Question: At what stage is it best to get sensitivity readers? or any time of fact checking expert readers (if you’re written a book about quantum mechanics, maybe ask someone?
I feel like at the querying stage it’s a waste, because you have no guarantee this novel will be any good, but I is there a stage where it’s too late?
There are two places in the writing process where, I think, a sensitivity reader/someone who lives the lives of your characters would be useful.
First is in the drafting/planning stage. This is a good place to find someone to tell the story to, and to get their opinion on what you plan to do with the plot and the character growth. There’s nothing worse than writing a whole novel only to have to gut it later and change things significantly. Telling your story, in detail, to someone else will help them catch redundant or harmful stereotypes, and help direct your characterization before you ever put pen to page.
The second place is after the first draft has been written, and re-read by you, and tidied up a little. Before you send the book to any of your other beta readers, or to any query situation, it should go back to your sensitivity reader to ensure that you interpreted their advice correctly. Again, small mistakes or misunderstandings could lead to massive rewrites or rearrangements of the manuscript, so before you put in a ton of work editing and polishing and tweaking, be sure that the bones of the project are sound and respectful.
If you want to consult your sensitivity reader one more time once you’ve finished the polishing process, that wouldn’t hurt either. Just to ensure nothing new slipped in or out. Also, make certain to thank them in your acknowledgements! They deserve it AND (to be self-serving) having their name there goes a long way to shutting up people who think you’re appropriating or being insensitive. It proves that you did do your best. Put them in your query letter too, to prove the same to any agent/publisher who might be afraid that you’re storming in where you could stomp things by mistake.