Sensitivity Readers


Presenting reason number 1,864.979 to abandon the sinking tradpub ship and self-publish: "Sensitivity Readers" (h/t Rawle Nyanzi).
Book publishers fearing the backlash from social justice activists are hiring special readers to check the books and flag up racist, sexist and other so-called offensive content before they go to print.
“Sensitivity reader” is a person who, for a small fee, will provide feedback about the book based on self-ascribed areas of expertise like “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities” or “transgender issues”, according to The Chicago Tribune.
You can read the whole pathetic story here.

My dear fellow authors: in case you still haven't decided to wash your hands of the decrepit, increasingly insane New York publishing cartel, their insistence on hiring sensitivity readers to make your manuscript a bland, unrelatable political tract is yet another call to board the lifeboats.

Even if you're aware that indie authors now out-earn tradpub authors, but you crave to be anointed a Real Author™ by a NY house, the high priests of publishing aren't long for this world. The Big Five are already hemorrhaging revenue. So are Barnes & Noble, and B&N's demise will be the silver bullet that puts the loping monstrosity down for good.

And if you think that sensitivity readers represent a good faith effort to make books better and not a cynical, coercive program of thought policing, think again.
Some sensitivity readers, however, believe they actually contribute to the problem. Dhonielle Clayton, who has partnered with the “Writing in the Margins” project aimed at providing a database of “sensitivity readers” for hire to authors, claims she’s frustrated with the idea of helping white authors write about black characters from which they profit and are praised.
“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” she said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”
Reread that excerpt. Publishers are supposed to be in business to help authors sell books and make money. Before anybody comes to me whining about "vetting" or "cultural curation", no publisher can vet or curate literature if they're broke.

Note Miss Clayton's objection to authors earning profits and praise, said objection being based solely on the authors' race. It's as if tradpub suffers from severe cultic obsession with political correctness.

Speaking of profits, Clayton goes on to display an embarrassingly poor understanding of economics when she compares white authors who write about black characters to jewel thieves. This is an inversion of the old "I'll sell you this great story idea and we'll split the profits 50/50 after you write the book!" cliche. It betrays the amateur's misapprehension that coming up with ideas is harder than the actual work of writing.

If these are the "experts" that New York publishers hire to consult on their books, it's no wonder they're circling the drain.

Tip for the economically and aesthetically illiterate: jewels are a scarce commodity. Stealing your jewels diminishes your wealth in direct proportion to how much it enriches me. Ideas are unquantifiable and unlimited. If I write about an idea, that doesn't stop you from writing about it, too.

For example, Tor just released lengthy excerpts of Scalzi's latest novel. wherein he reuses ideas from both Asimov and Herbert! If ideas are the measure of a story, borrowing from two such successful authors should make The Collapsing Empire an instant classic, right?

Here's a dual mini-review contrasting Scalzi's latest book with my first, courtesy of @Mr_Boffin (adapted from the Twitterese):
I've actually subjected myself to the snippets put out by Tor of CE. Funny to see a bunch of bored gen-Xers talking about what is clearly 'not' the Landsraad and the Spacing Guild, with 'not' Princess Irulan (split b/w 2 characters, how clever) plus a scene of IKEA Erotica interrupted by other crewmen just walking in, and a prologue with the worst self defense gun ever.
NONE of the characters were even likable. The dialogue felt entirely out of place for the characters' station and jobs. He's supposed to be a master of dialogue, and one of the best writers period. If it had been a first novel I still  wouldn't have read any more with the book in front of me, and I actually do cut first novels a lot of slack.Your first  absolutely blows his latest away in terms of characterization and craft and its his, what? around his 20th? Buy Red SF.
Such lavish praise for my freshman effort leaves me deeply stirred! Many thanks to my satisfied readers. I live to entertain you.

On a related note, here's the first book that Mr. Boffin says blows Scalzi's 20th away:

Brian Niemeier - Nethereal



  1. I had to take a walk around our (long) block after I read that HeatStreet piece. They can barely sell what few good books they have, and now (while bleeding arterial ink) they're hiring expensive people to make their good books bad, and their bad books unreadable.

    As I told Rawle: Eat their lunch? We're gonna eat their whole damned catering truck. And it won't even hurt going down.

    1. I'll have the fiesta burrito with peppers, onions, and a fried egg.

  2. This is definitely one of those more cowbell things. They think the problem is not enough P.C. Un-fracking believable.

  3. Brian

    I wonder how long the other languages will be imune from this? The Romance languague novel are still holding the line. PCSprach would too obviously destroy the languages. I read Catalan literature and one advantage of being a really small language is that yhe authours can't screw around with fads and really need to entertain their writers as ver very few can live just on writing. I can think of 2 or and even then 1 is still a reporter another just quit being a lawyer.

    In any case we can thank Amamazon lulu.com and all the independent publishers for opening new doors for aspring authours

    1. It is encouraging to know that the Romance languages are resistant to PC corruption. It's difficult to imagine how SJWs could tamper with pronouns in, say, Latin--which I studied for four years--and languages descended from it.

      And yes, many thanks to the services that have made traditional publishers obsolete.

  4. Replies
    1. Whenever you see headlines in the vein of "X Reasons for Y" or "It's Time to Do Z", you know that what follows is the product of a limited mind.

  5. I honestly thought Nick Cole was joking about this on his blog. Sigh.... I am not surprised

    1. They constantly resist our attempts to parody them by stooping to behavior that's beyond parody.

    2. Out of curiosity how much would you say this sped up the death of TradePub? I have noticed that, right now, I am mostly reading indie authors and books published by Baen.

    3. You just pointed out exactly what tradpub's bowing to PC pieties is doing: driving readers to indie.

      Vox has said that tradpub isn't a zero-sum game. It's a negative-sum game for the Big Five. They lose 2 sales for every nontrad book sold. Sensitivity readers don't represent anything new. They're just making New York publishers' once implicit bias explicit. Remember when Larry pointed out the bias in the Hugos and they denied it? They'll soon learn that you can't pay NYC rents when only NYC residents read you.

      That's not what will finish them off, though. Tradpub's demise will be sealed by 1) a lack of authors submitting books to them and 2) the imminent death of B&N.