Here's Why We Need More Inclusivity In Romance Novels
The romance industry has come a long way, but still has a long way to go.
Inclusivity In Romance Novels
In the early days of romance, readers could count on characters to be much the same. Straight cis white heroes and heroines without disabilities or chronic illnesses. The romance industry is changing, but change is slow and the need for inclusive romance novels is more important than ever.
Few will deny the importance of diversity in romance novels, which is described as "the full spectrum of human demographic differences." It's crucial to progress to explore the entire scope of human existence. This includes having characters that are different races, religions, genders, and sexualities. Having characters that are disabled, characters with mental or chronically ill.
People deserve to see themselves represented in books of all genres. Inclusivity takes diversity one step further. Not only does it invite minority and disenfranchised populations to the table, but it also fosters a "cultural and environmental feeling of belonging." That's what we need to aim for in romance.
Inclusivity: People of Color
The desire for more diverse and inclusive romance is there, but publishers aren't listening and aren't giving diverse writers a chance, especially when it comes to publishing writers of color.
Leah and Bea Koch, owners of The Ripped Bodice, the only romance bookstore in the U.S., conducted The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report in 2016 and 2017 to gauge just how the romance industry fared when it came to publishing authors of color. In 2016, just 7.8 percent of romance novels were written by people of color. The troubling news is that when the conducted the study again for 2017, they found that the number dropped to just 6.2 percent.
Yet their went against what the Koch sisters saw customers buying in their store. In 2017, 60 percent of their best-selling books were by women of color.
"It’s a sign of how America treats people of color," says romance author Beverly Jenkins. She's been writing since the 1980s but met a lot of initial resistance from publishers who believed there wasn't a market for historical romances with black leads. She proved them wrong and has published nearly 40 books.
Indian-American writer Sonali Dev also experience discrimination in the industry. While looking for a publisher for her now popular book The Bollywood Bride, she says, "big-name editors looked me straight in the eye, as if was perfectly normal, and said, 'Well, is it possible to change one of the protagonists to white?'" She received 50 rejections before finally signing with Kensington.
"It's definitely not a level playing field," agrees romance writer Rebekah Weatherspoon.
Inclusivity: LGBT and Disability
Romance has problems when it comes to other minority groups. When discussing the lack of LGBT books written by LGBT authors in young adult fiction, Kosoko Jackson says, "it’s also important that kids grow up and see themselves in stories, written by people like them - for them."
Foster Rudy seems to agree. "It’s so important to center queer love, as understood by and lived by queer authors...I’m hopeful that we will see more LGBTQ voices in romance, telling meaningful stories about love, trouble, and happy endings."
There's a decent amount of romance books about gay men, but does it count as diversity or inclusivity when it's mostly written by straight women for straight women? It's hard to say.
When it comes to romance featuring lesbian and bisexual women, Danika Ellis says, "The only people who have really cared enough about lesbian and bi women stories to write them have been lesbian and bi women." It makes you wonder if non-queer women are are reading them.
Disabled writers also struggle to get their work published.Alaina Leary discusses in her essay "Why The Publishing Industry Can’t Get Disability Right" the trouble that comes with finding a home for work. "It’s fairly common for disabled writers to be told that our work isn’t mainstream enough for abled readers to understand."
Writer Jillian Weise faced discrimination after finishing novel. "One editor at a major publishing house thought it would be too difficult for readers to connect to the disabled protagonist." The editor wanted the book rewritten in third person and didn't believe a disabled person had the prowess to have sex with more than one person.
The continued lack of diversity and inclusivity is alienating for both reader and writers alike. Something needs to change. Leah Koch believes, "Readers want books that reflect the world they live in," and we couldn't agree more."
Resources To Check Out
Let's Keep the Conversation Going...
What are your favorite inclusive romance novels?