Author Melanie Greene wants your thoughtful suggestions for her document, Changing the Romance Genre for the Better. As I moderate the comments for anything that could make this space unsafe, I’ll be erring on the side of caution. After Melanie incorporates feedback, I will post the revised document here. Thanks and happy reading!
Changing the Romance Genre for the Better
America has a systemic oppression problem. Publishing has a systemic oppression problem. The genre of romance books has a systemic oppression problem. (In all cases, feel free to read “problem” as “giant mess that tipped into the crisis zone long before now.”) And although I’m writing this from the perspective of an American romance writer, it’s certainly true that those problems go beyond the romance genre, beyond the publishing industry, and beyond the USA.
This doc is for people (especially cishet white authors like me) who are looking to make changes now; if you’re still “debating” the need for more diversity, inclusion, access, and equity within our genre, you should sit back, de-center yourself (and any resulting fragility or defensiveness), listen, and learn. THEN, you should move forward. Here are some Systemic Racism 101 type resources; it’s not an exhaustive list but you should definitely start somewhere.
As Melissa Blue explains in her tweet thread about her decision to leave Romance Writers of America (RWA) after the 2019 national conference: “None of my marginalized sisters should be doing the heavy lifting to make RWA inclusive.” We can NOT sit back and wait for under-represented authors to do their own advocating.
(Also, I say especially cishet white authors like me because even if it’s been indirect, and no slight against our own authorial accomplishments, we have all benefited from being cishet white authors in our industry. I grew up reading romance by cishet white women, so I knew it was a job I could have one day. I walked shyly into my first local RWA meeting and found a room of faces overwhelmingly like mine and knew I was welcome. Moments like that eased all our paths.)
Actionable things we can do as individuals
Note: none of these things is The One Solution. Some of my ideas may not change a single thing. Ditto your ideas – and I do hope others share their ideas. (I will keep editing this doc – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have attributed or non-attributed additions.) But having accepted, as we have if we’re here, that our industry is the worse for systemic oppression, I’m operating on the premise that incremental, individual change makes sweeping change a tad easier to accomplish.
Diversify your own reading. Pay attention to the demographics of the authors you’re consuming, and make a conscious effort to include under-represented authors. What’s your ratio now? Raise it. There are a number of resources for discovery – here are just a few:
Use your authorial platform to tell your readers about the books you enjoy by under-represented authors. Signal-boost under-represented authors across social media.
If you have a local writing chapter/organization/community, what is its demographic make up like? Ask your leadership what they’re doing to make the meetings more welcoming. Ask your leadership for a member survey on equitable pay, so we can hold the industry accountable should we identify trends in inequitable pay for under-represented authors. Vote for board members who are committed to lifting up under-represented authors and for board members who come from under-represented communities. Ask for dedicated board positions for authors from under-represented communities. Ask yourself if you’ve been welcoming to every visitor and member of your group. If your group has under-represented members, find out what’s up with their work. Are they looking for a critique group / nervous about an upcoming pitch / stuck on a plot point / silently fuming about a microaggression from a long-standing member? Listen, believe their experience, be of use in a way that values their needs and wishes.
Are you traditionally published? Ask about the demographics of your publishing house and the team working on your book. Ask what they are doing to improve the demographics within their house? (US Publishing is 79% white as of a couple of years ago – and only 3.5% black, despite the fact that Pew Research found the most likely American to read a book is a college-educated Black woman.) Join a mentorship program for under-represented authors, or find a mentee yourself. Looking for a mentee? You can start with the #AuthorCommunity hashtag on Twitter.
Are you self-published? Seek out cover designers, formatters, editors, marketers, audiobook narrators, translators, and/or rights lawyers who aren’t cishet white. You are the one in charge of the hiring demographics of your own publishing realm, so it’s down to you if everyone who works on your book or your business is cishet white. If you’re using the combined services of a vanity publishers, shop around for one that has a diverse team.
Did your editor or agent suggest you write more diverse characters? Ask what they’re doing to find more #ownvoices authors, as well. Are they ensuring that under-represented communities have equitable access to internships and job opportunities, thus building a more diverse set of decision-makers? I’ve heard plenty from cishet white authors concerned they’re going to lose their seats at the table because “so many” #ownvoices books are being published, but the data doesn’t lie: The Ripped Bodice’s state of diversity in publishing reports for several years running that white authors are still penning between 92%-95% of traditionally published romances.
Ask your agent and editor what’s on their wish list, and then say or tweet something like, “Hey, if you’re a black author who’s written a mid-length small town second chance contemporary romance, I want to read the opening pages from ten of you.” Then pick your favorite(s) and make an introduction, because editors and agents will make more time for someone who hasn’t come from the slush pile.
Have you been asked to speak at a conference or give a workshop? What is the demographic makeup of the group you’ll be speaking to, and are there under-represented people on the panel or in the list of other recent speakers? If the organizers don’t know the answers to your questions, ask them to find out. I’m not saying ‘refuse the engagement’ if the answer doesn’t reveal a commitment to diversity, but if we don’t ask the questions, we’re passing along the message that the status quo doesn’t matter.
Are you signing your latest release? Can you invite an underrepresented author to share the signing table with you? Your publisher, or local RWA chapters will, ideally, be able to say ‘sure, here’s a member who writes in your subgenre with a recent release.’ If they can’t, try social media.
Learn about under-represented author communities and their challenges through social media, blogs, articles, etc. Learn how to contribute to the dialogue in a respectful way. Own up to and learn from your mistakes, because we all continue to make them.
What else? Send me your suggestions and I’ll keep updating the document.
Melanie Greene writes her contemporary romance from her desk in a small cottage in a big city. She’s a voracious reader, huge audiobook fan, and generally has an overflowing bedside table full of books she can’t wait to read next. Of course her favorite genre is romance! Melanie’s greatest pleasure is in creating real-world characters who feel like friends, then throwing some (or several!) challenges at them to overcome on the way to Happily Ever After. Check out her steamy romances, full of brainy banter, cosmopolitan cowgirls, and hometown hunks. Melanie shares her life with her own hometown hunk of a husband and children so amazing they defy superlatives. Visit her at melaniegreene.com, and pre-order her upcoming release Twelve Scorching Days here.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.