This year, though, I've noticed a small shift, with the inclusion of of articles with more of an intellectual and/or ideological bent. I was particularly excited by the March 2015 issue, which featured not only "Diversity in Romance: A frank look at the market by romance authors who write books featuring people of color" but also "The Dance of Consent: Making consent visible as a positive and desirable feature of lovemaking in romance fiction." Both articles tackled ideological issues of great concern in the larger romance community: are books featuring characters of color subject to discrimination, by readers and/or publishers? Can discussions about sexual consent be crafted in a way that adds to, rather than detracts from, a romance's appeal?
It was disappointing, then, to reach the end of the magazine to find an article listing ten things an author should not post on social media, an article that included a piece of advice that directly discouraged this slight move of RWR's toward addressing important ideological issues. Among perfectly understandable professional recommendations, such as "don't share personal information" and "don't post revealing photos," the Marketing Insider warned romance writers about taking a too public stance on "polarizing topics." To wit:
There are a million polarizing topics. Let's name some: religion. Gay marriage. The ruling in Ferguson, Missouri. Yes, an author's social media account should tell others who you are, but you are also in the business of selling books.
Leading a some-what public life means that while you may have your opinions, you cannot afford to let those opinions turn your readership away. Therefore, should a polarizing issue arise, take a more neutral approach, express sadness or appreciation that the topic is being addressed. (RWR March 2015, page 42).
The Marketing Insider assumes a typical corporate attitude: don't say anything with the least chance of pissing any group off. The columnist, though, did not seem to realize that some of the issues she used as examples of "polarizing" might in fact be central to an author's writing, and, even more so, to her or his identity. Romance authors need to be apolitical, Marketing Insider assumes, if they are to reach as broad an audience as possible. Don't be controversial; be nice.
The niceness imperative is particularly pernicious in the romance-writing world, in no small part because of the strongly gendered nature of its membership. Girls and women are encouraged to be nice, to fit in, to get along; females who chafe against this message are often policed not by men, but by other women who have internalized the unwritten rules.
I was more than a little jazzed, then, to open the May 2015 edition of RWR today to find Courtney Milan's strong rebuttal of the Marketing Insider's position, in the magazine's lead article, "Speaking Out: Why authors speak out on social media, the consequences of doing so, and the danger of silence" (pages 23-26). Seeing such a rebuttal penned by a member of RWA's Board (Milan was elected this past year), and published in RWA's monthly magazine, gives me hope that the larger organization may be ready to engage in a larger conversation about the politics of romance writing, and the problems with, as well as the benefits of, the romance community's niceness imperative.
I won't go into the details of Milan's rebuttal here (although I do hope she will make her article publicly available to those outside the RWA community). What I will do, though, is list the authors she interviewed for her article, authors who speak out about "polarizing" issues, and provide links to their author web sites. Not surprisingly, books by several of the authors (including Milan's herself) have been featured in previous RNFF posts, and on RNFF "Best of" lists. Writers with feminist sensibilities tend to recognize the interconnectedness of different forms of political and social oppression, and aren't afraid to speak out about them. To the benefit of us all.
I'm planning to thank them for their courage in speaking up by pledging to read at least one book by each author on this list with whom I'm unfamiliar in the coming months. Will you join me?
Authors who spoke out for Milan's article (in alphabetical order):
Heidi Belleau (no active website, but here's a link to her publisher's page)
K. M. Jackson
E. E. Ottoman