I subscribe to WritersWeekly, and thought of you and your publishing service when I heard this story on NPR today.
Writers are now using what they call sensitivity readers to vet their novels for offensive materials before publishing. Some writers now consider it as important as hiring a copy editor before publishing their books.
Frankly, as a writer who would eventually like to self publish my novels, it doesn’t give me much confidence to publish my own writing if this becomes a trend, and even required by society at-large.
I was wondering if you knew about this and what you think of it as a self-published author and publisher.
Thanks for all you do for self-published writers.
A – I think the practice of hiring “sensitivity readers” is absolutely RIDICULOUS! Books are supposed to challenge readers’ thinking. They not only entertain readers, but also disturb, offend, spur people to action, expand our thinking, teach us about things, people, and societies that we would otherwise never be exposed to, and so much more!
This is pre-publication censorship, plain and simple.
I’ve heard about this happening at publishing houses and I received several comments on the subject through Facebook last week. Those publishers are censoring their own authors’ books because they “fear backlash from social justice activists.” Puh-lease!!!
Here at BookLocker, we publish Christian books, books by atheists, as well as “steamy” romance novels. We publish books on very liberal topics, as well as books that express very conservative ideas. We simply trust that readers are intelligent enough to make up their own minds about what they read.
The political correctness campaign in our country has reached outrageous and even dangerous levels, spurring far more anger and hatred than there would have been without a “PC culture.” Everybody seems to be looking for things to get angry and complain about! Our children have already been dumbed down by our weak public education system. When we start censoring what they’ll be reading as young adults, we’re treading on very dangerous ground. When authors start censoring themselves, they need to consider quitting the craft! Seriously, if your book needs to be “censored,” so as not to offend any person at all, perhaps you should toss it in a drawer and forget all about it.
Obviously, George Orwell was a psychic.
That said, there are some books that should never be published, like the guidebook for pedophiles that CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) published a few years ago. There are books on the market that teach people how to perform other illegal acts. Amazon also sells how-to dog fighting books, which I personally find reprehensible. Any book that teaches someone how to torture a child or an animal SHOULD be censored.
But, those examples are a far cry from a pansy author needing to hire a ‘sensitivity reader’ to vet their romance novel for potentially offensive words, or the children’s storybook author who might offend readers because their main character dressed up like a person from (insert any culture other than his own here). Fact checking when writing about a particular culture is NOT the same as hiring a “sensitivity reader.”
Readers are going to criticize your work whether you’ve “offended” them or not. Criticism is part of the life of every writer. Hiring a “sensitivity reader” isn’t going to stop that criticism. In my opinion, writers who are so afraid of criticism that they hire a sensitivity reader shouldn’t be in the business.
As for these “sensitivity readers” (I am NOT talking about fact checkers)…well, it sure seems to me like some creative folks have invented a brand new profession to make an extra buck. I hope this absurd practice dies quickly.
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We are talking about a book, for goodness sake! If you don’t like what you are reading, close the cover.
I think there is a role for this, not in the form of censorship, but to give authors food for thought about their writing. If I had been a sensitivity reader for Asimov I might have pointed out to him that his original Foundation books contained not one single female character (until I think the third book where there is a wife nagging her husband for jewelry and some housewives buying nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners) and asked if he thought that was what the world was really going to look like 20,000 years in the future. Or for another example: it’s common to read depictions of traumatic events where the victims’ experiences and coping afterward are nothing like what victims go through in real life, and in those instances I might suggest to the author that they do more research on the different ways in which trauma really affects people. Then it’s up to the author whether they want to create a piece that really examines that in a realistic and sensitive way, or if they’re just trying to move the plot forward and don’t mind if the characters’ reactions are unrealistic.
As far as sensitivity readers go, I agree that’s a bit much. While I do believe in a certain degree of political correctness, I’ve seen it go too far many a time. For instance, a friend of mine was describing a BBC show she liked that was set in England and said, “And the partner was an African-American.” I said, “Oh, they hired an American actor to play that role?” She looked confused and then said, “No, he was British.” Similarly, a friend who traveled to South Africa came back confused that blacks there didn’t like being called African-Americans. She never did understand her mistake. I have no problem using terms that a particular group prefers I use (I would never call a “little person” a midget, for example, since they find it offensive and it doesn’t hurt me in any way to use the term they want me to use), but particularly in a work of fiction, if my character uses a “wrong” term, it’s very often intentional, as I’m trying to convey something about the character, not about me.