Let's tackle the one thing No One wants to talk about in romance...diversity.
Love like a Black Girl...
Love like a Black Girl came to me when I was talking to my bestie about the trials and tribulations of writing as an indie Black author in the contemporary/erotic romance industry.
It all started when an editor suggested that I remove ethnic tags and descriptions from my characters. Yep, you read that right. I, as a Black author, was advised that writing Black characters, would effectively pigeon-hold me to African-American categories and limit my marketability.
This idea that romance books that feature people of color will not have an audience or generate enough money to justify the labor hours, i.e. marketing and printing, has dominated the romance industry for longer than I've been around. For that reason alone when I finally completed my debut novel, I opted to go Indie.
I thought, maybe naively, that by going Indie I would somehow bypass the attitude that my words didn't matter because of the color of my skin. I whole-heartedly believed that all I had to do was write a good story and if I did that, my characters would speak for themselves. So imagine my shock when, yet another editor, repeated the sentiment of the first editor but she took it a step further. The new editor told me that my characters were a turn off to the majority of romance readers because as White women, they are not interested in, or comfortable with narratives that feature people of color.
Now, I get that as a country we are in an H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E place in reference to race relations. That many of us are scared of anything different but as readers don't we read to escape our realities? Don't we read to experience lives that we'll never live and places well never go? Don't we read to broaden our horizons and understand people or things outside of ourselves? At least that's why I read. As a Black romance reader, I have never once put down a book because the characters didn't look like me or reflect my background.
I'm not ashamed to admit that it stung to hear that a person that I respect, and that is knowledgeable in the market does not support diversity. And in essence is willing to push an agenda that keeps the industry stagnant. Let me put this out there when I say diversity I don't merely mean the inclusion of Black authors and characters. As a reader, I want to read about a hot alpha Asian guy, with a lot of length and girth, pounding his girlfriend on the back of a sofa. I want to read about a Latina woman that is cold and calculating, but beautiful and successful. I want an M/M book that doesn't sexualize a Gay relationship. Dammit, I want all the feels, and I want them from a variety of characters!
It took me a little while to process, to lick my wounds, and sit in my hurt feelings (yes I was hurt and outraged). I reached out to other authors in the romance community that had written people of color and asked if they had received any push back in reference to showcasing an interracial relationship or relationships where both characters were POC. The responses ranged greatly but one message was universal...exploring the differences between character ethnicity, socioeconomic backgrounds, religion, sexuality, and all facets of social construct is what makes a story great.
After all of my ruminating, I realized I had a decision to make. What kind of author did I want to be? Was I okay with maintaining the status quo or was I comfortable with rocking the boat? Did I whitewash my characters to create a base or did I stay true to myself, my words, and my character experiences?
I would love to say that I didn't think twice about deleting the ethnic tags and descriptions but that would be a lie. I'm at the beginning of my career, and I don't want to burn bridges that I haven't crossed yet. But no matter how you slice it or dice it, it's just wrong. So I decided that I would write love and romance like a Black Girl. I would work to find my tribe, and although I may not be the next Debbie Macomber, I would be me and I would have to be enough.