Written by A Guest Author

Why Utilizing Authenticity Readers Enhances Characters

By Aliya Hall

As writers, we are used to creating characters that have different life experiences from our own. And while there are some things we can learn through intensive research, such as historical background and different career paths, there are some things like sexuality, disability, gender and race that are much harder to accurately portray without that background.

This is where authenticity readers come in. Authenticity readers, formerly known as sensitivity readers, are a critical part of the beta reading process and help the author avoid making cultural errors, insensitive comments or unrealistic characters.

Why and when should you use authenticity readers?

There are many different instances when an author would want to utilize an authenticity reader. If you have a character with a different race or ethnicity, hiring an authenticity reader that shares that culture or race would ensure that you’re doing the character justice by making them more realistic and not accidentally offending your readers. The same goes with instances of disability or different sexualities and genders, there are certain aspects that you may think you understand, but you might not have fully accurate.

Of course, depending on the kind of story you’re telling, you may need to hire multiple authenticity readers. While an authenticity reader can provide detailed feedback that you might have missed, one authenticity reader cannot be the authority on a whole group of people, which is why it’s helpful to have multiple perspectives.

It’s also important to utilize an authenticity reader that has the same specific trait or upbringing as the character. For example, a beta reader who is gay is going to have a different experience than a lesbian or bisexual individual, and won’t be able to speak to those specifics, even if there are overlapping experiences of homophobia. The same is true with any other marginalization. Finding an authenticity reader with the closest identity to your character increases the likelihood of having more accurate feedback.

How are authenticity readers different from beta readers?

While beta readers focus on the overall content and flow of the storyline and its characters, authenticity readers focus particularly on their area of expertise and guide the author through any challenges that arise with a character or plot device. Depending on how broad the beta community you’re pulling from is, you may find that some of the beta readers you’re using may also double as authenticity readers, or are willing to provide that feedback in a beta-capacity.

For marginalized authors, it is also common to exchange authenticity edits with a colleague in the writing community as an alternative form of payment.

If you don’t have a lot of diversity within your beta readers, however, hiring an authenticity reader can help bring a different perspective that’s more in line with specific aspects of your story. Another difference between authenticity readers and beta readers, is that often you after hire authenticity readers for their time because they are providing a service that extends beyond the realm of beta reading and have training in this area of expertise.

Think of authenticity readers as you would an editor — you don’t want to release a book filled with grammar errors or story development issues, you shouldn’t want to release a book that is insensitive or harmful either.

Where to find one

Similar to beta or editing services, authenticity readers can be found through social media channels, Google searches or through small presses. Most professional authenticity readers highlight this service and have their own established rates, and if you’re seeking professional beta readers, you could request one that would double as an authenticity reader. For a more informal process, some writers will also use their writing networks to ask if a colleague would be open to doing an authenticity read for your novel. Always be open to offering compensation, either monetary, or in terms of exchanging work..

Incorporating feedback

Same as an editor or beta reader, the feedback that is given to you from an authenticity reader is meant to benefit you and your story. It’s important to listen to what suggestions and advice your authenticity reader gives you — even if it’s not necessarily what you want to hear. Revising is always a part of the writing process, and the notes you receive from an authenticity reader are just as valuable as comments from a beta reader or editor.

It’s starting to become standard practice to utilize authenticity readers, with many authors listing their authenticity readers in the acknowledgements section of their books. As this resource gains more traction, it’ll become even more important to be familiar with the value of authenticity readers going into the editing process.


Bio: Aliya Bree Hall is a freelance journalist and writer based in Portland, Ore. She is currently editing her first novel, an adult F|F science fantasy. When she’s not writing, she’s hosting Sapphic Stories Bookclub (and Other Queer Tales) or cohosting the podcast Shit We Wrote.

 

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