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What you need to know about authenticity reading

You might already be familiar with the term ‘sensitivity reading’, but maybe you’ve just come across another term: ‘authenticity reading’.

Whether you’ve just read it somewhere or someone has recommended you find an authenticity reader, here’s everything you need to know about what authenticity reading is.

Authenticity reading is a form of beta reading focused on helping the author feel confident in how they’ve portrayed certain characters.

Authors usually seek out authenticity reading when their book needs it, to ensure accurate representation of a culture or community and to support diverse voices. If your book portrays something you have no lived experience of, such as a disability, gender identity, or cultural upbringing, your story will benefit from authenticity reading.

Image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

What is authenticity reading?

While beta reading helps the author refine their novel based on feedback from readers of the genre, authenticity reading gives authors feedback from readers who share experiences with characters in that novel. Most authors are aware of authenticity readers who give feedback on the portrayal of culture, but there are many unique experiences that authenticity readers can help with. This includes authentic representation of social identities, experiences, and subcultures.

In my experience, authenticity reading helps authors not just refine how they’ve portrayed characters but also how their narration can affect readers. I’ve read queer fiction where people feel represented yet the descriptions have been uncomfortably binary or even perpetuated stereotypes.

In one case, an author had a very strong cast of queer characters, but the way they tackled a romantic plotline resulted in a very harmful stereotype that resulted in a lot of negative reviews, even though the author themself was queer.

Having even one authenticity reader benefits the author by having someone else check portrayals, descriptions, and plots. Problems can be picked up and addressed before publishing. Even if an author doesn’t agree with suggested changes, this can give them an idea of how their story will be perceived by some readers.

No author wants to end up on a community like ‘Men Writing Women’, where women breasted boobily down the stairs. The best kind of representation results in praise for your book’s portrayal, while good representation results in no bad reviews, no memes mocking your page, and no mention of what you did wrong on social media.

An authenticity reader can help you stay firmly on the good side of representation.

It’s not just self-publishing authors who work with authenticity readers either. Penguin Random House say that authenticity reading feedback is crucial for authors writing outside of their experience.

What feedback do authors get from authenticity readers?

As a non-binary authenticity reader, I provide an authenticity reading report which gives feedback on characterisation, conscious language, and plot and character arcs. Conscious language is especially important if you want people to feel comfortable reading and finishing your novel.

I also answer any questions the author poses to me. Being given a list of questions helps me to refine what I’m looking for.

Here are some examples of questions you could ask an authenticity reader:

  • How can [character]’s portrayal be improved?
  • Are there any ways to strengthen the coming out scene in [chapter]?
  • Is the language used to describe [character] respectful and accurate? Is there anything harmful you think should be changed?
  • Do the non-binary characters feel authentic and three-dimensional or do they feel stereotypical or one-dimensional?
  • Is the way I’ve described [character]’s gender identity and gender expression okay? Are there any ways I can improve, especially in [chapter]?
  • Is it clear that the non-binary characters in my world are diverse or does it feel like they’re a monolithic group?

With these questions in mind, an authenticity reader can keep them in mind while reading and give you direct feedback.

Tips for working with an authenticity reader

If authenticity reading would benefit your story, finding an authenticity reader to work with should be done during the editing stages of your book. If your story is long and one of your main characters is non-binary or the world deals with a lot of gendered worldbuilding, you should ideally find an authenticity reader before you query your book to agents or you hire a freelance editor.

Otherwise, an authenticity reader can be used any time before your book is formatted for self-publishing.

My other tips for working with authenticity readers include:

  • Prepare questions and provide clear instructions for what feedback you’re looking for and how you want to receive it. Some authors prefer feedback in comments on a Word document, while others might ask for a reading report.
  • Establish a realistic deadline. Authenticity readers do more than just read and review your book, they’re compiling notes and feedback at the same time as reading. Sometimes chapters or even entire sections of a book will be read again to look for inconsistent portrayals or to view one plotline of the book separately.
  • Use a feedback form with your questions listed. This is beneficial if you’re working with multiple readers. A free feedback form can be created using Google Forms.
  • Be open to constructive criticism. You don’t need to accept every bit of feedback, nor do you need to change everything. Incorporate feedback that aligns with your vision for the characters and story. You don’t need to tell your authenticity reader what you are and aren’t changing either.
  • Get second opinions if you’re unsure about the feedback you’ve received or how to proceed. You could look for more readers, or when working with a professional editor or agent you can ask for their opinions.
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