Friday, November 5, 2021

Sensitivity Readers for Writing Cultures You Already Know?

Edie here. Today I want to give a shout out to A.C. Williams and make sure you don't miss her newest book — A Cowboy for Christmas!!! It's a wonderful read and I know you'll want to support her. It's available now for preorder on Amazon, but the best way to get it is through her website. (All the links for the book in this post lead to her site). 

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

Do you need a sensitivity reader for that manuscript you’re writing? It’s a good question to ask yourself. Do you have a character who is from another culture? Do you write in the perspective of a character who is different from you or who came from different circumstances?

If the answer is yes (and maybe even if it isn’t), you need a sensitivity reader. 

It doesn’t matter how well you think you know that other culture. It’s a good idea to have someone who actually lives in that culture review it before you go to print. 

How can I make a statement like that? Well, let me tell you a story. 

I am releasing a new novella within the next few weeks, a shamelessly holidayish Hallmark-movie style story. It features a British dog-walker named Ava and a grumpy cowboy named Jasper, and there’s a blizzard and a horse and a cute child. Merry Christmas. 

Well, I’ve visited England. I have dear friends who are British. I watch a ton of British television shows. I thought surely I had done an excellent job of making sure that my British character was portrayed correctly. But I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. So I contacted my amazing British friend Mona and asked her for her input. 

Oh, I’m so glad I did. Want to know what I learned? 

Neck Scarf 
My reader informed me that she’d never heard a British person use this term. She recommended using neckerchief. 

British folks usually don’t use this word. They usually say holiday.

The Holidays
However, they typically tend to use the specific holiday rather than this generalized term. So instead of “celebrate the holidays” it would be “celebrate Christmas.”


My reader told me British people would probably use pavements instead.

You know. A red flannel shirt? I thought that was a fairly obvious term. Nope. My reader informed me that a flannel is something to wash your face with. What we Americans call flannel is usually called a plaid shirt or a checked shirt. So when I wrote that a man pulled up wearing a flannel and a fuzzy hat? … Yeah, you can guess what my British friend envisioned. She was really confused.

And probably the biggest error? 
I had read somewhere (probably Wikipedia) that it was more common for British folks to hang their stockings at the foot of their beds at Christmas. Apparently, that’s not the case. According to my reader, it’s common in British homes to hang stockings on the fireplace until Christmas Eve. Then, the stockings get loaded with presents and relocated to the bed railing or the bedroom door.

Now, none of those items were going to run the risk of seriously offending someone. But what those little faux pas do is to tell my audience that I don’t know British culture.

So many times I have talked to people who have written characters in different real cultures, and they think that because they have researched them and studied them or even interviewed people from those cultures that it’s enough to ensure their manuscript is accurate.

Sorry to burst your bubble, folks. It’s not.

That’s not to say you aren’t good at research. That’s also not to say you shouldn’t interview people from different cultures for this express purpose. Go for it. The more you know, the better. But understand that research and interviews will only get you so far. You need someone who is instinctively in tune with the culture you’re trying to represent to help you know where you’ve missed the mark. 

It is not a lack of confidence in your skill as a storyteller. It shouldn’t be a source of insecurity in your writing life. It’s just a fact that if you didn’t grow up in a culture, you likely don’t know as much about it as you think you do.

I’ve been to England three times. I have a steady diet of the Great British Baking Show. And I still managed to put elements in my story that would have made native English people scoff at how little I know.

And this is a silly, fluffy little Christmas story with no other point than to make people smile. Imagine if this were intended as an evangelical tool! What if this story had been about pointing people to Jesus? How much respect would you have for a story that repeatedly demonstrates a lack of respect for your culture or your background?

I believe that the best way to connect with readers is to show an interest in who they are as people. Part of that is acknowledging different cultures as accurately as possible. It takes time and effort and hard work, but fortunately we live in an era of extraordinary resources. 

If you don’t have friends from the culture you’re writing about, I know Blue Ridge offers a sensitivity reading service. Check with them. See if you can find help there. I also believe there was a fantastic podcast episode some time ago about sensitivity readers. That’s always worth a listen. 

Don’t give your readers any excuse to stop reading. As much as is within your power, make sure that your story rings true with the heart of the people you’re writing to.

Have you ever had a manuscript that needed a sensitivity reader? Have you ever worked with one? Share about your experience in the comments!


A Cowboy for Christmas
by A.C. William
Fleeing her boring life in London, Ava Blackwood is eager to have a tropical Christmas in Hawaii, but a massive blizzard grounds her plane in Bozeman, Montana a few days before Christmas. Where even is Montana? Isn't it in Canada? Nevertheless, she's determined to make the most of her frostbitten exile. She finds a room in a charming bed and breakfast, but her day only gets worse when she literally bumps into the grouchiest cowboy she's ever met.

Jasper McCauley didn't want his family's ranch, but when his brother died, he was the only one left to take responsibility for it. And not just the ranch--his young niece Cassie too. He knows nothing about raising a child, and he's barely holding the ranch together when the storm of the century blows in. He goes to help his nearest neighbor get to safety, and he is shocked to discover that she has a houseguest--Ava Blackwood, the clumsy British woman who tried to run him over.

Ava and Jasper must overcome their dislike for each other if they want to survive in a powerless town during a Montana blizzard. Will a reckless choice by Jasper's well-meaning niece leave them to freeze to death? Or will it bring them together?

Buy Links:

Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at


  1. My nubby is a Brit, so I know most of those, but I'd forgotten about the flannel! Glad I wasn't writing a tory set in England. ;)

  2. So interesting! Especially the part about the flannel--I would have never guessed!

  3. Your writing style is fascinating, A.C. Congrats on the book!