The Ripped Bodice Report on Racial Diversity in Romance

Grab a drink and have a seat, because here come some compelling and powerful words and numbers. Bea and Leah Koch of The Ripped Bodice have compiled an inaugural report on the State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing.

From their press release:

In their first year and a half in business, the Kochs grew increasingly aware of the limited number of options for customers looking for traditionally published books written by people of color. However, “we have found it difficult to continue the conversation about diversity in romance without hard data,” says report co-author Leah Koch.

“For many years the common refrain from publishers has been ‘we’re working on it.’ Every year we will track industry growth and see if that promise rings true.”

Their hope is that with concrete facts and figures it will be harder for the industry as a whole to ignore the fact that there is a problem.

“Honestly we were shocked at how abysmal the numbers are.” says Bea Koch. “We thought they would be bad; we didn’t think they would be this bad.”

Their goal: “reporting the percentage of books published in 2016 that were written by people of color.”

The Kochs collected their data pool through the following steps:

  1. “Identify and contact the leading romance publishers to determine if they will participate.” The survey included 20 romance publishers: “every publisher included in the report was offered the chance to participate, and more than half did, contributing their time and energy to the report.” Those participating in this study: Carina Press, Crimson Romance, Dreamspinner, Entangled, Harlequin Series, HQN, Kensington, Mira, Riptide, Sourcebooks, and St. Martins Press.
  2. “Collect 2016 title data for publishers which did not choose to participate from publisher and distributor catalogues and websites.”
  3. “Research more than 1000 authors to identify people of color.”
  4. Do all the math.  (My summary, not theirs.) Their margin of error is partially based on potential for misidentification as their research tools included social media, biographies, author websites, and photographs.

Important question: Why only race?

Bea and Leah wrote, “While many groups are still woefully underrepresented in the romance genre, including people with disabilities, marginalized religious groups, and members of the LGBTQ community, we had to start somewhere. This is a difficult subject to discuss, but racial discrimination is one of the largest barriers to equality in any professional industry. Publishing is not immune.”

The results?

You can download the report here (PDF, 1MB, right-click-and-save-as, por favor!)

There are a few images I’d like to highlight here as well (all graphics courtesy of Bea & Leah Koch, The Ripped Bodice Bookstore):

For every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers in 2016, only 7.8 were written by people of color

In 2016, for every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers, only 7.8 were written by people of color. 

Line graph showing Kensington with nearly 20 percent Forever at 17 or so, Crimson above 10 percent, and the rest below 10 percent of titles. captions read 50 percent of publishers surveyed had fewer than 5 percent of their books written by people of color and out of 20 publishers surveyed only 3 had at least 10 percent of their books written by people of color

And here is the individual publisher data:

Percentage of books published in 2016 written by PoC Avon 2.8 percent Bella 6.6 percent Berkley 3.9 percent Bold Strokes 7 percent Carina Press 5.4 percent Crimson 12.2 percent Dreamspinner 5.8 percent Entangled 8.9 percent Forever and Forever Yours 17.5 percent Gallery including Pocket 5.5 percent Harlequin Series 8.3 percent HQN 0 percent Kensington 19.8 percent Mira 4.4 percent Montlake 1.9 percent Random House 1.8 percent Riptide 1.4 percent St Martins 6.3 percent Sourcebooks 2.9 percent Tule 0 percent

In a word…wow.

As the oft-quoted and nebulously-sourced business maxim goes, “What gets measured gets managed.” And as Leah said, we can’t fully address the problem without hard data, and those are some hard numbers.

I’m personally also deeply impressed with the effort and work that went into this report, since running a business is time-consuming enough without taking on research of this magnitude.

Bea and Leah are going to compile this report annually, and I personally (and very very selfishly!) hope that it can expand to include other marginalized groups, especially LGBTQIA+ and religious and cultural minorities – though I fully realize that it’s easier for me to type those words than it is to compile that data and crunch those numbers.

I am not the only person who has said that the genre needs to better represent the people who read and write it – and to see that expressed in numbers and percentages is chilling but also inspiring for me.

Amanda: First, I just want to say that I am so glad that Leah and Bea are part of the romance community. Though I live on the east coast, I’m always envious of the safe and welcoming space they’ve cultivated at The Ripped Bodice.

Sarah: YES. Me, too.

Amanda: What strikes me most is that they didn’t have to put together this report, but they did. And like Sarah, I hope that it grows to include other marginalized communities. But when it comes to changing the white, cishet, Christian landscape, we need to come at it from all fronts: reviewers, bloggers, publishers, booksellers. Failing in one area will just reinforce the misguided notion that diverse romances don’t sell.

While I’m not surprised at the stats, giving numbers to this problem is a fantastic way to fully see the disparity in representation in the real world vs. on the page. The world is not just 8% people of color, so why is our romance?

Keep up the great work, ladies! I’m eager to see how the stats compare in the coming years and if any trends emerge.

Sarah: I agree – every day and every year is an opportunity to do better.

So what do you think? Did you read the report? What’s your take? 

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