Hard Facts about Being an African American Romance Writer

I read an article today that resonates so well with my writing journey that I have to share it, vlog it, and just sit on it for a moment.

It’s a #Longread from the Guardian title “Fifty Shade of White: the long fight against racism in romance novels“. The writer of this piece, Lois Beckett, dives right into the past and current issues with romance writers of color; it’s hard to break through when the industry is slow to see that change it needs.

As it stands, when it comes to the Rita Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the romance industry given by RWA (Romance Writers of America), there has never been a black winner, like ever. The first official RWA meeting occurred Dec. 1980 – yep not one winner for the past 40 years. But to be honest, as a black woman, I’m not shocked. I grew up watching black romance books being separated from all the others to fall into an Urban Romance category. Segregation comes in many forms, and that my friend, is one of them. I remember never being able to find them, they were always tucked somewhere in the back, as if a white woman with a flowing dress falling off of her shoulders with a guy raising her leg was so much more sophisticated than a black woman’s eyes or lips.

It was then that I picked up my first Zane book and got lost between the pages. Her words reminded me that the black POV of love and lust were different but still viable for all that read it. Zane inspired me to write my own romance stories, using imagery and words that resonated with my generation and my friends. She gave me the courage to go about this writing journey in my own way.

Fast forward to now, as I continue to push my own voice through my writing and pitch an African American romance, women’s fiction, upmarket/commercial erotic fiction book (it may fall into to some other categories but I didn’t want to go overboard), I’m wondering if there will be a delay in understanding the worth and message behind my words. My romance looks and reads differently, but it feels as good as other romance stories. Can a predominately white industry recognize its value? It’s in Beckett’s article that I find some hope that it will. I just pray that it’s sooner than later…I’m so ready to take this passion on full-time.

Here’s an excerpt from Beckett’s article:

For all this diversity of genre, the romance industry itself has remained overwhelming white, as have the industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony, the Ritas, which are presented each year by the RWA. Just like the Oscars in film, a Rita award is the highest honour a romance author can receive, and winning can mean not only higher sales, but also lasting recognition from peers. And just like the Oscars, the Ritas have become the centre of controversy over unacknowledged racism and bias in the judging process.

Last year, however, many observers felt that this was sure to change. One of the standout novels of 2017 had been Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union, an interracial romance set during the civil war. The book had already won a number of awards and made multiple best-of-the-year lists.

When the Rita awards finalists were announced in March 2018, An Extraordinary Union was nowhere to be seen. A novel rated exceptional by critics had been not even been deemed as noteworthy by an anonymous judging panel of Cole’s fellow romance writers. The books that had beat Cole as finalists in the best short historical romance category were all by white women, all but one set in 19th-century Britain, featuring white women who fall in love with aristocrats. The heroes were, respectively, one “rogue”, two dukes, two lords and an earl.

What followed, on Twitter, was an outpouring of grief and frustration from black authors and other authors of colour, describing the racism they had faced again and again in the romance industry. They talked about white editors assuming black writers were aspiring authors, even after they had published dozens of books; about white authors getting up from a table at the annual conference when a black author came to sit down; about constant questions from editors and agents about whether black or Asian or Spanish-speaking characters could really be “relatable” enough.

Then, of course, there were the readers. “People say: ‘Well, I can’t relate,’” Jenkins told NPR a few years ago, after watching white readers simply walk past her table at a book signing. “You can relate to shapeshifters, you can relate to vampires, you can relate to werewolves, but you can’t relate to a story written by and about black Americans?”

Read the full article.

 

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Pitching a Book: Allergies, colds, and mothering…oh my!

Photo by Unknown

I am an avid believer that in life there are no excuses…except during allergy season in Atlanta, when your fighting a cold and when your a mother — there are no days off in motherhood. So, my goal of pitching to a literary agent each week in March was delayed, until last week.

Check out my Writing vlog on YouTube

That’s right, I pitched to two agents last week. That means I’ve pitched to three agents since Feb. 25 — and I’ve heard back from two already! But I’ll share those details next week.

What I want to touch on this week is what you need to do even before you begin pitching your romance, erotic, fantasy, middle grade, YA or non-fiction (and so on) masterpiece. There are levels to this pitching thang and here is what I’ve learned since I’ve started.

Query Letter

As I shared before in my post Pitching to Literary Agents: See what had happened was…, your query letter not only summarizes your novel or novella, it sells the book. Be sure to include the word count, the genre(s), the audience who would love your book and who you’re book is similar to. That last part has been hard for me because I only like certain erotic stories, and they are mostly the classics.

But, if you can relate your book to a current author or novel, be sure to mention it in your query letter.

Oh and keep this to one page because a lot of agents just want this in an email and they are not going to read anything longer.

Synopsis

This was THE HARDEST piece to pull together for me but in the end, it was worth it because it helped me find those hidden holes in my own story. Again, in the post that I shared earlier, I touched on the importance of this piece.

Yes, no one wants to give away their whole book in 2-5 pages but you must in order to give some agents a full look your storyline.

Remember: this helps them figure out any holes and as I found out, it will help you too.

The FULLL EDITED Manuscript

Originally, I shared that you should have the first three chapters ready. Now I’m changing that to having the full piece completely edited. That means peer groups, hiring an editor, and reviewing it until you want to throw it across the room or are dreaming continuously about every word, every period, hell maybe even the amount of tabs throughout (or is that just me).

This is mandatory because some agents will ask for the first 10 pages or the first three chapters or the first 20 pages or the whole damn thing!! The idea is to be prepared for whatever their request may be. It could be the difference between making the connection now or missing the boat.

We’ll folks, that all I have time for! I’ve back on a normal writing schedule working on book two in this series, and preparing for passion-fy release sooner than later (thank to everyone who voted on instagram)!

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Bad Grammar that Feels So Good!

Photo by Marion Michele on Unsplash

So, I just found out that March 4 was National Grammar Day. Yes, I didn’t make that up. In 2008, Martha Brokenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG), established the day to celebrate the one thing that kids hate and writers adore — good grammar.

Let’s celebrate the joys of grammar by reflect on how it’s changed. I pulled the 11 terms  from Merriam-Webster online that are no longer deemed “Bad Grammer.” But, do we agree? Let me know what you think.

11 Common Terms That Used To Be “Bad Grammar”

  1. Above
    Both the adjective in “the above explanation” and the noun in “the above is an explanation” annoyed plenty of folks in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  2. Aggravate
    The “to rouse to displeasure or anger by usually persistent and often petty goading” meaning aggravated critics from the late 1800s through much of the 20th century—despite the fact that the meaning dates to the early 1600s.
  3. Balding
    It was new in 1938 and disliked until it proved too useful.
  4. Craft
    The verb, as in “crafting a poem,” wasn’t common until the late 20th century, when people spurned it as an upstart. But it actually dates to the 15th century.
  5. Debut
    The verb in our above (ahem) sentence “National Grammar Day debuted in 2008” was frowned upon throughout the 20th century, and a transitive version like “Martha Brockenbrough debuted National Grammar Day in 2008” was considered even worse.
  6. Finalize
    It was common in Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s, but an object of derision in the U.S. for a long time.
  7. Mentality
    This word as used to mean “mode or way of thought” or “outlook” bothered some folks of a stodgy mentality in the early 20th century.
  8. Out loud
    For much of the 20th century, you’d be criticized for reporting that something was said “out loud” rather than “aloud.”
  9. Transpire
    Using this to mean “to happen” a hundred years ago was a big no-no.
  10. Upcoming
    The word was new in the 1940s and condemned by some as “journalese.”
  11. Won’t
    It was described as “absolutely vulgar” (along with ain’t) in an 1846 address to high school students—criticism that was piled onto more than a century of previous objections.

Pitching a book: The Struggle is Real!

I’ve decided to do a video diary of my journey to publishing (with no idea how it will go) in hopes that I can help other writers through the ups and downs. Check out my new vlog and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel.

“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” -Maya Angelou (The Heart of a Woman)