Strictly Business: My Theory About Harlequin's Interracial Romances
By Alexa Day
A few days ago, I read an article on Time magazine’s website about interracial romance novels. The article describes an increase in popularity, and it mentions the names of some popular authors, but that isn’t what got my attention.
Right up top, big as life, was a Harlequin Romantic Suspense cover featuring an interracial couple, a white woman with a black man. (It’s Elle Kennedy’s COLTON’S DEEP COVER.) I could tell from the design that it was a fairly recent cover. Until I saw it, I would have told you that Harlequin didn’t publish all that many interracial romances.
I want to be absolutely clear about this at the outset: it is not the intention of this post to bash Harlequin. I started my romance writing journey by reading Harlequins. While other little girls envied their mother’s dresses or shoes or jewelry, I longed to inherit my mom’s tremendous stash of Harlequins. It’s possible that the problem I’m about to describe exists at publishers other than Harlequin. If I’m focusing my little personal theories on Harlequin, it’s because my little personal research has been directed at Harlequin.
Once I started writing, my career plan didn’t include Harlequin. I was perfectly content to send my manuscripts to houses that I thought were used to seeing interracial romances. There’s nothing wrong with opening doors, but my hope was to join a party already in progress.
The cover piqued my curiosity. Was I wrong? Did Harlequin publish more interracials than I thought? I went to the Web to find out.
If you go to Harlequin’s website, you’ll find that there is no drop-down or button that pulls up all the interracial romances. That’s annoying, but it isn’t uncommon. My current publisher, Ellora’s Cave, has two search options for interracial romances. There’s one for books where the couple just happens to be of different races (like mine, ILLICIT IMPULSE) and another option where the difference in races is important to the story (like Afton Locke’s PLUCKING THE PEARL). Phaze has two separate landings: one for black woman/white man romances, and one for other combinations. In fairness to Harlequin, though, lots of other publishers don’t have ready-made interracial searches.
If you go to the search box on Harlequin’s website and type in the word ‘interracial,’ you’ll pull up four results, not
including the one featured in Time. I know Harlequin has more than four interracial romances because my mother sent me a box of five the last time I complained about this. Only one of the books in my box is among the search results.
If you Google ‘Harlequin interracial romance novels,’ the top result is actually a Goodreads list. That list has 41 novels on it, and it’s a great start. This only raised more questions. If Goodreads identified 41 interracial Harlequins, and I myself had more than four, why did Harlequin’s own website identify so few? Why would Harlequin make it so difficult to find these books when they were becoming more popular?
I think the answer can be summed up in three words.
Some of you might not know about or remember the Reader Service. In a nutshell, one subscribed to a Harlequin line (I actually started with Silhouette Shadows), and then every month, the Reader Service sent you four books, or maybe six, from that line. You don’t pick the specific titles in the box. Whatever you got was what you got. Sometimes you’d get something you might not have chosen in the store, but because it was part of the line you picked, you could be sure you’d be interested in the unfamiliar book’s themes or plotlines. I discovered lots of new authors through the Reader Service.
My thought is that these interracial romances that turn up on the Goodreads list, these books scattered throughout the various Harlequin lines, all of them would have gone out through the Reader Service. Some readers probably found their first interracial romances in those monthly packages, tried them out and then wanted to find more. If that’s true, then the Harlequin Reader Service was — and may still be — responsible for helping the readership for interracial romance grow.
I’m not sure how much of Harlequin’s business is covered by the Reader Service, although I think it’s telling that I had to look hard for the Reader Service website. If the Reader Service is doing a brisk business, then Harlequin’s existing system probably doesn’t look broken to them. Indeed, the readership for interracial romances might even appear to be growing. Sure, the rest of us can’t find the interracial Harlequins, but from a business perspective, that might not look like a huge problem.
But it is a problem, both for Reader Service subscribers and for the rest of us. For subscribers who may be discovering interracials for the first time, Harlequin itself offers no way to identify additional selections. Those readers will find other sources to supply them with the stories they now know they want. The rest of us Harlequin readers continue to labor under the belief that Harlequin doesn’t publish that many interracials, for whatever reason, because we cannot find any. We occasionally run across them by chance or gather them up in Goodreads lists or the like, but I’m certain there are books we aren’t seeing there.
Harlequin can help itself now by making its interracials easier to find. I think readers would take notice immediately, and writers would follow up by sending in the stories that would otherwise go to other publishers. The future would be brighter for everyone.
I’ll be interested to see what, if anything, happens in this arena now that Harlequin has changed hands. Real opportunity for growth exists here. Hopefully, someone’s ready to take that one extra step and act on it.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a list of interracial romance authors, try this roll call for last year’s Loving Day Blog Hop. All those folks — myself included — are down with the swirl.
And be sure to follow Lady Smut. You won’t have to wait a whole month to get that good stuff from us.