A friend recently hired several sensitivity readers to review his YA novel, which features characters of diverse ethnicities. He’s about to get on the query-go-round and wants to make sure the book won’t be found insensitive to those minorities.
This is becoming increasingly important to the publishing industry. Books that feature characters of a different race or ability than the writer are often subject to online vitriol. If the Twitterverse finds a book has “insensitive” content, the book may be headed for the pulping machine. Even after publication, an expensive ad campaign, and distribution to bookstores. That’s a pricey proposition for the publisher, and a tragedy for the author.
A horror story from a few years ago involved an Asian YA writer who wrote a fantasy novel that portrayed Asian-type people who were enslaved. The Twitterverse, not known for its education, deemed the book racist. Apparently Twitter believed slavery only happened to African people. Even in an entirely made-up world. That was the end of the book, even though it had excellent buzz and sales. The author had to return her advance.
So what’s the answer?
The Big Five publishers have turned to sensitivity readers.
My friend hopes for publication with one of the big houses. He also writes for the Young Adult audience. It is mostly Big Five-published YA books that face the wrath of social media for insensitive content.
But what if he were writing an adult novel — and intended to self-publish or go with a small press? Would he need to hire a sensitivity reader? It’s not a bad idea, but he’d be less likely to need a professional sensitivity reader. I say “probably” because nobody knows exactly what will rile up the denizens of social media who make the rules these days.