Authenticity readers: do you need one?

What is an “authenticity reader” and how do you know if you need one? Do they provide a function outside of editing? What makes an authenticity or sensitivity reader different from a beta reader?

Diverse writing

As writers, we often have casts of characters that are vastly different from ourselves. It is important to write about a diverse population otherwise our characters just become reflections of our own experiences, identity, culture, sexuality and many other factors that could limit our writing.

However, as recent events have shown and readers are demanding more diversity in stories, how do writers deal with writing from points of view that are so vastly different from their own experience?

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The writer’s responsibilities

Firstly, the writer must do their research. Proper research, including talking to people from the community you are writing about, should be the first action. This will give the writer a clear understanding of the points of view and understanding of that community or the backgrounds of characters.

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Research happens while you are writing. But what happens once you’ve written your novel and you’re not sure if what you’ve written may cause offence?

This is where authenticity readers may be helpful.

An authenticity reader, someone who has lived experience, is able to tell you about any offence you may have, inadvertently, caused.

A young person with rainbow-dyed hair.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

Not censors, supporters

Authenticity or sensitivity readers are sometimes portrayed as censors, limiting what authors can say.

While an editor should be noticing language that may cause offence or could land you, as a writer, in hot water, it’s not their only job. Aside from focusing on other things, they may not have the lived experience of the characters you writing about.

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The job of an authenticity reader is not to edit or to change, but to guide you and support you to write authentic characters. Isn’t that what every writer wants? Characters who represent real experiences.

Should you hire an authenticity reader?

Consider, what is it in your writing that you think might cause offence? Have you got gaps in your research and lived experiences that might mean you cannot accurately portray the characters?

Then you probably want to find an appropriate authenticity reader.

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How do you find a supportive authenticity reader?

Much like a beta reader, you may know people already who could make great authenticity readers. No qualifications are needed, just lived experiences.

Writing groups, social media networks and readers groups might all be places to start sourcing an authenticity reader.

Final thoughts

Finally, remember, whether you choose to use a sensitivity reader or not, your stories should be containing a diverse cast of characters. Have the confidence to write well researched stories from perspectives other than your own, have the confidence in your editor and write characters that teach readers.

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Editor and proofreader specialising in LGBTQ+ writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

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