sensitivity reading. At Salt and Sage Books, we’re committed to providing high-quality, actionable, and helpful editing services. We hope to hear from you soon!
About Salt and Sage Books
Salt and Sage Books is an editorial company with a focus on increasing diversity and inclusion across all forms of media. We have a wide array of clients, from publishing houses to tabletop gamers, video game designers to best-selling indie authors. We are the industry leader in sensitivity reading and also provide a variety of publication services for traditional and indie writers, including beta reading!