From National Public Radio:
The romance genre is a juggernaut that continues unabated.
It’s a billion-dollar industry that outperforms all other book genres, and it’s remarkably innovative, with a strong tradition of independent and self-publishing.
It’s also an industry that’s been grappling with a diversity problem. The RITA Award, the top honor for romance writers awarded by the Romance Writers of America, was awarded this week, and the organization acknowledged that in its 36-year history, no black author has ever won the prize. According to the RWA’s own research, black authors have written less than half of 1 percent of the total number of books considered as prize finalists.
“It is impossible to deny that this is a serious issue and that it needs to be addressed,” said the organization in a statement. “Educating everyone about these statistics is the first step in trying to fix this problem. We know there are no perfect solutions but ignoring the issue is that not acceptable.” There’s certainly no lack of black readership: A Pew Research survey from 2014 found that the person most likely to read a book of any genre is a college-educated black woman.
Alisha Rai, the south Asian author of the three-part Forbidden Hearts series and nearly a dozen other romance novels, has been reading and writing the genre since she was a teenager. She tells NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about her own experience with readers, publishers and writing about race.
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On systemic issues in the genre
I’ve heard horror stories from other authors [of color] about, you know, sitting at a table at the RWA national conference and people who are there will get up and walk away from them. In a lot of ways, it’s like going to a water cooler and being turned away from that water cooler. And when you’re in this industry, it’s a very solitary life. We write, and we keep to ourselves in a lot of ways; we’re a little bit like hermits. And this is our way to see our colleagues, is to go to these meetings and conferences. When you feel like you’re not a part of it, it’s very demoralizing.
The organization is composed of so many people, it is hard to get everybody together and moving in the same position, and I understand that progress can be slow. … This is the first year that I’ve even joined RWA, because I felt sort of a tentative hope that maybe we are moving forward, maybe I wouldn’t feel so left out constantly.
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On her own experience with publishers
Getting published was pretty tough. My first book was more sort of on the sexier side, and the heroine was south Asian. … You sort of fall into an internalized trap, all of my characters [before] were always white, and my heart just wasn’t in it. So I felt like, this wasn’t a book I hadn’t see anywhere, so I want to write it. … I shopped the book around [with different publishers], and I was told to change the characters’ ethnicities. “We can take this if you can edit it.” … It is disheartening to hear, “Well, we can’t really connect to her, but we can if you make her white.”
Link to the rest at NPR
PG suggests the problems of the romance industry must be laid at the door of the traditional publishers in the romance industry. They have decided and continue to decide which authors are published and which are not. Which material will be included in those books and which will not.
If asked which segment of the traditional publishing business has treated its authors the worst, without hesitation, PG would name romance. Exhibit A (there are others) would be Harlequin, which settled a large class-action lawsuit by its authors for substantial underpayment of royalties over several years.
Romance publishers are the single best reason for authors to self-publish. There’s a lot of money to be made in romance and indie authors are earning far more of that money than their traditionally-published counterparts.