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Sensitivity Readers versus Beta Readers

With the term "sensitivity reader" growing in the publishing industry, I thought I

would address what is a sensitivity reader and the difference between a beta reader.

The job of a sensitivity reader is to help non-ethnic authors avoid portraying ethnic characters in a way that feels inauthentic or uninformed. The goal isn’t to edit a manuscript’s clarity and logic, but to review a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language. A sensitivity reader is there to help make sure you do not make a mistake, but they are not a guarantee against making a mistake.

There is a difference in sensitivity readers and beta readers. Writers often have beta readers read a manuscript and give feedback on their overall impressions of the story. A sensitivity reader is like a beta reader who looks at the story through a specific lens. A beta reader is usually a test reader of an unreleased manuscript or other writing who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author. A sensitivity reader is someone who specializes in a specific niche and is a part of the specific marginalized community that the author is writing about. The sensitivity reader thoroughly reads over the material for bias, stereotypes, offensiveness, lack of understanding, etc., and offers the author their thoughts as to why they feel something may be a problem and offering possible solutions.

Sensitivity readers are paid for their services, beta readers are not, but the more in-depth role of a sensitivity reader with the work they do with an author and their manuscript is worth the extra step in hiring one. Authors and publishers may send off manuscripts for sensitivity reads at different stages in the writing and editing process; beta readers are often used when the manuscript is completed. Good sensitivity readers encourage authors to recognize their blind spots, not only in their work but in the way they move through the world.

Be careful not to say you have a sensitivity reader when in actuality you have beta readers.

I hope this information is helpful in identifying the difference between sensitivity readers and beta readers.

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1 Comment

Colleen Snyder
Colleen Snyder
Apr 05, 2021

Thank you, Edwina, for your candor and intelligent education for those of us writers with just such "blind spots." If I want to create authentic characters, characters that are true to themselves and true to their heritage, my first job is to listen, read, and learn. I can't write what I don't know, and knowing that I don't know is the first step to learning. (Or something. I need more coffee....) I'm very glad to have found your blog, very glad you have challenged us to grow, and very glad to make your acquaintance. I look forward to hearing more from you. (Now I get to go look to see what you've published!)

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