Friday, December 4, 2009

Please Welcome Special Guest Blogger, La-Tessa Montgomery


African American Romance, Your Thoughts?

When I first began reading romance, AA romance was nonexistent– meaning even if there were a few of them out there, they weren’t getting the publicity and attention the mainstream romances were. Until the early to mid 90’s, I’d never heard of, or seen, any romances in the library or on book shelves featuring minority leads. But as a lover of romance, I could (and still do) appreciate any good story, regardless of the race of the hero and/or heroine.

Over the last few years, as I’ve gotten closer to the industry as both a reviewer for RomanceInColor.com and an author, I’ve noticed that not all people feel that way. And some are, for whatever reason, very closed-minded about what they will or want read. I’ve often wondered why this is so and if this discrepancy will ever cease to be a main factor. The optimist in me hopes it does, a good story is a good story, regardless.

In the case of the African American readers I’ve spoken too, most, if not all, are open to reading culturally diverse novels because of the lack of AA romance novels that were available at the time of their introduction to the genre. So as times progressed and more AA romance became available, they began to read them more, but never totally abandoned the mainstream romance stories.

Of the non-African American romance readers and writers I’ve asked, I’ve never gotten an answer that wasn’t some variant of “Hmm…I don’t know.” So my response is usually “Do you plan on trying one out? ” I then proceed to recommend some of my favorite authors and titles in hopes of exposing them to some great stories that they otherwise would never have read.

Another interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the older readers I’ve spoken too (regardless of race) are more firmly rooted in their preference to either read or not read books by or featuring African Americans; while the younger readers have more of an open mind about it. The same can be said of readers of paranormal and urban fantasy. I’ve noticed that readers of these sub genres tend to be more open when it comes to the cultural diversity of the books they read as well.

You may ask, “Why am I so interested in whether or not AA romance has a widespread appeal?”

It’s simple, I recently had an editor that liked my story pass on it because she’s not familiar with how to market AA romance. I’m not mad at her at all, but her comment did get me to thinking about the climate of the current market, future trends and shifts in the market and consumer behavior, and how those trends can impact me as an AA author.

So I leave you with a couple of questions: What type of fiction do you read? Are you open and willing to read about characters of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds than you?

I look forward to hearing from you.
~La-Tessa Montgomery
www.LaTessaMontgomery.com
www.LaTessaMontgomeryAuthor.com
www.RomanceInColor.com

28 comments:

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

Hi LaTessa! Great blog!! I've read some that I picked up at Nationals, signed by the authors, and they were great! Don't ask names, I never remember anyone's names. Not even in the stories I'm writing! LOL But I don't believe it matters as to skin color as long as the plot of the story keeps us reading and we sympathize with the characters' plight. Just like in any story. :)

Estelle Harte said...

Great post La-Tessa. I read more for the story than for any particular preference for a race of the characters. I really enjoy Suzanne Brockmann's books and she writes characters of all races in her Troubleshooters series. I think the idea of finding love (the heart of any romance) pretty much transcends racial boundaries and emphasizes something everyone has in common, regardless of skin color. It's a shame the market doesn't seem to get that yet, but considering the development of AA romance over the last few years we can be hopeful for the future.

Tami Brothers said...

Hey La-Tessa! Welcome to PF&HT!!!

Great thought provoking post. I honestly never thought about this before. I read EVERYTHING, so I honestly never thought of it as a conflict. Being from Southern/Middle Georgia, I have noticed whole sections of the grocery store book isles filled with AA romance novels. I thought that was a great idea with the area I live in being so diverse.

I do remember growing up and the lack of AA books (that were not classics), but I’m not positive if this is because I lived in a very small town in Wyoming where most of our books were brought to us by a Book Mobile (I really hope I’m not dating myself here…grin….).

I do have some favorite African American authors. My very favorite is Adrianne Byrd. http://www.adriannebyrd.net/ I started reading her books when I was her PAL (published author liaison) for GRW. I always look for her new books. I just started reading Seressia Glass http://www.seressia.com/ (can’t wait for her new book to come out in January). And I can’t forget about Carmen Green http://www.authorcarmengreen.com/ who was the President of GRW when I joined. I know there are a ton more I’m forgetting, but these are the ones that I can see on my book shelve as I sit at my desk typing this.

Thanks for blogging with us today and thanks for making me really think about this subject. AND good luck with those submissions. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you!!!

Tami Brothers

La-Tessa said...

Thank you all for stopping by and participating in this conversation with me.

Terry, there were lots of great AA romance writers at Nationals this year. I remember seeing Brenda Jackson, Rochelle Alers, Francis Ray,and Kayla Perrin just to name a few. So if you stopped by any of their tables, I know you got some excellent reads.

Hi Estelle, I've never read Suzanne Brockmann, I think I should go and check her our this weekend. Thanks for the awesome recommendations. And I totally agree with your stand on love transcending everything.

Hi Tami, you've names some excellent AA authors. I love Adrianne Byrd, her books are so funny to me.

Anonymous said...

Hey La-Tessa!

Great blog, I'm very proud of you. And I've read two AA romance books - the ones you lent to me. I enjoyed them both (Tara and Thorne the most).

I'll try to read just about anything but I stay away from naked people and suggestive poses on covers (as you know) ... other than that I'm open!

Robin

Marilyn Baron said...

Thank you for blogging with us. I really enjoyed your post.

Like Estelle, I love all of Suzanne Brockmann's characters. I highly recommend you check her out.
You will be hooked.

As Tami says, we all love Carmen Green. But we'd love it if you could recommended some books by your favorite AA authors for us to check out.

And Tami, growing up in Miami, we also had bookmobiles, which I used a lot. That does date me, I guess.

Marilyn Baron

Sherry said...

In romance, I read mainly paranormal and they don't seem to have issues with race. If you're turning into a werewolf all the time, no one can see your color for all the hair! As far as AA goes, I don't specifically seek it out. Here in the south, many bookstores lump all genres written by AA authors in one bookcase away from the rest of the genres, so I tend to miss those books while browsing my favorite subjects. I'm sure they are trying to highlight AA authors, but I think the practice might just scare away readers who might think they are "not for them."

La Monica said...

Great blog post La-Tessa. I'm just crazy enough to believe that one of these days all AA books will be based on the content of their character...I'll at least give the editor credit for being honest that she didn't know how to market AA romance. So, how do we help these editors/agents who are shying away from great AA books because they don't know how to market our books? What can authors do (if anything), to help ease their minds so they will take a chance?

La-Tessa said...

Hi Marilyn, I have a list of some of my fav AA books on my website. But off the top of my head, I would have to say that I love pretty much anything by Brenda Jackson. Two of my all time favs by her are "The Midnight Hour" and "Thorn's Challenge".

"Crush" by Crystal Hubbard, and "Rock Star" by Rosyln Hardy Holcomb are two of my all time fav IR romances.

You also can't go wrong with the Hideaway series by Rochelle Alers, "No Compromise" is one of my favs in that series.

But I strongly urge you to check out www.RomanceInColor.com. We have reviews of AA titles going back to 1994. You will find tons of excellent books and reviews here.

La-Tessa said...

Hey Sherri (waving madly).

I noticed the same thing about readers of paranormal and fantasy. If you're open to reading about werewolves, vamps, and ghosts, you tend to not mind what race or nationally an author or the lead characters in a book are.

I am understand why some bookstores but all the AA books together, (it makes it easier to find them) but you are correct, you totally miss a lot of good titles when you browse your favorite sections and the AA titles are not in there.

Hey LaMonica, you ask some great questions. In fact, I may explore those in a further post, once I've done a little research. But I do think that if we put the AA books in the genre section they belong to, they will get greater exposure, and possible more sales which will get the editors and agents attention. I believe that if we call all see good literature as simple that, good literature, it may ease the minds of those unsure of how to market AA romance, and stories written by other minorities.

AC said...

He La-Tessa! Great blog!
I read what I like and that tends to vary with my moods. I started out reading greats like Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts or whatever else my mother brought into the house. In the nineties when AA romance really began to emerge I began reading those too--Donna Hill, Kayla Perrin and Francis Ray. Now, with so many different genres of fiction to choose from I find myself purchasing my favorite authors no matter what and then other books that interest me according to my moods. Lately I've been reading lots of YA, paranormal and still romance. In reading different genres I get a variety of multi-cultures and that's what really counts to me, the diversity.

Alison said...

Great post La Tessa. I think it can be hard to lay these issues out as clearly and thoughtfully as you have. The question of marketing is a good one. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that so many readers are stymied by the category "AA romance," but happily read books featuring characters from different racial backgrounds when those books are categorized simply as "romance." Yet, the latter classification does seem, marketing wise at least, to offer one way out for AA writers to keep writing what they want to write and seeing it sell. Thanks for taking the time to raise such an important and thought provoking issue!

Jus said...

Very interesting post La Tessa!
I read mainly urban fantasy/paranormal romance, as well as, like someone else mentioned, quite a bit of young adult lately. Good writing is good writing. If the story appeals to me and I can connect on an emotional level with the characters, culture and ethnic background don't matter.

Jeremiah said...

Hi Tessa! You know we've known each other for a long time. I was wondering where you get your inspiration from. I probably need to read more of your work, so I can make sure none of your characters are really me...lol.

Cyrano said...

Welcome to PFHT La-Tessa!
We're so glad to hear from you and I really enjoyed your post.
I actually have thought about this subject.
Two of my critique partners are AA. I've been with them for over five years now and during that time we've discussed the AA market and the problems various editors seem to experience with AA authors (as with you when the editor told you she wasn't familiar with how to market an AA romance)
Ummm....you market the friggin thing just like you market a white romance...you buy it, edit it, send it out and sell the hell out of it.
There shouldn't be a question as to HOW to market an AA novel. The stories involve a man and a woman, character arcs, world building, conflicts, resolutions and, most importantly, a romance just like any other work of fiction.
There shouldn't be exceptions, differences, questions, concerning their marketability at all.
But unfortunately we live in an imperfect world.
What I've noticed is that Pam and Connie, my wonderful critique partners, tend to write bi-racial love stories. They feel that if their hero and heroine are both AA they might not be able to interest an editor or agent as easily.
Grrrr. This frustrates me, because they're both truly excellent writers and they should be able to populate their stories with whomever they want!
Now, in answer to your questions, YES, I'm totally open to reading AA work, in fact I read great AA fiction every week when my CP's hand over installments of their works in progress!
And for the most part, I read paranormal romance. I love the fact that you can do anything you want in those books. I especially like to write them! And as long as it's well written, I don't give a hoot what color the characters happen to be.
Again, thanks so much for your inciteful post.
Have a lovley afternoon and a great weekend,
Tamara

Kiayaphd said...

This is a really good post, LaTessa. Nice work.

I read EVERYTHING! As someone mentioned earlier, good writing is just good writing, period. And when someone writes badly AND it gets published? Well, that just hacks me off!

I have my favorites, whose work I'll pick up just because their names are on the cover, Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, Jim Butcher (I am SO in love with Dresden), James Patterson (oo la la Alex Cross). Oh and Suzanne Brockmann is AMAZING, with an incredibly diverse, multicultural cast of characters. Dennis Lehane has a beautiful way with words.

Just with my likes, my dislikes also cross racial boundaries. I won't mention their names here, but ask me in person and I'll give you a rant.

Seriously, there was a time when women didn't write books or books by female authors were refused publication. But, over time, more women authors were published, more female readers had the wherewithal to purchase those books, to the point where now, this is a non-issue. I truly believe that this is the same course that AA romance and more generally, books written by AA authors will take.

Debra Edmonds said...

L.A. - your blog was quite interesting to me...someone who is not in the minority for other reasons not related to race and I totally agree with your concepts. Reading should be for the pleasure of reading and not about the color of the characters skin or any other characteristic that might not be within the readers realm of life. Reading should be pleasurable and if the reader is lucky it can be quite rewarding and another way of experiencing life without actual experiencing it. Well done - mate!

Carol Burnside said...

I'm white and I read both AA and non-AA books. I wish more authors would insert a mix of races in their books. I mean, seriously. None of us exist in a single-race bubble. It seems unrealistic to me that some books don't have one AA, Latin, Asian or other mixed race person in them with all the diversity that exists in our culture.

I wrote an AA receptionist into a manuscript who appeared early on in the first scene and I got contest judge comments that this character confused them, made them wonder at first if I'd written an AA romance. One character out of five threw them. Maybe if we all wrote a more diverse cast, comments like that wouldn't happen. Granted, I had too many characters in that scene, but that's a whole nuther rant. LOL

Sitcoms had the same problem for years. Anyone remember Archie Bunker? The Jefferson's came from that show having a multi-racial cast. Now sitcoms tend to reflect society more accurately with neighbors, friends, etc being more diversely cast.

Maybe we all just have to incorporate a more diverse cast in our books and blur the lines until it's just romance and race isn't a factor.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog Tessa:
Reading African American romance novels is like a hobby to me. I look forward to the upcoming releases. I really enjoy collecting novels that have series. Before the 90s I read non African American romance novels too. Reviewing for Romance In Color and editing for RedRose Publishing has given me a balance to read both. I enjoy both, but prefer reading my African American romance novels because I can relate to the characters. I am finding my way into the paranormal novels and look forward to reading them also. I have no problem reading either, if the story is appealing to me. I do hope non African American romance readers start reading more African American novels, because they are truly some good reads.

Keren

Anonymous said...

Thanks for blogging, LaTessa.

I'm an AA unpublished author who's run into those issues with editors and agents from time to time.
I've also had contest judges ask: Is she Black?(meaning my female protagonist)

My response: does it matter?
If there are issues with the story arc, character developement let me know and I'll fix it. But otherwise...

Connie Gillam
www.constancegillam.com

La-Tessa said...

Hi AC, thanks for stopping by. Like you, I tend to read a variety. I've only dipped my toe in the YA market, if you count Harry Potter and Twilight- LOL. You will have to reccommend some good one to me.


Hey Ali, great comment. It's one thing to use AA Romance as a marketing tool, but I draw the line when it's used as a containment field, you know?

Jus, you're correct. Good writing is good writing. A good emotional connection is all I need too.

Jeremiah, now would I look to the world real for character inspiration. Of course not! (looking around with a guilty look on my face-lol)

La-Tessa said...

Hi Cyrano, I completely understand what your cp's are going through. Thanks for stopping by. I am so glad to see that most everyone likes to read all across the board.

Ooh Kiayaphd, Octavia Butler is awesome, she wrote some good stuff. I just discover Harry Dresden myself, can I can't get enough of him. Thanks for the other suggestions you included, I will look them up.

Thanks for stopping by Deb, couldn't have said it better.

Carol, you raise a good point about contests. I've often felt like I'm at a disadvantage when I enter contest because even my IR story is very heavily AA influence culturally wise. I enter 3 contest, with one being specifically for AA romance. I got some good comments back, even placed in one. However, I did get several comments back from one that made me believe they gave trouble getting into my story because of the AA characters. I'm with you, a more diverse cast of characters is needed in fiction :-).

Thanks for stopping by Keren, I hope mainstream picks up a few AA stories out there as well. LIke you said, there are certainly some gems out there.

Connie, great comeback- LOL. I've had similar feedback from some cp's and contest judges as well.

Anonymous said...

Tessa, great question. I seek put AA authors, but read any good story. I think book clubs & trusted references can introduce AA authors to those not familiar with their work. As far as marketing an AA author, if the cover & summary catch my attention, I will read it. The summary is the deciding factor of whether or not the book leaves the shelf.

Vachenzia
Memphis, TN

Dianna Love said...

Hi Tessa -
I haven't read all the posts, so I hope I'm not being redundant, but I wanted to comment.

When I started with GRW (2001) Carmen Green and Carla Fredd were two AA authors who were both multi published AND had movies made of their books. As a new writer, I read EVERYONE's books and still do. Those were great examples to study on how to write a novel. Even so, I recall Carmen sharing her journey of having something like 17 books and not being able to get an agent.

I was appalled. How could anyone be that successful in writing and not be "sought after."

It was my first introduction to how limited some readers - and industry professionals - were with regard to fiction novels. I think we'll see an upswing in AA novels, but I also believe it will be when publishers blend those novels in with other similar genres and not separate them according to ethnic tags. I honestly believe that if they just put the books in romance, women's fiction, mystery, paranormal or whatever category the public is crying for those novels will stand on their own and build a readership.

Many people had no idea Alex Cross (James Patterson novels) was black at first. It goes to show that without designating a book as AA, Asian or any other group it will be read by the mass audience.

Thanks for sharing your journey in this business and thank goodness for great AA authors like Carmen, Carla and the others who have persevered to bring us terrific stories. I read everything I can get my hands on and have never stopped to think about who wrote it.

Linsey Lanier said...

Excellent, excellent post, La-Tessa. I very much agree that a good story is a good story. And I prefer to categorize people by who they are, not their race. I like good people who are kind and generous, and of course, I have a special affinity for writers. White or black or anything else, we have a connection that just doesn't exist with non-writers.

The writers Tami mentioned are all terrific. Adrianne Byrd gave me a great critique at a March workshop several years ago. Love her!

I can't believe Carol got that comment from a judge for using an AA receptionist. I just finished a book about a cop in Chicago, and felt I had to put racial diversity in it to be true to reality. The cop's chief assistant is AA, and (I hope) endearing.

Linsey

La-Tessa said...

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and participated in the conversation with me. I think it was a great dialoge.

elisabethkent said...

I am at the upper end of "younger," hee, but I am still open-minded when it comes to romance. Love is love, no matter the color. :)

Nicki Salcedo said...

I'm always late to the party, but I had to chime in. First of all, thank you for blogging with us. Two, thank you for bringing up an excellent issue. I have a long tirade inside of me, but will tell you a short one instead.

My heroine wears black all the time. The novel is not a paranormal or futuristic, but it is actually Southern Lit. And this was my effort to make the heroine "blacker" -- a wardrobe change! Oh, my not so subtle way of biting my thumb at the industry. :-)

I hope more people read outside of color and genre lines. Thanks again and we hope to see you soon!