- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2017

Authors and publishers are increasingly hiring “sensitivity readers” to screen books for culturally offensive material before sending them to market.

A cultural climate that has the publishing industry increasingly under the microscope by fans has created a demand for specialized book scanners. Individuals are paid a small fee, roughly $250 per manuscript, to look for content deemed problematic.

“The industry recognizes this is a real concern,” children’s book author and editor Cheryl Klein recently told The Washington Post.

Some of the red flags for sensitivity readers include stories on transgender issues, Islamic communities, and individuals with terminal illnesses.

“Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,” librarian and sensitivity reader Dhonielle Clayton told the newspaper Feb. 10.

Ms. Clayton, who can be found in a database called Writing in the Margins, said readers should not be subjected to “harmful versions” of certain groups. She said that she takes on jobs despite feeling as though she may be contributing to cultural appropriation.

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” she told the newspaper. “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? […] So until publishing is equitable and people are still writing cross-culturally, sensitivity reading is going to be another layer of what’s necessary in order to make sure that representation is good.”

Publisher and Editorial Director Stacy Whitman of Lee & Low Books told the Post that its company-wide policy of hiring sensitivity readers was instituted because it produces better stories.

“It’s important for authors to consider expert reader feedback and figure out how to solve the problems they point out,” Ms. Whitman said. “Everyone’s goal is a better book, and better representation contributes to that.”

“I wouldn’t dream of sending those books out into the world without getting help to make sure I’m representing those issues in a way that’s realistic and sensitive,” added children’s book author Kate Messner.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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