Know Better, Do Better: Editing for Authenticity in Our Spring YA Title

Ooligan Press is proud to announce our upcoming title The Names We Take, which will debut May 19, 2020. Written by Washingtonian first-time author Trace Kerr, this young adult postapocalyptic novel follows Pip, a tough seventeen-year-old girl, in the wake of a devastating plague. After swearing an oath to never leave anyone behind, Pip takes the twelve-year-old Iris under her wing. A tragedy forces the girls to navigate the shattered remains of Spokane and its outlying areas, where they meet a third girl, the headstrong Fly. As Pip, Iris, and Fly negotiate their identities and relationships, their circumstances grow more dangerous. Pip quickly learns two things: first, that never leaving anyone behind is easier said than done; and second, that her friendships are the key to finding meaning in life beyond survival.

The Names We Take faces down its darker elements—including violence, bigotry, and abuse—with both unflinching realism and hope. Importantly, it portrays the struggles of two main characters who fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. Because these identities do not exist as a monolith, and also because this is a book intended for a YA audience, Ooligan chose to incorporate authenticity readers (sometimes called sensitivity readers) into the editorial process.

Authenticity readers are specialized editors who often step in when authors are writing characters whose identities and experiences they do not personally share. These readers check for inaccuracies, unconscious biases, and insensitive language, and they usually have personal experience related to the identities of the manuscript’s characters or to the events that transpire in the manuscript. Because there is no one way to relate to a given identity or experience, best practices generally dictate that books with sensitive material require multiple authenticity readers. For this process to be effective, editors and authors must be receptive to the feedback they receive.

Part of the beauty of working with a collaborative press like Ooligan means that, in addition to the three people who performed formal authenticity reads, Ooligan was able to solicit the opinions of press members who were not on the team for The Names We Take but who were still willing to point out potential sensitivity issues in the manuscript without doing formal sensitivity edits.

Many of us at Ooligan—including the book’s author—had never experienced an authenticity read before this one. As a learning experience, it was invaluable. This process has also sparked a lot of important conversations about how the press will structure its editorial timeline moving forward. Beginning as early as the acquisitions process (when books often undergo developmental edits), the press will now consider whether or not a book requires authenticity readers, at what point in the editorial process these readers will be brought in, and how to synthesize the authenticity edits in the most effective, efficient way. It’s a responsibility the press takes seriously. The work of authenticity readers has thoroughly enriched The Names We Take in content, voice, and message, and we know the same will be true for many future books—at Ooligan and beyond.

We look forward to sharing The Names We Take with you soon! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for further updates.

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