You may have heard the term "authenticity reading" (or sensitivity reading) and wondered, "what is that?" Or maybe you've actually never heard of it. Authenticity who?
In this blog post, I will discuss what authenticity reading is and why a writer or publisher may want to hire an authenticity reader.
So, What is Authenticity Reading?
Authenticity reading is a type of beta reading. And beta reading is essentially someone reading your manuscript as a casual, or "average," reader and providing feedback.
If a writer's work involves a character or group of people from a background that they are not from (or have firsthand experience with), there is a chance that the character may be inauthentically depicted in the writing. This is not to say it would be on purpose or malicious, but there is a chance that stereotypes or other unconscious bias may be used in lieu of their personal experience with that group.
To mitigate the risk of inauthentically, or stereotypically, portraying a group of people, an authenticity reader will read a manuscript and evaluate the representation of characters (or depictions of people) that they have lived experience with. In my case, I do authenticity reading for Mexican American characters.
There are many different types of authenticity readers—they are not always based on ethnic background. For example, there are some that have expertise in a certain career or academic area, and some with experience with a specific medical condition or social identity. If a story involves a person with a disability, for example, and the writer does not have firsthand experience with that disability, they may hire an authenticity reader with experience with the disability to read the manuscript and offer their take on how the character is portrayed.
What Does Authenticity Reading Look Like?
Similar to an editorial project, authenticity reading includes an agreement between the client and the reader, upfront, related to the scope of work being requested. For example, does the writer want feedback on a specific character in the manuscript? Or do they want more of a general impression? Or maybe they are particularly interested in how a specific scene comes across. There can even be requests for reviewing the music that is used, if it is a screenplay.
Once the scope is determined, the writer provides the manuscript to the authenticity reader in the agreed upon format (e.g., Microsoft Word, PDF, Google Docs) and the authenticity reader will read it and provide feedback within the agreed upon timeframe. Often, they will make comments directly in the document. In addition, they will typically provide a summary that includes more global impressions and a brief discussion of the items requested.
For example, if the dialogue is utilizing mainly broken English for all characters of a certain ethnic group, an authenticity reader might call that to the attention of the writer and note how that could potentially perpetuate a certain stereotype in the literature. The comments could include links to other articles or references for further reading.
It's important to note that like other editorial services, the feedback provided to the writer are suggestions. And ultimately it is up to the writer if they choose to incorporate the feedback and make adjustments to the manuscript.
When Should You Hire an Authenticity Reader?
Authenticity reading usually occurs before the final editorial steps since the feedback could result in changes to the manuscript (e.g., character descriptions or plot).
It is often sought out by authors who want some feedback on a piece specifically because they do not have direct experience in the community or identity of people that they are writing about. It can be focused reading, such as reading for a particular character, or it can be a request for overall feedback.
It covers a different angle in the writing process and can help the writer identify blind spots on the sensitivity of how the character or group is portrayed. Like a proofreader will provide suggestions to improve grammar or punctuation, an authenticity reader will provide suggestions to relatability or authenticity of a character or group of people. It could include items related to character development, plot, and dialogue. It will also include feedback on items such as representation and unconscious bias.
For the writer to develop relatable characters, it's all about connection; if the reader thinks the character is inauthentic or stereotypical, they could get turned off and possibly offended by the piece. There's also the element of unintentionally writing with unconscious bias and perpetuating stereotypes in the literature. For these reasons, a writer may consider hiring a sensitivity reader to look for any blind spots they may have.
What Value Does an Authenticity Reader Bring?
The goal of authenticity reading is to strengthen the authenticity of the characters or topic. It also aims to reduce unconscious bias, stereotypes, and misrepresentation.
While there are many positives to hiring an authenticity reader, it is important to keep in mind that ultimately it is one person's perspective. So the authenticity reader is not necessarily going to provide catchall advice for all people in the group they are reading for. What they are providing is insight that the writer may not otherwise have had, which can help present groups of people in a more authentic manner.
To find an authenticity (a.k.a. sensitivity) reader for a wide range of backgrounds, Writing Diversely is a great resource. They are dedicated to helping authors create diverse and inclusive stories and they have a diverse directory of sensitivity readers.
And if you are in need of an authenticity reader from a Mexican American background, let's connect ;) I'm all about cultivating authentic expression and love to work with writers with this service.