Today, as part of Diverse Books Month, I’m delighted to welcome author P. J. Dean to the blog. P. J. is an outspoken proponent of diversity in the literary world and an author of inter-racial romance, so it’s a delight to welcome her to speak to us about diversity. In lieu of the interview format, P.J. took my questions and used them to write an interesting and heart-felt guest post entitled The Highlander Syndrome in romance publishing or “Oh, yeah. That’s nice but we have one of those already.” covering many aspects of what this month is all about.
Before I proceed I’d like to thank Rivka for posting the tweet that requested writers of the diverse contact her. I did and she added me to her project. I am honored to be in the company of such terrific writers. Thank you, Rivka.
I must confess that when I saw her tweet about her blog hosting a “Diverse Books Month” and her call for writers, I dismissed it. I thought “Here we go. Here’s someone looking for views.” However, the tweet’s topic kept intruding into my thoughts. So, not one to ignore what my inner voice insists on dwelling on, I replied. And here I am.
Diverse books? Diverse books! Diverse books. That topic has been floating around in the ether forever. These books are just that. Books. Nothing more. Nothing less. As far as romance books are concerned, I wish they would be accepted and just blend in with the rest of the romance books but, unfortunately, they are treated differently. What is a “diverse book?” Different things to different people for sure. But broken down to its simplest terms, for me, it means that a romance reader, if so inclined, should be able to find a book, and see the spectrum of humanity navigating the sea of love/lust/like. Sounds good, right? Sounds easy? Wrong.
On the surface this looks peachy keen. On closer inspection, on a more complicated level, there is trouble in River City, folks. Okay, so ya got diversity. So who’s writing the majority of these new stories? What folks are bringing them to readers? That’s where the second layer of “what is a diverse book” comes into play. I am an avid reader and I hit almost all of the prominent romance book review blogs daily. I read across a great spread of genres and writers. I visit romance book review sites to see what’s been released, and to see if any one of these blogs will surprise me and review a diverse book. Most days, if I hit my target, I’m lucky. Out of all the diverse books released in a year, some sites have no reviews of such books. Even in their archives. I mean you’d think that in a year, a site would honor at least one review request from a diverse book author. It’s not like tons are flooding their email inbox. Anyhoo, if I come across this unicorn of a review, I check to see who the writer is and if the writer is a new voice. And in most cases, the voice is not. Leave out Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson, Josh Lanyon, Brandon Shire, and others. I know they are big in the field and anything they release will get reviewed. I’m talking about the diverse books I see popping up. They are being crafted by the same roster of voices: White, mostly straight (pardon me. Cisgender), female, abled voices.
Now before you jump all over me, I am in no way saying that these faces can’t write, or have no right to depict “others” stories. They do. They should. And readers buy books by their favs. What I am asking is why the same roster is being HEARD, SEEN, PROMOTED and PRAISED as the representatives of diversity? I am not naming names. But if you’ve been a resident of RomanceLand for longer than a hot minute you know who they are. An aspiring romance author who is NOT White or who IS part of the LBGQTIA community, or who IS disabled, who has a different take on a subject in a “diverse” book, and then takes it to one of the Big 5 publishers, will have a slim to nil chance of having their manuscript considered for publication.
And it’s not because the submissions aren’t any good. It’s because the publisher/editor has a set of “guidelines” (code for comfy stereotypes and tropes employed to assure the mainstream reader’s vision of how “others” behave is adhered to). So, if you present these guardians with an item not on their diversity list, your submission will be rejected. Due to “inauthenticity?” Not fitting guidelines? WTF! Oh
my. I’m not giving you, the me you think I should be? Again, there are exceptions to the rule. Said guardians might take a new spin from that roster of same voices because the readership will accept it from that particular writer. But not many new spins are allowed even from established authors. The Big 5 are businesses first. So, they reject what they fear they can’t sell, or doesn’t fit their scope. The Big 5 are content with their policed take of diversity on their schedules even though it’s pretty abysmal. And the other part of this problem I must confess is that the publishing houses are mirroring their buying public’s mindset. The readership SAYS it wants different stories but if the readership doesn’t buy, the publisher won’t either. String the aforementioned truths together and you have a case of serious myopia.
Is there light at the end of this tunnel…vision for the topic of diversity? A way to adjust this narrow view? How long will it take the Big 5 to figure it out, while scratching its… head and lamenting, “It’s so hard! Why is it so hard?” Psst! Writers! Don’t wait for the Big 5 to notice you. Bypass them all together. Hey, if it worked for writers of BDSM romances and NA, it can work for you. The light at the end of that tunnel is called the small press and/or self-publishing. Thank the friggin’ gods and goddesses for the small press and for self-publishing. Submit your work to the smaller presses. Do your research. A number of them are quite reputable businesses. Or if you can swing it, go the DYI route. Self-publish. But remember promotion and discoverability are bitches that are hard to tame. Especially the latter. A traditional publisher will do some promo. Not much though. The bulk of it will fall on you. With self-publishing, it all will fall on you. It’s a jungle out there for any writer but for a writer who is NOT the default, trying to get eyes on a book that is NOT the routine, predictable default tale? It’s horrid.
Now for you readers who say that you are starving for romances containing all types of characters, in all types of genres, and written by ALL types of people…Demand it! Time after time, I‘ve read the last of those three wants in the comment sections of the blogs I visit. “I just want a good story. I don’t care who writes it.” Nu-uh. Apparently you do care because like I said diverse books by diverse writers get overlooked, do not get promoted, do not get reviewed, are not read widely and are not purchased like the rest of them in RomanceLand. So if you read them and like them, let publishers, authors know. Email, tweet where you spend your money. Now where to find those diverse books? For starters, follow the WOC in Romance hash tag on Twitter for the kind of romance you say you want but aren’t getting. A new round of books appears each Tuesday. You’ll find my personal favorites on there.
Now a little about me. My pen name is P. J. DEAN. I am African-American, abled and straight. You might not think that info is important but it is. It definitely informs everything I write. A description of my African-American heroine and her actions are going to be different than those of another writer because that writer is NOT me. A writer’s background informs all they do. And if any writer says it doesn’t, he/she just is asleep, fibbing or writing the trends. I’ve been writing since 1993. Just when I was about to stash my pens away I received an email from eXtasy Books stating that they wanted what was to become Book One in my sci-fi/paranormal series, THE FELIG CHRONICLES. That was 2010. 2010! Well over 10 years of rejections and rewrites between taking time off to attend to pressing family matters. Before I’d sent off that last submission to eXtasy, I’d vowed that I was not revising another effin’ syllable for anyone, anymore, pertaining to that book. Done. Finished. Finito! I saw my light and followed it. After, I’d taken the stance that I was no longer willing to twist myself into a pretzel to accommodate a plethora of people who’d never be satisfied, a door opened. Not saying not to reason with an editor. Not saying that at all. I’m saying remember whose book it is. Do not allow YOUR story to be mangled into something you wouldn’t recognize.
I write historical romance and sci-fi/paranormal romance. I pen a series called THE FELIG CHRONICLES for eXtasy Books. The first book in the series has the same name. It has not one vamp, were or shifter. It
follows my interracial couple comprised of a Black heroine, Tina Cain, and her Jewish lover-frenemy/good-friend/equal, Nate Lowe, as they battle an invading force of aliens bent on calling Earth home at terrifying costs. Book 4, PARADOX is out now and Book 5, GAMBIT is scheduled for a fall release. My interest in writing historicals has been rekindled. Through my publisher eXtasy Books/Devine Destinies, my historical set in Colonial NY state with its African-American heroine and an Oneida hero, KINDRED, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY has been re-released is selling pretty well for them. My current historical WIP features an African heroine. And believe me, these books are true historicals. I have the tired eyes to prove it from all my reading of DOUBLE the reference materials.
Lastly, I thank everyone who has supported me by buying and/or reading my work. I thank the ladies who are allies and peers (Heather Massey, Veronica Scott, RK Shiraishi) and who have included me in newspaper articles and on their blogs as a guest poster. So if you are in a reading slump and crave something new, give “other” voices a try because there can be more than one.
All books by P. J. DEAN can be found at http://www.extasybooks.com/p-j-dean/ and at
Thank you so much for joining us, P. J.; it’s very much appreciated!