It’s no secret that the publishing industry isn’t as diverse as it
could should be. You’ll find more independent publishers trying to transform the industry into a more accurate representation of the world today. It’s honestly shocking that it’s 2022, and there is still less than 12% of authors published in the romance genre that identify as BIPOC. Let’s get into some statistics and hopefully work together to help the romance genre begin to reflect the world around us.
The Ripped Bodice
You’re probably wondering who The Ripped Bodice is. Fair! The Ripped Bodice is a popular bookshop in Los Angeles. They specialize in anything and everything romance (so actually, it’s my home; we just haven’t revealed that yet!). The shop itself is run by sisters Bea and Leah Koch (who are just dolls, honestly), and it’s exclusive to the West Coast (so my Texan heart is sobbing).
Now you’re probably wondering what these two women have to do with me talking about diversity in the publishing of the romance genre. Well, they are the reason! As I was conducting my research for the romance timeline, I came across Bea and Leah’s work on what they call The Ripped Bodice State of Racial Diversity in Romance Report.
The Ripped Bodice State of Racial Diversity in Romance Report
For the past five years, the girls have been compiling a comprehensive list of popular romance publishers. They’ve been tracking the “publication of books written by authors who are BIPOC in the traditional romance publishing genre.” When I first saw all of the information they gathered, I was shocked, genuinely shocked.
Now you’re probably thinking, what gives these women the authority to do this? The fact that they run a bookstore that sells only romance books should be reason enough for them to conduct such research. To add to that, they are curious and have the drive to find answers to their questions — questions more readers have also had, but have never continued to follow their pursuit past the “we’re working on it” pitstop. They aren’t using any resource that isn’t widely available to everyone, they’re just one of the first (with a prominent platform) to publish research like this (that I’ve seen).
Publishers Involved in The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Study
While there has been a rise in self-publishing over the past few years, The State of Racial Diversity study has remained consistent in including only traditional publishers. The real way we’ll see any change is through traditional publishing because that’s where a good majority of readers get their books from.
Bea and Leah focus on these twenty publishers, and as of 2021, the leading publisher of BIPOC authors in the romance genre was St. Martin’s Press, which is owned by Macmillan.
A vast majority of us don’t pay attention to who is publishing our books, so let me see if these ring any bells for you.
Fake it Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley
The Sizzle Paradox by Lily Menon
Starry-Eyed Love by Helena Hunting
Good Girl Complex by Elle Kennedy
The Dating Dare by Jayci Lee
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Yeah, that publisher. The top spot generally oscillates between the twenty publishers, but St. Martin’s is always up there.
Now, you’ve probably got a lot of questions about the validity of Bea and Leah’s findings. I did too! Thankfully, they anticipated this because the pair went ahead and answered a good portion of the questions I had. Ranging from how they gathered the information to how they actually classified romance novels and to how they were even able to identify authors as BIPOC.
They readily admit that this system is fallible and it isn’t foolproof.
However, they do offer ample time for the publishers to participate in the study. The sisters reach out to every publisher they include, but they don’t always get a reply back. The markers on the provided graphic from The Ripped Bodice give us an idea of just how many publishers were willing to participate.
I told one of my roommates that over the past five years, only 11.9% of the books traditionally published in the romance genre identified as BIPOC, and her jaw dropped. My jaw dropped. My professor’s jaw dropped when I told her too. The only person who was not surprised was my Practicum in Publishing professor, who works in the publishing industry alongside teaching.
Please know that when we’re talking about BIPOC publishing, we’re simply talking about authors who identify as BIPOC. The content of their books or the identifications of their characters is irrelevant to the study. Let me make one thing clear, though, as Leah and Bea also explicitly state:
Racial diversity is not the only type of diversity that matters.
In the business of publishing romance books, representation has been put on the back burner. In the past five years (congruent with the studies conducted by The Ripped Bodice), there has been a push for more diversity and representation throughout the industry. One thing that needs to be realized is that this is not a change that will come about quickly. After years and years (and years and years) of predominantly publishing white authors, the world is finally ready for a more accurate picture of the world around us.
BIPOC Romance Subgenres
Like many readers, in an effort to expand my reading repertoire, I’ve been purchasing more and more BIPOC authors, whether that be traditionally published or nontraditional. Most recently, I’ve read The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel and am prepping to read Kamila Knows Best by Farah Heron.
One thing that readers must realize is that when they’re reading a book written by a BIPOC author dealing with that author’s native culture, they shouldn’t take that book as a sort of guide to that particular culture. Look, that was convoluted, but what I’m saying is that just because the Hindu culture is heavily explored in Sajni’s The Trouble with Hating You, I won’t be taking it as the beginner’s guide to the Hindu way of life.
Trigger Warning for those considering reading The Trouble with Hating You (in reference to the mention of the protagonist’s childhood traumas): Sexual Assault, Abuse, Fire, Death, PTSD, and Anxiety.
In my research of romance subgenres, I discovered one that I hadn’t heard of before. Well, two, actually, the first being:
Black Love Romance
BLR is a romance story where both main characters and a good chunk of the supporting characters are black. For a short history lesson, this really picked up steam around the 1980s. Wikipedia refers to this as black love romance… I just say it’s romance that features black characters… so, romance?
After doing a bit more research, I understand the need for a distinction. Representation matters, and having a subgenre that specifically caters to POC characters and readers further proves that. If you’re looking for some fantastic BLR authors, check out these amazing authors here:
Sharon C. Cooper
Chencia C. Higgins
Now, the second of these romance subgenres I learned about was Multicultural Romance or Interracial Romance. MCR typically feature an African American hero or heroine; however, they aren’t limited to that. Many MCRs like The Spanish Love Deception, which features a Spanish heroine, will expand the genre into relationships of interracial couples (and I’m not just talking interracial relationships with European Americans).
Just like Black Love Romance, I totally understand the need for a specific subgenre geared toward this type of romance. It’s rare that European American (white) authors will write BLRs or MCRs, and I don’t necessarily know if they should, but I do think that brings up another topic that I don’t have enough information on to fully form a well-informed opinion on.
But if you want to enjoy some Multicultural Romance, check out these three!
Okay, we’ve been through a journey in this article. My whole idea for putting this article together is to bring up the topic of BIPOC publishing in the romance genre. Like I said before, this isn’t an issue easily changed. Progress will happen, slowly but surely.
For now, what can you do to support the BIPOC community? Buy their books! Make an effort to support independent publishers who primarily work with BIPOC authors. Research and promote BIPOC voices.
For more content from your favorite Resident Romance Redneck during Romance Awareness Month, click here!