Shannon Luders Manuel – What a sensitivity reader can do to help you reach a larger and more diverse audience

Nonfiction Authors Podcast | September 20, 2023, 10:00 am PT / 1:00 pm ET

“I think everyone can benefit from a sensitivity reader. I think it’s most important if you’re discussing any marginalized group in your book, whether that’s race or religion or disability, just to make sure that you’re not unknowingly perpetuating any stereotypes or alienating readers.”
-Shannon Luders-Manuel

Shannon Luders Manuel - What a sensitivity reader can do to help you reach a larger and more diverse audience

About Shannon Luders Manuel

Shannon Luders-Manuel is a critical mixed-race scholar and writer. She resides in Los Angeles, California, where she works as a sensitivity reader and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) content reviewer for individuals and publishers, including some of the “Big 5.” She holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and presented her master’s thesis at the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference in Chicago, In 2014 she was a featured writer at the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles. Shannon is the author of the upcoming memoir Black Prince: A Father-Daughter Story in Black and White, forthcoming in summer 2025 by Lawrence Hill Books / Chicago Review Press. She has been published in The New York Times, LA Review of Books, and The Offing, among others.

Nonfiction Authors Podcast: Shannon Luders-Manuel

Podcast host Carla King interviews Shannon Luders-Manual in this video podcast. Find show notes, links, quotes, and podcast transcript below.

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Show Notes


In this episode…

  • How to know if you could benefit from a sensitivity reader.
  • How to incorporate a sensitivity reader into your writing process.
  • How long a sensitivity reading takes, on average.
  • How much to budget for a sensitivity reader.
  • How to find the right sensitivity reader for your book.
  • Advice for memoirists on creating more diverse language in their writing.
  • How to navigate our world of diversity and inclusion with a clearer lens.



[00:00:00] Carla King: Hello, and welcome to the Nonfiction Authors Podcast. I’m Carla King, your host, and before we start, I’d like to invite you to go to the Freebies tab at to check out our free reports. We developed these reports to help you figure out things like ISBNs, distribution, optimizing book sales on Amazon, generating book reviews, growing your email list, and we provide checklists on things like publishing and book launches. Now, stay tuned for this week’s guest.

Today we’re talking with Shannon Luders-Manuel about sensitivity reading. Does your nonfiction book need a sensitivity reader? But first, this podcast is brought to you by the Nonfiction Authors Association, a supportive community where writers connect, exchange ideas, learn how to write, publish, promote and profit with your nonfiction books.

Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite app, and visit our website to find transcripts, show notes and links to all of our episodes. Explore our membership options and download free reports. Search the archives, and get answers to your most burning writing and publishing questions.

Now I’d love to welcome Shannon Luders-Manuel, who is a critical mixed race scholar and writer. She resides in Los Angeles, California, where she works as a sensitivity reader and DEI content reviewer for publishers and individuals–and DEI is diversity, equity, and inclusion. Shannon is the author of the upcoming memoir, Black Prince: A Father Daughter Story in Black and White, forthcoming in Summer 2025 by Lawrence Hill Book’s Chicago Review Press.

She holds an MA in English literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and has been published in the New York Times LA Review of Books and The Offing, among others. Welcome, Shannon, to the podcast.

[00:02:09] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:10] Carla King: And congratulations on your memoir. 2025 is coming up fast!

[00:02:15] Shannon Luders-Manuel:  It is, yeah. I’m excited.

[00:02:18] Carla King: I’d love to talk to you about your memoir, but we’re talking about sensitivity readers today, and editing. My first question I’d like to ask you is–do you think everybody needs a sensitivity reader? When would a nonfiction author–both creative and prescriptive–need to hire a sensitivity reader?

[00:02:41] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I think everyone can benefit from a sensitivity reader. I think it’s most important if you’re discussing any marginalized group in your book, whether that’s race or religion or disability, just to make sure that you’re not unknowingly perpetuating any stereotypes or alienating readers.

Some, definitely, should have one if they’re talking specifically about a marginalized group throughout the whole book. Others, if it’s mentioned here and there, it would still be good to have someone look at it.

[00:03:16] Carla King: And I imagine that a nonfiction writer who, like me, is white–I might also want to address authors or an audience of different races. Would one sensitivity reader be enough or do you have to get all the sensitivity readers?

[00:03:35] Shannon Luders-Manuel: It really depends. If you wanted to hire a sensitivity reader for each marginalized group and you have a lot of them in your book, that can be very costly. There are people who do DEI, which is looking more at portrayals in general as opposed to one specific group. Everyone can’t know all the little nuances of portrayals and things. I say just do the best you can.

[00:04:04] Carla King: And hire the right person who’s had a lot of experience. We’ll talk about how to do that hiring. So as authors, especially when we’re independently publishing, we’re hiring a lot of people. We’re hiring book cover designers, we’re hiring an editor. We may have a developmental editor, line editor, copy editor, proofreader, et cetera. Where does a sensitivity reader fit in that process?

I know you are also an editor as well. Are you also a copy editor or a developmental editor, as well as a sensitivity reader?

[00:04:37] Shannon Luders-Manuel: To answer your previous question about when to hire someone–I would say after line editing. Because these things are so nuanced, you want to show the person your specific words that you’re planning on using. If you’re gonna be making a lot of changes, it’s not as beneficial.

Something might fall through the cracks that you had later. And that’s not to scare anybody, because I think it is important for people to talk about marginalized groups. So I don’t want anyone to think, ‘Oh, I can’t discuss that.’

[00:05:13] Carla King: After you’ve had line editing–can you just define line editing for us too? Because that’s, it’s always a point of confusion.

[00:05:19] Shannon Luders-Manuel: It’s after developmental editing and it’s before proofreading. So it’s essentially when the editor goes in and makes little changes to make things sound better. Phrasing, for example.

[00:05:32] Carla King: And so you read the whole book, and you’ll work in word track changes–something like that? Or how do you approach it? Do you give the writer some insights that they don’t know, and then have them go through the book themselves and try to do better because of their awareness? Or do you do it paragraph by paragraph for them?

[00:05:58] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I do paragraph by paragraph, line by line. So usually I’ll do two things–make comments in the manuscript, with the little comment bubbles on the side. So I’ll do that, and I’ll always point out something that I think could benefit from being changed.

And then I’ll also add a suggestion of how to change it so I won’t just leave the writer to their own devices . I’ll help them come up with a solution. And then I also take those same comment bubbles and I put them in a Word doc with the page number and the quote, and then why I am flagging it, and then a suggestion for how to change it.

[00:06:38] Carla King: That sounds like a lot of work for both you and for the author to go through line by line.

[00:06:46] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Yeah. Though to be honest, most things that I read–they don’t have tons of flags. So it’s not like I am giving them back 20 pages of flags. Usually it’s one page, three pages. And that’s with the quote and the change.

[00:07:01] Carla King: We’re talking about nonfiction books. Most nonfiction authors write about what they know. So we’re not a fiction author who’s brought in a character of a race or gender orientation that they don’t know much about. And they’re not creating vernacular, they’re not creating dialogue that they don’t know much about. I know you do that for fiction authors. Which is probably tougher.

[00:07:25] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I do it for nonfiction authors as well. I’ve done some for white or Jewish authors who are writing books about black people–like big figures. Civil rights leaders or basketball players, things like that. And in those instances too, they’re writing these things because they find it a personal interest. So a lot of times there’s not gonna be a lot. But there, I do find things–just little things that can be improved upon.

[00:07:55] Carla King: These are things that a person of a different race would cringe if they read it. They’d be like, ‘Oh, that author doesn’t really know what they’re talking about here.’ So you help them avoid all of that. So you do the copy editing and the DEI all at one time. Is that normal?

[00:08:14] Shannon Luders-Manuel: No, probably not. And for the most part, I do them separately just because I mostly work with publishers and they have their own team, so they come to me just for the sensitivity read. But sometimes if I’m working with an individual, then I will do both those things.

[00:08:34] Carla King: How much time does it take to get a sensitivity read?

[00:08:37] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Allot myself about two weeks. And that’s usually what I’m given if I’m doing a read by a publisher. They’ll give me about two weeks, which is a fine amount of time.

[00:08:50] Carla King: So regarding costs–do sensitivity readers cost about as much as copy editors? What is the range that people can expect to pay?

[00:09:00] Shannon Luders-Manuel: There is a really wide range. In our industry, there’s a wide range in general. I think, also, there’s a wide range because it’s still relatively new, so people are figuring out what a good cost is. But the Editorial Freelancers Association has added sensitivity reading to their rates.

And so I generally go by that now. And with a per word rate, it’s 1 cent to .019 cents per word. I would say it’s $800 for a book and that’s going through the publisher.

So if I’m working with an individual, I have a lot more wiggle room with what I charge because I know an individual might not have the same resources as a publisher.

[00:09:49] Carla King: Oh that’s nice to know. So that sounds like a final proofreading price rate range to me, too. And oftentimes, authors spend a  ton of money on developmental or copy line editing. And then that last $500, they never do it, and then that’s when you end up getting in trouble. Where does one find the right sensitivity reader? How do you look for one?

[00:10:16] Shannon Luders-Manuel: So there are a few places. Again, the Editorial Freelancers Association has a category for sensitivity reading for people who are our members. You can search for people that way. There’s also a Facebook group called “Binders Full of Sensitivity Readers.”

So if you are a non-CIS male you can join that group and then find sensitivity readers that way. People have found me through LinkedIn.

[00:10:48] Carla King: So you think you found the right person. How do you interview them to make sure they are indeed the right person?

[00:10:56] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Usually just a phone call. You could do a Zoom too if you wanted, to talk about the book and see if it would be a good fit. You can also ask the person to show a sample of something, a review that they’ve done before–just to see what kind of feedback they usually give. Especially if they’ve done sensitivity reviews before. And not to say if they haven’t, that they’re bad, because everyone has to start somewhere.

[00:11:26] Carla King: It seems to me that–last year I noticed beta readers asking for books– ‘Hey, I am a Native American transgender woman. I would love to read your book and will charge very little to give you some feedback,’ for instance.

But those were so random. I’m wondering if there are readers who are doing that because they just love to read and they want more books than they love. Delivering that kind of feedback to authors.

[00:12:01] Shannon Luders-Manuel: . I haven’t done a lot of beta reading myself. Yeah. They could want that or they could want experience doing reviews.

[00:12:09] Carla King: That’s true. Book reviewers for sure. What is your feeling on the awareness by publishers and authors on the need for sensitivity reading? Are you seeing an uptick of publishers who are requiring it and including that? And then, do you or don’t you wish that more independent publishers and independent authors would ask for them?

[00:12:37] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I do, yeah. Especially, I think, with publishers. I honestly don’t know if they’re requiring it or not. I feel like the ones that I usually get are authors wanting the review.

I do work with Pearson textbooks and they do require it. And in that case, we don’t communicate directly with the author. It goes through Pearson, because they might be less receptive because it’s something that’s mandatory. But usually for me, when I’m getting the reviews–it’s from people who want them. So I have seen a big uptick, especially following the death of George Floyd. There was a huge uptick after that. And it wasn’t just for books, but it was also for press releases, blog posts, animation, everything that you can think of. One really interesting one that I did that I would say, this is my most interesting one, was an English translation of a French cat role-playing game.

[00:13:36] Carla King: That sounds bizarre.

[00:13:37] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Yeah, it was interesting.

[00:13:39] Carla King: So what was the sensitivity? What were you reading for, in that case?

[00:13:44] Shannon Luders-Manuel: So in that case, I was actually just looking for anything. The authors who wrote it were just old school–older. I found a few things to change–the drunken person. Or that’s the only one I remember.

[00:13:55] Carla King: It was stereotypes?

[00:13:57] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Yeah. And just some language we don’t use anymore.

[00:13:59] Carla King: Yeah, I know that as a female and having been in technology and motorcycle repair and all of that for a long time, I see a lot of cringe-worthy materials and journalism and user manuals even now. I wish everyone would do it. I wish everyone would get a sensitivity read. Do you think every white CIS-gen male should get a sensitivity read?

[00:14:28] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I don’t think it’s just limited to that either, because I think everybody has implicit bias. Everybody might say things that they don’t realize is offensive to another marginalized group. For instance, in my book, I’m writing about my relationship with my father who was addicted to alcohol. So I might hire a sensitivity reader to read through for alcohol addiction. And I’m a female person of color, but everyone has things that they don’t know, the specific language for and things like that.

[00:15:04] Carla King: Is there any advice that you can give to–let’s just start with memoirists–that would help them deal with diversity better, and language better, in their books?

[00:15:21] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Yeah, there’s a few things. For instance, I wouldn’t be afraid to write about race. It’s okay to say it’s okay to mention someone’s race–that’s okay. It’s just in the way that you do it.

If you assume that all the people that you’re talking about are white, and then you say, “The black bus driver,” and it’s not important that he is black, that can be off putting. Because then a black reader thinks, “Oh, this person is writing this from a white lens.”

If you’re just talking about people in general, “Oh, my best friend–she’s Jewish.” Don’t be afraid to talk about that. Things that I flag a lot for: one is Black is not capitalized when you’re talking about the race.

Instead of blacks and whites say, “Black people, white people,” and while Black is capitalized, white is not capitalized. Because for black it’s showing the commonality is a diaspora. So little things like that.

[00:16:26] Carla King: I was talking with Alex Kapitan about that–who we both met at the Professional Publishers Network in Berkeley. And I spoke with them about the white default. So everybody’s white, unless you mention the Hispanic maid or the Black bus driver. When the man walks into the room, is it a big white guy? You have to be consistent on that.

And I just see that so much now that I’m  looking at your work and Alex’s–and also Caterina Rivera, who is saying, “Pay attention to phrases like , my message fell on deaf ears.” There’s that as well. Don’t use that. Or, “I’m a little bit ADD.” Oh, don’t use that, because that’s a real thing. You’re denigrating people who really have that issue. So it’s complicated.

How do you navigate that in this world? How do you navigate it? Because you are biracial and you see it in person. I’m pretty white here. I’m a female, so I see the female stuff. White men really don’t often see even that. So how do we navigate that in our writing, in our speeches? A lot of our nonfiction authors are speakers as well.

[00:17:42] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I think it can be helpful to make sure that you are reading books by people who aren’t just like you, that can just help with perspective with understanding differences of lived experiences–things like that. In case it’s interesting, I have a little anecdote again–with my book. So if you’re mixed race, you can’t assume the race of any character, unless you’re in a huge mixed race enclave, which doesn’t exist much.

So that’s actually something that I personally am wrestling with in my book, because I don’t know if I mention the race of every single character or every single person that comes across in my book. It’s going to get a little heavy. The writer isn’t going to know if you’re a white writer and you don’t mention the race, then the reader assumes that the person that you’re talking about is white.

For me being mixed race, there’s no assumption that the reader can make. So that’s something that I’m having to navigate with my own book.

[00:18:52] Carla King: Wow. So how do you handle that?

[00:18:55] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I’m not sure, because I don’t know if I’m doing it correctly yet. But, we’re still in the beginning stages, so it’s something that I’m just going to have to figure out as I go along. It’s tricky.

[00:19:07] Carla King: That’s also in fantasy novels where there are fictional races and animals and people of all different planets. Underwater people and all of that. So yeah, it is pretty tribal–it is like belonging to one tribe or the other.

And just describing one isn’t good enough, because you’re dealing with so many variations. Is there a group for mixed race authors that talks about that kind of thing?

[00:19:40] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Not that I know of. But a friend and I, we actually were discussing this a couple days ago–of thinking of creating one. Because there, as far as I know, there’s not really a group for that now.

[00:19:54] Carla King: Seems like that would be popular. I use Facebook. I don’t know. You’re younger than I am. You probably don’t use Facebook as much as I do, but there are all these great Facebook groups. That would be a great one, I would think.

You probably get a lot of beta readers per your memoir too.

[00:20:08] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Probably. Yeah.

[00:20:11] Carla King: You’ve published a lot on race–not sensitivity reading per se, but on race and on writing. What’s been your most popular topic, do you think, on race?

[00:20:25] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Probably the one that I did about Bridgerton, just because it’s Bridgeton. People are talking about it anyway…

[00:20:35] Carla King: Yeah, I love Bridgerton. Shonda’s my hero.

[00:20:40] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I actually wrote about–there was a mixed race character who was pregnant and then trying to get engaged to the one white brothers of the main character. I’m blanking on names. I was really excited to see a mixed race character like her in something like Bridgerton, because just historically we haven’t seen something like that, and that’s what Shonda does, which is great.

I did my Master thesis on the tragic mulatta narrative. Essentially–historically in literature, there was this character who would be mixed race. Often she would be just a little black, and mostly white to garner even more sympathy for the white readers.

And her role was to represent the evilness of slavery because here’s this almost white person who’s enslaved, and then it transitioned from that after the abolition of slavery. She was still always this tragic character who maybe died young, or couldn’t find her place. She was often sickly, just sentimental, but like sentimental in the way of not being able to exist in the world.

And in Bridgerton, when that character started following some of those tropes, it was really disheartening. For example, she had this secret–she was treated poorly by, I believe the mom or her aunt or first cousin once removed or something. But her story ended up being very tragic, and I just felt like that was a missed opportunity to give her some sort of a different trajectory instead of having her fit that stereotype.

[00:22:36] Carla King: Where can we find out more about these tropes? These stereotypes–these things that we can avoid by reading your blogs and your articles. So maybe you could tell us where we can find those.

[00:22:52] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I have a lot of them on my website. Yeah, and then I also wrote my Master’s thesis on it. I can send some links to some other articles and things. Another person that talks a lot about it is Nabil Ayers . So he had a book come out last year, I believe, called My Life in the Sunshine. And then he’s just also written about race and being mixed race for a lot of outlets.

[00:23:28] Carla King: So he’s also a musician. Interesting. You’re at the cutting edge. Thank you for being a guide that we desperately need.

[00:23:38] Shannon Luders-Manuel: I just fell into it , with studying it in grad school I didn’t really have any direction because I was the only mixed race person there, so I did it myself and then had an advisor who was interested in the topic, and then as sensitivity reading started off someone reached out to me who I didn’t know, and he said he was writing a book–historical fiction. And the main character was a mixed race young woman in LA. I forget when, it was maybe the 1940s . And he wanted to ask me some questions about mixed race identity. And this is not normal for me, because I tend to not charge enough. But I was like, ‘Pkay, sure. For $75.’

[00:24:24] Carla King: You’ve raised your prices since then, I’m sure.

[00:24:26] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Yeah. But it was my first thing that I could say, ‘Okay, I did a sensitivity read here. I gave this guy that I didn’t know some guidance,’ and it just went from there.

[00:24:36] Carla King: Do you think you have a book on sensitivity reading coming down the pipes?

[00:24:40] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Maybe. I haven’t even really thought about it, but maybe.

[00:24:44] Carla King: I know you’re busy with your memoir, so maybe that’s next. When the editor has it, you can start working on something else. Congratulations on that memoir, by the way. Thank you for all the work that you’re doing. Fighting the good fight, helping us use the right words to reach more readers and to be sensitive to readers that we don’t know we have yet. So we appreciate it very much.

[00:25:05] Shannon Luders-Manuel: Thank you. And thanks for having me on the podcast.

[00:25:10] Carla King: Glad to have you here. And thank you to everyone, our nonfiction author listeners, and the professionals who help you succeed. Remember, keep writing and publishing. The world needs your experience and expertise.

Quotes from our guest

“I think everyone can benefit from a sensitivity reader. I think it’s most important if you’re discussing any marginalized group in your book, whether that’s race or religion or disability, just to make sure that you’re not unknowingly perpetuating any stereotypes or alienating readers.”

“So I have seen a big uptick, especially following the death of George Floyd. There was a huge uptick after that. And it wasn’t just for books, but it was also for press releases, blog posts, animation, everything that you can think of.”

“I think it can be helpful to make sure that you are reading books by people who aren’t just like you, that can just help with perspective with understanding differences of lived experiences.”