by Synovia Roberts
As the world gets more outwardly diverse, storytellers—whether it be fiction writers, screenwriters, or visual artists—are rushing to embody that diversity in their work. The influx of representation both solves and creates a problem via the accuracy of said representation. You see, diversifying one’s work requires one to explore cultures/identities that are not their own. However, culture and representation are sensitive, if not sacred, for many people. It is extremely important for creators to get representation right, but how?
This is where diversity readers come in. A diversity reader, otherwise known as a sensitivity or authenticity reader, is someone who reads or looks over a creator’s work to fact-check characters and their actions. It is best to hire a reader that matches the specifics of the character(s) being evaluated. For example, it’s best to have a lesbian diversity reader check over a lesbian character(s). This is because the reader’s main purpose is to help the creator avoid unintentional/insensitive stereotypes or a bout of misrepresentation; it only makes sense that the hired reader has the experiences needed to help create fuller, realer characters.
Diversity readers are also helpful when creators need specific facts about a group or culture that can’t be easily researched, like specific holiday recipes or appropriate cultural dress. A good conversation with a diversity reader can provide a wealth of information that can be used to create a positive and accurate representation of a group.
But how and where to find diversity readers? Writing Diversely lists readers who are available for hire, along with their rates, which range from flat rates starting at $10 and going all the way up to $300. But if you don’t have the finances to pay a professional diversity reader, there are other options. The easiest free option is to try social media. Making posts on sites like Reddit and Tumblr that ask people to volunteer their time are sure to get you some responses. Be clear and upfront about the character and situations you wish to depict, then allow people to come to you.
In my own experience, I’ve had quite a turn-out on Tumblr. In an effort to find readers, I made a post in which I “Culture Called.” In the post, I detailed my desire to have a diverse, but accurate, set of characters along with the nationalities/ethnicities of said characters. As I acquired more people willing to read my work, I made sure to keep everyone up to date on my progress.
Altogether, I received well over 100 responses, and I was lucky enough to get someone willing to help me on the development of an Icelandic character, Magnús, and his family. Together we were able to go into detail about the mythology surrounding my character and his place in my piece. My diversity reader clarified how he’d speak and how he’d interact with the magical elements in the story. My reader was also able to give me a bit of Icelandic history to give my writing more authentic context. It was a great experience for me, and I’m sure it can help you as well.
Still, there’s a bit of controversy around the use of diversity readers. Many people see it as a form of censorship. But remember, no one is forcing you to hire or reach out to a diversity reader, and the reader you’re working with cannot force you to add or remove something in your piece. As the writer, you are free to make any and all decisions you see fit; the diversity reader is simply there to make beneficial suggestions.
In my experience, a diversity reader has made a marked difference in my work. Without my reader, Magnús’ storyline would have been completely different. His interaction with the story’s magical elements would have been vastly incorrect in comparison to Icelandic mythology. Diversity readers are an important step for proper representation, and many times, they can be the difference between a lovable character and a rampant stereotype, but it’s up to you to reach out.