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The Romance Genre's Diversity Problem

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Jan74

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All the display tables and shelving at the ends of aisles in places like Barnes and Noble and Chapters are hot property, and publishers pay handsomely to display their books there--bookstore placement is a big commodity.

So that means publishers then are willing to pay for a white author to display but not a PoC. That is a problem. However the publisher also wants to make money so I'm guessing they only put out books they figure will sell well but how do they know a PoC novel won't sell well if they don't give it a chance and promote it. I can see why this would be frustrating for authors who are in a minority group. However with social media, blogs, fb, twitter etc and the ability to self publish there is nothing stopping someone from publishing. Gone are the days you need an agent and are dependent on large publishing houses. Maybe if there is a large social presence gobbling these books up online they'll see a market, even if its a niche market and things will change.
 

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... (snipped) However with social media, blogs, fb, twitter etc and the ability to self publish there is nothing stopping someone from publishing. Gone are the days you need an agent and are dependent on large publishing houses. Maybe if there is a large social presence gobbling these books up online they'll see a market, even if its a niche market and things will change.

Alas, not quite. A self-published author willing to do the very hard work and pony up the money *can* do as well as a trade published author with literary agency backing. We have more than a few good case studies here on AW, and some went on to sign with great agents.

But there is a general trend for self-pub and small-press authors to make far less than they would have at a larger publisher. Part of that involves the economics of scale, around large advertising campaigns not directed at readers, but toward distribution buyers and big review platforms.

Do all 'big publisher' authors do equally well? Nope. Anecdotally, I can list two examples I know of. One, a fantasy author with one Big Five 'digital only' imprint, has made under $500...for two books, in three years. The publisher isn't interested in their next two. Another author, with yet another large digital-first imprint, can't move forward with more contemporary romance books in their well-reviewed first series, even though each book of the group has easily sold over 2K copies (and older ones, 3 to 5K copies). Which would be astronomical earnings at a small press, but not good enough for a larger publisher. For self-pub works to gain agency or Big Five notice, they really need at least 25K to 50K sales.

Self-pub can get you noticed in a niche, but to do it well takes a *lot* of work and luck.

Added: I know self-published POC writers who have fought to be noticed for years in the agency/Big Five system, and they're fuming over the new 'diversity' guidelines from both. Because they know it's largely a smokescreen, and even if it's well-meant, likely to change little. For every POC writer who wins mainstream awards and NYT articles, there are hundreds just quietly going self-pub.

Or objectively worse: if they're so new to the industry they don't know how publishing works...they go to small presses and vanity publishers that exist around taking advantage of POC and other marginalized groups of authors.
 
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So that means publishers then are willing to pay for a white author to display but not a PoC. That is a problem. However the publisher also wants to make money so I'm guessing they only put out books they figure will sell well but how do they know a PoC novel won't sell well if they don't give it a chance and promote it. I can see why this would be frustrating for authors who are in a minority group. However with social media, blogs, fb, twitter etc and the ability to self publish there is nothing stopping someone from publishing. Gone are the days you need an agent and are dependent on large publishing houses. Maybe if there is a large social presence gobbling these books up online they'll see a market, even if its a niche market and things will change.

I never wanted to self-publish, for various reasons, and I am resentful of the fact that I now feel I have no choice but to self-publish. It is frustrating.

Some PoC have done well with self-publishing, but I think many publishers just aren't paying attention.
 

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Added: I know self-published POC writers who have fought to be noticed for years in the agency/Big Five system, and they're fuming over the new 'diversity' guidelines from both. Because they know it's largely a smokescreen, and even if it's well-meant, likely to change little. For every POC writer who wins mainstream awards and NYT articles, there are hundreds just quietly going self-pub.

I used to believe that most pubs really were looking for diversity and #ownvoices stories, but eventually came to see that, with a few exceptions, it was mostly bullshit.
 

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I never wanted to self-publish, for various reasons, and I am resentful of the fact that I now feel I have no choice but to self-publish. It is frustrating.

Some PoC have done well with self-publishing, but I think many publishers just aren't paying attention.

I know what you mean. There have been so many "we'll create our OWN" when these things happen, but with traditional publishing it represents something different than self-publishing. POC shouldn't have to be delegated to self-publishing because of how terrible traditional publishing is. Traditional publishing should still be an option. But, like, it kind of isn't. I remember the podcast The Nod did an episode about the sexuality of black women and they interviewed Zane, and Zane was talking about how she had to start out in a similar way. That's frustrating as hell if ZANE couldn't traditionally publish, when she's basically a black household name.
 

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I don't think self publishing should be seen as negative, there should be no stigma attached to it. I understand why someone might want an agent and go the traditional publishing route however if the only thing stopping them from self publishing because they think it's "lesser than" I think they should think again. The more I look at all the options out there the more I love the idea of self publishing(with paying out of pocket for a professional edit), I like the idea of having 100% control over my cover, title and retaining larger royalties, but I love the idea of having an agent and having someone going to bat for me. So think there are many pros to both.

Maybe a PoC needs to open up a publishing agency, hire editors and agents that can meet the needs of minorities? Or does this exist? Sorry I'm very green when it comes to publishing and I know basically zilch.....but the way I look at is if there is a need then someone should grab the bull by the horns and make it happen, ditch the traditional houses that don't seem to care and aren't ready to change the way they do things. Think outside of the box.
 

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I don't think self publishing should be seen as negative, there should be no stigma attached to it. I understand why someone might want an agent and go the traditional publishing route however if the only thing stopping them from self publishing because they think it's "lesser than" I think they should think again. The more I look at all the options out there the more I love the idea of self publishing(with paying out of pocket for a professional edit), I like the idea of having 100% control over my cover, title and retaining larger royalties, but I love the idea of having an agent and having someone going to bat for me. So think there are many pros to both.

I love that self-publishing exists, but I never wanted to do it myself because of the upfront costs (I have essentially no income right now) and because I think it could be disastrous for my mental health. However, I now feel that it is the only choice for the things I want to write.

It is unfortunate that many POC don't really have all the options available to them, even if they are good writers. They should have as many opportunities as white writers, but often they do not.
 

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“It felt very awkward to us to hand out lists of our authors, and they were only concentrated on people-of-color diversity, which we thought was limiting

My jaw hit the floor with this quote. Limiting? Increased representation of POC in publishing is the OPPOSITE of limiting. It's like they stepped into a Baskin Robbins and said, "Well, I usually go to McDonalds, where the only ice-cream choice is vanilla soft-serve, and I like it that way. Having to choose from thirty-one flavors is just so limiting!"

Lol, what?

The absolute kindest interpretation of this quote would be that they're trying to say, "Yes, we have POC diversity, but we also have plenty of women authors, disabled authors, and authors of different sexual orientations, not to mention intersectionality. They should measure those as well when considering diversity." ...somehow, though, I don't think that's what they meant.
 
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Jan74

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I love that self-publishing exists, but I never wanted to do it myself because of the upfront costs (I have essentially no income right now) and because I think it could be disastrous for my mental health. However, I now feel that it is the only choice for the things I want to write.

It is unfortunate that many POC don't really have all the options available to them, even if they are good writers. They should have as many opportunities as white writers, but often they do not.

Agreed! And that goes for being a woman too. 65% of published authors are male, why is that? I think PoC and women in general are at an automatic disadvantage. But yes self publishing may not be the best route for some because of cost, but I'm glad we live in a time that it makes publishing possible, we aren't dependent on finding an agent etc.
 

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I don't think self publishing should be seen as negative, there should be no stigma attached to it.

I think there is less of a stigma than there once was, but it's still there. It's inevitable when there's no gatekeeper and a reader has to sift through shoddily written and published books to find the professional-quality ones. Many of us don't bother and stick with trade-published works, unless a self-published author comes highly recommended. Even so, there's a lot of chaff, but it's much easier to find these books.

There's also a problem of visibility or searchability (especially for new writers). Even if they have the money to spring for targeted advertising, as Filigree said, self published writers don't get the same amount of review or promotion at the distribution level, and this is what brings many books to the attention of readers.

An acquaintance who is very successful with her self published fantasy series suggests that people have some experience with publishing before they try it (he first novel was published with a small press, and she decided to go it alone after, when sales weren't that great), because they'll understand a bit more about things like how to work with editors and so on, and a bit more about how books are promoted and marketed. Also, it's a reality check to be sure you're really writing at a "publishable" level. Many self published writers aren't quite there yet, and their repeated rejections have been for that reason, not necessarily because their work is excellent but falls through the gaps.

I understand why someone might want an agent and go the traditional publishing route however if the only thing stopping them from self publishing because they think it's "lesser than"

The thing that's stopped me from self publishing is the up-front money required from the author to do it well. It's a big gamble, and many self published authors who are successes become so after writing several books and publishing them on their own dime. This is a big financial commitment for something that doesn't pan out. Also, I have little idea what kind of editing my work might need--developmental, structural, polishing, copyediting, or more than one of the above--to get it up to snuff.

Also, not everyone has the time, temperament or background in business to market their own book effectively. There's also the thing where self publishing requires a pretty high rate of output. Another person I know who is somewhat successful, as in selling hundreds to a thousand or so copies per book, with his self publishing endeavor (it's an urban fantasy series) brings out a new book of around 60k words every couple of months. This is shorter than typical trade-published fantasy, even urban, but it's still a really high rate of output for someone who may have a day job. I don't write that fast, and readers of my preferred subgenre expects much longer word counts.

Yes, some PoC writers can and do self publish, but not all can, any more than all White writers can. Even if self publishing is a great option for many people, the fact that more PoC authors have no option but to self publish is a real problem.

It's not for everyone, and the problems aren't just with a relative lack of prestige.
 
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Cobalt Jade

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I think there is less of a stigma than there once was, but it's still there. It's inevitable when there's no gatekeeper and a reader has to sift through shoddily written and published books to find the professional-quality ones. Many of us don't bother and stick with trade-published works, unless a self-published author comes highly recommended. Even so, there's a lot of chaff, but it's much easier to find these books.

This is how I feel. I have only so much time to sift.
 

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I'm obviously clueless to Self Publishing. I didn't realize its expensive. I figured it would cost money for the cover and possibly a professional edit. Are there other costs I'm not aware of? I really am green and nowhere near that part of the process. In my mind when I finish a novel I plan on submitting to a few agents and see how that works and then possibly submit to small publishers that don't require an agent and then maybe go the self publishing route. I think. I'm really unsure of how I will go forward when I'm done. I will def have to do more research on self publishing, I figured it would cost me about $1500 out of pocket(Canadian) but maybe I'm way off the mark.

So much to learn.
 

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There are some great examples in the self-pub section of AW, of people who did it well. S. L. Huang is a good start.

With respect to POC-run literary agencies or publishers, I have yet to see one that didn't ring warning bells for my 'scam or clueless' spidey-sense. I know there are some listed here on AW, but they all had issues that would make me hesitant to engage with them.

I know of some great 'diverse' small presses in the LGBTQIA and neurodiverse community, but also a similar problem with well-meaning but lower-skilled people starting publishing companies. My heart breaks for them, but they aren't getting my books to learn on.
 

thethinker42

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I'm obviously clueless to Self Publishing. I didn't realize its expensive. I figured it would cost money for the cover and possibly a professional edit. Are there other costs I'm not aware of?

It can vary pretty dramatically, TBH. There was an article not long ago where a company figured out how much self-pubbed books cost, and I found their numbers to be astronomically high.

It really depends on how much of the legwork you do yourself, and who you hire for everything else. For me, the only costs are my editors, so anywhere from $200-3,000 depending on how big the book is and how much I want to invest. If it's a complex thriller that I predict will make some decent money, I'll drop a couple grand into a content editor, a line editor, and a proofreader. If it's a novella with a fairly straightforward plot and I don't expect it to make substantial amounts of money, I might just go with a line editor. So, as you can imagine, the costs can vary significantly.

I do my own cover art and formatting, so the only costs there are stock photos (about $2/ea) and my time. If you hire an artist, you're looking at $50-200 for an ebook cover, plus more for a paperback wrap (I haven't paid for one in a long time so I honestly can't recall how much they go for). Formatting varies too; I've paid $150 or so for a novel in the past just to have the ebook formatted. That was why I learned to do my own -- why pay someone for something I can literally do while I'm watching an episode of Rick & Morty? I do my own paperbacks now too.

Then there's advertising and marketing, which again...varies. A lot. If you're a brand new author, you're going to need to market, which probably means coughing up some money. I honestly couldn't tell you how much you'd need to invest or where to invest it because marketing has never been my strong point (this is the primary reason I still work with publishers even while self-pubbing -- to take advantage of their marketing).

So it basically comes down to how much you can/will spend, and how much you can do on your own (plus how much of your time you can invest in those tasks -- time is money!). A self-published book can cost thousands, or it can be under $50. There are too many variables to definitively state "it costs $X to self-publish."
 

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It can vary pretty dramatically, TBH. There was an article not long ago where a company figured out how much self-pubbed books cost, and I found their numbers to be astronomically high.

It really depends on how much of the legwork you do yourself, and who you hire for everything else. For me, the only costs are my editors, so anywhere from $200-3,000 depending on how big the book is and how much I want to invest.

Your labor and time have value too though.
 

thethinker42

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Your labor and time have value too though.

Of course. That's why I said "So it basically comes down to how much you can/will spend, and how much you can do on your own (plus how much of your time you can invest in those tasks -- time is money!)."

For me, cover art and formatting require negligible amounts of time or money. For the next author, it might be the opposite.
 

Jan74

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Thanks so much for the tips. I never thought about creating my own cover....I'm very artistic so I would love to learn how to do that. I prefer very simple covers. I love Emily Giffins cover and she's super simple. I will have to look further into what I need to make my own cover. Is it a program I have to buy? So much to think about. But that's the exciting fun part, I can't imagine turning over control of my cover to a publisher, I would love to work WITH one but not lose that final say.
 

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Thanks so much for the tips. I never thought about creating my own cover....I'm very artistic so I would love to learn how to do that. I prefer very simple covers. I love Emily Giffins cover and she's super simple. I will have to look further into what I need to make my own cover. Is it a program I have to buy? So much to think about. But that's the exciting fun part, I can't imagine turning over control of my cover to a publisher, I would love to work WITH one but not lose that final say.

I don't want to derail too much, so PM or email me (username at gmail) if you want more info, but... I use PhotoShop for my covers and MS Word for my formatting (I would use Vellum but it's not available for PC). And I'm with you on simple covers -- clear, readable text, and images that aren't too busy/cluttered.
 

Jan74

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I don't want to derail too much, so PM or email me (username at gmail) if you want more info, but... I use PhotoShop for my covers and MS Word for my formatting (I would use Vellum but it's not available for PC). And I'm with you on simple covers -- clear, readable text, and images that aren't too busy/cluttered.

Yes, apologies for the thread hijack. ^^^^Thank you and will remember this!

In regards to PoC OP diversity, I do hope that things change, and awareness and acknowledgement of the issues is always a step in the right direction, but ultimately there needs to be action and not just words. It's no use to just say "this is a problem and we're aware of it," and then do nothing to solve the problem.
 

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Hello Everyone,

I'm a longtime lurker. Been reading this board for years. I just wanted to pop in to respond to one of the posters who wasn't sure there were any reputable POC publishers. Yes, there are many reputable POC publishers. They are just not talked about or probably known outside the POC circles. There aren't many POC agents except a few that are with mainstream agencies but there have been a few black agencies but not sure they are still around. There are black, legit agents that work solo. I am a black author and wanted to point this out. Yes, there is a whole other part of the industry outside of the mainstream books and authors. Like most things in life, there is a huge separation so unless you are a POC author with POC contacts you might not be aware of the options for POC authors. We have our own publishers, promo sites, magazines, literary awards, everything. It just doesn't get mainstream attention. Another thing, a lot of POC publishers do not post on AW (and stick to forums dedicated to POC work/authors) so that is another reason some might not realize these options exist. But, most POC authors know of these options and travel in the same circles, especially if we write the same things. There are tons of respected black publishing companies who publish romance, urban, erotica, interracial, etc. Most black authors self-publish or submit solely to black publishers. You'd be surprised at how few actually seek out mainstream publishers especially if they write romance because of the mainstream industry attitudes posters have mentioned here. The truth is a lot of mainstream pubs don't want our work and without other options POC authors would be nowhere. POC authors find it easier to stick with POC publishers or to self-publish because it's easier for us to get our work to audiences looking specifically for our work. Even if we do get with a mainstream press most likely they can't reach our readers.
 
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cool pop

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I agree. I believe I've only seen a tiny few POC publishers post here through the years (and I've been lurking here since around 2000 at least) and no they were not a representation of POC pubs in general thank goodness. :)
 

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