Please welcome Patrice Williams Marks to Writer Unboxed today! Patrice recently reached out to Writer Unboxed to tell us about her free 7-day course on becoming a Sensitivity Reader, and an idea was born; this seemed like a post-worthy topic to us. We’re thrilled Patrice agreed to be our guest today, to answer a few worthy questions:
What is a Sensitivity Reader? Can you be one? Should you utilize one? Will a Sensitivity Reader censor?
A little about Patrice, from her bio:
Patrice Williams Marks is a Sensitivity Reader and Course Creator, founder of a non-profit charity that works to diversify the newsroom. She is the founder of several film festivals with diverse entries from filmmakers and writers. She also has a background in public relations, marketing, and journalism with an emphasis on research.
Learn more about Patrice on her website, and by following her on Facebook and Twitter. And learn more about her course online HERE and through the Sensitivity Read Twitter account. Oh, and Patrice is offering a free webinar on June 28th. Learn more about that HERE.
What Is a Sensitivity Reader and Can I Become One?
In 2016, Scholastic pulled the children’s book, A Birthday Cake For George Washington, after outrage from what some considered “whitewashing” of the history of slavery.
The book showed “happy slaves” making a cake for George Washington. To those of us with ancestors who lived through that period of time–my father’s grandmother was a freed slave–it was not only hurtful but insulting.
We know that Scholastic (and the authors of the book) had no intention of insulting or whitewashing slavery, but nevertheless, they did just that. How? By writing about a culture they knew little about, and filling in the holes with assumptions though their own limited lenses.
As writers, we all “fill in the holes.” I have. But it has always been after extensive research.
What could they have done differently?
Hired an African-American Sensitivity Reader during the first draft phase of the book.
What exactly is a Sensitivity Reader, and how could s/he have helped?
A Sensitivity Reader is someone who specializes in a specific niche (African-American, Muslim, Physically Challenged, LGBTQ, Little People, etc.) 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 creates a report for the client outlining their thoughts, why they feel something may be a problem, and offering possible solutions.
Will a Sensitivity Reader censor the work?
The client makes the final decision whether to make the changes suggested, make only a few changes, or keep the project as is. Therefore, a Sensitivity Reader cannot absolve another author or publishing company of any future negative impacts from their project.
Does a project need more than one Sensitivity Reader?
Possibly. If you are writing about more than one marginalized group, and you are not part of those groups, then you would do well to hire Sensitivity Readers who specialize in each group.
How do you get started as a Sensitivity Reader?
If you’re an author, writer or avid reader, you may already have the right tools to get started. Which specific niche(s) would you be qualified for? Are you a member of the LGBTQ community? Are you Hispanic, Indian, African-American, Muslim, a Little Person, Asian, have experience with mental illness, etc.? Hone in on your niche(s) and be very specific about what types of projects you’re qualified to review. Then offer “free” Sensitivity Reads to fellow authors, friends of friends, or acquaintances. Once you’ve done a handful and you have happy, satisfied clients, ask them for testimonials. With testimonials in hand, position yourself online through your website and social media, as a Sensitivity Reader in your specific niche(s).
Are Sensitivity Readers paid?
Yes, they are. You could consider them “diversity editors.” Sensitivity Readers charge according to their experience and skill set. But please note: Sensitivity Readers are not editors in the normal sense. They do not proof, re-write, or find holes in stories. They simply read in order to determine if bias, stereotypes, racism or assumptions are present, and offer possible solutions.
I was on Reddit today on a gaming thread. There was an indie game creator looking for African-American gamers to beta test his project prior to release. He had several characters within the game who were black, and had them speaking in heavy slang. Thankfully, he understood that someone who was actually black and played games should take a peak before release.
Sensitivity Readers are needed in the book publishing industry, gaming, film, television, marketing and more. Reading can be both fulfilling and lucrative.
If you fall into a much-needed niche and would like to provide a valuable, in-demand service, consider becoming a Sensitivity Reader.
Do you have questions for Patrice? Thoughts to share? The floor is yours.