Solutions for Greater Equality in the Romance Market or We Can Haz Help?
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During the past couple of weeks, the Smart Bitches and Karen Scott’s blog hosted heated debates regarding the state of African American romance fiction. For the most part and with few exceptions, romance books written by African Americans are shelved with African American books. To some authors, this is a regressive trait in what we like to pretend is a post racial culture. There has been a request by some authors that readers take a stand since the majority of romance dollars are spent by white females. The problem is that there are several ways in which romance readers can address this issue but I don’t know which is the one we should take.
There was one commenter at the SB’s who said she needed an ally. I find that to be true. If an author or a group of authors stepped up and said this is the direction we would like you to go, then I would take up the standard and run with them. But right now, I am stalled at the starting line, wondering which fork in the road I should take.
CHALLENGE 1: African American authors are relegated to niche marketing through segregated shelving.
1. Eliminate niche marketing for all African American romance books.
PRO: Exposure to a larger audience. Reduce the possible stigma that books featuring African American couples or books penned by African American authors are somehow different and not appropriate for the mainstream audience.
CON: Not all AA authors want to eliminate niche marketing. With niche marketing, books get in front of a pool of interested buyers. There is also increased shelving space, possible longer shelf life and no competition with the 400 other romances that are released each month.
2. Allow authors to choose where they want to be shelved.
PRO: This would solve the problem of the issue of treating African American authors as one hive mind. There are clearly some authors and readers who appreciate the niche marketing. By having the authors designate where their books should be shelved places the onus and power with the author and not some corporate schlub.
CON: First, feasibility. Bookstores, generally, refuse to double shelf because of the limited shelf space, the logistics of double shelving. Second, equality. African Americans who want to be shelved in the romance section (versus the AA section) state that they want equal treatment. If African Americans authors were allowed to choose where they want to be shelved, would booksellers be forced to treat non African Americans the same way? This would create a logistical nightmare as authors would send in requests to be shelved in certain areas and I’m sure that there would some who would ask to be shelved in romance who aren’t writing romance books.
3. Require publishers to stop selling books as niche marketing. As I understand it, chain booksellers have buyers for different genres. The marketing arm of the publisher pitches the books to the particular buyer. Who buys determines where the book is shelved. If publishers would have their marketers pitch a romance book to the romance buyer, it is more likely to end up shelved in the romance section.
PRO: Requiring publishers to market romances as romances regardless of the race of the books’ characters and the books’ authors would eliminate the logistical and feasibility problems that arise in the bookseller in control scenario described above.
CON: Like the removal of segretated shelving described in Scenario 1, this treats all African American romance authors the same regardless if they prefer the niche marketing.
As I stated at the outset, I think some of the lack of response to the issues raised by African American authors is due to issue paralysis. We don’t know which issue to take up as our cause. One other area in which I think we need to work together to achieve is increased visibility for African Americans authors on romance blogs.
The main problem for us at Dear Author is that because of the volume of books that we receive, we tend not to read anything that is not sent to us via email or snail mail. Dear Author posted 40 reviews in the month of April. The number of reviewed books that the reviewers had purchased was 2 or 3.
I’m sure that Dear Author is not the only blog who feels overwhelmed by the number of books it has the very good fortune of being offered. Truly it is a blessing but it is a blessing that causes us to be absentminded about books that are published and not before our eyes
The best way for an author to increase her chances of being read, reviewed, and recommended is to send us an email with a blurb and link to an excerpt. If the excerpt or blurb is interesting enough, we’ll buy our own copy so we don’t require a free book. Janine bought Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentleman and on recommendation by Teddy Pig, I bought, read and enjoyed Josh Lanyon’s Adrien Fletcher mysteries (review to come). Both of these purchases seeded other purchases. Janine bought another book from Hale’s small print publisher and I bought two more books by Lanyon.
So we at DearAuthor need help. We need authors and readers to send us recommendations of books by African American authors. I think we’ve proven that we’ll read anything so long as it is a good book regardless of race, sexual orientation, or sub genre. This is not something that we are asking only African American authors do. As I blogged about last week, there are some things people can do to increase the likelihood of the group here reading and reviewing a particular book.
What I am saying is that authors and bloggers can work together to achieve positive results, but the key here is working together. If all we do is hurl insults at each other or talk past each other or say the one side doesn’t understand the other, we will never move from our current position and in ten years, we’ll still be bemoaning the segregation of African American romance fiction.