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Marketing "Niche" Romances: Complications and Complexities

Merriam-Webster defines Niche as (2a) a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted or (2d) a specialized market. When it comes to niche romances, in layman's terms, it's an acknowledgement by The Powers That Be that while there is a market for these romances, it's a small minority. Publishing houses and distributors don't consider the mainstream market to be interested in such. So these books are tucked into their own little "niche" within the main category of romance, but visible only to those who search them out.


An author friend and I were discussing this issue as it relates to interracial romance and black romance readers. Black Americans are what economist calls super consumers, and romance readers are a voracious lot. Combine the two together and you'd think with rallying cries like "Representation Matters" that romance books written by black authors featuring black heroines would fly off the shelves. You'd be wrong.

When it comes to political and social power in this country, blacks have very little. However, when it comes to buying power, black Americans can make or break a product's success, if we can ever get on one accord. Unfortunately, this lack of unity is prominently displayed in the romance publishing market.

As stated, I mostly write interracial romances. For the purpose of this discussion, interracial romance is defined as romances where the female protagonist (or female main character) is black, or African-American, and her love interest is non-black, usually Caucasian, Latin, or Asian. One of the first rules of marketing is to know and find your target audience. This is where it gets dicey.

Black Love proponents: These are the readers who want black heroines but will not read the romance unless the hero is also black. In some cases, these readers go to the extreme of wanting all supporting characters to be black as well. BLPs will not read interracial romances and BLP authors have been known to look on IR authors with contempt.

Colorism: Colorism is prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin. It's sad to say but colorism is alive and well. We see it in readers when it comes to cover art. Readers complain that there are two many light skinned, curly haired heroines on book covers. Or, when you use images of black females with a darker complexion, that the heroine is too dark. They complain of authors using food descriptions to describe the exact shade of brown of the character's skin, i.e. pecan tan. I'm trying to be factual about this without devolving into a rant, but it's difficult.

Blackness: What does it mean to be black? The answer is it depends on who you ask. Urban fiction readers say a heroine isn't "black enough" if there isn't an element of black trauma in the book. Black trauma is defined as the emotional impact of stress related to racism, racial discrimination, and race-related stressors, such as being affected by stereotypes, hurtful comments, or barriers to advancement. These can be what many blacks refer to as 'Hood books, which contain elements of a black character's struggle against poverty, racism, drugs, crime, etc., in order to succeed in life. Books that do not contain this element aren't considered black enough, i.e. the heroine is a middle-class professional woman raised in a middle class household in the suburbs. What's interesting is that many white romance readers assume all black authored romance novels contain black trauma. As a result, they won't buy and read them because not being black, they "can't relate."

White Savior syndrome: Look, as a longtime author I've seen it all. My novella, Uriah's Heart, is a story about a personal assistant turning in her two week's notice because she made the mistake of falling in love with her wealthy boss. She wants love, marriage, and children and thinks she'll never have it with him. It takes almost losing Maze for Uriah to realize he can't live without her. The things Uriah resorts to in an effort to convince my heroine that he's in love with her, I thought, was rather comical. Imagine my surprise when a reviewer commented that this was yet another "white savior" trope. Wikipedia defines white savior trope as a cinematic trope in which a white character rescues people of color from their plight. The white savior is portrayed as messianic and often learns something about themselves in the process of rescuing. I'm not sure how a man finally realizing he's in love with his assistant qualifies, but in this reader's mind it did.

Racial Conflict: This one is the one that troubles me the most. I encountered it with my first book, True Mates. My plus-sized heroine, Kiesha, is mixed race (black and white). The hero, Alex, is an alpha wolf-shifter who is white. I submitted and got accepted for publication by Loose Id, a small indie romance publisher no longer in business. I was shocked and troubled when the senior editor suggested I add racial conflict between my protagonists to the plot. The story's conflict was my human heroine struggling to accept that paranormal beings were real and that she was mated to one. Race was not a factor in this relationship. Differing species was. The editor meant well but she was white and this was a case of her unintended bias showing. She believed adding racial tension would make the book more marketable. I disagreed. Fortunately, she didn't press the issue and my debut novel was a success.

This is another stereotype that most white and some black readers expect in an interracial romance. If a white man and a black woman get together romantically, it must cause problems somewhere in their life with someone or it's not realistic. That's not exactly true. There are plenty interracial relationships where race isn't an issue. Just as there are plenty where it is. The point is that there are plenty sources of conflict in a plot without resorting to race. I rarely mention racial conflict in my books and never between my protagonists because I don't like reading it. If the issue of race does arise, it's because someone else has an issue with the two being together. It's a form of racism that I refuse to perpetuate.

Black authors aren't the only ones having a problem getting their books seen. LGTBQ romances are also considered niche. From discussions with these authors, they have many of the same issues that black interracial romance authors have. I won't go into details, but I will note that that they have the same issue we do with non-black authors flooding the interracial and LGBT categories with their non-interracial, non-LGBTQ romances in an effort to get a higher ranking on Amazon. As a result, it makes our books even more difficult to find.

So, you may be asking, how do I get my books seen? What marketing tricks and tools do I use? That is the million dollar question. I use the same tools and tricks as other authors, always keeping in mind that I probably won't get their results. Finding my target audience is key and the most difficult part of the equation. For instance, I post in Facebook groups that are created specifically for readers of interracial romances, but I also post in mainstream romance groups. I tag my Instagram posts as #interracial, but I also use the #romance or #romancerecommendations. I do the same with TikTok. I put my books in print and audiobook formats, even though my sales in those formats are low. I watch educational Youtube videos on marketing and advertising and attend online/virtual classes to educate myself.

The one thing I won't do is change what I write. I could switch and write traditional white romances and throw in the occasional black heroine. I won't do it. If writing interracial romance means I sell less books, so be it. I had to decide early in my publishing career what my motive for publishing will be. Is my primary purpose to make money, or is my primary purpose to write stories that satisfy my soul? I chose the later. Yes, I want to make money but it really comes down to this:

When the book doesn't sell the way I think it should have, will I continue?

When the author who doesn't write half as well as I do makes more money than me, will I continue?

When readers keep on scrolling simply because the author who wrote the book (me) is black, will I continue doing what I love?

I hope that the answer to these questions will always be yes.



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