Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Urge RWA to follow up on "The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing"

Last Thursday, The Ripped Bodice, the new romance-only bookstore in Culver City, California, published a fantastic (or, rather, fantastically dismaying)  4-panel infographic entitled "The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing 2016." The infographic opens by explaining "It has become abundantly clear that there are racial disparities in mainstream romance publishing. We have found it difficult to continue the conversation without hard data."

Hard data that neither publishers, nor professional organizations such as the Romance Writers of America, have heretofore made the effort to collect or to publicize. So Bea and Leah Koch, owners of The Ripped Bodice, decided to do the research themselves. Taking a page out of the Cooperative Children's Book Center folks, who have been collecting and publishing data on diversity in children's literature since 2002, the Kochs contacted and polled 20 commercial romance publishers, asking them to supply data on how many authors of color their houses published in 2016; collected data on books published from publishers who declined to participate; researched how individual romance authors self-identify, racially; and then compiled and analyzed the resulting figures to present a snapshot of the state of racial diversity in the romance publishing field.

And pretty sad figures they are. The low end of the scale dips distressingly low: 1.8% for Random House; 2.8% for Avon Romance; 3.9% for Berkley; and a dismal 0% for HQN & Tule. The high end is worth noting: 12.2% for Crimson Romance; 17.5% for Forever/Forever Yours; and 19.8% for Kensington. Yet those three presses account for only a small fraction of the larger market, and are the only houses out of the 20 featured whose 2016 titles included at least 10% by of authors of color. Half of the publishers surveyed had fewer than 5% of their books written by people of color.

One of the bigger surprises for me: the low figures from LGBTQ publishers Riptide (1.4%) and Dreamspinner Press (5.8%).

That two bookstore owners, rather than romance's own professional organization, felt the need to take on this work is more than a little sad. I hope members of RWA will urge the organization to work with The Ripped Bodice to build on this preliminary research, so that the group can be an informed, as well as a passionate, advocate for romance authors of color.

In addition to conducting a yearly survey of the state of diversity in commercial romance publishing, RWA seems in the ideal position to gather information on:

     # of POC on the lists of small press publishers
     # of POC as Independent/self published authors
     # of POC Membership in RWA

What other research do you hope RWA (or, in its absence, The Ripped Bodice or some scholarly researcher) will undertake to call attention to the immense racial disparities in the romance field?

You can find the full pdf file of the infographic at the Ripped Bodice store website, here.


  1. Hi,

    I like your suggestions for gathering further information.

    What else do I think would be worthwhile to consider?

    What about diversity in terms of what writers write and what readers read?

    I am a woman of color and I write sweet romances. It seems that this is not a genre that women of color like? African American women?

    I'm finding African American women in the inspirational and Christian genre or at the other end, in erotica and urban fiction.

    No middle ground? Why is that?

    1. Thanks, Barbara, for adding your thoughts. I, too, am curious about your insight that there are fewer African American romances in the "middle ground" between inspie/Christian and erotica & urban fiction. Continuing prejudice on the part of publishers, who stereotype black women? Sales patterns that suggest these two areas are better sellers? Some combination of the two? I'd love to hear more information on what romance readers read, and what they buy, separate from the information collected by publishers themselves.

    2. Hi, Jackie,

      Thanks for replying. Yes, it sure seems that way, dating back to my earlier years as a reader, and from what I am seeing and hearing now.

      Back then, the book shelves had primarily urban fiction, which didn't match my urban experience. I'm seeing the same on the library shelves and on Amazon. The inspirational fiction is too different from my experience of Christianity.

      The writers of erotica tells me that is what sells. Chicken/egg? A good question.

      The irony: I began reading historicals because I was likelier to find sweet romances in that genre.

      Nowadays, when I meet a woman of color who writes sweet romances, I want to talk to her!

  2. "One of the bigger surprises for me: the low figures from LGBTQ publishers Riptide (1.4%) and Dreamspinner Press (5.8%)."

    This doesn't shock me, sadly. It is painfully difficult to find queer romance written by people of color.

    1. Difficult for readers to find it? Difficult for editors to publish it? Difficult for queer people of color, who are doubly oppressed, to write it? Lots of questions to ask, and possible answers to explore...

  3. This was great to read, and very informative. I like the statistics to back up the claims too.

    1. Me, too, Kim. The New York Times published a column about the study two days ago: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/style/romance-novels-diversity.html. Was painful to read the Berkley editor's response. It must be difficult to have to espouse the party line when you are an editor of color...