State of the Black Romance Novel

I recently ran across a forum thread on Goodreads that left me feeling rather disappointed.

The gist of it was there was no interest in the black romance novel. That people would much rather read interracial, or even white romance. They seemed to be of the opinion that all black romance does is perpetuate negative stereotypes of black people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen the “hood novels”, none of which I will name, but I get it. A lot of people (me included) don’t want to read about drug lords, and shootings, hood rivalries, etc. That may be someone’s cup of tea, but it’s not mine.

The other complaint was that the heroes and heroines were all the same. A rich man-whore hero and a snobby, sexually repressed, man-hating heroine. I’ve seen a bit of this as well.

But, overwhelmingly (and I’ve read a LOT of black romance) I’ve seen diverse characters, in looks, occupation, personality, drive, etc. I’ve read some absolutely wonderful books about everyday people, that were definitely not “stereotypically black”. Of course, there are nuances that bring in the “flavor”, but not in a way that interferes with the enjoyment of the reading. This really make me worry that people are ignoring African American romance because of preconceived notions that aren’t even correct.

Am I reading the same Brenda Jackson, Rochelle Allers, Donna Hill that they’re reading?  Are we reading the same FABULOUS indie authors?  Because I’m really hard pressed to remember a single incidence of negative stereotyping there.  Maybe a bit of repetition, but pretty much all romance follows a basic template, and the personalities, backgrounds, and quirks of the characters are what makes the difference.

It feels so unfair! I’m just now getting my start in writing. And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, I enjoy writing black romance.  About regular, non-movie star, non thug mafia people.  Just, people. Starting careers, managing new love, finding themselves in the process.  The same stuff white people do. And write about.  And get on bestseller lists for.  So I don’t understand!

I’m still a baby in this.  Being published by a major publishing house is a distant dream at best, so maybe I’m just making too much of something that will in all likelihood never even affect me.  I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit disheartening though.

Tell me, do you read romance novels? What’s your flavor? Why?  Have you given up on black romance?

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35 Responses

  1. I read black romance.., although not exclusively! I started out in my teens reading harlequin romance novels and never ever read about a black heroine. I got my first taste of black romance around the Omar tyree fly girl and sister souljah coldest winter ever days. Well call me addicted because I was like a junkie reading everything I could get my hands on. I would much rather read about someone who looks like me and their relationship struggle than the opposite. As an aspiring writer myself I just feel like sisters aren’t reading for pleasure as much as they should or could…

    1. I think I agree! Once I started writing, it reawakened my love for reading, and outside of science fiction/fantasy, I really just wanna read about people I can relate to! Let me know if you ever want to chat about writing. I’m always available for that, lmbo!

  2. I read romance novels (most of the time). I prefer to read black romance novels, but I read white romance novels from time to time too. I’ve found books with all of the story lines you mentioned. I’ve never NOT been able to find a romance novel that I enjoyed. I get tired of the ‘hood’ novels, but there is variety out there.

    P.S. I enjoyed your book :-).

  3. I don’t read books about white people and that’s just me being honest. I can’t really relate. I think I can say I exclusively read black romance because that’s what I like. I like happy endings and I like to be able to relate with the characters I’m reading. I also write African American romance.

    1. That’s how I feel too, like I can’t relate. Like, not saying it had to be overtly “black”, but I just don’t feel the same ease as when I read African American novels.

  4. I read black romance novels. I love Francis Ray (RIP), Donna Hill, Rochelle Alers, and the like. I just downloaded yours (Congrats) and can’t wait to read it on vacation!

    1. Thank you so much! I’ve never read anything by Francis Ray (I sunny think) but I’ll see what’s available so I can check them out!

  5. Hey lady, I read black romance and write urban lit.
    I think you should write in the genre that speaks to your heart. There is an audience out there for your voice. A good literary agent and a good marketing strategy will find that audience for you. Just concentrate on being the best, most articulate and most thorough story teller you can be.
    Let me know if you ever wanna talk about the book industry or if you have any questions.

  6. Ok, so I read a lot of romance novels. Black white and everything in between. And you are right, most romance novels follow a basic flow. The authors you’ve named all are great, they write wonderful stories about everyday people. But SOME are over the top. The hood stories just..I can’t. But then there are others that are still over the top with rich this, name brand that, golden hued eyes etc. The problem is that those of us who want to read about normal everyday life are not the ones who are in charge of getting those stories out there. The public thinks that black people want to read more coldest winter ever and omar tyree’s fly girl( two of my favorite books ever!!). But it’s been done and it’s time to move on. I say write what you want to read. The audience for it is there, we just haven’t been marketed to!

    1. I HATE to see an author put exactly what brand heels, makeup (down to the shade names), dress, toothpaste, garbage bags, whatever. Like, WHO CARES?! lol! I love your advice to write what you would want to read, that’s exactly what I try to do!

  7. Don’t be discouraged at all. I do think there is a good market for the Black romance. I was me never a fan romance novels (except for Jane Eyre) period until my senior year of high school. I was more of a crime/fantasy lover. But I have definitely come across some bestseller worth Black romances. I believe there is interest in Black romance or romance written by Black authors. I think that the reason we don’t see a lot of Black authors on these major bestseller lists are because we don’t support each other like we should. For example, we don’t take advantage of doing blog tours and really getting the word out about our books. Not a lot of Black authors do book tours or even hold book signings at their local libraries or bookstores.

    We have to start getting ourselves out there and showing readers that we are capable of writing novels of substance and that there are future Tony Morrisons and Donna Hills still out here. We gotta make noise and support each. Black Twitter has time to tweet about “Hood PSAs” then we need have time to tweet about the great books we’ve read by Black authors. Time to get more us to start knocking on the doors of some of these major publishing house. I’m not giving up hope of being able to see writers you, Krissy or myself being mentioned with popular non-black writers like James Patterson, E. L. James or Danielle Steele. We can do this!

  8. I started off reading Harlequinn novels then got into Nora Roberts and then Janye Ann Krentz. I do read some white novels but I also love the authors you named. Even if a white person wrote it I read it in color time meaning I put my own faces to the characters when I read so black author or white as long as it’s a good book I will read. Congrats to you I will be seeing your name up there soon with Donna Hill and Brenda Jackson

  9. I haven’t read a lot of black romance. Like you mentioned, it seems that a lot of it is “hood novels,” and I am firmly opposed to those so I have tended to read white romance. But I am starting to discover more black romances out there by authors who are not getting the credit they deserve. I believe there is no interest in black romance by the mainstream because of how we all have been pigeonholed into the “urban” section. It sucks and I hope one day things change. I also hope that black authors come together and start supporting each other more. We are all in the same boat, but we are stronger united than apart.

  10. I don’t really read romance novels anymore. I used to love them. They were plot heavy, with interesting characters. Now, black “romance” has been replaced by black “erotica” and I’m not here for that. Shallow plots with 60 percent of the book just being extremely graphic descriptions of sexual situations. So now I read outside of the romance genre. Black Christian Fiction is one of my favs because they can’t just rely on graphic sex scenes so they actually have to write a story. I also like the regular, “non-romance” novels. Read a great one about post Katrina NOLA was I couldn’t put down. Hood “urban” fiction . . . I just can’t do it. Right now I’m reading There Eyes Were Watching God.

    1. I completely understand the frustration with the gratuitous sex! If your characters are having ten pages worth of sex, every two pages, when do you have time to actually develop their relationship, and tell a story?! I don’t mind sex in a book, even a long scene, but for *me* it needs to be limited to once, maybe twice, and actually move the story forward, not sex just for the sake of showing how well you can write the scene. Especially when you could just mention it and move on.

  11. Never read a black romance — any kinda romance book isn’t my cup of tea. But your post got me thinking about black movies. There needs to be more variety in the subject/story lines of black movies. They’re all pretty much the same.

  12. I’ve read novels by Eric Jerome Dickey, Adrianne Byrd, and Sheila Goss and got none of the stereotypical dope boy, pimp, street-life stories that people complained about on that Goodreads feed. However, there are a lot of “Gangster” novels out there from AA authors. Perhaps they’re being pumped and celebrated at a higher rate than the other novels that tell what is for the most part the truth about our culture. We are husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, businesspeople, and diligent workers and those are the stories that need to be promoted and celebrated. My hope for readers is this. Before they give up on AA authors because of what they see in their faces, dig deeper to see the jewels amongst the stereotypical portrayals. Perhaps we as AA authors who aren’t publishing gangster fiction should do a better job of reaching those people who want more than the status quot.

  13. My significant other and I were discussing this very topic this morning. I write in the genre of contemporary romance because that is what I prefer to read. My stories do include sex, but only when the storyline calls for it. However, as I scroll through books on the many facebook sites I am a member of, it appears that many AA authors who classify their books as “romance” should actually call the books what they are–“erotica”. I do not write erotica, nor do I read it, but I am automatically linked with those kinds of books. I realize that sex sells, but come on…not all AA women want to read “booty books”.

  14. Omg…I found this article because I was surfing the net to find out if I was the only one that had a problem with AA romance novels. Every time I pick one up, usually because I feel guilty for not supporting black authors, I never seem to make it past 50 pages before giving up. The writing for most I find is poor. I’m am avid reader and I just want to read a GOOD, well-written story. If I have to hear about how rich everyone is, what designer dress the heroine is wearing, the brand of watch etc. etc. etc. I just quit. Why do they do this? It gets to the point of stupidity sometimes where the flow of a scene will stop because they have to describe some item of luxury in minute detail!

    Nalini Singh is a beautiful writer who writes characters of all races. Her stories are so compelling that race just kind of sneaks by you. There are others and I wish AA authors would put more into story development instead of writing an episode of Lifestyle’s of the Rich and Famous.

    1. Christina, you should consider looking into some indie authors! There’s a growing community of women who write excellent, realistic romantic fiction. I’d like to include myself in that list, but I’d also very highly recommend both Tia Kelly and Nia Forrester, and I have a few personal friends who are working on their next releases, and I’ll be posting about them soon, when they’re ready for their big reveals. Come back and check in from time to time, I’m always posting about awesome indies!

      1. I’d be willing to give them a try! ‘Realistic’ is a relative term when referring to romance novels and I get that. I actually read a lot of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. It’s the materialism of AA romance that gets to me. And that it comes at the expense of character and story development.

        1. Gotcha! The authors I recommended tell their stories without the over the top stuff, the label dropping, etc! For traditionally published, try Niobia Bryant, Farrah Rochon, and Donna Hill as well!

  15. I’d have to say that the point you are talking about is one of the reasons I don’t like reading “black” novels, just as I don’t like “black” films. It’s not so much the genre, but more so the stereotypes that are portrayed in a lot of these stories. Now dont get me wrong I have read some that I love, but it takes alot of convincing to get me to pick one up on my own and start reading. I like stories, and I don’t want a story that is continuoisly pointing out race. I prefer ambiguity, and the opportunity to create an image of the character in my own head. All in all, do what makes you happy! When you love what you do, and it shows, people will be drawn to what you create. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  16. Who wrote that there is no more interest in Black Romance is a LIAR! I Didn’t read romance as a youngster, but now I find myself drawn to it. I especially love complex relationship stories.

  17. Yes I would love to see more African American romance,and Erotic Novels about Mature people, and seniors folks over fifty and older Yes they are out there!!! who are real people of course with real problems to overcome

  18. I have always been an avid reader, but I wasn’t really a romance book reader until the last few years. It changed for me when I came across one of Nia Forrester’s books, and then I got hooked. I really only read books that have African American main characters. I just relate to it better. But, here’s my issue with black romance books. There aren’t enough books written with main characters over the age of 40. Do authors think people stop living after 40? Most of the romance books I read are about 20 and 30 year old characters. Why? Is it because most authors of black romance are of the same age and they can’t relate to older characters? Do authors think there would be no interest? Thanks for the opportunity to share.

  19. I read lots of romance. Lately I’ve been into action military style. It’s hard to find any characters of color. I have even written the authors about it. I tell them that the tropes are good just make the characters of color and add a little urban slang. That would be a decent start, because the stories would translate into our community. One author wrote a series and in the second book the heroine was African American. It was a modern romance, but she owed someone and was chained, naked to a Caucasian mans truck. He wanted to dress her with no underwear, in a old time dressing gown. Then he wanted her to get her hair braided with beads and shells. It was the second in the series, but I just couldn’t read it. I fired an email to the author in disgust. No reply. Another author had a biracial heroine from NOLA, and she was a badass. Her backstory was a great idea, and gave me hope. I haven’t been able to find but a few authors that can give me what I want.

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