From Craig DeLancey's 5-5-19 Quillette article entitled "Policing the Creative Imagination," which analyzes the growing trend of book publishers employing "sensitivity readers":
While it is true that employing a sensitivity reader does not amount
to censorship in the strictest sense, this claim is also irrelevant.
Writers understand that they are individuals entering into a contractual
arrangement with a private business, and that publishers are not
censoring when they make editorial decisions prior to publication.
Nevertheless, writers are now routinely required to clear an extra
hurdle if they wish to see their books in print, and doing so can
directly impact their aesthetic choices, even though a sensitivity
reader is unlikely to be a professional writer. Serious authors spend
decades honing their craft, and can spend years on a book. They will be
understandably nervous about an amateur evaluating their work with a red
pen and recommending political changes that flatten nuance and
character complexity and have nothing to do with creative intention or
coherence. For the same reason, screenwriters typically loathe “notes”
from executives who are not writers.
Are sensitivity readings always voluntary? We do not have reliable
information about how often, and under what circumstances, sensitivity
readers are employed. In some cases, they are hired by writers who want
to vet their book (or who want to be able to say they vetted
their book) before self-publishing or submitting the manuscript to an
agent or editor. Some of the authors I spoke to employ a sensitivity
reader on their own initiative, believing that it might help them escape
accusations of insensitivity. Some editors, and perhaps some agents,
recommend using a sensitivity reader, especially in Young Adult, middle
grade, and genre fiction. If an editor makes such a request, agreement
is voluntary only in the narrow sense that a person is not forced to
obey their office boss because they have the freedom to quit. In such a
situation, most writers feel compelled to follow the advice of an editor
lest their publication deal disappear. For the same reason, writers
will understand that they are expected to follow at least some of the
advice offered by the sensitivity reader, whatever its merits.
But sometimes the use of sensitivity readers is explicitly mandatory.
One writer I interviewed (who asked not to be identified) currently has
a manuscript in the hands of a sensitivity reader tasked with checking
that a secondary character—a heroic Native American scientist—has been
portrayed in a sufficiently sympathetic light. The contract the author
signed with the publisher stipulated that both publication and payment
would be contingent upon approval by a sensitivity reader. In the event
of a mob denunciation, the publisher explained, they could at least
counter that the book had been vetted by a Native American. The reader
has apparently been slow, which has delayed publication for months. The
novel’s author, meanwhile, is established, widely respected, and the
recipient of multiple prestigious awards. If a sensitivity reading can
be imposed on this writer, it can be imposed on anyone.
Should we care if the use of sensitivity readers becomes widespread
and mandatory? Some art forms are, after all, created by
committee—writing for television, for instance, is almost always a group
effort. But the novel is a form better suited to the expression of a
single creator’s unique vision. Sensitivity readers are an affront to
that autonomy. The novelist who understands that the representation of
diverse characters could sabotage a book deal might reconsider whether
it is worth writing about such people at all. The very existence of
sensitivity readers may lead them to shy away from writing such
characters, since so many in the industry believe they can’t do it. If
sensitivity readers become a publishing institution, they will only
incentivize more cautious, conservative, and ideologically homogenous
books, as authors seek to avoid controversy, costs, and loss of control
that will arise from more daring and morally ambivalent fiction.
But it is the claim that sensitivity readers are merely fact checkers
that is most troubling. Defenders of sensitivity readers often claim
that hiring someone to evaluate the permissibility of a novel’s
character is analogous to hiring a scientist to check scientific claims
or a historian to check historical events. But this is simply a category
error, which disappears the vital distinction between fact and value—what is and what ought to be.
There is a fundamental difference between telling an author that Miami
is not the capital of Florida, and opining that the portrayal of
this-or-that character is morally objectionable.
To read DeLancey's entire article, click HERE.