Updated: Jul 8, 2020
The publishing world is not inclusive. If you’re Black, you felt this. If you’re White, you likely knew this. If you need data to affirm racism, exclusivity, and inequity reach the halls of publishing houses review the results of Lee & Low Books’ first Diversity Baseline Survey, released in 2019. They state the reason for the survey is to use the collected data to ‘track what progress our industry shows over time in improving representation and inclusion.” You can read more about the methodology here.
Below is a snapshot of the findings.
Black professionals make up about 5% of the entire industry. We’re talking editors, agents, reviewers, and executives. It’s equally bad for women, the LGBTQ community, and disabled populations.
I am a cisgender Black woman. Today’s post will focus on the racism in the Black romance writing and publishing world. Very few who look like me sit at the table with the decision makers controlling what books and stories are published. Consequently, our stories routinely never pass GO!
It’s bad. I started writing romance at the start of COVID-19. In this short amount of time I discovered it’s nearly impossible out here for Black writers. I never thought about the genre before. I never read much of it before this year. Now I know why… it isn’t marketed to me!
I am a highly educated, married Black woman with kids and a very successful career. My profile is almost non-existent on the pages of romance novels. So, I decided to create my own characters. With time on my hands and writing skills in my back pocket (Thanks Spelman College!), I dove into romance writing with both feet. It didn’t take me long to realize romance writing is a sorority that Black women are often not invited to rush.
Then the world caught on fire! Ahmad Aubrey and George Floyd were murdered in cold blood at the hands of White supremists and cops. The crimes are on video. The world watches as it did fifty-four years ago on Bloody Sunday.
Everyone demands justice. Everyone demands implementation of Anti-racist structures. Everyone demands reparations for microaggressions, implicit bias, and the withholding of the cultural capital needed to tap into America’s myth of meritocracy.
Now, every organization in America is like “Wait! Are we racist? Are we about to be cancelled? Fuck! Have any of y’all been micro-aggressive? FIX THAT SHIT NOW!” Even NASCAR banned Confederate flags at their events. NASCAR!!!! If you fly a confederate flag you may as well burn it now. For some, the races were a front for regional conferences of the confederacy. Those days are gone with the wind.
Publishing houses and national writing organizations are not exempt from the times. Editors are on Twitter asking Black non-agented Black writers to submit query letters and manuscripts. They are ready to review submissions and provide contracts or editorial feedback. That tells me they weren’t giving equal attention to our submissions before this. The excuses we often hear, range from low marketability to submission errors. While, Allies in publishing world will tell you it is racism pure and simple.
Without informed feedback and field professional development (aka cultural capital) It is nearly impossible to become a successful author. Even networking groups formed by industry and indie insiders tend to center White. Black romance writers are systemically shut out of access to these opportunities. Remember the racist drama with Romance Writers (RWA) of America? It seems the industry is asking for a shot to change.
Sisters, what should we do with all this attention? RWA wants us to come to their national conference for free. But will the speakers, content, and networking be inclusive? Publishing houses and editors want us to submit our sacred love stories. But will our cultural differences be respected? Will they deem all stories worthy of their beautiful covers, high-level editors, and extensive marketing?
We will see. However, I don’t think it’s wise for Black women to ignore the opportunity. No matter how nominal the gestures may seem, we should consider the being offered at the table even if we think we don’t want to eat. We should claim our portion of the publishing space. Only we are able to steer the conversation, conferences, and copy. I’m going to the conferences with solutions and I’m submitting every manuscript with pride.
If that’s not radical enough, then consider approaching the table to collectively slam chairs and walkout with fellow sisters the moment you smell bullshit!