Writing in a Box

A while back Nora Roberts posted over at the Dear Author blog that she pays little attention to reader reviews or comments. I thought that was shocking at the time, but now I understand perfectly. They’re simply too contradictory and the author would be ridiculously confined to very narrow set of parameters. This is especially true of black authors and particularly magnified when one writes IR. I get the distinct impression that rather than simply being able to produce a well-written book that entertains, black authors are held to a higher standard that is impossible to adhere to.

  • Our heroines have to be a certain color. (Readers won’t buy it if the heroine is light-skinned even though the author has no control over that and most are using stock photography.)
  • Books have to be steamy, but not erotic. (Of course, everyone’s definition of erotic differs, so who’s to say?)
  • Heroine can’t be too freaky, God help her if she talks about her arousal and her genitalia that’s nasty! (Makes me wonder why someone is reading romance at all if they find female arousal nasty.)
  • Heroines have to be strong, but not too strong. But God help you if you write one who is not a SBW.
  • Heroines can’t have given up on black men (Well that’s a Genesis thing, but you get my point.)
  • Books have to portray black people in a positive light (That’s a Kimani thing, but same point as Genesis.)
  • White heroes are preferred, but they must be white, white, white. (But remember the heroine must be black, black, black, but for the love of all things chocolate NOT AFRICAN) If you do an Arab he must be Christian. Actually anyone who is not a Christian is persona non grata. And a Muslim? Oy vey!
  • If you ever write an IR book you can never write an AA book. Your IR fans WILL NOT buy the AA book. (This has probably been one of my greatest disappointments as an author. Do they love my books, or do they just want IR validation?)
  • E-books aren’t acceptable, even though most publishers won’t publish IR unless they ARE e-books. (Talk about making bricks without straw).

And the list goes on. Sorry kids, I refuse to write in a box. If that means I’ll sell fewer books, I’m so okay with that. I’m so glad I read that comment Nora made so long ago, I definitely understand where she’s coming from now.

8 thoughts on “Writing in a Box

  1. I applaud you for that, I mean I don’t understand how you can create art with so many boundaries. For what it’s worth I love your writing and not just because it’s IR I loved ‘Given’.

    P.S. It happens in film too, a fear of female arousal. It’s the idea that if women have control over their arousal that they also have a kind of power. Most men are afraid of powerful women. That’s how the Film Noir genre came around.


  2. Well, well, Ms. Thing, you’ve had your say. Do you feel better for having said it? Thanks for putting it all down. As you know, I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about.

  3. I say that you just need to keep on doing what you are doing. I love all your stories and I look forward to Taken as well as Let’s Do It Again.

  4. Geez. I had no idea there were so many rules and restrictions. No wonder so many IR authors choose to self-publish. Well keep on writing.

  5. Heh, yeah, I heard that. I am still writing fanfic, but the principles that you cite still apply. At the end of the day, you can only write the best story you can (along the limits that have been set along the way) and hope for the best (I know that you tend to write with an eye for your audience, but still).

    “If you ever write an IR book you can never write an AA book. Your IR fans WILL NOT buy the AA book. (This has probably been one of my greatest disappointments as an author. Do they love my books, or do they just want IR validation?)”

    Wait, what? If it’s the same book I’m thinking about (Given) it might be the slavery, fantasy element? I do like reading books about characters of colour, but I don’t like fantasy – all those books in that chatty Bridget Jones style (re: werewolves, vampires) really just turned me off the genre and that was ooh, about three years ago. The fail that is Twilight hasn’t helped my outlook either, but long story short, it’s a genre I avoid – not even the great Nora Roberts could sell her paranormal stuff to me, because *SIGHS* no.

    You might have a point about the IR validation – probably you might need to revisit it in a later post. From what I’ve seen, most of your IR books are set in the present day, though not in historical bit (whereas Given was, iirc), and that’s probably just a dish too foreign for the readers that you’ve attracted at this point in time?

    Sorry if I come across as being rather brusque. I will try and be more polite in the future.

  6. Well we have the next book in the series coming out in the fall and it is IR but is still historical with the PNR elements. It’ll be interesting to compare/contrast how much money it makes.

  7. This issues of fans not responding to books because an author decided not to continue a series or write a sequel for books they do like. This seemed to be the case for genre hoppers. Fans who only liked contemporary romance didn’t like science fiction or erotica or suspense. Folks who read erotic romance thought contemporary was too tame. Some of the writers found it easier to write under different names for the different genres. Otherd refused to write under any other name. A writer’s style always comes through no matter what type of story they are telling.
    I also learned about the difference between writing for a house like Harlequin Kimani that has a blue print for romance and a writer being independent and having control over everything. I think you have to follow your muse. You can’t write what isn’t there. Readers will know when your heart isn’t in the story. Keep writing the books you want to read.

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