Writing outside your own experiences can be an exciting and fulfilling challenge. If you’re going to publish your work, it’s important to get it right. When writing outside of your race, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, social class, or ability, it can be hard to write without using stereotypes or biases we didn’t even know we had. Thus, sensitivity reads have become increasingly common.

Sensitivity reads, also known as diversity reads, expert reads, or accuracy reads, are about getting it right. The goal is not to say, “well so-and-so didn’t have a problem with it, and they’re X, so now no one can complain.” It’s about flagging potential issues and addressing them before the book is released to the public. Thus, getting multiple sensitivity reads may be prudent. This is especially true if you have multiple characters that are different from yourself, or if your protagonist has is different from you in several ways.

Why should I get a sensitivity read?

It can flag issues that may come up later. It’s way worse to have your book flop because it was deemed offensive to a minority group, than to get feedback early on and make some tweaks to eliminate the bias or subvert the stereotype.

Can I just have my friend who is X (disabled, African American, gay, etc.) read it?

Please do, but don’t let them be your only, or even main, feedback. They’re your friend, so they have the bias of wanting you to succeed and not wanting to hurt you. They may also just be the type of person who doesn’t think about that sort of thing. A sensitivity reader will look at it from a critical lens and is much more likely to flag things that may hurt someone.

How much does a sensitivity reader cost?

It depends. Some charge by the word. The sensitivity readers at Quiethouse Editing charge $0.005/word, so an average manuscript would be between $200 and $500. Some have flat rates, ranging from $100 to $350. Still others have a base fee up to a certain word count and then have a per-word or per-thousand words charge beyond that. Even for a 100,000-word manuscript, if they charge you over $1,000, you’re paying too much.

Do I have to take their feedback?

This one is complicated. No, you are not required to take every bit of feedback your sensitivity reader gives you. Sometimes you have to use your best judgement. If they’re flagging something that you think doesn’t make sense to change, or would diminish the message of the book, it’s okay to decide not to do so. For example, if the sensitivity reader flags the way a first-person narrative describes a person of color at the beginning of the book, but your story has an arc about learning to accept people, it wouldn’t make sense to change it. However, if your sensitivity reader says “That word is offensive,” you should not just shrug it off with an “I don’t care.”

Where can I find sensitivity readers?

Quiethouse Editing has a large stable of readers, and