Not So Happily Ever After: The Romance Novel Industry Struggles for Diversity

  • In 2017 major publishers only put out 6.2% of books written by people of color
  • College educated black women are the most likely to read a book of any genre

The romance genre is a billion-dollar industry that outperforms all other book genres. It’s been slow to accept black romance fiction into the fold. How can the industry engage more black romance authors and readers?

Why This Matters: Publishing is not a level playing field even though romantic fiction is remarkably innovative, with a strong tradition of independent and self-publishing. The romance industry as a whole published 5.5% more books in 2017 than in 2016. For some traditional romance readers the resistance to new narratives that have non-white, not-straight, or disabled protagonists can manifest in odd ways. A Pew Research survey from 2014 found the person most likely to read a book of any genre is a college-educated black woman. Even the Romance Writers of America has acknowledged that in its 36-year history, no black author has ever won the the top honor for romance writers.

Survey trends show from the executive level to marketing and even reviewers are majority white. The disconnect between creators, characters, readers, and industry recognition is stark. LA-based romance bookstore the Ripped Bodice put out its annual racial diversity audit of mainstream romance publishing for 2017, which showed for every 100 romance books published by leading houses in 2017, only 6.2% were written by people of color.

Situational Awareness: There's certainly not a shortage of readership when it comes to the black romantic book genre. It’s very vast and actually encompasses everyone. Therefore it is extremely important for publishers to serve readers with books that match their lives.

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