From HeatStreet:

Book publishers fearing the backlash from social justice activists are hiring special readers to check the books and flag up racist, sexist and other so-called offensive content before they go to print.

“Sensitivity reader” is a person who, for a small fee, will provide feedback about the book based on self-ascribed areas of expertise like “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities” or “transgender issues”, according to The Chicago Tribune.

… Suddenly self-publishing is looking better and better, isn’t it? Seriously who is actually pushing for this?

On the surface, this may seem like a good thing. There’s certainly nothing wrong with making sure that characters are portrayed in a culturally correct manner. However what happens when that reading goes at odds with the writer’s message or experience?

Look, I’ve said it time and time again and the cardinal sin in writing is writing about something you don’t know anything about. If you want to write about another culture, experience that other culture first. Research it and maybe go spend some time in it.

You want to write about a place? Either visit it or talk to people who have been there and carefully study pictures of it.

Do you want to write about a person? TALK TO THAT PERSON and if they’re not still alive, either talk to people who knew them and/or research everything you can find on them; their personalities, decisions they’ve made, their impacts on history, etc.

“Publishers are encouraged to hire such “experts” out of fear of potential backlash for publishing books that have perceived bias and troublesome portrayals of oppressed groups, especially when the author isn’t part of the group.”

You know… awful though it sounds, I actually do not care about perceived bias and troublesome portrayals. So now we’re  getting to the point where we not only have to worry about what we say but also what someone believes we MIGHT be thinking?

If you want to write a reaction or call out someone because they said in a serious light, “Adolf Hitler did nothing wrong.” or “Kamau Kambon was right!” or “Death to all infidels!” Like if there is abject bigotry. Go for it, you’ll get no argument from me, but when you get into the whole thing where ‘you may not have directly said it, but its clear that this is what you were thinking when you wrote this’ or ‘it’s pretty obvious what you’re thinking, despite the fact that you may not actually be thinking it.’ That is extremely dangerous on an Orwellian level, which is very scary.


The only time anyone should be called out on their writing is when their portrayal is way off the mark either intentionally (As is the case with Pewdiepie) where it is clear what was going on, or due to a lack of research… AKA Titanic’s portrayal of Ismay. But no writer should be worried about writing a character a certain way when that’s been his/her experience with people who are ‘like that character’ or from the same area as that character, etc.

Everyone has different experiences and that doesn’t make them bigoted or anything like that. The whole idea of hiring sensitivity readers is just  such a foreign notion to me for three reasons;

1.It’s thought censoring. You’re basically paying someone else to tell you, ‘Well you might not have thought this in what you said, but here’s what some people might think you meant and that could cause a backlash.

2. Writing is not supposed to be safe. It’s not always supposed to be comfortable, heck it’s not even supposed to be flattering. Writing is here to make you think, to expose you to other ideas, worlds, thoughts, and opinions. To put a filter like this on said opinions is so offensive to me, this blog piece doesn’t even do it justice.

3. People into identity politics and social justice are always on the lookout for something they can be offended by. If this isn’t plainly obvious by the crap we see spewed by the regressive leftist media… and even certain elements of the left calling themselves out for having ‘cried wolf too many times to be heard,’ then it never will be. These people are not going to be able to stop that.

Unfortunately more and more publishers appear to be going this route, making themselves akin to the mainstream media, and indie publishing more like the alternative media that is on the rise.

In short, don’t give into this. If your publisher tries to push this on you, drop them. Go it alone. You’ll be better off. Thought policing is going way too far.

In short, publish whatever you want. If your readers know you and know your work, they will buy it. If people complain, who cares? Let them complain. People complained and called Pewdiepie a racist, it didn’t cost him any followers. In fact, the whole of the internet rose up in support of him. The same might not happen, but the people who have read your book will know the truth and they will stick by you, leaving the complainers to yell at a brick wall.

If not, if you let them bother you, you’re no better than the people that wanted to censor and/or edit the writings of Mark Twain.


Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!


7 Comments on “Social Justice Editing!

  1. Does any book not touch on something sensitive???? The death of a loved one. The corruption of a government. The mistreatment of a group of people. Let me write a story with zero conflict as see how far it flies. My book goes into the origin of homophobia. Definitely not offensive to anyone, but I’m 100% sure it would get flagged for offensiveness. Guess what is staying in the book. Good post, Jim. Way to get everyone worked up. LOL


  2. James I agree with everything your saying here and I think it is so true! And in some ways we are loosing freedom of opinion in this issue because there are many sides to every story and all those stories have the right to be heard whether you agree with them or not!! Such a fabulous and true article! I’ll get my pitchfork!!


  3. MAD back in the 1950s produced a very clever satire on interference in this case the progress of a drama from scriptwriter to final cut. The initial out line is as follows: Father is a judge wrapped up in his work with no time for his teenage son. The lad disaffected gets into trouble and is found out. The lad is remorseful, but the Father accepts he must shoulder some blame. The progress is then charted as each layer of management in the TV network and the Sponsors add their own changes and delete ‘controversial’ parts. The result is Cinderella, the final panel is the fitting of the glass slipper and a caption saying ‘Great Work by this writer. We must encourage him to produce more work’.
    A issue in the current atmosphere is the perception of both sides seeing the other as trying to stifle them, or seeing the other side as stridden and biased. In the history of this debate there is nothing new.
    From my own (admittedly slightly puritanical and socialist) perspective I have an inherent suspicion of anyone who offers their ephemeral services for money; the idea of professionally being able to spot offense comes within that category. If we are looking at it from the position of laws passed within a state or country and the matter is argued through a legal framework then so be it. People can of course publically condemn a book, that is their right. (I have a very long list which I keep to myself having long ago acknowledged my ‘sour’ outlook).
    The problem lies is where the line is drawn. I was quite disgusted to find out you could purchase the book The Protocols of Zion, when in my innocence I thought this work was long gone and buried its Anti-Semitism discredited in the post WWII era. Now it is possible that some book I have in my collection (military probably) someone might find as equally offensive; although I would say in my defence the offence is likely to arise by reading the analytical way slaughter is dealt with; race or religion as such not coming into the matter except as back ground material as to who is fighting who and why.
    Having journeyed this far I will stop being of no further use to the debate as my rather hard-nosed sort of left-wing political beliefs do tend to end up extoling the ‘virtues’ of a measure of state censorship on the basis of stability of society….OK scary talk…..stopping now.


  4. Amen and amen. This is an increasing problem. As an editor, this sensitivity silliness is the least of my concerns. Give me good plots, sentence structure and characters. Even if the characters are ragging jerkwads.


  5. There’s more danger here than just suppression of ideas, although that’s a big danger to be sure. Compelling speech is just as dangerous, Jordan Peterson has made this point several times in his battle against Canada’s Bill C-16. (If you’re not familiar with Prof. Peterson’s case a good summary video can be found here:

    Frankly, with these readers focused on portrayals of certain kinds of people or ideas, they’re just as likely to push for their interest groups to be portrayed in certain ways, ways they think are positive. Compelled speech puts words in the mouths of authors and helps build the idea that specific viewpoints may be more widely held than they really are. Stories won’t just tell the writer’s stories, they’ll tell stories pushed by biased editors interested in setting an agenda favorable to them and readers will have no way to tell which stories are the authors and which come from special interest groups.

    Well, savvy readers will probably work it out if they take the time. But it’s still dishonest. It’s also a blatant propaganda tool. Not to tempt Godwin here, but Those Pesky Nazis demanded this kind of review from Hollywood during the 1930s – and they got it. Not going to go into the full impact of that here – Ben Urwand’s book The Collaboration does that much better than I could – but it definitely suppressed critical voices for a long time.

    This also opens writers to be lazy. Rather than doing actual research, they can wind up using these editors as a crutch and just taking whatever input they’re given. It’s not a palatable idea to think about, it can hurt aspiring writers to accept, but when I was a starry eyed journalism student a decade ago it would have been very hard for me to accept many of the things about the laziness and bias of that profession that are so obvious today. Better to be on guard against it than leave the door open for such apathy.


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