Working with a sensitivity reader
Have you ever considered working with a sensitivity reader on your writing for your business? Do you even know what a sensitivity reader is?
In my article on “How to edit articles about Black people,” I mentioned that writers who are concerned about diversity and inclusion can hire a reader with specialized skills or background to give feedback on how they might improve their writing in that respect. The readers may be members of the groups the writers are discussing or targeting. This kind of sensitivity seems as if it could help advisors who are trying to appeal to diverse prospects, clients, employees, and others.
To learn more about how using a sensitivity reader works, I hired one to review “How to edit articles about Black people.” This is my report on my experience.
The bottom line: Working with a sensitivity reader can be useful, especially if you don’t work with a community of people who can give you targeted feedback.
Hiring a sensitivity reader
I learned about sensitivity readers in “How to Use a Sensitivity Reader,” an article by writer Judi Ketteler in the Freelance Success newsletter (accessible only to paid subscribers). Luckily for me, Ketteler included contact information for two sources of sensitivity readers. First, I tried the sensitivity reader whom Ketteler used. After that reader didn’t reply to my inquiry entered through her website’s contact form (she responded later, apologizing for being busy), I moved along to the sensitivity readers available through Salt & Sage Books, the other source mentioned by Ketteler.
Salt & Sage Books offers the services of readers from diverse backgrounds.
For example, below are the characteristics of three readers highlighted by Salt & Sage when I was researching this blog post. More detailed profiles are available when you click on the individual profiles.
- Chinese-American culture
- “Hapa” or half-Asian culture
- Tiger parents
- Complex family relationships
- Interracial romance
- Gamer culture
- San Francisco Bay area
- Ancient Chinese magic systems
- Arab Diaspora
- Post-Colonial People/Themes
- Regional/cultural expertise growing up in the South (specifically TN)
- Being in a minority religion (LDS) in the Bible belt
- Cerebral palsy
- Music/piano/band, teaching piano
- Infertility, IVF, adoption
- Divorce, single parenthood, remarriage, step-parenting, co-parenting
I’m sharing these three lists partly so you can see that a sensitivity reader isn’t just for issues of race.
However, in my case, I needed a reader who was sensitive to the issues of Black people. I mentioned that to Erin Olds, my Salt & Sage contact person, along with the fact that ideally I’d like to work with someone who has experience working with corporate clients, in case I’d have an opportunity to make a referral someday.
Erin gave me two lists of names with links to their profiles: a list of people who would be available to start work almost immediately and a list of people for whom I’d have to wait longer, if their profiles appealed to me more. She also highlighted names of readers experienced working with corporate clients. Only one of those three readers, Mya, was available right away, so I chose to work with them (Note: Mya is non-binary, so I’m using gender-neutral pronouns like “they.”)
Process, timing, and fees
From my initial inquiry to receiving my document with comments took a little over three weeks. The website states that “All edits will take a minimum of 3 weeks.”
First, I had to send a 50% down-payment and sign a surprisingly long legal agreement using DocuSign. Salt & Sage charged a minimum of $65 for sensitivity reading when I sent in my manuscript, but its prices page now shows the minimum as $140, with rates starting at $140 for 10,000 words.
When I checked with Erin about fees in March, she told me:
For sensitivity reading of longer manuscripts, we charge per word. We are actually in the process of increasing our prices, so according to those new prices, we charge .009c/word for a sensitivity read. We have very flexible payment plans, and for clients who have a smaller budget or want to do more up-front work, we are working on expanding our Incomplete Guides series, which give an overview of several identities. (Next two books in the queue: Writing Queer Characters, and Writing Nonbinary Characters.)
If you decide to use Salt & Sage, you can get a 10% discount by using my name.
Then, I sent my document to Erin. All communications go through Salt & Sage staff. You won’t have direct contact with your sensitivity reader.
Sensitivity reading results
I received two documents from Salt & Sage after the sensitivity reading: a marked-up copy of my blog post and a separate letter.
I was relieved to find only two comments on the marked-up version of my blog post. The first suggested elaborating on why word choice is important, and suggested a link to a Brookings Institution article. The second suggested that saying “people with a disability” isn’t always preferred to saying “the disabled,” and it suggested two links. I ended up incorporating all of the links.
The letter that accompanied the marked-up blog post also suggested linking to articles that explain why some people do not capitalize “white.” I didn’t incorporate that information, mainly because I included those links in my NAPFA Advisor column that I linked to in my blog post.
In their letter, Mya said about their perspective that “I am only one person with the perspective of one person. I am not a gatekeeper, nor do I have final say over what you include in your manuscript. My goal is to shine a light on areas that might be improved and give you further resources.” I appreciated that attitude.
I was also grateful for the comment that “I really enjoyed how you both brought your own perspective and referred to the authority of others when it came to this piece. For example, you don’t just tell your audience what to do on the basis of your own authority but defer to organizations and other resources to back up what you’re saying.”
“It takes a village”
It’s corny to say “It takes a village,” but my original blog post only came off as well as it did because it shared what I’ve learned through working with others.
I’d like to highlight several parts of my “village”:
- The Freelance Success writers community (for subscribers only) was a big help when I was trying to figure out whether to capitalize Black, especially because I grappled with this before Associated Press style started capitalizing the term. Members directed me to some resources I would have taken longer to find on my own.
- Kevin Adler, the assistant editor whom I work with at the NAPFA Advisor, is much more attuned to racial issues than I am, so I’ve benefited from his guidance.
- The NAPFA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Initiative, which is raising relevant issues.
- Understanding Our Differences, a local program that offered the training that introduced me to the idea that the words I use to refer to people make a difference.
Think about trying to develop your own “village.” Consider a sensitivity reader as a way to expand your perspective!