Romance Novels Have A Major Diversity Problem, According To A Study From The Ripped Bodice Bookstore

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According to a new study conducted by romance novel bookstore The Ripped Bodice, romance novels have a major diversity problem. Booksellers Leah and Bea Koch examined the catalogs for 20 publishers, and compiled the data in an infographic that alleges that less than 10 percent of the romance novels they published in 2016 were written by authors of color. The study only focused on traditional publishers, and does not include data for self-publishing and other non-traditional publishing methods.

"For many years," an infographic from The Ripped Bodice reads, "the common refrain from publishers has been 'we're working on it.'" The proof is in the pudding, folks, and there's very little of it to go around.  Two of the 20 publishers the Kochs studied reportedly published no books by writers of color, and only three publishers — Crimson Romance (12.2 percent), Forever & Forever Yours (17.5 percent), and Kensington (19.8 percent) — had writers of color represent more than 10 percent of their catalogs.

In fact, the representation found in books from those three publishers was so much higher than the other publishers that it actually skewed The Ripped Bodice's numbers a bit. With Crimson Romance, Forever & Forever Yours, and Kensington included, the average representation was 6.12 percent, and 11 publishers were less racially diverse than average. Without them, that number drops to 4.29 percent. Overall, the Kochs found that out of 100 romance novels published in the U.S. in 2016, only 7.8 were written by authors of color.

Courtesy of Leah and Bea Koch
Courtesy of Leah and Bea Koch
Courtesy of Leah and Bea Koch
Courtesy of Leah and Bea Koch

Leah and Bea Koch Kickstarted The Ripped Bodice in 2015, exceeding their goal by more than $1,000. The bookstore opened in L.A. last year, and deals exclusively in romance novels. According to the infographics above, the sisters intend to repeat their study annually to see if publishers make good on the assertion that they will work on putting more romance novels by authors of color on shelves.

As Entertainment Weekly points out, the dearth of Own Voices romance fiction does a real disservice to black women, the most educated demographic in the U.S. today. According to Pew Research Center, college-educated black women are more likely than any other demographic to have read a book in the last year. Additionally, the 2014 Nielsen Romance Buyer Survey found that 84 percent of romance novel-buyers are women. This means that women of color make up a large chunk of romance readership, but fewer than one in 10 of the books they pick up will be written by a person of color.

This is a major problem, and one that The Ripped Bodice co-owners are committed to helping to solve. In the meantime, you can help promote diversity in romance publishing by purchasing novels written by women of color. Here are five suggestions to get your started.

'An Extraordinary Union' by Alyssa Cole

A pair of Union spies take center stage in this historical romance. Elle is a free black woman with a photographic memory, who has posed as a household slave to gather information from a prominent white family. Malcolm is a Pinkerton detective posing as a Confederate soldier. She might be able to see past his knack for deception, but racial power dynamics threaten to doom their budding relationship.

Click here to buy.

'Something In Between' by Melissa de la Cruz

This YA romance novel centers on brilliant, 16-year-old Jasmine, whose dreams of a college education and first love are dashed when she learns that her Filipino-American family is undocumented, and that her love-interest's father is a Republican lawmaker running on a platform of deportation.

Click here to buy.

'A Bollywood Affair' by Sonali Dev

Mili is married to a man she has not seen in 20 years, but the aegis of their "relationship" has granted her the freedom to study in the U.S. When her husband's brother shows up with divorce papers for her to sign, she's not about to give up the independence she has come to value.

Click here to buy.

'Hold Me' by Courtney Milan

It reads like You've Got Mail for the social-media age, but it's so much more than that. With an interracial romance between two characters of color, an Asian male romantic lead, and a trans woman protagonist, Hold Me is the unicorn of romance novels. Did I mention it sports a rating of more than four stars on Goodreads? Get on it.

Click here to buy.

'Hate to Want You' by Alisha Rai

When a feud between their families ends their juvenile romance, Nicholas and Livvy strike a deal: one night of passion every year on her birthday. Ten nights later, Livvy doesn't make contact with Nicholas, but shows up in town for the first time since their falling out. He investigates, even though it could spell disaster for them all.

Click here to buy.