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If you groaned when you saw the title of this blog, then the following isn’t for you. Seriously, leave. Now.

Gwyneth Bolton has a really interesting blog about the popularity of the Romance Novel Sheik. She posted a couple of excerpts from an essay written in BITCH magazine, which focused on the very subject of Middle Eastern men in romance.

The excerpts were interesting, but this comment from Gwyneth was what ultimately caught my eye:

She asks some interesting questions don’t you think?

A lot of the comments that were made during my Racism In Romance posts, seemed to hint that one of the reasons why white women seldom read AA romance was because they couldn’t relate to the characters, or the vernacular. (Or should I say, the assumed difference in vernacular)


I never bought this at the time, and quite frankly, I still don’t, because if that were true, then J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series would have sunk big time.

Ward writes about vampires who are into hip hop, bling, and expensive threads, and call each other “My Brother”.
Sounds like the stereotypical black man to me, except of course, the Brothers aren’t black, are they? They’re white, and that I’m afraid, is the key to her success.

Had Ward made The Brothers black, how many books would she have sold? Would readers have rushed out to buy her books in their thousands? Would she have inspired the same kind of fangirly following that she has? Even with her gift of turning the written word into a thing of beauty?

I really don’t think so.

Why do I think this? Simple, I just don’t believe that Average Jane Reader finds the black man sexy, and she definitely doesn’t see him as a romantic hero. Now before y’all go and get all defensive, and twitchy, think about it. Seriously.

If you really, truly think about it, you’ll probably come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I’m more right than wrong.

So, considering the current social, and political climate that we exist in today, considering the repercussions from 9/11, considering the current unrest in the Middle East, considering the fact that the majority of men from this part of the world believe that women are ultimately inferior to males, why is it that the Middle Eastern Man, is so much more acceptable to The Romance Reader, as hero material, than The Black Man?

Anyone hazard a guess? Anyone totally disagree with my assertion? Would you have bought Ward’s Black Dagger series, if the Brothers had been black? Honestly?

Gwyneth’s latest book, Sweet Sensation

When did you first get published?

My first novel was published in March of 2006.

What genre do you write in?

I write contemporary romance, erotic romance and paranormal erotic romance.

What race/colour are the majority of your characters?

The majority of my characters are Black.

How is your work marketed?

My work is marketed as African American fiction and African American romance.

Where are your books generally shelved?

It depends on the chain. In most Borders stores, they are usually in the African American section. In Barnes and Noble there usually isn’t an African American section, so my books are usually in romance.

I’ve seen my books with other Black books sectioned off together in Walmart. If the store has an African America section, chances are that’s where you’ll find any books by Black authors. If it doesn’t, then the books will be shelved in appropriate genres.

Where would you prefer your books to be shelved?

Unless stores do away with the African American section all together, I would prefer that my books were shelved in both the African American section and the romance section. The fact is that some readers do enjoy being able to go to the African American section and get their books.

As a writer who wants people to buy her books, if that section is going to be there with other books on the shelves for black readers, then I want my book in front of those book buyers. Ideally, I’d like to do away with the section all together.

Have you been subjected to direct/indirect racism from editors, publishers etc in your publishing career?

No I haven’t. So far I have worked with mostly Black editors. The one White editor that I worked with on my last novel was not racist in anyway that I could tell.

How do you feel about Oprah Winfrey’s book club- Do you think she could do more to promote AA authors?

I think Oprah promotes what she likes. And she can do that because it’s her show and her book club. She’s done a lot for women’s fiction in general, for middlebrow literature in general, and for promoting literacy in the US.

She does promote some Black writers. She even options the rights for what she likes and brings the work to the little and big screen. She does a lot. Honestly, I’d love it if Oprah promoted more romance in general. But hey, it’s her show. She doesn’t go for the happily-ever-after. It’s her show she can promote what she likes. 🙂

Do you believe that publishers are more ambivalent when it comes to marketing AA books?

I don’t know that this is something that it is really possible to gauge. There are some star black authors for example who may seem like they are being marketed to a great extent to little old new author me.

But when that same superstar author looks at the way they are being marketed in comparison with a white author in their genre who is at the same level or above they may see things differently. I would love to see someone do a study or market analysis on this however. I think we’d be shocked by what we’d find.

Which groups would you say bought the majority of your books?

Black women probably bought the majority of my books. These are the women who e-mail me, who write me etc.

What do you think needs to change in order for more white people to read African American books?

People need to become more open-minded and try the books. It’s really not rocket science. I majored in English as an undergraduate and all throughout graduate school.

The white people in my African American literature classes read black books. When Oprah picks a book by a Black author millions of white people read black books. Many white women have read African American and Caribbean literary fiction.

I think that there are still some stigmas that make it a little slow going in the romance community when it comes to this kind of open-mindedness. And those stigmas go all the way back to The Birth of A Nation unfortunately.

Have you ever been snubbed by white readers/white authors during a signing?

Yes, I have. This has happened to me more times in the year that I have been a published author than seems real.

Have you ever been overlooked by an editor in favour of a white author?

No, I haven’t that I know of. Most of the other authors that write for the imprints and lines I write for are Black.

Have you ever been asked to tone down, or increase the ethnicity within your books?

No, I haven’t.

Are you familiar with Millennia Black’s lawsuit against Penguin? If so, what do you think her chances of winning are?

I am somewhat familiar with it in that I know what anyone else who frequents the web knows about it. I’m not sure that I can predict her chances of winning based on the information I have on the case.

I’m hopeful that she will prevail if the publisher did what she says they did. However, not being privy to all the facts of the case, I’d hesitate to even say that. I just don’t have enough facts to make a judgment.

How do you think her victory will affect the way AA authors are treated within the industry?

I think it would have an impact for sure. Perhaps not an impact as large and significant as Brown vs Board of Education. But maybe it will have just enough of an impact to make publishers think twice about telling authors what races they can and can not write about. It’s hard to predict the future.

What are your thoughts on niche marketing? What do you think the limitations are if any?

I think the best way to describe niche marketing is as a double-edged sword. There are pluses and minus. As far as I can tell, it hurts black romance authors because it means they have a much smaller audience to draw from.

Think of the readers who won’t read romance in general and then think of the percentage of those readers in Black communities. If Black books are only being marketing to the niche and a large part of that niche has a disdain for romance, then the Black romance writer is out of luck.

On the other hand like most romance readers, black women romance readers are loyal to the genre and they will buy the books and support their authors. I guess what I mean to say is that it is more complicated than black and white, no pun intended.

Have you been personally involved in trying to bring about changes within the publishing industry, with regards to how African American authors are treated? If so can you tell me about your efforts?

I haven’t held any rallies or anything like that. I have blogged about it a little on Blogging in Black. I have worked to start a Black writer organization with some other writer called the International Black Writers Association.

This group is all about authors banding together, finding solutions and being positive resources for one another. I’m also still a fairly new author, only one year with published books on the shelves. What I’m interested in seeing is a viable solution and strategy. And I’m willing to work with other to come up with one.

Do you think this will still be a controversial subject in five years time, or do you think major changes would have been made by then?

Anyone who is hopeful and optimistic can only hope that things will get better in five years. But given the way much of the country seems to be regressing when it comes to race, racism and issues of oppression, it is hard to maintain that optimism.

The fact is, there are far more telling signals that race is still a major issue in this country. The tell signs are the way young black men are still beaten and murdered by cops. The growing HIV/AIDS rates that are wiping out communities of color.

We don’t necessarily have to only look at publishing to see that systemic racism is still alive and well. And when we really look at these it becomes a little hard to just look at the racism in the publishing industry and really get as up in arms, especially when lives are being lost.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Your welcome. Thanks for taking the time to do the survey and I hope that something positive comes out of it.

If you want to know more about Gwyneth and her books, you can find her website here.

Coming up next, Millenia Black.