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Writing, Editing, and Publishing Indigenous Stories

What Is a Sensitivity Reader?

A sensitivity reader is someone who reads for offensive content, misrepresentation, stereotypes, bias, lack of understanding, etc. They create a report for an author and/or publisher outlining the problems that they find in a piece of work and offer solutions in how to fix them. By doing this, the literary quality of a work is substantially improved.

A sensitivity reader will often come from a specific Nation or community that the author is writing about. They will include academic as well as personal experience in their reading. It is suggested that an author hire more than one sensitivity reader, especially if they are writing about a culture that they are not familiar with. Although many individuals may come from the same cultural group, we are all shaped by the Land that we were raised with and different personal experiences. 


Hiring a Sensitivity Reader

 Before approaching, consider the following (Sylvester 2017):

  • Expect to pay a sensitivity reader for their services. Their work is valuable and should be compensated. 
  • Do not expect your sensitivity reader to have all the answers. They can only speak from their own experiences. They do not and cannot represent their entire Nation. 
  • Approach them with an open mind and a willingness to learn. 
  • Be aware of the emotional labour involved in this process. 
  • Know that they may not accept your project. Indigenous Peoples are often overworked.
  • Read! Read books by Indigenous authors. These books will give you great insight into approaching this topic. 
  • Be honest with yourself. After reading books by Indigenous authors, ask yourself if you should be writing these stories. Then, think about how you can be respectful and responsible to the culture that you are representing. 

After going through this list, you may find that you need a sensitivity reader to help you with your work. Here are some tips that will help you find who you are looking for:

  • First, ensure that you have a connection to the community that you are writing about. If you are not linked to this community, you have no business writing about them. Keep to this rule: "You cannot write about Indigenous Peoples without Indigenous Peoples."
  • Consider approaching a community member. If you have a relationship with them, this is best. If this person is an Elder from the community, ensure that you use appropriate Protocol. 
  • You may also consider asking an Indigenous author or academic that you have a relationship with. 
  • Word of mouth is powerful. Ask around! Sensitivity Readers are out there, but they often do not have personal websites to advertise their services. 

Note: Once you find a sensitivity reader, develop a relationship with them and nurture it throughout your work with them. Many Indigenous cultures operate on relationality and reciprocity. This means that you might be sitting down, drinking tea -- and that's okay (and often expected). 

Becoming a Sensitivity Reader

Sensitivity Readers tend to have the following characteristics (Marks 2018):

  1. They want to make a difference in the world.
  2. They love to read.
  3. They belong to a marginalized group.
  4. They want to work from home.
  5. They have personal experiences to draw upon.
  6. They understand that they are not censoring anything.

If you see yourself in these categories, you may have what it takes. Here are some tips and tricks that may help you along the way:


  • If you want to become a sensitivity reader, you should have some editorial training. Sensitivity reading is a type of editing. Having this background will help you with editing basics. You also need to have good communication skills when providing constructive feedback. 
  • You must be honest with yourself and decide on who you can read for. You do not want to be a sensitivity reader for experiences that are outside of your own. 
  • Be upfront about what you find uncomfortable. Some content may be triggering. You mental health is important and not worth sacrificing. Ensure that you know your limits and have the proper resources and support to help you along the way.

Getting Paid

  • Sensitivity reading is relatively new to the publishing industry. As such, you may find that you have to justify your worth. 
  • Sensitivity reading is often thought of as voluntary. Do NOT perpetuate this myth. You should be paid for your time and your experiential knowledge. 
  • Create an industry-standard contract which states your fee, the reading timeline, and author expectations. This will ensure proper lines of communication.
  • As of March 2019 the average pay for a sensitivity reader was $0.005 - $0.01 per word. For a work of 60,000 words, you can expect to receive between $300 to $600. 


  • As a sensitivity reader, you may encounter questions of censorship. Ultimately, it is up to the author and/or publisher to accept or reject your suggestions and take responsibility for those decisions. 
  • Note: The topic of censorship with respect to sensitivity reading can be an attempt to thwart the conversation and divert from the real issues at hand: unconscious bias, lack of diversity, and blockage of Indigenous Peoples from publishing their own stories. Sensitivity readers must be aware of these larger issues. 

Sensitivity Resources