Sensitivity Readers Aren't Scary

  • Jan 17, 2024
  • 4 minute read

“If you want to feel afraid, you sure can. We will sit with you and be your friend. You can be a rough draft of a person.” - Sachiko Suzuki

At Salt and Sage Books, we are obviously on Team Sensitivity Reader. We think that hiring a sensitivity reader is one of the most empathetic, thoughtful, and supportive things that you can do as an author, especially if you care about social justice, inclusion, and equity.

But we also understand that it can be kind of scary to hire a sensitivity reader. We want you to know that we see you; we understand why you’re afraid; and we think you should do it anyway.

We See You

You might be an author. You hit a point in your drafting process where you paused and thought, “Wait a second, how do I describe a Black character’s hair?”

You might be a video game designer looking at character sketches and thinking, “This character feels off, but I don’t know enough about the non-binary experience to say exactly why.”

You might be a dungeon master prepping a campaign with orcs and goblins, and suddenly wondering, “Hold on, these feel racially coded.”

You might have not had any of those moments, but instead had someone externally tell you that there were problems or concerns with your creation.

Regardless of how you got to Salt and Sage, we want you to know that we are absolutely thrilled that you are here. Some of you are excited, and some of you are worried; let’s talk about it! 

We Understand Your Concerns

Hiring a sensitivity reader can be a frightening thing for creatives. We absolutely understand why – and many of us have felt the same way when we hire sensitivity readers for our own work!

You might feel afraid to come face to face with your ignorance.

This is a scary feeling, especially if you are the sort of person whose morals impact the way you move through the world. (If you’re here, you’re probably that sort of person.) It can be an alarming feeling to realize that you have internalized racism, ableism, sexism, and homophobia.

We want to reassure you that no person exists without some internalized problems to work through. By coming to receive a sensitivity read, you are one of the few people who has decided to actually do something about it. That doesn’t mean that the feedback will be easy, but it does mean that you have committed to improving yourself, and that is no small feat.

You might be worried about social shaming.

In this brave and faceless world of the internet, social shaming is always a possibility; and if being wrong privately is difficult, being wrong publicly is a whole additional layer of difficulty. While sensitivity reading can’t promise that you won’t ever get any negative reviews, it can absolutely offer you the honed perspective of a skilled editor.

It’s also scary to take your (potentially problematic) representation and put it in front of a person who is of that identity. If this is worrying you, please know that our readers are overwhelmingly grateful to authors who ask for help. They have all been on the receiving end of poor representation and they know the power of good representation. Even if your piece is deeply concerning to your reader, they’re still on your side.

You might be worried that you are more racist/sexist/homophobic than you realized.

In the most gentle way we can state it, this is part of divesting yourself from white supremacy. We’re proud of you for asking the questions, even when they’re hard.

We Think You Should Do It Anyway

The concerns that come with hiring a sensitivity reader aren’t easily brushed aside, but they are worth moving through.

Our sensitivity readers want you to know:

  1. You do not have to be perfect, and neither does your writing! We are here to help you–if your piece was perfect, we literally wouldn’t have a job. You don’t need to stress yourself out making your piece perfect before sending it in.
  2. We are so glad that you’re asking for help. The amount of books and film and games that we see in any given year that are deeply harmful is really astonishing. We wish that more creatives were including us in their process, so we are so happy that you are here.
  3. It’s okay if you’ve written something problematic; we care that you are working to fix it, that you’ve hired someone who can actually help, and that you’re invested in improving the representation of your work.

The work of diversity, equity, and inclusion cannot only be pushed by marginalized groups. It is absolutely crucial that people from a variety of privileged backgrounds participate in this effort towards liberation and do so with earnest intent.

And you’re here. You’re getting a sensitivity read. You’re part of that effort.

Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

To hear a more in-depth conversation about this, listen to our podcast episode The Rough Stuff.

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