The Romance Genre's Diversity Problem

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Could we (maybe after the AW server move?) a section for good, reputable POC agencies and publishers? Or a link to sites that showcase them?

After 30 years of being a cheerleader for the trade pub/mainstream agency system, I'm burning out on it. I'm not the only person who has watched the 'diversity train' over the last few years with a *lot* of skepticism. I've seen some public triumphs...and in private, a lot more appalling behavior from agent and editor comments about POC, neurodiverse, and other marginalized authors & their mms.

Yes, editors and agents: writers talk to each other and share pertinent details.

There are a lot of good authors who aren't being served, who aren't bothering to stay the course of the (usually very long) agent/publisher hunt, and who are not even bothering to embark on it.

Maybe more of them can find a better path outside the mainstream.
 

yoghurtelf

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What I don't understand is where they are getting their supposed intel from, in terms of readers not wanting to read about POC. Nobody I personally know would think twice about picking up a book with POC characters. I know an icky review was mentioned earlier by someone who was 'disappointed' that a hero was Native American, but I personally know not one single person who would say that. It'd be interested to see statistics that they're basing their thinking on.
 

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What I don't understand is where they are getting their supposed intel from, in terms of readers not wanting to read about POC. Nobody I personally know would think twice about picking up a book with POC characters. I know an icky review was mentioned earlier by someone who was 'disappointed' that a hero was Native American, but I personally know not one single person who would say that. It'd be interested to see statistics that they're basing their thinking on.

I've noticed lots of people who say they don't care about the racial background of the characters, but then when you look at what they actually read...they're reading mostly things written by white people, about white people. I assume this is partly because they don't seek these books out, and if you don't look for them, you're not necessarily going to hear about them, because lots of romance publishers are not publishing many PoC.

After the study came out, I looked at what I've read this year. I read about 25-30% books by PoC writers, which is more than any of these publishers publish, but it's by no means high. And I follow lots of PoC romance writers on Twitter and look at their recommendations, and sometimes I do specifically go looking for books by PoC. eg. After this book was a RITA finalist, I specifically set out to read books about Chinese characters written by Chinese writers because I was pissed off. I read five such books in a row.

Also, this is something that may well be true for some people, but they would never admit it. That wouldn't surprise me one bit.
 

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Not romance, but...my husband pretty much never reads books by PoC. Not like he's specifically avoiding them, but he never looks for them.

My dad probably doesn't do much better. If the the book is a Governor General's or Giller Prize award winner, then he'll read it. I doubt he'd hear about such books otherwise.
 

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Perhaps it's because I've been heavily involved in a blogger-writer community over the years, and there are many PoC authors in that group, that I have read quite a few books by PoC authors and/or with PoC characters. I'm sure many of my friends and family over here wouldn't go and seek these books out, as they tend to read bestsellers and things - and if most bestsellers aren't by PoC authors/with PoC characters then it would follow that they aren't often read. But I do know for a fact that this wouldn't be a factor for my family members or friends (that is, they would not avoid anything PoC just because it's PoC). That said, I can think of at least one person I know who may actively avoid reading about PoC characters. I don't think that person would care if the author is PoC or not, but would more care what characters they're reading about (and yes, I consider that person to be racist).
 
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Jan74

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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.

Thanks for sharing that.
 

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I work with kids. The part of this conversation that's missing is the problem is far larger than the publishing industry. The problems go far deeper than agent picks or publisher picks. If we as a society want to see lasting change, we're going to have to take a hard look at how we approach education. That's where the process of disqualification from opportunity starts and until we take seriously the many and subtle ways with which it begins, all the efforts farther down the road make little difference.
 
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Cobalt Jade

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No one's mentioned public libraries here yet for finding POC books and authors. In my city, at least, it's very easy to just walk in (or peruse the website) and find exactly what you're looking for. I've read some wonderful books just by perusing the "Just In" shelf.

That said, it's odd to walk down the romance aisle of my local store, which, granted, is a one-stop shopping store and not a bookseller, and see lily-white flesh everywhere on the covers on the 500+ paperbacks. Granted, the covers are kind of stereotypical anyway, with the musculature and the poses.
 

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It is a little disheartening when the default of most heroes/heroines are white. As a person of color, I often struggle to find stories, especially romances, where the characters aren't some shade of white (id set: olive tone, milky white, bronze, pale lol). In protest, I simply stop buying romance novels not featuring diverse characters -I still check them out at the library or borrow from friends if they appears interesting enough to me, but I don't spend my money on them. I doubt it makes much of a dent in publishers' profits but I have noticed my savings have increased significantly since then lol. That being said -or rather written lol, I don't just purchase a book because it have people of color as the hero/heroine. A good bit of the POC romances (and erotica) I run across are poorly written or filled with clichés/sterotypes or poorly written and filled with clichés/sterotypes. I don't know if this is due to many going the self-publishing route and not having a great editor to polish the story or not. What I do know is, I am always left a little dishearten when I want to read a good book and all the characters in it are white.
 
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I've thought about making a more diverse cast in my fantasy novel, but since I am white, and from middle america, I would certainly get it wrong. I thought about having a minor character POC, to avoid that problem, and realized that brings on a different problem, of a token character.

I agree, more POC, I'm not certain how to personally write that. It's a problem, and I don't know the answer.
 

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More broadly, I wonder if affluence is part of the problem too. So there are statistics that say 60% (or so) of the US populace is white (euro-descent?) and that may explain part of the bias in fiction, but not enough.

But more of the demographics would be the numbers on how many in each group/ethnicity have time and financial resources to write, rather than finding a more traditional sort of paycheck.

It's not an excuse by any means, just me wondering if that is part of it. I would love to have a rich and diverse cast, but as a newbie I think I *must* play to my strengths, all the nuance and detail that I know of the culture I know.

This is a problem.

Our school board tried to ban the The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. You can guess the people in support of this move. The rationale was that high schoolers shouldn't read about masturbation.

It was crazy. In the end the book wasn't banned, but there are some new guidelines that feel like censorship from afar (new ways to opt out of certain reading assignments.)
 
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Well I do think affluence would contribute slightly to things but not by much. One, it's assuming most would be writers of colors are not affluent. Two, most successful writer started off broke.

The USA population may be 60% white but USA readers are only a faction of the world's readers -not to mention writers.

Fleshing out a realistic character is admittedly one of the most important aspect of writing a story. Which is why researching is important; Google is a friend to all :). But seriously, take for instance a science fiction, fantasy, or paranormal writer. They don't really know what's it like to be a were-panther or elf or to grow up on a planet with two suns (goodness that has to be pretty hot lol) but will write those characters anyway. For me personally, what makes a realistic character isn’t necessarily bombarding me with all aspects of their culture but weaving bits their culture into the story. Such as, if I am writing about someone who is Muslim, I may not explicitly state their religion or go into great details of their faith unless it’s somehow moving the plot along . I may write something like “…since time was of the essence, she quickly said her prayers to the East before heading out to start her rotation”. I know it’s not the best of lines but it was kind of a spur of the moment thing lol. It isn’t necessarily going too deep into her faith to jar a reader from the plot but still acknowledge in a way her faith. However, take my words with a grain of salt -I’m not published lol.
 
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aruna

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Interesting thread. Question: is there any place where all these books are somehow gathered? I liked the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag on Twitter but unfortunately it's only for children's books. And every search I've done brings up sites that cater mostly for children.
I'm a veteran of the PoC publishing marathon, and was pretty eshausted by the time Bookouture took me on. I had tried the usual agent-and-publisher route for over ten years, with some initial success with HarperCollins, but in the end they didn't want me to write books set in my homeland Guyana. So we parted company. Bookouture was eager to republish my old books and all the new PoC novels I'd written over the last ten years so that was a good beginning. They also have two PoC members of their small staff, one of them hugely succesful with her list of crime novels so that's good news.
 
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cool pop

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No one's mentioned public libraries here yet for finding POC books and authors. In my city, at least, it's very easy to just walk in (or peruse the website) and find exactly what you're looking for. I've read some wonderful books just by perusing the "Just In" shelf.

That said, it's odd to walk down the romance aisle of my local store, which, granted, is a one-stop shopping store and not a bookseller, and see lily-white flesh everywhere on the covers on the 500+ paperbacks. Granted, the covers are kind of stereotypical anyway, with the musculature and the poses.

You’ll find plenty of POC works in most libraries but they stick our work in the black/AA section of the library no matter what we write. So if you don’t frequent that section most likely you won’t find the books. We don’t get to be on genre shelves like white writers. Whether we write romance, mysteries, sci-fiction, erotica, they stick our work in the black section or black shelf. It’s the same for Hispanic writers too. I’ve seen them stuck in the Hispanic Literature Section automatically. Probably do the same with Asian writers/books. That’s how it is in the stores as well. You’ll rarely if ever see a POC romance on the romance shelf. This has been an on-going discussion in the POC community for decades, how we are separated by our color or nationality and not included on mainstream genre shelves.

Also, there are the black bookstores where most black readers got books from before ebooks took over. Most shopped at these stores because regular bookstores and libraries didn’t have much of a selection for these works. You could find the most popular black authors in regular libraries and stores but there were millions of other POC authors who would never be on a book shelf if it wasn’t for the black bookstores. Many of these stores have unfortunately died because they have faced the same issues big stores like Barnes and Noble have, can’t compete with ebooks, etc.
 
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cool pop

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It is a little disheartening when the default of most heroes/heroines are white. As a person of color, I often struggle to find stories, especially romances, where the characters aren't some shade of white (id set: olive tone, milky white, bronze, pale lol). In protest, I simply stop buying romance novels not featuring diverse characters -I still check them out at the library or borrow from friends if they appears interesting enough to me, but I don't spend my money on them. I doubt it makes much of a dent in publishers' profits but I have noticed my savings have increased significantly since then lol. That being said -or rather written lol, I don't just purchase a book because it have people of color as the hero/heroine. A good bit of the POC romances (and erotica) I run across are poorly written or filled with clichés/sterotypes or poorly written and filled with clichés/sterotypes. I don't know if this is due to many going the self-publishing route and not having a great editor to polish the story or not. What I do know is, I am always left a little dishearten when I want to read a good book and all the characters in it are white.

I find plently of good POC romances/books. Yeah, you have some crappy ones but it's the same with some white authors as well. Most of this has to do with the individual author not honing his or her craft, not necessarily them being POC, etc. With self-publishing and small presses, you might get a lot of bad or mediocre books but there are a lot of good ones too. I read mostly books with black heroines now and I read quality authors in POC romance like Delaney Diamond, Shyla Colt, Sheena Binkley, Stacy-Deanne, LaShawn Vasser, Eve Vaughn, Latrivia Nelson, Theodora Taylor, Xavier Neal, Xyla Turner, Bridget Midway, Ancielli, Olivia Gaines and TONS more.

As for my reading preference, I want to see and support my black heroines. It just gives me so much pride to see a romance with a black woman on the cover. I won't pass up a book because of the characters' race or anything but for the last five or six years I haven't ventured outside to look for many mainstream romances. I am finding more than enough POC romances that I love. For one thing I love interracial stories with black heroines. I wanna read books I identify with and romances that are my preference.

I think it's great we're at a time where we have more GENRE books (especially romance) with POC heroines even if these books don't hit mainstream status. From what I have observed from years of being in the industry, now many POC readers stick strictly to POC works now. Especially in romance. After feeling like they were forced to read genre books by non POC writers and books that often ignored us as characters, readers are now taking charge to support POC works. Black, Hispanic, and Asian women want to see THESE heroines in their romances. They want heroines they can relate to and they want a fantasy where they are the star.

Thanks to the popularity of indie publishing, there is an abundance of POC romances books with self-publishing and small press publishing so many don't feel they have to read just white romance anymore like they did for decades. It's beautiful that now these readers have a choice to pick books with characters who are like them.
 
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cool pop

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Well I do think affluence would contribute slightly to things but not by much. One, it's assuming most would be writers of colors are not affluent. Two, most successful writer started off broke.

The USA population may be 60% white but USA readers are only a faction of the world's readers -not to mention writers.


Fleshing out a realistic character is admittedly one of the most important aspect of writing a story. Which is why researching is important; Google is a friend to all :). But seriously, take for instance a science fiction, fantasy, or paranormal writer. They don't really know what's it like to be a were-panther or elf or to grow up on a planet with two suns (goodness that has to be pretty hot lol) but will write those characters anyway. For me personally, what makes a realistic character isn’t necessarily bombarding me with all aspects of their culture but weaving bits their culture into the story. Such as, if I am writing about someone who is Muslim, I may not explicitly state their religion or go into great details of their faith unless it’s somehow moving the plot along . I may write something like “…since time was of the essence, she quickly said her prayers to the East before heading out to start her rotation”. I know it’s not the best of lines but it was kind of a spur of the moment thing lol. It isn’t necessarily going too deep into her faith to jar a reader from the plot but still acknowledge in a way her faith. However, take my words with a grain of salt -I’m not published lol.

You reminded me of something I cannot stand. I have heard writers say they don't write POC characters because they are not sure they can "do them justice" and I have seen readers say they don't read POC because they are not sure they can relate to POC characters. :rant: One is a crock of crap excuse and the other is just...really? That pisses me off beyond measure because you mean to tell me these same writers and readers can write and read books about shifting wolves, aliens, monsters, and supernatural creatures but can't relate to a person of color????? That's just an excuse some writers/readers use. Look, people can write and read what they want. But I get so tired of that lame excuse some non-POC writers have when anyone asks them about writing diverse characters, etc. And I get tired of readers saying they can't relate to a black woman who only wants the same thing any other woman wants in life, but the reader can relate to a man who changes into a werewolf or a vampire. Beyond insulting. People should be honest. If someone doesn't wanna write diverse works or characters then just admit it. Don't say you can't relate to a person of a different race when you are reading or writing paranormal or sci-fiction with sea creatures and alien dragons!
 
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Woollybear

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You reminded me of something I cannot stand. I have heard writers say they don't write POC characters because they are not sure they can "do them justice" and I have seen readers say they don't read POC because they are not sure they can relate to POC characters. :rant: One is a crock of crap excuse and the other is just...really? That pisses me off beyond measure because you mean to tell me these same writers and readers can write and read books about shifting wolves, aliens, monsters, and supernatural creatures but can't relate to a person of color????? That's just an excuse some writers/readers use. Look, people can write and read what they want. But I get so tired of that lame excuse some non-POC writers have when anyone asks them about writing diverse characters, etc. And I get tired of readers saying they can't relate to a black woman who only wants the same thing any other woman wants in life, but the reader can relate to a man who changes into a werewolf or a vampire. Beyond insulting. People should be honest. If someone doesn't wanna write diverse works or characters then just admit it. Don't say you can't relate to a person of a different race when you are reading or writing paranormal or sci-fiction with sea creatures and alien dragons!

I had an interesting conversation this morning with a friend. We both enjoy reading female characters written by men, even though men get women 'wrong' in literature sometimes. I wondered if it would be 'fair' (and a workable step) for a white person to write about the experience of being white in a diverse culture, rather than trying to inhabit the voice of a PoC character.

For example, my experience of Tamir Rice's death, it cuts me to the core, it was horrific, from start to end, every aspect of it. Every aspect. All the way back to slavery, and the 'white guilt' that is part of the conversation too.

Tamir's death impacts me more than, for example, Trayvon's, because I've buried a child myself. My daughter's death is uppermost in my mind when I think of that little boy.

I could easily write twenty thousand words going into the honesty of my experience of Tamir's death. It would be a story of injustice, and also the universality of loss. It would be from my white experience. It would include how I feel the urge to approach every AA neighbor I have and tell them how sorry I am about the state of things, (as if that could help?) and also having no earthly idea if this validates, or instead objectifies, them and their experiences.

There are a lot of unknowns.

But -

The vampire/werewolf argument doesn't cut it for me, because there are none. If there were actual vampires in the reading audience, they would be up in arms about how wrong authors got the story. Heck, you already have arguments about whether vampires sparkle or not, and whether elves are tall or short. Authors could write about PoC that are green, and no one would feel affronted. (I think, but who knows.)

Anyway, that's just me, today, and worth less than 2 cents.
 

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I find plently of good POC romances/books. Yeah, you have some crappy ones but it's the same with some white authors as well. Most of this has to do with the individual author not honing his or her craft, not necessarily them being POC, etc. With self-publishing and small presses, you might get a lot of bad or mediocre books but there are a lot of good ones too. I read mostly books with black heroines now and I read quality authors in POC romance like Delaney Diamond, Shyla Colt, Sheena Binkley, Stacy-Deanne, LaShawn Vasser, Eve Vaughn, Latrivia Nelson, Theodora Taylor, Xavier Neal, Xyla Turner, Bridget Midway, Ancielli, Olivia Gaines and TONS more.

I can't say I tried all those writers you mention, but quite enough of them and many of them I've found a bit subpar. I will say some of Eve Vaughn work was ok. However, Delaney Diamond, Shyla Colt, Theodora Taylor, Latrivia Nelson, Bridget Midway, Olivia Gaines -I regretted buying their works and wanted my money back.
 

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I had an interesting conversation this morning with a friend. We both enjoy reading female characters written by men, even though men get women 'wrong' in literature sometimes. I wondered if it would be 'fair' (and a workable step) for a white person to write about the experience of being white in a diverse culture, rather than trying to inhabit the voice of a PoC character.

For example, my experience of Tamir Rice's death, it cuts me to the core, it was horrific, from start to end, every aspect of it. Every aspect. All the way back to slavery, and the 'white guilt' that is part of the conversation too.

Tamir's death impacts me more than, for example, Trayvon's, because I've buried a child myself. My daughter's death is uppermost in my mind when I think of that little boy.

I could easily write twenty thousand words going into the honesty of my experience of Tamir's death. It would be a story of injustice, and also the universality of loss. It would be from my white experience. It would include how I feel the urge to approach every AA neighbor I have and tell them how sorry I am about the state of things, (as if that could help?) and also having no earthly idea if this validates, or instead objectifies, them and their experiences.

There are a lot of unknowns.

But -

The vampire/werewolf argument doesn't cut it for me, because there are none. If there were actual vampires in the reading audience, they would be up in arms about how wrong authors got the story. Heck, you already have arguments about whether vampires sparkle or not, and whether elves are tall or short. Authors could write about PoC that are green, and no one would feel affronted. (I think, but who knows.)

Anyway, that's just me, today, and worth less than 2 cents.

I think perhaps this is in a sense what I mean. Tamir Rice's death was a tragedy -a senseless lost, anyone with a heart could mourn over. It doesn't require you to be black to feel the pain of his death. I am not a mother and I never lost a child but I wouldn't let that stop me from writing a character who was a grief stricken mother who lost her beloved child.

I used the werepathers and vampires as an example to illustrate the point that you're making up the character. None of the characters are real (since this is fiction after all). Every person of color do not think and behave the same. Using myself as an example. I am an upper middle-class black woman with several degrees and have a lovely career. I lived in several countries and traveled the world. I have a diverse network of friends -all of whom are fairly successful. I neither want nor do I have kids. I live a very cushion life of privilege. If I were to write a character based on me, I am sure there will be some black woman out there who wouldn't see my character as relatable/realistic and it would be okay. Everyone doesn't have to relate to the identity of the character, just the experience the character is going through. Falling in love is something every reader of romance have done/will do/or want to do. It's about identifying with the emotion the character is displaying -feeling overwhelmed by the charms of an alpha male or shattered when her crush rejects her. It's about the journey of the character -which is finding true love since this is romance lol, not whether the character spoke with a southern drawl or had the bluest eyes. I guess, perhaps, to me it seems very simple because I don't think of my characters in terms of their skin tone or nationality or religion as the way to define them but rather their behavior and emotions (id est: assertive or submissive; impulsive or cautious; reserved or free-spirit; humorous or dour).
 
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yoghurtelf

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On that note...

I haven't really written any characters that are mothers... I'm not a mother (except to cats), so I don't know that I could do a story about being a mother justice. That's just how I feel, personally. I could try, but what the hell do I know, really? I've never been through childbirth or raising a child from birth or adopting a child or any of that. I don't feel that I'm particularly equipped to tell that story.

But that's my perspective - of course others may do a wonderful job of telling such a story despite not being mothers themselves. Perhaps if they've had observations in their lives they can draw from, like knowing a mother who has lost her child and having observed closely what they went through. I haven't gone through that either, so I guess I just don't have the goods necessary to write that kind of story. Or I don't feel that I do, but maybe I'm selling myself short.
 

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