During the 2018 RWA Annual Conference, RWA held a Diversity Summit to share ideas, identify roadblocks, and reaffirm a commitment to fostering a romance genre that represents the wide array of authors and readers that love it. The Summit was attended by 50-60 people, including industry professionals, RWA staff and Board members, members of RWA’s Diversity Committee, and other leaders within the organization who represent marginalized populations.
Following a welcome from RWA Executive Director Allison Kelley, Industry Analyst Allison Risbridger from NPD Book presented the results of the survey, "The Romance Book Buyer 2017: A Study by NPD Book for Romance Writers of America," an in-depth look at the habits of romance buyers in terms of age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. This study revealed that a large percentage of romance buyers are younger and more diverse, with an eagerness to see more diverse stories. Members may view this study here: RWA NPD Survey 2017
RWA PR and Marketing Manager Jessie Edwards then provided an overview of several initiatives the organization has undertaken or plans to undertake, many of which can be found in the Board’s Report on Diversity and Inclusion: RWA Diversity and Inclusion Report
It was also announced that the Board passed a motion to fund two housing stipends for summer publishing interns from underrepresented backgrounds with the hope that more individuals from these backgrounds will seek publishing internships and ultimately find employment within the industry.
The majority of the Summit was dedicated to an open discussion moderated by RWA’s 2016 Librarian of the Year, Robin Bradford. The discussion was conducted under Chatham House rules, meaning the substance of the conversation could be shared, but quotes should not be attributed to any one person or company.
Some of the themes that arose during the discussion:
- Publishers shared some positive developments within their houses and the industry since 2017, including a slight increase in diverse hiring, an increase in mainstream media’s attention on romance in general and diversity in romance in particular, and an increase in outreach to underrepresented authors.
- One publisher reported converting intern positions into freelance positions to allow candidates to obtain paid industry experience that can be leveraged for future employment. Many of these positions were filled by people from diverse backgrounds.
- Some publishers reported conducting outreach to underrepresented authors within RWA chapters.
- One publisher reported that 90% of interns hired this year were from diverse backgrounds.
- Authors also noted that they have seen an increase in outreach from certain publishers and from non-marginalized authors, though more needs to be done.
- Many authors agreed that publishers must have a higher percentage of diverse romances on their lists. When publishers have only a few on their list, unrealistic expectations are placed on those diverse titles to over-perform in order for publishers to consider acquiring more, whereas the success or failure of a non-diverse romance is considered on an individual basis. In addition, publishers must invest marketing support in these books to set them up for success.
- Publishers could benefit from having a staff that is familiar with creative, targeted marketing opportunities that go beyond the standard outlets in order to reach a more diverse audience.
- Readers have been trained that certain books are not for them, and that training needs to be reversed with marketing and education. Books should be promoted in ways that appeal to the broad spectrum of romance readers, not just as “diverse romances.” Bookstores and libraries should train their staff on how to recommend these romances to readers in a way that speaks to this universality, and publishers and RWA should serve as resources for this. One idea proposed was for publishers to pair popular, non-marginalized authors with underrepresented authors in anthologies to encourage readers to try these authors when they otherwise might have skipped over them.
- Several publishers identified retailer shelving practices as one of their biggest obstacles to generating the level of sales of diverse books necessary to justify acquiring more. African-American romances and LGBTQ+ romances in particular are placed in their own sections of the store, hurting discoverability and further signaling that these books are not for all romance readers.
- One publisher expressed that it was incumbent upon publishers to educate decision-makers at retailers about the way that romance readers shop, encouraging those retailers to change these practices.
- One retailer expressed that they would take these learnings and try out test cases in a few stores to gather data in hopes that it could be used to change company procedure.
An overarching message of the Summit was that only through combined effort of publishers, buyers, vendors, RWA, authors, and readers can we truly make a difference in growing a diverse market.
*Note: a shortened version of this summary will appear in the September issue of the Romance Writers Report