Racism In Romance - Author, Lynn Emery Has Her Say...
Lynn's latest book - Soulful Strut
When did you first get published?
My first book came out in 1995
What genre do you write in?
Romance and women's fiction
What race/colour are the majority of your characters?
My main characters are black, but casts of characters in my novels have always been diverse (white, Asian, etc.)
How is your work marketed?
Publishers do the usual, ads in Romantic Times, publisher catalogues and send ARCs out for review. A few times HarperCollins coordinated with myself and a PR pro I used on special promotional efforts
Where are your books generally shelved?
In the AA sections at Waldenbooks/Borders. In fiction at Barnes & Noble. Walmart puts them on a shelf with AA mass market fiction.
Where would you prefer your books to be shelved?
In romance or fiction. For a long time I didn't have a problem with the shelving. I wanted readers to find my books easily. After taking part in some lively forums about shelving, and seeing the way AA books of all genres are just thrown together, I changed my mind.
Even black readers browsing for a specific genre have to guess which book is a mystery, which is urban fiction, which is a romance, etc. It makes no sense.
But let me say that back in the day blacks who were activists fought for bookstores first to carry our books, then to increase the number and variety of AA books on sale, then to give AA studies (serious non-fiction on Civil Rights and other race issues) a separate section. So I don't think the origins of separate shelving is like the "Colored Only" signs back in the day. But now it's time to move away from it.
Problem is AA readers want those sections generally. They don't want to wander around looking for their fave AA authors in the romance, then go to the horror, etc. sections.
I've heard them say it, reinforcing what booksellers say. I don't think this is some made-up excuse. AA authors have to raise consciousness about this- that convenience shouldn't trump the greater good.
Have you been subjected to direct/indirect racism from editors, publishers etc in your publishing career.
That would be impossible for me to answer other than to say, "I don't know". This is a complicated business and decisions are made based on sales.
Also I'm at a great distance from the decision making on marketing, etc. So any answer I give about myself personally would just be speculation with no evidence at all to back it up.
I will venture to say that I don't think most publishers have figured out how to market most AA commercial fiction.
I can say that black readers in America tend to read a variety, and don't just stick to romance, fantasy or mystery like other readerships might. If they fall in love with black characters they will cross genres, though horror, science fiction and paranormal generally seem to be a hard sell.
Yet as a new romance author back in the day I remember that they marketed Arabesque in the traditional ways white romance authors were marketed. Which IMHO explained why I would meet black women at booksignings for several years stunned to learn about black romances- even after Arabesque had become established.
Although I don't have hard figures, I have a strong feeling that most American black women don't read Romantic Times or even know about the magazine. That's just one example.
How do you feel about Oprah Winfrey’s book club- Do you think she could do more to promote AA authors?
Oprah is not doing her book club to promote a group of authors period, she wants to promote reading the kind of literature she prefers. She's not going to push books that she doesn't personally love, so no.
Unlike some authors I don't think Oprah has a duty to promote AA authors more. She has done a lot for AA authors of literary fiction and to encourage a love of reading in general. That's enough IMO.
Critics of her book choices should leave her alone for the love of all that's sacred!!! LOL Seriously, I'm not on the bandwagon to make Oprah, or any celebrity, push some agenda as defined by others.
Do you believe that publishers are more ambivalent when it comes to marketing AA books?
Yes. I think (no facts, JMO) they really believe that every AA novel that hits big is an anomaly for some weird reason that I cannot for the life of me fathom.
They understand fiction with a race issue, like showing us suffering and overcoming racial indignity.
They do understand violent, sexually explicit books selling like hotcakes, but Terry McMillan and most other authors writing about AA folks struggling with life issues seem to leave them going-"Yeah, but that was a fluke." Caveat before this next answer. I like urban fiction, read gritty books and love them. But the usual picture of crime, sex, violence seems to reinforce a racial stereotype that somehow whites understand. So they "get" why urban fiction is hot. But building authors who aren't doing these kinds of books seems to them a waste of money.
Even so urban fiction had to "prove itself", once again, before the big houses joined the party. And other self-pubbed authors first worked their butts off, built an audience and then got picked up by traditional houses.
Which race groups would you say bought the majority of your books?
Black women, hands down. I literally can't give away free books at RWA publisher sponsored events. While new white authors with no name recognition draw interest.
What do you think needs to change in order for more white people to read African American books?
IMO there needs to be a cultural shift. White readers need to stop thinking of us as "others" whose stories are in some ethnic code that is not relevant to their human experience.
No matter how much we've said it, white women don't think that a romance with AA characters is about romance. They are convinced it seems (in general) that there is some element in our books that will alienate, offend or confuse them.
Others are convinced that there are "political statements" in books even when the author is scratching her head because she didn't include any such subplot. But perception is reality.
There also needs to be less of whites thinking the world revolves around them, that everything important (big ideas, grand romance, great expectations) has a white face.
This is not even conscious, it's just so ingrained that most whites didn't even notice the lack of AA people in romance books, or any other fiction, or movies, or television. See, this is "normal" for them.
Have you ever been snubbed by white readers/white authors during a signing?
Have you ever been overlooked by an editor in favor of a white author?
I have no way to tell, except. I will say that at RWA conferences I've seen newbie and mid-list white authors get perks like lunch with their editors (picking up the tab) while the AA romance authors in general don't.
Definitely not us mid-list AA authors(which means bottom list in reality) don't. At first I thought, "You're being a tad paranoid, Lynn." But I kept seeing it. Then finally another AA author said, "Have you noticed..." and I was like "ding-ding" that rings a bell.
Now again this is complicated because there is no such thing as equal treatment when it comes to authors. There are prominent AA romance authors who do meet with their editors. So it's not a hands down "NO" AA authors get perks.
But when you see unknown or mid-list white authors get treatment that AA authors don't, you do wonder.
Have you ever been asked to tone down, or increase the ethnicity within your
Are you familiar with Millennia Black’s lawsuit against Penguin? If so, what do you think her chances of winning are?
Based on what little I know she may have a shot.
How do you think her victory will affect the way AA authors are treated within
I doubt it. I think they will quietly continue as always, but be extra careful not to make the fatal mistake MB's editor/publisher did.
What are your thoughts on niche marketing? What do you think the limitations are if any?
Niche marketing makes sense, but AA fiction should have outreach marketing as well.
Have you been personally involved in trying to bring about changes within the publishing industry, with regards to how African American authors are treated? If so can you tell me about your efforts?
At first I wasn't going to say no, but I did join one effort to get a major chain to stop shelving all AA books in one section and put AA romance in with other romances (wrote a letter to corporate). They ignored us. The cash register rules.
Do you think this will still be a controversial subject in five years time, or do you think major changes would have been made by then?
Unless I'm totally wrong and MB's suit brings changes I doubt anything will change in regard to shelving or marketing, etc. Back in 1993 when Kensington created Arabesque AA romance authors thought things would change, didn't happen.
When our books started selling and found the untapped audience of AA women who had been reading and collecting white romances for decades we thought, "Ah-ha, money talks." Nope, no change. So here we are eleven years later and what are we discussing? If things will change. You do the math.
What has changed is publishers realized that they could make money, bookstores realized they could make more money, thus more black authors are on the shelves than ever before. You don't have to go on a great treasure search to find black authors of fiction and non-fiction. That has indeed changed. So I have hope.
Thanks for taking the time to participate in this survey Lynn.
If you want to find out a little bit more about Lynn and her books, you can visit her website here.
Coming up tomorrow, author, Kayla Perrin.