5-18 Powell's City of Books, World's Largest Indie Bookstore by Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

RITAs So White

Hi everyone! I am YA, and now MG author Barbara Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for adolescents and teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them.  My newest book, Courage, is middle grade fiction that will be coming out this summer from Harper Collins.

If you care about romance (and I bet you do, that’s why you love reading this blog) you know that it's a billion-dollar industry that outperforms all other book genres. It's also an industry plagued by an inclusion problem.

Especially when it comes to books by black authors.

The RITA Award, the top honor for romance writers, is presented by RWA, the Romance Writers of America. After announcing yet another slate of finalists for the 2018 RITA with a disappointing lack of diversity, the  RWA issued a statement admitting the organization has a problem with diversity. In its 36 year history, the nearly all white RITA contest judges have somehow never considered a book by a black author  worthy of a RITA. Click HERE to read the RWA Board’s statement.

In 2017, Bea and Leah Koch authored a report on diversity in the romance genre. The Koch’s run The Ripped Bodice (, a romance bookstore in Culver City, LA. They found that fewer books by authors of color were published by the leading romance presses in 2017 compared to the previous year, despite an increase in the numbers of romance books published. Few of those authors of color (AOC) were African American.  Click here for a PDF copy of the report.  The Koch's noted that, “Clearly there is plenty of room to pull up more chairs as long as the people sitting in those chairs are white.” And now both Kimani Press, Harlequin's African American line, and Crimson Romance, a Simon & Schuster line featuring a larger than average percentage of AOC among it's authors, are closing.

Riptide is a New Jersey-based publisher (noted on the report as having 4.8% of their books written by AOC in 2017). Queer romance writer Cole McCade, once one of those authors, described Riptide as “at all levels hostile to me as a person of color”. Click here to read details of his experience,  including an email from Riptide editor Sarah Lyons stating: “We don’t mind POC But I will warn you – and you have NO idea how much I hate having to say this – we won’t put them on the cover, because we like the book to, you know, sell.”

Riptide has since accepted Lyons’s resignation. Which does nothing to change the overall attitude.

Take a look at your own recent reads. Do any of them have a black hero or heroine? Were any written by a black author? People like Brenda Jackson, Rochelle Ayers, Alyssa Cole, Piper Huguley, Farrah Rochon, and Rebel Miller. 
Black romance authors write historical fiction, contemporary, dystopia, suspense, paranormal, LGBT, and sci-fi romance. They write about cowboys, gangsters, billionaires and preachers. They write about black love and interracial, multicultural love. They write romance that is inspirational, or clean or sizzling with sexuality. They write long novels and short novellas.

If none of these books or authors are on your shelves or TBR lists, maybe that’s why even bestselling black authors get little respect from romance publishers or RITA judges who have never felt the urge to open one and discover that love is love, no matter the outer wrapper.

We black authors also write YA. 

My own experience comes from the publication of my first novel, Pull, a YA romance. My publisher daringly placed my African American lead on the cover. Shortly after publication, I attended a romance book fair in Milwaukee where I was the only author of color and one of only a few YA romance authors. Meaning my book was one of the few that young people had to chose from. On two occasions, white teens came and looked at my book. They picked it up, read the back cover (the publisher had an enticing blurb there) and even opened the first chapter. And, if I do say so myself, I had a great opening hook, a reach out and grab the reader first page. Those kids went off to get their parents and drag them back to buy the book. The white parents took one look at me and the book cover, and took their kids away. One even told their child in so many words, “This book is not for you,” without ever looking beyond the black boy on the cover. Before reading a single word, they decided the book was untouchable.

I can’t help wondering how many RITA judges have that same attitude. Do the words on the page written by a black author have to be twice as good as others to get past that initial prejudice? I left RWA a few years ago because I saw the signs and signals and grew tired of being quietly excluded. (And because I primarily write YA, and have now slipped into Middle Grade with my newest book, Courage) I am now part of SCBWI - Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

The children’s book industry has been addressing the inclusion issue for several years, thanks to the work of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center ( to document and track diversity and inclusion, childrens book publisher Lee and Low (, WeNeedDiverseBooks ( and similar initiatives that keep the issue in the forefront. As a result, SCBWI is well into the process of addressing them with initiatives at both the individual chapter and national levels. I'm proud to say the Illinois chapter, which I belong to, is at the forefront of the diversity and inclusion efforts.

All is not lost in RWA land. In a few weeks, I will be at the 2018 Spring Fling conference ( in Oak Brook, Illinois. This writer’s conference, given by the Chicago North chapter of RWA, has brought in the incomparable Beverly Jenkins, a historical fiction author with over thirty novels published, to be one of their featured speakers. Ms. Jenkins may never have won a RITA, but over her stellar career she has been a bestseller and won numerous awards, including the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award.

Later this year I will be speaking at Romance Slam Jam Booklovers Convention ( for black readers and authors. It’s a place where no one will wonder if a black author really knows how to write well, or chose to move to a different table when one sits among them.

I’m human. I like being welcomed.

One more thing:

My next book, Courage will be released at the end of July by Harper Children's. And they dared put a black child on the cover. Its written for young people in 3rd to 7th grade.  If you want to give the young people the gift of inclusion, take this book about six children of various backgrounds and races as they explore friendship and empathy, and what it means to display true courage. (And, they will also learn a little about diving.) You can let Harper Collins know publishing diverse books is important by preordering Courage at


Lynn Lovegreen said...

Thanks for the post, B.A. I have been a member of RWA for over ten years, and while I don't see as many AOC as I'd like, I had no idea that the problem was that bad. (In my defense, we have a small and friendly group here in Alaska.) It needs to be addressed, like yesterday! How could someone of Beverly Jenkins' stature not be overwhelmed with awards, not to mention the newer AOC who are also writing great books?

May RWA and all the other groups connected to authors and publishing make things right for all writers of color. We do need diverse books, for all readers.

I know you write wonderful books, and hope you and others get the support and recognition you deserve. Keep on writing!

B. A. Binns said...

Thank you, Lynn.

Sarah Raplee said...

We so need to be reminded of this HUGE problem often, B.A.

As a young girl, I remember reading a book by Walter Farley about a stable boy in Australia who wants to become a jockey, but is passed over because he is an aborigine. By the time I realized his heritage, I'd imagined him white for a few chapters and I was in love with the book. I was determined to keep him white in my head. But the magic of reading knocked down my guard so that, by the end of the book, I loved him for who he really was. That is what a multicultural book can do.

I recently read the book Intermarry, by Rhea Harmsen. Rhea is African-American and Persian, raised in Chile, living in Puerto Rico. The main heroine and most of the characters in this book are African-American. Her hero is a young white architect who is a member of the Baha'i Faith, a religious minority whose main tenet is the unity of mankind. The book takes place on Chicago's south side over a period of about 5 years.

By sharing the points-of-view of her heroic but humanly flawed characters, Ms. Harmsen unflinchingly and lovingly portrays how approaching others with respect and a willingness to listen to one another can transform a neighborhood and it's people in ways no one could have imagined. There is no single hero or heroine in this story, but many unforgettable people who transform one another.

I highly recommend all of Ms. Harmsen's books.