Conducted by The Ripped Bodice, the report found only 6.2 percent of books published by leading romance publishers were written by authors of color.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
March 01, 2018 at 12:00 PM EST
Jenn LeBlanc

In 2017, romance publishing got even more lily white.

According to the second annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report from romance-specialty bookstore The Ripped Bodice, for every 100 books published by leading romance publishers in 2017, only 6.2 were written by people of color.

This is a decrease of more than a percent from last year’s 7.8 out of 100 in the first-ever report of its kind. According to the report — conducted by Ripped Bodice owners and sisters Bea and Leah Koch — the romance industry published 5.5 percent more books in 2017 than the previous year, which makes the downward trend in diversity even more troubling.

Of the 20 publishers surveyed, 80 percent had fewer than 10 percent of their books written by people of color. Half of the publishers showed no improvement or decreased the number of books written by authors of color from 2016 to 2017.

“Of course it’s discouraging to see a decline, especially when so many publishers keep promising that they’re going to do better,” says Bea Koch, co-author of the study, which focuses on traditional publishers and doesn’t account for self-publishing and other non-traditional models which make up a significant chunk of romance writing.

The other half of participating publishers did show improvement, with Crimson Romance showing the most significant growth, increasing its number of authors of color by 17 percent.

This year’s report also included sales information from the store that provided a strong counterpoint to the argument that books by authors of color don’t sell. Sixty percent of The Ripped Bodice’s top 10 best-sellers of 2017 were written by authors of color, including entries from Alyssa Cole and Alisha Rai, who regularly appear on panels to discuss diversity in romance.

The Koch sisters say last year’s study was material proof of a trend many have suspected for decades. “There was a certain amount of relief from members of the community, including authors, bloggers, and readers who had been saying this was an urgent problem for years,” says Leah Koch, “and now have data to underscore their experiences. But ultimately, the numbers were very disheartening for a lot of people.”

“The reaction from publishers was…quiet.” added Leah. “We’d like to see more active responses.”

The report includes 20 major romance publishers, all of whom were invited to participate and contribute statistics and information to the study. More than half engaged directly in the study, and for those which opted out, the Koch sisters gathered title data from publisher and distributor websites and catalogues.

The Koch sisters say they hope the study will push publishers to start making real changes. “We want to shift attention to the gatekeepers of the industry, the people in power who make publishing decisions,” notes Bea, rather than putting the onus on authors and readers. “By keeping these records, publishers will have no choice to improve because their customers will demand it,” concluded Leah.

See the study and corresponding graphics below.

The Ripped Bodice
The Ripped Bodice
The Ripped Bodice
The Ripped Bodice
The Ripped Bodice