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Disappointed But Not Surprised: The Ripped Bodice’s State of Racial Diversity in Romance 2020 Publishing Report

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

The Ripped Bodice has come out with their fifth annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance Report and, spoiler alert, the overwhelming whiteness in romance publishing that they identified in 2016 has not been solved.

The Racial Diversity Report looks at the largest romance publishers and tracks the percentage of the titles published that year that are by authors of color. Ripped Bodice looks up over a thousand authors and using biographies and other public information to try get this estimate.

When The Ripped Bodice opened in 2016 in Los Angeles, it was the first romance-only bookstore to open in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s run by sister-owners Leah and Bea Koch, who raised money on Kickstarter to fulfil their dream of opening a romance bookstore. Among other initiatives, such as their Ripped Bodice Awards for Excellence in Romantic Fiction, they have also been running an annual diversity report on the romance genre in publishing since their first year in business.

This year’s report points out how many publishers made public promises in 2020 to promote anti-racism and address white supremacy in their organizations, but that hasn’t seemed to have affected these numbers. Publishing is a notoriously slow-moving business, so maybe those efforts will bear fruit in 2021’s report, but I’m not particularly optimistic.

Of all of the romance books published in 2020, 12% were by authors of color, while people of color make up about 40% of the current U.S. population. Worse, even that percentage is mostly attributed to one publisher, Kensington. Without their titles, the percentage would drop to 8.3%.

This is an improvement from last year, where the average was 8.3%, but there’s still a long way to go, especially considering how much one publisher is responsible for moving the needle. Kensington went from 12.7% in 2016 to 44.8% in 2020! Carina Press has also leapt from 5.4% in 2016 to 37% in 2020, but those are not the norm.

Most publishers are staying about the same from where they started in 2016, usually in the 2%-10% range. A couple show slow, but steady progress–maybe in 20 years they’ll catch up! There are a few, though, that have performed worse now than when they started: Bold Strokes Books, Simon & Schuster, and Forever. I also have to give a special shout out of disappointment to Bethany House: holding steady at 0% every year.

Personally, as someone who reads more queer romance, I’m particularly disappointed by Bold Strokes Books. They publish mostly F/F romance, and while their percentage in 2016 was 7%, it’s dropped to 1.9% last year. For an publishing company that should be about diversity, that shows very little intersectionality in how they’re choosing which authors to publish.

Check out the full Ripped Bodice 2020 Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report, including their 2020 bestsellers and a chart for each publisher. As we conclude every year: hopefully these numbers will improve by next time.

Looking for romance novels by authors of color? Try:

Editor note: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that some publishers provided racial data.