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Authenticity Reader

A special part of writing is that we get to explore the world around us through our words. This often means writing beyond our own experiences. When we do, it is important to write compassionately and accurately. They are as crucial a part of the process as proofreading. H is here to talk with us about authenticity readers and what they can do for your manuscript.


Let’s jump right to the core of this. What is authenticity reading?


Authenticity reading is a specialised type of beta reading service which focuses on ensuring marginalised and under-represented experiences or backgrounds are handled sensitively and faithfully.


An authenticity reader gives an author feedback based on the author’s portrayal of a character or experience. This helps the author feel more confident in their work, and also helps to avoid any pitfalls that might come up from this.


For instance, a fantasy author might ask an authenticity reader to give them feedback on a character with a disability shared by that reader. They then read the novel and check that there are no issues with this portrayal, such as a misunderstanding of the disability.


You work with authors to support them representing LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent characters accurately. What does that look like for you?


As a neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ person, I provide authenticity reading services that help authors portray characters not just a copy of myself but also like myself. I really try to connect with the characters and how they experience the story, and this helps me to give really comprehensive feedback.


I mostly work with stories in Word documents, so I can add comments throughout the manuscript. The comments I leave are a combination of “Loved this!” and “I like this, have you considered…?” and “This could be strengthened by…”


Any authors I’ve worked with can tell you that I always make sure to share what I loved and liked, and all of my feedback is framed based on what LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent readers would like to see. I also make sure authors know that my feedback will always be suggestions, so if they get other feedback or simply don’t want to change anything, they don’t have to.


When I work with authors with neurodivergent characters, I look at a number of aspects, especially around how they process information and senses in their scenes.


Sensory processing disorder is a co-occurring condition for many people with neurodivergent brains, so I keep track of what a character responds to and how they respond to that. Then, if a character has already expressed distress at a noise early on in the story but doesn’t later in the story I can suggest to the author that they might want to check this. There’s always nuance to this, depending on the situation and context.


As an authenticity reader for neurodivergent characters, I also check for the language used (such as autism spectrum disorder vs autism spectrum condition, Asperger’s syndrome, and other conscious language choices), how a character reacts to situations, how a character interacts with others, and more.


Working with authors representing LGBTQ+ characters is a little different, because one of the biggest things I look for here is consistency for pronouns. Because I’m non-binary, I mostly work on stories that contain non-binary and trans characters, whose pronouns might change during the story or might not be as familiar to readers (or sometimes the author) so it’s easier to make mistakes.


When I authenticity read for LGBTQ+ characters, I also check for the language used (such as identity labels, sexual vs romantic orientation, and other conscious language choices), how distressing homophobic or transphobic scenes are portrayed, how a character sees themself (especially gender dysphoria), and more.


What attitude should an author have when they head in to get their authenticity read?


It’s really important that authors feel that they’re not going to be criticised or told that they’ve done everything wrong. When an author hires an authenticity reader, they should frame it in their mind like they do for beta reading or editing: this is a service that helps you understand how your readers will engage with the story and feel more confident putting your story out there.


An authenticity read doesn’t rip apart what work you’ve done. Instead, it provides constructive feedback on where you’re spot on, where something could be improved, and where you might want to be more sensitive.


Authenticity reading is all about supporting the author in getting their story ready to publish.


If you had to pass on one piece of advice when writing outside of your experience, what would it be?


Read more than just one source of information. It’s so important that you don’t look at just one person’s experience or one organisation’s resources. Collect a variety of blog posts, social media posts, articles, and even videos to get more information about the experience.


This is also important when narrowing down to a specific experience, because everyone processes things differently. If you’re writing about a neurodivergent character attending their first party, you might look for information that confirms what you expect, which is usually that all neurodivergent people will sit in a corner and either not interact with anyone or will have a meltdown. The opposite is true for many people, and others will experience it differently.


Experience is a spectrum, just like anything else. Nobody is expecting you to perfectly represent all people of that experience, just authentically represent a single person with that experience.


 

H Noss is a freelance proofreader specialising in fantasy, romance, and queer fiction for UK authors. They also provide authenticity reading services for stories involving non-binary and/or neurodivergent characters.






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