• ajeditorialservice

Is authenticity reading censorship?

Updated: Jul 14

Authenticity reading is not a service I offer. But it is a service I urge many clients to seek out. Like all in this field, it has many names; authenticity reading, sensitivity reading, expert reading. I refer to it as authenticity reading in this blogpost as I feel it is the most accurate way of describing it without creating yet another term for it!



All editing is about accuracy

If you think about editing as a tool for achieving different kinds of accuracy, authenticity reading slots right into the process. Developmental editing checks that you're accurately meeting reader expectations of plot, pace, character development, and other story craft elements. Line editing makes sure that each of your lines accurately represents the tone you were aiming for and the message you were trying to convey. Copyediting ensures you are accurately using the language and grammar that you intended to write in.


Authenticity reading ensures you are accurately representing the people, experiences and viewpoints expressed in your book, especially those that might not be your own.


What needs authenticity read?

Anything real you've written that is outside of your personal experience for which you might have relied on tropes, stereotypes or internal beliefs that aren't based in fact needs to be read for authenticity. This can include race, sexual identity, gender identity, experience with mental health, experience of disability, political views and lived experience in a country.


Note that throughout, I have based this blogpost in accuracy. Books need authenticity readers because when you write outside of your experience, readers with that experience could read it and think "Well, that's not true."


We've all seen ourselves inaccurately portrayed in the media.

Even in the most simple and innocent ways. Try watching a tv show based in the US when they bring on a British character, only you're British and the portrayal is so toe-curlingly wrong that you're no longer paying attention to the plot but criticising the actor. They might even start distrusting other elements of your story because "if they got that wrong, what else?" And vice-versa. An authenticity reader will help you iron out these inaccuracies so none of your readers get thrown from your narrative or lose confidence in your writing.


When inaccuracy becomes harm

It is unlikely that anyone is harmed by inaccurate portrayals of British culture. The worst outcome for inaccurate portrayals isn't confusion and disbelief. It is harm and perpetuating degrading stereotypes. When it comes to minoritised groups, the inaccuracy in books can become harmful. I am not best placed to lecture anybody on what causes harm to minoritised groups and why. The Conscious Language Style Guide offers a valuable collection of resources that will show you how important it is to represent people accurately.


Does this need to be done professionally?

If you take a look around various writing communities, you'll might see other writers offering their time and lived experience to read your manuscript for authenticity. Their insight is valuable. After all, they might better represent your target readership than a hired editor might be. If someone from any community points out a concern they have with your book, take that onboard and consider their advice seriously.


However, there are differences between asking any wheelchair user you come across and asking an editor who is also a wheelchair user to give you feedback on the characterisation of wheelchair users in your book.


1. You're paying the editor

Giving you feedback based on their lived experiences, which may have both positive and negative impact, is emotional labour. At best, it is tiring to explain details of your life to people. At worst, they could be actively reading harmful content in hope that you'll listen to them when they explain why it is harmful. They deserve paid for that.


2. The editor is professionally trained

One person with ADHD does not represent all people with ADHD. Different people have different experiences, even of the same thing. An editor with professional training will be more able to give their personal experience in balance with official resources, such as style guides, thinktanks and etymologies. They will prime you to make informed decisions about your language use and representations.


3. It is a safe environment to learn

If you're hiring an editor for authenticity reading, it is probably safe to assume that a) you don't intend harm in your prose, and b) you're willing to learn and take feedback onboard. The editor you're working with will phrase comments in a non-accusatory way that offers facts from relevant organisations and style guides, alongside how your readers could receive your work.



 

In short, an authenticity read isn't censorship anymore than your copy editor drawing up a timeline and telling you that your characters couldn't possibly have travelled the whole length of the UK on foot in 2 days and you must rewrite it to better represent the geography of the country. Only, the geography of the country is not being harmed when you misrepresent it.

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