From The Literary Hub:
In the past few years, authors concerned about the accuracy of their cultural representations have started using a new tool. Sensitivity reading, or beta reading, involves manuscript review where the author is writing about a marginalized group to which they doesn’t belong. A sensitivity reader might have a particular medical condition, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or any experience or identity that may be poorly understood by the majority culture.
Some might consider the use of sensitivity readers an eye-rolling exercise in identity liberalism that has become bruised a bit by recent political events. To others, sensitivity reading is a welcome means, though by no means a sufficient one, of working towards a more inclusive and less cliché-ridden publishing industry.
. . . .
Becky Albertalli’s experience with sensitivity readers provides a useful snapshot of this trend. When she was writing Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, published in 2013, she hadn’t heard the term “sensitivity reader.” But the book, which centers on a closeted teenager, passed through the hands of many gay men as part of the process of consultation. This was basically a form of sensitivity reading, although not formalized.
When it came time to write her next book, The Upside of Unrequited, sensitivity reading had become more familiar. We Need Diverse Books was launched in 2014, and major lists of available sensitivity readers were created in 2016. For this book, Albertalli wanted to be much more deliberate about the process.
The protagonist of The Upside of Unrequited, which will be published in April 2017, is a fat, anxious, cis, straight, Jewish teenage girl; this adjective soup is autobiographical for Albertalli.
. . . .
One example came in the very first scene of the book—which Albertalli wryly notes was a high-stakes situation. Here the narrator mentioned outright that she was straight. A bisexual sensitivity reader critiqued the overtness of this, saying, “That comes off as super ‘no homo’ to me.” Albertalli agreed. It was obvious by page two that this character was straight, and she realized that in aiming for political correctness, she had struck a false note. She reshaped the scene.
. . . .
Sangu Mandanna is an author and editor who has been doing formal sensitivity reads for over six months. She’s listed on the best-known database of sensitivity readers, compiled by Writing in the Margins.
Mandanna’s experience inhabiting these multiple roles shows that sensitivity reading makes for a unique set of demands on a reader/editor. “You’re not looking for plot holes or world-building inconsistencies, for example; you’re looking for places in the text where [characterization] or a narrative arc or even just a turn of phrase could be a problematic or downright harmful representation.”
These can be seemingly minor issues, but the very fact that they’re often overlooked points to the ease with which a majority culture can reproduce stereotypes. Mandanna gives as an example the frequent exoticizing of brown characters. “Take phrases like ‘glowing brown skin’ or ‘eyes like jewels’, which are phrases I see very often. These phrases are meant to be positive, but the author would never use them to describe their white characters.”
Link to the rest at The Literary Hub