In my last post, I talked about an article, I'd read that was written by a romance author who was discussing her recently released sports themed contemporary romance novel. It seemed that the first book in her series didn’t sell nearly as well as her second book, and let me clarify that. The first book sold a few hundred copies in comparison to the few thousand the second book sold. The author and publisher were frustrated and looking for answers. What she suggested was an interesting yet sad commentary on our times, and I promised to address that in my next post. This is difficult for me to do, but I owe it to myself and my readers.
In the article I read, the author pointed out that the cover of her first book featured a sexy black man while the second book featured an equally sexy white man, leaving the author to wonder if the problem was that covers featuring men of color aren’t as well received as those featuring white men. This comes on the heels of an issue with a well-known romance publisher dropping their black romance line and actively encouraging their white authors to start writing about different races and ethnicities.
In her article regarding her covers, the author acknowledges that she had input in and final say on the art of both covers. She admits that she can’t necessarily prove that the first book didn’t sell as well because the model was black, but it seems awfully suspect.
So much about this article got me thinking. As authors, we’re encouraged to write what we know. The advice is sound, but I don’t think we all follow it. I once wrote a young adult series about vampires, and I can tell you for a fact I know nothing about vampires. Anything I didn’t know, I made up. That’s the beauty of being a fiction author. We are allowed a certain amount of creative license, more so in fantasy books, which brings up another interesting point the author made.
Maybe her books weren’t selling because they had a high element of realism and readers want to escape reality. Readers are happy to read about billionaire CEOs, pregnant shape shifting men, and the like but they don’t want to read about characters struggling with real issues. I sure the hell hope not because while I’ve dipped my toe in the fantasy pool, I’m much better at writing books that have a basis in reality.
If you’ve read any of my books, you know most of my characters are white. There have been a few books where I’ve included black or Latino characters, but they’ve never been lead characters. The closest I’ve gotten to writing about minorities is writing a book with a straight, transgender male lead and a few books with gay male leads, but all of those characters were white.
It’s honestly never even occurred to me to write a black, Latino, Asian, Indian or non-white character as a lead. In asking myself why, it comes down to two things. The first is that I write reality based novels, and I don’t know enough about these cultures and the issues they face to do justice to the characters and their struggles. The second is honestly the bigger issue for me. I want to be taken seriously a writer, and there’s a part of me that wonders if writing lead minority characters as a white female author means that I’m going to be judged more harshly and held to a higher standard than a minority author writing about these characters.
Am I right to think this way, or does my lack of diversity in my writing make me part of the problem this author was trying to bring to light? I truthfully don’t know. I certainly don’t have any issues with buying books with sexy men of any race on the cover. If I don’t buy a book, it’s because the story doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve never looked at a book cover and refused to read any further if the model is a man or woman of color.
Is being a diverse reader enough though? Should I be a more diverse writer? Do I have a responsibility to? I don’t know, but the author has definitely given me a lot to think about.