The Ripped Bodice bookstore in Los Angeles has released its fourth annual “State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report” which surveyed more than 2,400 romance titles published in 2019 to determine all titles “written by authors of color and indigenous peoples.”
According to the study, for every 100 romance books published in 2019, only 8.3 were written by people of color, a percentage of 8.3%. That figure has barely changed during the four years the booksellers have conducted the survey—in the first year of the survey in 2016 7.8% of romance books were written by people of color.
“It truly makes me feel heartbroken for these authors who clearly aren’t getting a fair shake,” said Leah Koch, who co-founded The Ripped Bodice with her sister, Bea, four years ago. “There are young authors out there who might feel so discouraged that they would decide not to write a romance. That’s clearly been happening for decades,” she said.
Among the 18 publishers included in the survey, Kensington published the most books by authors of color—nearly 28% of its 2019 titles were written by people of color. “I think the biggest contributing factor to any increase in diversity on our list is a greater sense of inclusivity in publishing as a whole, including on the consumer side,” said Esi Sogah, executive editor at Kensington. “In addition to receiving and seeking out more submissions from a diverse pool of authors, positive feedback from readers has led to increased visibility for those authors. It’s my belief that tackling long-term racial inequality in publishing requires changed behavior from all corners of the industry.”
“Kensington has always prided itself as a publisher of diverse writers and stories,” said assistant editor Norma Perez-Hernandez, highlighting how the publisher founded the Arabesque and Dafina imprints focused on African American romances. “While the current numbers show we still have a long way to go, we recognize that our authors can and should reflect our varied population authentically and inclusively,” she said.
“There are a few publishers who are showing clear gains,” said Koch. “Those are the real bright spots I want people to look at and find some measure of optimism.” Carina Press saw the most dramatic change in this year’s report. In 2018, only 2.5% of the publisher's titles were written by authors of color, but by 2019, nearly 21% of the books published by Carina were written by people of color.
Koch added one final thought about the “numbers game” of publishing. While she sees authors of color at the frontlist at many publishers, the diversity push needs to extend beyond bestsellers. “In order for the numbers to actually change, there needs to be more authors of color on the midlist,” said Koch.
The Ripped Bodice just celebrated its fourth anniversary, after it opened with the help of a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $91,000 from nearly 600 backers.