Welcome to the 21st century and “sensitivity readers,” people hired by writers and publishers, especially of young-adult titles, to vet manuscripts to make sure things are, well, politically correct, “authentic,” and, especially, inoffensive.
Like fact checkers or copy editors, sensitivity readers can provide a quality-control backstop to avoid embarrassing mistakes, but they specialize in the more fraught and subjective realm of guarding against potentially offensive portrayals of minority groups, in everything from picture books to science fiction and fantasy novels.
As The New York Times reports, sensitivity readers don’t just weigh in on matters of historical accuracy. They also have a say in speculative fiction, sometimes even after a book has been published. That’s what happened to Keira Drake, when advanced copies of her fantasy novel The Continent received a hostile response from readers.
Online reviews poured in, and they were brutal. Readers pounced on what they saw as racially charged language in the descriptions of the warring tribes and blasted it as “racist trash,” “retrograde” and “offensive.” Ms. Drake and her publisher, Harlequin Teen, apologized and delayed the book’s publication.