Do Black Women Read Romance Novels?

And if they don’t, why not? A few weeks ago Monica Mingo posted a question on her über-popular blog asking how many people there read romance. (No, I didn’t put her up to ask the question, though I probably should have. I’m not sure why she asked it.) Well, the result was about the loudest chorus of crickets I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t have demographic information on Monica’s blog, but I would guess it’s primarily black women with a generous helping of other races and genders (I could be wrong, though). Of course, my first thought was, “I really do need a new gig.” But I got to wondering, Monica posts topics about books on a regular basis. These women are all very well-read and seem to be prolific readers of just about every genre, EXCEPT romance. So the burning question is, Why? I’ve noticed a lot of black women seem to dislike romance novels and wonder the same thing. Oprah, who’s never met a pathology porn story she didn’t like dismisses romance out of hand. So how do we go about changing that? What is it about romance that turns these people off? I mean, I think I write some pretty awesome books full of interesting characters and story arcs, but if I’m missing out on a sizable segment of the population I need to do something to rectify that. What do you recommend? I’d be more than happy to give them free books to try to lure them to the pink side, anything else?

Oh, and before anyone say this I’ll say it myself, I know there’s a general disdain for romance, though how that can be when romance is the best-selling genre out there I’ll never know, but I’m focusing on black women because that’s my target audience.

30 thoughts on “Do Black Women Read Romance Novels?

  1. Interesting post/question.

    I read quite a bit, but I’ve never gotten into romance novels. I read a few in college but they were so predictable that I dismissed the genre as a whole. Also, I’m not a romantic person at all, so the idea of continuing to read books full of violins, torn bodices, and rose petal strewn beds just did not float my boat.

    I always say that I’m going to order one of your books and give romance another go, but still haven’t done so.

    Anyhoo, that’s why I don’t read them…hope that “helps”? I don’t have any real recommendations on how to change perceptions. Sorry!

  2. Gotcha! Romance has changed a lot in the last ten years or so (don’t know when you were in college). I promise, no violins or torn bodices in any of my books. I suppose they are predictable in that there’s always a happy ending, but other than that they’re pretty much up in the air. If you ever decide to read one of mine, hit me up.

  3. I agree with Nerd Girl in a sense. What deters me from romance is the cover, more than in any other genre. If the cover is too fantasy-ish looking with unicorns and corsets all up on the page (think of the romance novels with Fabio in them), chances of me picking it up are slim. I consider myself to be a moderate romantic, but all that is doing way too much for me.

    I do read romances, especially historical (or scandalous) romances and I do love well-written interracial romances, such as yours. One particularly good interracial romance that I’ve read recently was The Color Of Love by Sandra Kitt. I have a couple of more in my queue. I also like read general same race (white or black) romances also.

    I don’t really like to admit that I read romances. Maybe it’s because of the way I was brought up? Actually, to be honest… right before buying a romance book, I feel straight up guilty. I guess it feels like a public and unnecessary indulgence. But usually I read the book anyway, and enjoy it most of the time.

  4. I love romance novels, I buy too many a month to count. I really love IR books, if they are well written and make sense. I don’t like historical romance books, because I like to be in the now. Most of yours I have really enjoyed.
    When Borders was open I would spend my lunch time in there. There were always alot of black women in that section. One of the reasons I wouldn’t share alot the authors I have read is because the books are very poorly written. I have had chats with some of my clients about romance books. They are only familiar with the better known white authors. I talk you up frequently, so hopefully they will buy.

  5. Yes, I can definitely understand people being turned off by the covers of romance novels. I’m not crazy about them myself, though IMO, I’ve got some nice ones.

    right before buying a romance book, I feel straight up guilty. I guess it feels like a public and unnecessary indulgence.

    I guess in a way I understand that, maybe it’s like the way I feel about watching judge shows. Mostly I read non-fiction, especially history, but I adore romances as well and I refuse to feel guilty about that.

  6. I think many black women did not grow up in the “romance genre” culture because the genre is dominated by white women and white women’s stories. Time and time again I hear of white women saying they were introduced to romance novels (usually Harlequin category romances) by their grandmothers, or mothers, or aunts, or older sisters. How many black women were introduced to romance in this manner?

    Oddly enough, even though the RWA was co-founded by a powerful black female editor (Vivian Stephens) who spearheaded the beloved and influential Candlelight Ecstasy line, the representation of black women in the industry remains appallingly low. I also can’t help but feel that “romance” (look at the first comment on this post!) may be seen as a “white” thing, not because black people don’t believe in candlelight dinners, or huge romantic gestures, but because the images we hold of romantic things are done by white people via movies and television. And if the genre is generally seen as trashy and for desperate women by the general public, why wouldn’t upwardly mobile black folks turn up their noses?

    Then there’s the narrow scope of storytelling (I believe Monica Jackson mentioned recently that she’s stopped writing AA paranormals because the audience isn’t there)…but that’s a whole ‘nother topic. But overall, many black women probably do not read romance novels because it has been exclusively white throughout its entire history, they have largely accepted the stereotypes as true, they may not have the leisure time to read, and they feel that when you read a book, it should be “uplifting” and “inspiring” (I’ve heard from a few AA romance writers that their AA women’s fiction brings in more money than straight romance).

  7. I’m a little surprised and shocked. Personally, I like romance novels. Not so much the mushy or porn kind, but overall I really like romance. I love reading period. It takes your mind away to another place, like a mental vacation when ever you had time to read. I had no idea race had anything to do with it. Gender, maybe but not race.

  8. Well I’ve been reading romance since I was brave enough to “borrow” my Mom’s Harlequins when I was in middle school. A friend introduced me to Nora Roberts when I was in High School, and another to Laurel K. Hamilton, and that’s all she wrote. Mind you I’m in my mid-twenties, so I’m lucky that I didn’t have to read some of the very “rape-tastic” 80s romances that were out there. I adore IR and read mono-racial romances as well. (As a note, I loved “Morning Star”!)

    Whenever I’m browsing through the romance section in the library I always see other black women, so there must be at least a few of us unicorns floating around.

    I do find that many women my age don’t want to admit that they read romance. Especially college educated professional women. I don’t know if it’s because they view the genre as “non-serious” or as “non-feminist” but I do my best to rectify those impressions. There is lots of variety in the genre. The covers and the Harlequin titles do not do ANY favors, though.

    I would give anything for more well-written IR featuring black women. So much of it is absolute dreck. Browsing through the selection at All-Romance e-books can be downright depressing. There are a few authors that I can count on to not only create characters I love and can connect with but to also have a more than tenuous grasp of the rules of standard English (like yourself and Shelly Laurenston) but I think most of the presses that focus on this niche are just out for a buck and couldn’t care less about quality. I have a few go-to Kimani authors as well but I’ve found that the style of writing favored in that imprint is always rather formal for my tastes, and almost staid.

    I will wrap up my disconnected ramble by saying that the online Romance community is pretty much dominated by the voices of white women, as is the Romance publishing community. Black women may be reading and buying. (Someone is writing Beverley Jenkins’ checks!) But they don’t seem to be blogging very much about it.)

  9. I read them, write them, and of course, love them. However, I stick to a very small group of authors. It’s rare when I’ll pick up a new author, but I do. Romances aren’t usually my first choice when it comes to reading for pleasure (that honor belongs to biographies and history), but I’m always glad to curl up with one.

    As for black women reading them: we most certainly do! Most of my friends and I cut our pubescent teeth on them and horror stories and would trade them religiously. This habit followed us into adulthood. They might not be the priority they used to be, but they’re still read. Additionally, I don’t know that we should generalize as like every other group, our interests are varied.

  10. Romance is my first love so to speak. I started reading them in college when Arabesque started doing African-American romance. I read romance about 90% of the time in those days. I read the novels for leisure and stress reliever because as college student, I needed a break from reading textbooks. Plus, for less than $8 I could read or even check out the books out of the library.

    I don’t read them as much now because I have branched out. When I read do romance, about 99% of the the time is AA romance.

    Most black women I know, who do not like romance, say romance is too cheesy, predictable and unrealistic.

  11. I love these responses and agree with each and every one. I have said for quite some time now that I wish there was a stronger black romance reader presence online. Several people have tried to start blogs but they don’t seem to catch on. I’ve considered it, but I really think it should come from readers and I really don’t have enough time. Wouldn’t it be great if there were reader blogs directed toward black romance readers like Dear Author?

  12. As for the face of romance being overwhelmingly white I agree, but I think in that respect we black romance writers have let the readers down. Many of them don’t even know we’re here. I know I’ve come across numerous threads where black women have thought street lit was “black romance.” Of course, that can be blamed on the way all black books are thrown together in bookstores regardless of genre. But I’m trying to come up with new ways to put our product in front of the audience so they not only know we’re here, but know that romance has evolved to the point that there’s something for every taste out there.

  13. I love romance novels and have reading them since I was teen. I got more into them when I was in my 20’s. I have almost all of Sandra Kitt’s books that she wrote for Harlequinn. The ones she wrote with white characters for while being the first AA writer at Harelequinn. And I have most of her other works that focus on AA characters as well. Following Sandra came many AA romances that I enjoyed. For a while it has been IR romances, but for the most part I’m interested in stories I enjoy. My personal generalization is that a lot of people including black women are either “too cool” to read romance or “too proper” to read romance. I also believe that romance still has a stigma if you want to be seen as smart so people are probably lying about what they read. I personal could care less what folks think of the stuff I read. I also find many black people to have a jaded attitude about things. I find them to be very pragmatic and only interested in what they consider to be “real”. I see them as the same folks who would rather watch reality TV then support a show with a black female lead that was scripted. They would rather read street lit instead of romance. Maybe I’m just old and cranky. As a gen-x person I hate seeing the things I love go away just because it’s no longer popular.

  14. I so agree with many of the comments here. I have always considered myself a serious reader! Intitially, I had no interest in Romance, when AA romance first hit the shelves, I brought a couple for my sister for Christmas (she’s a romantic). She loved them so much she insisted I should read it also, I was a Beverly Jenkins novel. Read it and I was hooked. Then I found IR romance which I find much more interesting. I still read what I consider serious fiction, but IR romance is my “dirty little secret” if you will. I buy tons of it, now that I have a kindle it’s easier (since I don’t have to hide the covers) LOL – this is the same reason I do not write reviews for romance novels. People who know me always ask what I am reading, I always tell them about the non-romance title I’m reading.

  15. That’s interesting Serenity. I never made the connection between people being embarrassed to be reading romance with the paucity of reviews. That actually makes a lot of sense. I’m seriously starting to think we need a Romance Pride parade, but only if I can dress up like a showgirl. I’ve been teased forever about reading romances. “Why would someone as intelligent as you read romance?” It’s very annoying, but I can’t think of anything more important than books about the relationships that form families and provide a foundation for our children. If they don’t get that, too bad.

  16. When I was younger I would read romance novels all the time, but I always wondered why none of the characters were black. As I’ve gotten older I read very few romance novels, not that I don’t like them I guess my interest has changed. Reading them when I was younger I think maybe I was trying to define love. I use to call them boy gets girl- lose girl, gets girl again-that seemed the plot of most of them. So for a long time I stopped; all the characters were white, young, all seem to come from money and were society—nothing I had in common with. When I started reading your blog (don’t even remember how I stumbled upon it- probably from another blog) and found out you are a writer, and you wrote interracial novels, I gave it a shot. I have not been disappointed yet.

  17. This is interesting. Most of the black women I know who are big readers read Christian Fiction, Women’s Fiction and Street Lit, but mostly Christian Fiction. CF is a huge genre among black women thanks to authors like ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray. I have been observing the trend and I notice that black women cannot get enough of CF books. I have a friend who has written man AA romances and she has started writing Christian Fiction for black audiences and her CF books are outselling every other book she’s written by tons. There is definitely love for CF with black women, so much that there are tons of new black writers who are writing for this genre because it’s so popular. So I think with black women they stick to certain genres and even though there are a lot of black romance books and writers writing black romances I don’t think it sells nearly as well as other genres when it comes to black audiences.

    As a writer one of the things I love to do is survey readers, talk to them and ask them about their preferences and one thing I’ve seen is that the majority of black women read Christian Fiction. It’s a powerhouse genre for black women. This of course what I’ve observed. But I have also noticed that not a lot of black women read AA romances. A lot tend to go for AA Erotica before an AA romance or romance in general. But that Christian Fiction is a monster as well as Street Lit with black women. I keep an eye on black best seller lists from different blogs and sites and it’s these same genres popping up every single time. Rarely does a romance book end up on a black best seller list.

    One thing I’ve also noticed is that the black women who do read romances tend to read mainstream romances by white authors and some don’t even read AA romances at all. *shrugging*

    Me I love historical romances and romantic suspense but I don’t read regular romances. Every once in a while I’ll read a Harlequin but I love historical romance more than contemporary romances. I’m addicted to historical romances. I’ve always loved period books and things like that.

  18. The Christian Romance and the Urban Romance go back to my comment about what is considered proper or cool to many black women. I am not one of those black women. I like my romances to be contemporary for the most part. And I like to see a variety of experiences shown. I loved Pussy Cat Death Squad because we got to read about the experience of an African Muslim woman. Not everyone follows an evangelical Christian faith. What about other Christian religions and people of other faiths or no belief at all or people who question religion? I will say that it’s cool that romance has something for everyone. There are so many sub genres out there. I love the erotica, the sci fi, the historical, the paranormal, you name it and I’m pretty much open to it. But I’m not down with the Christian or Urban romances.

  19. Thank you so much for that Kimberly. It’s so nice to see Pussycat get some love. It’s one of my faves as well, but didn’t sell that well, and most people said they didn’t want to read about a Muslim woman. Unfortunate, but there you go.

  20. @Stacy-Deanne, I can see where CF would be huge with black women. It’s funny because here at my local Wal-Mart they have ReShonda Tate Billingsley right next to Zane. It always cracks me up. For one thing I got slammed by a reader at Amazon for using the f-word at the beginning of Morning Star right under a Biblical quote. I’m like, if nothing else the Bible is FULL of the f-word, but there you go. WM’s placement of Zane annoys me too, because Zane sells erotica and supposedly WM doesn’t carry erotica. Why do they make an exception for black erotica?

  21. I think stores make exceptions to carrying certain books when an author gets as huge as Zane. When it comes down to it, it’s all about sales. I know that Zane’s fans get violent when they go to a store and can’t find a Zane book. LOL! I read an article some years ago about some altercation Zane’s fans had with an NYC bookstore when they didn’t have her latest title right after its release and they went crazy and I mean caused a big altercation to where cops were involved! Now you talk about some loyal readers. She is just such a hot seller that I see why stores sell her even when they claim they don’t sell certain books. Zane used to be my publisher under her Strebor imprint for Simon and Schuster. She mentioned one time that some stores categorized her books as romances (which might explain why they have her on romance shelves in some stores) but she is open about what she writes. What I admire about Zane is she will say straight out that she doesn’t care if folks wanna look down on her for writing pornography or whatever and she is not ashamed of it. LOL! I think all authors should be like that and be true to themselves. When I got to know her on a personal level it’s amazing to see how incredible she really is and you can see how she found so much success. She is an extremely hard worker and very innovative.

    Another reason AA erotica is on the same shelf with AA romance and other books is because most stores only have AA books on AA-named shelves. They need to start putting AA books in with the genre of the books and not just on shelves dedicated to black authors.

  22. One thing I’ve heard from AA romance writers is that if you can’t get placed with Kimani then you have a hard time not only getting picked up but promoted. A lot of AA writers say Kimani (Harlequin) is probably the only publisher that promotes AA romances like they do white romances. I gotta say I think this is true because even though I don’t read Kimani books (though I’ve gotten a few) I know many of their authors anyway so they get their name out there. I mean I see and hear of their authors in all types of ways so they are getting promoted.

    I don’t see any other publisher promoting black romances like Harlequin and Kimani does. So I see why black romance writers flock to be picked up by Kimani.

  23. Found this great article from Jill Nelson regarding Hollywood’s treatment of black romance in movies. It’s from 2005

    It’s Hollywood’s lack of black women as romantic leads that has me count on black and interracial romance, which really is black romance because the lead characters and readers are black women. With these romance stories I get experience a variety of romantic experiences and even subgenres. With action, sci-fi, suspense, historical, etc. Something that is still not happening on TV or in film. I loved Something New and Just Wright, but it’s been a while since those movies come out and the romantic movie genre still focuses on white people. In TV and movies black women are dignified and no nonsense. They don’t get to be the cop who gets to be passionate and goes against the grain. They get to be the no nonsense chief with a steady marriage who shakes her head at white people and their inability to follow rules. I’m not against this characterization. I think it’s actually a good role model as opposed to all the criminal rolls that are filled by people of color, but I still want more fully formed and human characters. With the romances by black women I feel they do a much better job then anyone in Hollywood. I read these books and want a tv show or movie to be made from them. Some examples would be Rockstar, Pussycat Death Squad, and Morning Star.

  24. Yes, Black womem do read romance novels,especially us educated and professional black women. Most of the black women that read romance are interested in a well written romance story with a plot, story structure and not so much erotica.

  25. I read romance. It takes a good writer to sell the story to me, and sorry to say the majority of black writers in the genre (and I’m saying about ninety five percent) aren’t good. I’ve been reading black (and the then inchoate genre of IR romance) since the mid nineteen nineties till now, and almost twenty years later, it hasn’t changed, only gotten worse, because the writers who probably got rejected by Kimani or Genesis (and their product isn’t great) decided to go the self publishing and Amazon/Smashbooks route, which has been worse for me as a reader, because there seems to be no quality control.

    For a lot of black writers in the genre, they have problems, which has now stopped me from buying their stuff be it on shelf or online (hence, the library for the ones published, self pub- I rely heavily on reviews, and those, I can’t even trust so it’s a gamble). The mechanics of the language escapes most, the lead characters seem like Mary Sues or self inserts, the stories have no tension- as in, the leads have to want something- and have to show the reader how they want these things. In addition, I guess everyone is from the Beyonce’s school of womanhood (before she did 4, anyway), where she’s strong, and the best you never had, and wronged, and even when in love, the character doesn’t change, even though love can make one vulnerable. On top of that, I do find the finesse around sex scenes (or even first kisses) lacking.

    Seriously, when done right, nothing moves me like a good love story. I’m not even talking about the sizzle and noise about romantic suspense or paranormal romance novels either. One of the more outstanding love stories I’ve read is One Summer- and it was just two photographers taking pictures of the the US. That’s it. The length of the season, the pictures charting their feelings for each other, and it worked on all levels and yet, was as simple as butter on toast. Yet, to write that sort of story is to call on the mastery of language tied in with the characters’ wants and them being flawed but likeable.

    Oh, in addition to that, is the amount of money for words written . I’ve gotten burnt paying £5.99 for a story with 62 pages! Compare that to a standard romance novel in a shop, I can get about 200 pages for the same price. I mean, really? So on top of all the issues I’ve banged on about, I get less entertainment page wise if I choose to partonise independent online sellers. It’s hard out here for a reader, and I can understand why a lot of AA women shy away from the genre. This in addition to while growing up, romance wasn’t necessarily presented for non ethnic women. White book covers with white characters, and if you liked historical romance, the conditions of non white personhood wasn’t really all that for non white people in the West (which is why I avoid regency like the plague) before well, the naughties, and we’re still catching up.

    So yeah, that’s my feelings for giving romance novels a miss as it were, and I am someone who actually tries to engage in the genre.

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