Action plan for making Publishing representative #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Action plan for making Publishing representative

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

**you are welcome to share this document; to suggest changes contact me**

Action plan for making Publishing representativeAmerica 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 mel@melaniegreene.com 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:
http://www.wocinromance.com

https://twitter.com/hashtag/weneeddiverseromance
http://girlhaveyouread.com
http://romancenovelsincolor.com/
https://www.pocparanormalauthors.com/
http://www.cimrwa.org/our-authors.html
https://sites.google.com/view/pocqueerromanceauthorscommunit/author-list-by-name?authuser=0
https://bawdybookworms.com/diverse-romances-press-list/
https://robincovingtonromance.com/2019diversereadingchallenge/
https://books2read.com/rl/cwoc
https://www.sistersincrime.org/page/FrankiesList
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. 

Action plan for making Publishing representativeThanks,

Melanie Greene
@daki_MelGreene
mel@melaniegreene.com

Action plan for making Publishing representativeMelanie 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.

Thank you to Freepik for the stack of books image I used in this post.

53 thoughts on “Action plan for making Publishing representative #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Great article. Question, what does cishet mean?
    My current novel won’t have much diversity in it because it’s basically already written. But, it’s my first and that’s not to say I can’t grow from here. Thank you for the reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Sarah, thanks for the question – I need to remember these aren’t terms as familiar to everyone else as they are to me! Cis is short for cisgender – my gender is the same as the gender I was assigned at birth. Het is short for heterosexual. So ‘cishet’ has become a shorthand for someone who is straight and not trans or any other gender besides what’s on their birth certificate.
      Congratulations on finishing your first novel! That’s such an accomplishment.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow. I say this with complete naivete, I had no idea anyone cared. As a Latina/Black author I was shocked as to hard it was to try and find a POC Editor — I am self-published after years of trying to do it traditionally and ultimately went through a process with an entire White staff to get it done. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the results, and in the perfect world color wouldn’t matter, but alas, it matters so much when it’s under-represented. I try to be supportive of under-represented people because — well, I’m ONE, but I also think we’re just better being more inclusive. It just makes for a better world. This was a fantastic read. Thank you for the post and… I just learned a lot!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Carmen, I appreciate your comment so much – and am sorry you’ve had to go through so much to get your words out there for everyone to enjoy. I’d love to hope that writers coming up behind us don’t end up with the same barriers to entry, but so far the challenges aren’t exactly dissolving away.

      And Raimey, what great resources, thank you! I’ll add to my list!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The points brought up in this post are such important ones to consider. I’ve been asking myself how I, a cishet white woman, can include diversity in my novel. My MC is also cishet white, and the idea of including diverse secondary characters seems both necessary and problematic. Necessary in the sense that I refuse to have an all-white cast of characters, and problematic in the sense that it feels like I’m just continuing the vicious cycle of including diverse characters only to serve the role of helping my white Main Character achieve her goals. How can I both make my novel diverse without also perpetuating the problem? I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this.
    Furthermore, I want to thank Melanie Greene for her incredible suggestions. I hadn’t considered a lot of them but will strive to fully incorporate these elements because she’s right: We can’t sit back and let the under-represented fight the good fight alone, nor can we allow our industry to continue these injustices.
    A great post! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for joining in the discussion, Brigitte. There’s definitely a lot for all of us to consider, both respect to including diversity in our own fiction in a thoughtful way, but also in terms of lifting up underrepresented voices of the many roles in the publishing industry.

      Like

    2. I think a key for everyone to consider while writing side characters is ‘does this person have a life of their own off the page?’ I’ve yet to find many negatives in creating a realistic, well-rounded world for my main characters to occupy, and if they honor and value the diversity of the world around them, that’s a great start.

      Increasing diversity on the page isn’t as easy as asking yourself, ‘why is everyone my main character talks to white?’ but it certainly is a great place to start interrogating yourself and your fiction!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One really great resource for writers is the Tumblr “Writing with Color,” which is run by a number of people of color of varying identities, backgrounds, genders, etc. It’s a great collection, and they have a number of posts about how to approach writing characters of color as a white writer. They even will respond to specific questions if you get caught up on something: https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to say I was not expecting this but I’m happy to see it. As a Black author and being at the RWA conference that Melissa Blue referenced you can tell and it sucks. After the RITA announcement it was more of the same and things were ugly in the private forums. Romance has a long way to go, but it does help to have others speaking up and lending their voices because it shouldn’t be us alone talking about our oppression.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Meka, those forums are good for one thing (and sometimes ONLY one thing, lol) – making it harder for our peers who want to ostrich about the systemic racism within RWA/our industry. It’s impossible to pay even the slightest bit of attention and not accept that this is an ongoing and deeply entrenched problem.

      You’re absolutely right that it’s important for the discussion to go wide – and for the burden to change to rest on the shoulders of those who have the privilege of not being oppressed.

      I’m sorry your conference time was a stark reminder of the problems.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. First of all, fantastic article. Some of these are things I already do, such as diversifying my own reading and signal boosting what I can. But a lot of it would not have occurred to me, such as diversifying who I work with behind the scenes with covers, editing, and design. Thank you for all the excellent ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m in the same boat in that I feel like I’ve been doing some of these things, but so much hadn’t occurred to me before both reading Melanie’s list and listening harder to underrepresented authors. I’m going to keep listening and keep trying.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This was interesting. I’m still processing it. I never talk about race in my books and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I guess in a way I let the reader decide what color of skin they have. I will say this: Living in Western Oregon and raised in Western Washington (near Canada) most of us were white. Like any writer most of my characters are people I know but that doesn’t mean they have to be white. It’s all about the reader and what they want.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is one of two approaches with respect to diversity in fiction that I’ve contemplated/used myself in the past. The preferred methodology with respect to diversity is evolving, and I’m continually reading about what is more respectful/authentic/thoughtful. I personally can’t say categorically that letting the reader decide for every character is where publishing is heading, but what I can say is that in a diversity in fiction course I took recently, there were convincing arguments made for authors doing more research in order to include thoughtful representation. I may not get this exactly right, so bear with me, but I think the point is that if I don’t identify physical characteristics that would pin a character into a white racialized identity, the character would still be recognizable as white because I’ve made no effort to make their culture different than mine (what a mostly white social gathering feels like to a character of color, what books are on my character’s bookshelf, whether my character code switches with friends, etc.) Again, I don’t think I’m the authoritative voice on this subject, but I wanted to share with you what I’ve been learning recently. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A great presentation of your interests and some awesome tips. Thank you both for the post. I don’t have any definitive answers or advice, but even thinking about diversity in our writing and reading is a step in the right direction. I’m not much of a romance reader, but the concerns apply to my genre, fantasy, as well. This is something for all white authors/readers to address.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Romance is of course where I’m most familiar, but yes, so many levels and genres of the publishing industry are facing similar challenges. I’m wish there was a definitive solution! But since that’s impossible, I’m operating under the premise that it’s better to throw lots of pebbles in the pond and let them meet up with and amplify bigger waves wherever they can.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What a terrific metaphor, Melanie. It’s also a perfect counter-argument for anyone who might not think that little acts matter enough to try. Yeesh, I’m writing in double negatives, so probably time for bed for me!

        Like

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