IR Books = Declining AA Book Sales?

Earlier this year Affaire de Coeur sent out a survey to authors and readers regarding interracial books. (You can check out the questions here.) I’m dying to see the results. If I get a chance to get down to B&N I’ll pick up a copy of the magazine. Anyway, their survey is the reason I posted mine. I’ve not mentioned this before on this blog, but I’ve always sensed some tension in the African American romance community in regard to interracial romance books. Back when there was still a black reader forum on Delphi I remember some readers there expressing consternation with interracial romances and their fear that they would eventually “take over” the African American romance genre. Given the questions that appeared on Affaire de Coeur’s survey I have to assume that those concerns are still extant.

6. Many AA authors have told AdC that they don’t like the intrusion of interracial romance. Some have even gone as far as to state that unless they writing an interracial romance as opposed to an AA romance, they are not supported by their publisher. Do you think there is a push? Why?

This question in particular bugs the heck out of me. For one thing, I resent the hell out of the word INTRUSION. In what way are authors of interracial romance intruding on anything? This notion that we are somehow poaching on their readers is absurd. As my survey clearly showed,  it’s not the same reader pool. Most of the readers of interracial romances are either omnivores, who read a little bit of everything, or they are exclusively fans of interracial romance and wouldn’t read monoracial romances even if interracial romances were not available. I suspected this was the case, and my survey confirms it.

I can’t really comment on the publisher issue, but I have to assume that if there’s a push for interracial books it’s because they’re selling. Other than at e-pubs, which have always had interracial books, I haven’t seen a proliferation of interracial books. I think Genesis is still doing one a month, and the last time I checked at Kimani they were still asking for monoracial exclusively. (I’m too lazy to check. Is this still the case?) I can count on one hand the number of IRs I’ve seen from Kimani and they’re all from authors who are already established with them. I haven’t looked at Dafina guidelines in a while, but I don’t seem to remember there being a lot of IRs there either.

7. There is a decline in the number of books where both hero and heroine are AA. Do you think it is attributable to the interracial romance?

This is news to me as well. I didn’t know that there had been a decline in readership of monoracial romances. I doubt that interracial romances are at fault here. The main problem I have with MR romances is level of sensuality. I’m thinking Zane is a publishing phenomenon for a reason, yet I don’t see that popularity reflected in the MR romance community at all. This is an issue that I talked about over at Save Black Romance.

Many IR readers of veterans of the e-pubs. E-pubs thrive on identifying and capitalizing on under-served markets. But those books have a very high sensuality level. A sensuality level readers have grown accustomed to. I’ve complained quite a bit about the lower heat levels in MR romances. It was much the same way when IR books first started. I actually wrote my first love scene because I was tired of the titty-fingered way many authors dealt with sex scenes in IR romances.

Further, as my survey showed, many of our readers are omnivores. That is, they’re reading MR, IR and mainstream books as well. Mainstream books have taken off into all manner of realms: SF/F, suspense, paranormals, menage, slash, etc… Except for suspense storylines, this evolution simply isn’t present in the MR books, and I say this as someone who reads several of them a month. With very few exceptions, MR books are where mainstream books were a decade ago. If readership is falling off, I suspect it is informed by this issue.

Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember when there were no black people in romances period, but this schism troubles me greatly. I hate to think that at this time of great success, we seem to be on the path to consuming our own. I don’t know about anyone else, but I get a thrill when I see black romances on the shelves in bookstores. Yeah, I’m a bit envious of those who’ve found success in New York, but I know those authors have worked their asses off and I’m proud of them too. Goodness knows I’m the last person on earth to ask that we join hands and sing Kumbaya, but I don’t think any of our needs are served by this level of discord either. After all, ultimately we all have the same goal: to write and sell books. It’s a big world out there, I think there’s enough readers for all of us.

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17 thoughts on “IR Books = Declining AA Book Sales?

  1. I like your post and your logic. I know that one reason it’s confusing for me (a white romance writer with an IR romance about to come out), is that there is not a consensus among black romance writers about what they want. Do they want to be in the stacks with white writers? Some do. Do they want a separate place in the bookstores? Some do. Do they want white writers to stay away from black characters (ie, hands off my readership)? Some do. No reason all black readers should want the same thing, except good sales and respect–I would think that would be 100%. My husband asked me why I’d written my first black hero. “Because when I wrote it I had a crush on a black baseball player.” That’s the honest truth. If I gave him a black girlfriend instead of an Egyptian one? Would I be hated for that? I’m afraid I might be. I don’t know.

  2. This is a very good article. I’m glad Ciar pointed me to it. I write IR and have never written an AA book because it’s actually not something I’ve ever been interested in reading. As a black woman, I don’t understand all the fuss. Like you, I haven’t seen an uptick in IR books in the bookstores. I’d love to write for Kimani and Daphina but I don’t write what they want so I haven’t bothered to sub anything to them.

    On the other hand, I think it’s absurd to have AA books segregated when we whine and cry so much about segregation in other industries. In truth, as one reader recently said, “I wasn’t born a genre” just because she was born black (yes, I’m black and Native American and I don’t see what the separation is for in the first place in regard to the rift between AA writers and IR writers. I like white heroes/heroines, I like black ones, I’ve even written Egyptian ones! No lie!

    My publishers have never pressured me to write one genre or another. I write what I like and hope my readers like it to.

    In the end, I’m with you – there are enough readers for all of us.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with the I/R and sensuality levels, as well as the variety of stories I/R romance novels tell. Truthfully, when I read MR (to use your phrase) romance, many–not all, mind you–are much too careful to present perfect specimens of blackness as opposed to telling the story of two flawed people who fight, become friends, have sex, fall in love, and have their HEA. Though I/R hinges upon the heroine and hero being of a different race/ethnicity/culture, it long ago moved beyond the whole “Omg gurl, you’re dating a white boy!” which has allowed writers to stretch their wings. Plus, if I/R are “taking over” MR romance, it’s because they are providing readers with what they are hungry for.

  4. Hey, I wrote a story because I had a crush on a Norwegian speed skater, actually I still have a crush on a Norwegian speed skater, but there you go. I think all we can do is write the stories that come to us to the best of our ability. The few times I’ve tried to change my story to avoid pissing people off it was a colossal disaster. My stories come to me pretty much as they are, inspired by all manner of things. I feel absolutely blessed to have such an imagination and I think it would be criminal to disrespect it that way.

  5. I didn’t think there had been a great influx of IR books. I’m assuming that with Harlequin behind them and that great distribution system the Kimani authors are doing very well. I too would love to write for Kimani, but they don’t want IR. I also enjoy the freedom of writing virtually anything I want with the e-pubs. As long as it’s a good story, nobody’s telling me to change it. That’s awesome.

    I’ve written reams of text about the book segregation issue. I don’t talk about it anymore because when I think about it I get so depressed I can’t write. I think it’s asinine and just plain crazy, but I do understand why it’s done.

  6. Yeah…Kimani and Dafina rarely published I/R romances, and the only other visible publisher who releases I/R romance on a consistent basis is Genesis Press. For the moment, it’s a niche within a niche, unless you are non-black and your heroine is white (for example, Allie Beckstrom, the very white heroine of Devon Monk’s urban fantasy series, is paired with a black man), or you are non-black, your heroine is non-white and non-black (Asian, Latina, or Native-American to any degree) but her love interest is white. Though now that I think about it, I have seen I/R romances in the edgier Harlequin/Silhouette lines like Harlequin Blaze, Harlequin Intrigue, and Silhouette Romantic Suspense…but regardless, I think the issue is that MR romance authors are feeling pressured to write I/R (maybe they see sales numbers, or a good number of their readers ask them to write them, et al), and perceive this to be the result of I/R romance novels “stealing” their readers. Or perhaps there’s more crossover appeal with I/R romances and MR writers fear I/R writers will be the ones to bridge the gap between AA and mainstream romance audiences (esp since a lot of I/R romance writers are “newbies” on the block)?

  7. For the moment, it’s a niche within a niche,

    Precisely. And will continue to be so as long as the two biggest publishers of black romance won’t touch it. That’s why I don’t understand the concern. And goodness knows, for all anyone can say about Harlequin they know their reader and respond to all trends with a quickness. If there was a demand for IR books they would’ve come out with “Kimani Swirl” by now. (From my lips to God’s ears.)

    …or a good number of their readers ask them to write them, et al)

    This might well be the case. I know from experience that my IR readers are very vocal (and very loyal). Lord knows I love them like buttercream frosting. I know that many of them are pushing for more IR books. I think it’s reasonable for readers to lobby for the type of books they like.

  8. Hey, I hope this post is not restricted to comments by writers because I can’t write a story to save my life! But I do know what I enjoy reading the most- IRR romances – mainly WM/BF – because I am a black female attracted almost exclusively to WM. Selfish, I know..(*grin*)
    However as an avid reader I have read alomost every genre available out there and I must agree with comments on the dismal levels of sensuality – the IRR books I have read just seem to have more and I do want it all. I want romance, fights, drama and yes- scorching sex scenes all in one book. So I will continue to buy the books I know will deliver till the other genres get their acts together. A great book is a great book – whatever the colours of the characters. WM/BF characters have that extra oomph for me but it’s not to say I cannot enjoy other books- if they are written in a way that satisfies me.

  9. I read everything just about. I work a few doors from a Borders and I know I have not seen a jump in the number of IR books on the shelves. But I am not surprised at the drama over them or the fact that readers would want more published. IR dating still hits a nerve in a lot of people even in 2010. Look at the landscape for years BM have been on the IR scene. Not saying BW weren’t but it was more socially exceptable for a man. A lot of BW are exploring their options. People seem to get all in an uproar when women step out and explore. What easier way to explore your fantasies then a romance novel. I see it more daily. I am a manager in womens retail and it has been interesting to see more IR couples coming in. BW with WM or whoever. I have some of my older close to retiring customers out there doing their thing and getting married. I am in my 40’s. I caught all kinds of flack for IR dating growing up and I grew up in NJ. My parents didn’t make a big deal out of it but I know they were scared I would marry a white man lol. My brothers didn’t have the same kind of grief because they are males. We had some older family members that would ask everytime they saw or talked to me..”Are you still dating the foreigners” I had a Puerto Rican boyfriend lol What used to crack me up is that my grandparents on both sides came from IR mixed families. I understood that there was a lot of secret keeping in the family too. Relatives had “passed” or certain ones werent excepted because they looked too blk too white too whatever ..you know the stories. But, honestly I do tend to find my self leaning more towards the IR romance books in the past few years when I want a romance to read. I have found myself bored with the same old stuff.

  10. Great article. As a writer of multi-cultural fiction, when I first came out I was criticized for my way of protraying inter-racial relationships. I didn’t ‘focus’ on them as if they were some paranormal event. My stories were not highly charged with wild sexual ‘jungle fever’ type situations. Coming from a mult-cultural family, I just wrote stories where the people just so happened to be of other races. No big deal. Soon, I was moved into AA fiction where my stories had the PUSH to be focused on only black people and where there was an inter-racial situation race had to be an issue. This was hard for me. So rebelliously I still snuck in my ‘happenstance-type’ multi-cultural story until finally my publisher said to my agent ‘okay just tell Michelle to write whatever… just let her write!’ I was thrilled.
    Although my books are slowly catching on after 12 years of doing it, I’m so excited to see other’s realizing that the world is not black or white… it’s mixed up with all kinds of wonderful characters who’s skin tones are …. are whatever! It doesn’t matter. It’s the STORY that counts.
    THANKS for the article and it’s just another boost that tells me to keep on doing what I do. I’m sure it will work out in the end for all of us who see the world as it is… multi-cultural.

  11. Your comments are interesting. I live in the Los Angeles area where IR dating and marriages are common.

    My upcoming book, LA Blues, has a romance between a AA former female LAPD officer/turned PI and a Latino LAPD Detective.

    I’ll start paying more attention.

  12. Hi Roslyn, awesome blog you have here, and I’m digging the topic. I must post this link to my Yahoo group for readers and fellow authors to read.

    I’m write paranormal interracial fiction, and my publishers don’t push me to write it. I choose to write IR because that is what I identify with, BW/WM. I’m a black woman who has been involved in IR relationships most of my life.

    IR and AA shouldn’t be separated, and I’m resenting the word “intrusion,” myself. How can that be? I would imagine there are AA readers who read only AA romances, and the same with IR. I’m sure there are a few who read both. Romance is romance, right? I know of an IR author who has written her first AA book, Stephanie Morris. I remember her posting it on The Romance Room Yahoo group. As a matter of fact, I would love to hear her take on this topic.

    I’m new on the scene, and I have been published for a year. I’m happy to have stumbled on to your site! You have some very informative topics, and I want to stay updated on the most recent topics of our industry.

    Thank you.

    cK

  13. Hi Roslyn, awesome blog you have here, and I’m digging the topic. I must post this link to my Yahoo group for readers and fellow authors to read.
    I write paranormal interracial fiction, and my publishers don’t push me to write it. I choose to write IR because that is what I identify with, BW/WM. I’m a black woman who has been involved in IR relationships most of my life.

    IR and AA shouldn’t be separated, and I’m resenting the word “intrusion,” myself. How can that be? I would imagine there are AA readers who read only AA romances, and the same with IR. I’m sure there are a few who read both. Romance is romance, right? I know of an IR author who has written her first AA book, Stephanie Morris. I remember her posting it on The Romance Room Yahoo group. As a matter of fact, I would love to hear her take on this topic.

    I’m new on the scene, and I have been published for a year. I’m happy to have stumbled on to your site! You have some very informative topics, and I want to stay updated on the most recent topics of our industry.

    Thank you.

    P.S.

    cK

  14. There seems to be issues that fans have when a fave author writes something that doesn’t stick to whatever program they were supposed to follow. If you write AA some fans don’t want you writing IR. Even if the heroine is still black. If you write IR you can’t write AA. Unless you are established as writing both. For me having grown up reading romances about white women that I very much enjoyed I still wanted to read about black women. I don’t think I knew what I was missing until I read books in a multicultural lit class where none of the books we read were about white men. Tar Baby though not a romance got me interested in reading in a passionate way. A story about a black woman was new to me. So I would seek out books by an/or about black women. I still read romance. Pearl by Tabitha King is still one of my favorite books with a black female lead. Soon after I found Sandra Kitt’s The Color of Love and became a huge fan. I learned that as the first AA writer at Harlequin that several of her books were WW. I bought them all from a used book store. Since being able to write books with black heroines Kitt has written amazing AA and IR. Despite being a huge IR fan I never said no to her AA books. For me rules are black female author and black female heroine. I will and have made exceptions with certain white authors, male and female, and romances featuring white female leads that weren’t basic. I think that diverser romance whether it’s AA or IR does not get the promotion and shelf space that any genre of book written buy and featuring white people. So I will always find away to support black women writers no matter what they are writing about.

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