As a writer, you’re motivated by the story you want to tell. While drafting your manuscript, it’s likely you’ll be tapping into your own experience of the world around you or from your own imagination. But sometimes, aspects of your writing might unintentionally cause pain or distress to readers. Unfortunately, some people can be adversely affected by your book if the story you tell directly reflects them or their way of life.

Develop your awareness of other people’s social and cultural perspectives

It is vital for you to be aware of, and sensitive to, social and cultural perspectives in your written work. Cultural differences are no excuse for you to criticise the lifestyles of other people.

While staying as close as possible to the truth, you should avoid incorporating content in your book that could potentially hurt or offend someone else. This is an ethical boundary that writers should strive to stay within.

Creativity loves to explore freely without restriction or restraint. Nevertheless, this freedom does not give you licence to inflict emotional pain on others. This could happen if your narrative portrays a certain gender, religion, cultural group or people of certain abilities or sexual orientation in a negative light.

Working with a sensitivity reader

A good way to avoid any potential ethical and cultural issues in your book is to work closely with a sensitivity reader. This process can be particularly helpful if you don’t have first-hand experience of the group or culture you’re writing about.

A sensitivity reader can help you in the following ways:

  • Offering advice so you avoid perpetuating stereotypes or promoting negative attitudes towards certain groups of people.
  • Providing constructive criticism and suggesting ways you can improve your written text to ensure it is more respectful and culturally aware.
  • Ensuring your published book is more likely to receive a positive response from a diverse range of readers.

The role of sensitivity readers

Sensitivity readers play a critical role in helping writers ensure their work does not unwittingly cause distress to others. Since they have lived experience of the culture or background that is depicted in your book, they’re able to inform you if your wording and descriptions are on the mark or not. For example, they can tell you if your book contains unintentional biases against someone from a specific country or culture, a member of the LGBTIQ+ community, or an individual living with a mental or physical disability.

It is important to note that this process is an additional review of your work. It does not replace the services of a professional editor or proofreader. A sensitivity reader will simply alert you to any stereotypes, offensive language or other gaps in cultural awareness that may be present in your book. In addition to reviewing your manuscript, a sensitivity reader can also provide you with resources and information to expand your knowledge of different cultures and backgrounds. This, in turn, can help you to write more authentically and with greater cultural awareness.

As an indie author, you don’t have the backing of a traditional publisher with a legal team to check your manuscript for any potential signs of trouble. For this reason, you need to take some steps to educate yourself about this important aspect of book publishing.

If you use your written words to demean or attack other people, you open yourself up to criticism and attack as well. Your writing should accurately and respectfully reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of people from different cultures and backgrounds. By doing this, your book will be viewed in a favourable light by a wide range of readers.