Non-Western Romance

Authors in one of my list groups have been asking a common question: Will my book sell if I have non-White characters which are culturally authentic?

I’m rather new to the writing industry, so I don’t have an answer. However, I have to admit, I’m rather disappointed that ethnicity is still an issue as to whether a book is highly marketable or not in the romance genre, and likely other genres as well. With so much talk in the United States about the people seeing themselves represented in the media, we haven’t come far. I’m not sure what it’s like for other countries and minorities though. We watch a lot of British television in my house, and it always surprises me to see a black person in just about every program. If you live in the United States and watch TV, you know this is not the case. Other races face the same issues.

I, personally, would like to see more non-white people portrayed in romance novels, in novels in general. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is still my favorite novel of all time. I’m not Chinese, but still I could relate to a lot of the issues in it. I love comparing and contrasting different cultures to my own. At times I wonder if I’m so different from most people, that my desire to see other cultures is an oddity.

Honestly, I am just so discouraged right now. The bottom line I keep seeing is that publishers and agents want Western Heroes/Heroines with Western cultures and at least one with European looks. But I wonder, is that what readers really want? If publishers and agents are only accepting one brand, I can’t imagine readers ever really get the opportunity to try out non-western ideas. The rare books that do have non-western characters are hidden in some dark corner away from the mainstream section. What chance do they really have? <sigh>

Readers: What are your thoughts?

The Inner Voice

Ever get something on paper and think to yourself…hmm, something’s not quite right? I know I do. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. You’re right. Something isn’t right. Maybe you’re thinking the piece you’ve written is a bit drab. You’re right, it is. Or perhaps you’re wondering if the flow is off. Probably is.

Let me share some questions I had when I submitted my very first chapter for critique October 2009.

1. I have three chapters of back story before the hero and heroine meet. Is that okay?
2. The prologue – keep it or trash it?
3. Is it appropriate for the hero to have sex in the novel with someone else other than the heroine before they meet? (side question) not that my hero does, but what about after they meet…can romance novels have cheaters?
4. What do you think of my hero? I think he’s arrogant and a bit of a jerk. In fact, he even rubs me a little the wrong way at the start of the novel. Is that okay if there is a lot of character growth throughout the book?
5. Do these two chapters drag or do they keep your attention from start to finish? Do I have information dumps that make your eyes glaze over?

I asked these questions because my inner voice was telling me to stop, don’t do it! Please Reena, please fix this mess. But I didn’t want to believe her because I wanted to do things my own way. But that’s okay, cause the critters told me exactly what I needed to hear.

1) uhm…no
2) trash it
3a) maybe, but you’re really setting your book up for rejection 3b) have you lost your sorry mind?
4) I hate him. He is a jerk, and I wouldn’t even bother reading the next chapter…that’s if I could get through the first paragraph.
5) <snore> Hmm? Did you say something?

Now this post isn’t meant to discourage you. It’s to enlighten you. If you think something is off about your current work, chances are, it is. Listen to that inner voice. Think of it as your own personal critter offering to critique your work without having to offer something in return. Pretty good deal, if you ask me.

Maybe you told yourself the issue is minor, no one will notice or care. If you don’t believe your inner voice, send your work in for critiques. I can almost guarantee it’ll be like the critter is in your head. “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” Eventually you see you can be your own critter in many ways. Thing is, if they find all the easy stuff you found, they might overlook the complex stuff you’ve missed.

So just do yourself a favor and address those issues your inner critter brings to your attention, then let the critters nitpick all the stuff you’d never would have found.