Racism In Romance - Kayla Perrin Has Her Say...
Kayla's latest book - Gotta Have Some
When did you first get published?
I was first published in 1998.
What genre do you write in?
I write romance, chick lit, and mainstream women’s fiction with suspense.
What race/colour are the majority of your characters?
My characters are predominantly black.
How is your work marketed?
My work is definitely marketed toward the African-American reader.
Where are your books generally shelved?
My books are generally shelved in the African-American section. Sometimes romance as well. It depends on the store.
Where would you prefer your books to be shelved?
This is a catch-22 question. If an area has a large African-American readership, it makes sense for the books to be shelved in the AA section. But if not, then it’s far better to be in the general romance section, or general women’s fiction section.
Have you been subjected to direct/indirect racism from editors, publishers etc in your publishing career.
That’s a tough question. I think that sometimes publishers can have a certain mindset when it comes to AA fiction, in terms of how to market it, for example, and they’re not always willing to budge.
But, AA authors could certainly benefit from broader marketing efforts. Even things such as the book covers—it would be interesting to see if our books would reach a broader readership if the covers weren’t necessarily ethnocentric.
A publicist I was working with recently told me that in normal circumstances, she would walk right by my books in a bookstore—the “blacks” on the cover would not appeal to her. She said, however, that once she started reading my books she was hooked. Her opinion was that publishers should use more generic covers to reach a broader audience.
How do you feel about Oprah Winfrey’s book club- Do you think she could do more to promote AA authors?
Oprah certainly could do more to promote AA authors. She has that kind of power. Can we expect it? I don’t think so. Oprah likes a certain kind of book, which is her right. There are other ways to promote AA authors, ways publishers can exploit.
Do you believe that publishers are more ambivalent when it comes to marketing AA books?
From what I hear other authors say, and from my own experience, I would say yes. Not always, but yes.
I think that publishers are traditionally conservative, and don’t understand the AA market as much as they could. In many ways, they put books out there and see what hits—not just AA books, but books by midlist authors as well.
If you’re able to gain some success without huge publisher efforts, then they’ll likely do more for you later. But that “more” is still limited in many ways.
Which race groups would you say bought the majority of your books?
My books are mostly purchased by AA readers. I do hear that in certain cities, I have a lot of white readers buying my books as well.
What do you think needs to change in order for more white people to read African American books?
That’s a great question. One—I’d love to see an experiment with covers. Change the covers so they don’t specifically target the AA market, like my publicist suggested.
I posed the question of covers and shelving categories online a couple months ago, and one thing authors and readers said was that seeing covers with Black characters often makes them think “That’s not for me.”
However, most said if the books were in the general fiction sections they peruse, not in a specific AA section, then they would likely pick the book up and check it out.
Have you ever been snubbed by white readers/white authors during a signing?
Here’s something interesting. I did a signing once where a white reader approached me and asked, “Are your books just for black people?” I told her no, and explained the nature of my story, and she ultimately bought a book.
But I’ve definitely had readers come to a table where I might be signing with white authors and ignore me entirely. Is this because they feel they can’t relate to my stories because I’m black? I can’t say.
Have you ever been overlooked by an editor in favour of a white author?
This I can’t answer. I would say no, since I continue to get publishing contracts. What I can see happening is better marketing and promotion for white authors (in general) versus black authors—simply because publishers know how to market “white books” better.
However, my agent expressed frustration to me regarding the film agent she uses. This agent said, “It’s too hard to sell black books to Hollywood” and therefore didn’t even try to get me film sales. That was very frustrating, and her decision racially based.
Have you ever been asked to tone down, or increase the ethnicity within your books?
I have been asked why I had a white character in a book with two black women—this by an editor who is white! I guess she felt that if my book is targeted at blacks, why should I have a white woman in the story.
However, we have friends of all races, and that is no different in fiction—if we want to tell stories that reflect reality. Another editor (also white) not only understood the diversity, but loved it. She ultimately bought the book.
Are you familiar with Millennia Black’s lawsuit against Penguin? If so, what do you think her chances of winning are?
I have heard about it. It’s an interesting case. I don’t know what her chances of winning are. But I’m curious to see what happens next!
How do you think her victory will affect the way AA authors are treated within the industry?
I think it will make publishers reconsider how they market AA fiction. That said, in many ways, I understand the publishers’ dilemma. They know there is a huge AA market.
They want AA readers to be able to easily identify books they might relate to. The easiest way to do that is to make the covers ethnocentric.
Booksellers say the same thing—that having an AA section where there is a large AA readership helps readers know where to go to find the stories they’re looking for. It’s the kind of question for which there isn’t necessarily an easy answer.
What are your thoughts on niche marketing? What do you think the limitations are if any?
I think there are lots of limitations, one of which is alienating the general reader. There really is a feeling, with the current marketing, that if the books are being marketed to the AA reader, then that’s the only demographic which will enjoy AA books. That’s a serious limitation.
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?
I have voiced my opinion in support of having an AA category for the Rita Awards, since our books don’t final (or hardly ever) in the current categories.
We have some fabulous books out there, but they’re not finaling. I’d love to know why.
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?
The cynic in me says that in 5 years, it will still be a controversial topic. The dreamer in me hopes there’ll be substantial changes. Only time will tell!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Kayla, some very interesting responses!
If you want to find out a little bit more about Kayla and her books, you can visit her website here.
Coming up tomorrow, Eugenia O’Neal.