Our story begins with my stumbling on a really great article about sensitivity readers. (You can check out that article here.) Before reading this blog post, I had never heard of sensitivity or diversity readers, but I continued to learn more.
Soon enough, I was convinced. I needed a diversity / sensitivity reader for my manuscript.
Why did I decide I needed a diversity reader?
Firstly, the characters in my novel were inspired by a picture of some children during the war in Afghanistan. Secondly, slavery is a major theme in my novel.
You might be thinking, but Heather, your novel takes place in a fictional world. Why would you possibly need a diversity reader to look over your work?
I was asking the same question, but after reading the article I linked above, I realized that I bring my white perspective with me wherever I go, including to my fictional worlds. So even though my novel is set in a fictional place, my perspective comes from the real world and real events.
I ended up searching for a reader on Fiverr (what a place!), found one I thought would be able to speak to the themes in my book, and sent out a message. It was a little nerve-wracking to send my novel to another reader, especially one who would be reading for social issues. I wondered if there was a glaring problem that hadn’t occurred to me that would change everything about the novel. Was I going to get a stern talking-to for perpetuating negative stereotypes or writing outside of my scope of experience?
The contract term passed and I received my report from the diversity reader.
During my first read-through of the report, I’m sorry to admit that I was a little defensive. There were two very detailed pages of critiques and suggestions talking about big and uncomfortable issues. Some of these critiques made me want to fight for the integrity of my novel and artistry.
I took a step back and let the report sit in my mind for an hour. I let those critiques percolate. I let myself feel that defensiveness and I let it cool down. Then I tried again.
The second read-through went much better. I was over my initial emotional reaction and ready to move forward with logic. I took notes as I read the report in order to translate the suggestions into language that I could better relate to, and created action steps for making adjustments. When I came across topics that gave me pause and filled me with confusion, I let it settle some more, reminding myself that I’m not the expert here, the reader I hired is.
Eventually, I had my new to-do list in relation to editing my novel, and I was able to spring into action! I was even able to contact the reader once more to ask her a couple questions about my writing for further clarification.
What I learned:
All in all, the experience of hiring a diversity reader was like one of those little kid roller-coasters for my emotions. Some ups and downs, but nothing too terrifying.
It was also a great learning experience for myself – I learned about how easy it is to jump into defensive or ‘fight’ mode, but that it is possible to work past that. I’m trying to figure out how to apply that to other real-life scenarios. Perhaps I can practice making that defensive mode shorter, so I can have real-time conversations on tough topics? Maybe if I somehow set someone else’s defensive mode off I can practice compassion and give them a moment to recoup?
Other things you need to know:
- Check out this and this article on diversity and sensitivity readers.
- Fiverr is awesome.
- This is the diversity reader I used.
- There’s also this website for higher budgets.
Want to know how to set yourself up for creative success? Check out this worksheet!
I am extremely grateful to the great work and help my diversity reader provided me. And I feel quite lucky for having stumbled upon that blog post in the first place for opening my eyes up to this new aspect of authorship.
Enjoy the journey,