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Bestselling Author Naima Simone Talks Sales in the Diverse Books Movement

Today I am honored to hand over the blog to USA Today Bestselling author Naima Simone. Naima is a client of Rachel Brooks and last week she approached Rachel about publicly sharing the story of her newest releases. Rachel agreed it’s an important story to tell, as do I, which is why we offered her the blog. Her message is important, and she says it so much better than I ever could. (We’re pleased Naima’s publisher is working with her on this as well, and you can check for more updates and data in their cross-post.)

 

Bestselling Author Naima Simone Talks Sales in the Diverse Books Movement

About a week ago, I spoke with my publisher regarding the books in my new contemporary romance series entitled, WAGS (Wives and Girlfriends of sports stars). The first book, Scoring with the Wrong Twin, had released in January, and the second, Scoring Off the Field, in early March, about a week and a half prior to this conversation. But in that span of time, I’d noticed something about the releases, and apparently, so had my publisher. Sounding infuriated and frustrated, she gave me the sales numbers.

In the two weeks since book 2 released, I’d sold over and beyond the copies of book 1 in the two months it’s been out. Both books had received the same advertising budget, the same number of ads on the same platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Instagram, the same promotional push. At the time, both books had received over fifty reviews, and most were four and five stars. As a matter-of-fact, I’d actually spent an unprecedented amount of personal money and time with ads, giveaways and parties than I had with any of my previous books. There was really one main difference between the promotional and marketing package of the books…

The first book had an African-American hero on it, and the second book cover had a white hero.

Now right about now, I can practically hear the rattling of the eye rolls, along with, “God, no. Another blog about diversity.” And yes, you’re right. It is. I think too many of us are afraid to talk about race and instead would rather avoid it because of the negativity and emotional exhaustion it can wreak. But I remember in college how my senior seminar professor wanted to desensitize me to spiders because I had a horrible phobia. Disclaimer: It didn’t work, because when she explained the last step would be holding an actual tarantula, I was like hell-to-the-no and decided to write about the music and meaning of Sarafina! Apartheid, yes. Spiders, no.

Still, her reasoning was very sound. The more we expose ourselves to, or confront something, the less sensitive we are to the emotional and physical stimuli it provokes. The more we discuss and meet this topic of diversity and race head-on, the less hold fear, anger, grief, and frustration have on us, and we can talk about it with calm instead of antagonism.

And that’s what I want to do here. A week has passed since speaking with my publisher, and me sitting down to write this because I had to think about what I wanted to say. If I wanted to say anything. And then I prayed. Because my hope is that those of you reading this know me, or know of me, and understand my heart, and therefore can understand this post isn’t an indictment or a vehicle to point fingers. The purpose of this post is to ask, “What can we do?”

So, going back to these numbers. When I heard them, I was shocked. Not because book 1 sales were lower. I’d followed the rankings; I knew this. But it was the huge disparity in those numbers. I had to ask myself, why didn’t readers buy book 1? This was my weakest release out of all of my contemporary romances. Was it my writing? I would have to say, because my previous book sold well, and then the sales and reviews of book 2 prove that readers still enjoy my voice. Maybe it was football itself? The “take a knee” movement? Maybe it was the twin thing from book 1? It could be that people aren’t into twins pulling a switcheroo. Okay, maybe it could’ve been any of those. But they still couldn’t account for the fact that book 1 only sold 1/6 of the sales of book 2.

Finally, I had to look at the most obvious—and according to Occam’s razor—probably the most likely explanation. Book 1 didn’t sell as well because of the black man on the cover. I’d like to add and confirm that my publisher designed these two covers with my full support and included me in the decision-making process on the models.

In 2018, why should the color of a cover model’s skin determine whether or not a book will be enjoyed? If any genre should be the poster child and vanguard for diversity and inclusivity, it’s romance. Our message is love. Love doesn’t exclude, harm, is blind, is kind, accepts instead of condemns. And yet… In my head I can hear some of the reasons and justifications of why.

“I read to escape, and I don’t want to read about racial and social issues when I want to get away from all that.”

“I just can’t relate to those characters.”

“I’m not attracted to the model on the cover, and if I’m not attracted to the hero, how can I get into the book?”

I, too, read to escape, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with that. But to assume that just because a POC model is on a cover means the romance will be about race is an assumption—and an incorrect one at that. All it means, with a certainty, is the character is ethnic. Could it include a social or racial topic? Yes, that’s possible. But it could also show how the power of love overcomes such ignorance. Still, a reader won’t know unless he or she reads the book.

It amazes me how readers can relate to billionaires, MMA fighters, CEOs, vampire hunters, vampires, mafia kingpins and rock stars but are unable to relate to a character who has more melanin in their skin or a different grade of hair. What about low self-esteem, dysfunctional family dynamics, brutal childhoods, sexism, ageism, body image issues, peer pressure, bullying, loneliness, the need to be loved and accepted… Can’t we all relate to those issues? Because no matter race, economic status, geography or age, we all have been touched by pain, loss, insecurity and/or death. In romance, our heroes and heroines overcome these strongholds by love of self and their mate. Isn’t that why we read? Because we relate to wanting that happily ever after for ourselves. That has nothing to do with race.

The color of a person’s skin isn’t a hair color preference or whether or not you like a man bun (how can you not love a man bun? But that is a different blog post!). When we discount a person as attractive or beautiful because of the shade of their skin, we’re saying there is only one standard of beauty and everyone else is inferior, defective, not worthy. Besides that, I further back up my argument with two words: Shemar Moore. Most women, regardless of race, age and political leanings wouldn’t kick Shemar out of their bed. And if they would, we have Dr. Phil, Iyanla Vanzant, and Dr. Jeff over on aisle 4.

My point is there’s more that unites us than divide us.

We must come to realize it’s not just about you or me, as individuals. Once we start thinking about the other person—their experiences, their hurts, their feelings, their struggles—than we won’t bristle, bracing ourselves for accusation or the offensive defense every time race or diversity is mentioned.

If you’re not a person of color, I don’t know if you can fully grasp the magnitude of the joy and pride that swells within me when I see an ethnic woman or man on a cover. A smile doesn’t just break out on my face but in my heart. It may not seem huge to one who often sees themselves depicted in media, but believe me. It’s so huge.  It feels wonderful to view someone who looks like me held up as this symbol of beauty and love. I still remember when I was fourteen years old, sitting on my grandmother’s porch, reading French Silk by Sandra Brown. I can’t express my awe and utter delight when I realized Yasmine, the heroine’s gorgeous best friend and supermodel, was black. Honestly, I reread the description about three times just to make sure. Okay, so she died (oops! Spoiler!), but that’s beside the point. A model. A black woman. In a Sandra Brown book. Damn. I was floored. I was almost sick with joy. It might be difficult for some to understand the need—no, the craving—to see yourself represented on tv, in movies, on and in books. And not The Next 48 or criminal #2 on prime time. No, represented as positive, powerful, successful, educated individuals who, yes, are worthy of love, of that HEA. It’s…priceless.

So when I say it’s not about you or me, I mean it’s about all of us. My desire, my hunger to see someone who looks like me on the cover of a book, and in its pages, may not directly affect you. But think of how it affects my children who need to see that they can be lawyers, judges, officers, actors, superheroes… If you consider that world-changing impact, then is spending $2.99 or $4.99 on a book with a character of color or a book by an author of color too high a price? If spending that money means increasing demand for these books and publishers giving in to that demand, then is taking a chance on a book or author too high a cost? Worst case scenario, you spend $2.99 on a book that sits on your Kindle. Because that never happens. So much sarcasm in that considering the size of most of our To Be Read piles. But the best case scenario is you’ll find an author you really love that you previously weren’t aware of.

The bad news about the future of diverse books and books written by authors of color being published is a good part of that responsibility lies on the shoulders of the readers.

The good news about the future of diverse books and books written by authors of color being published is a good part of that responsibility lies on the shoulders of the readers.

For authors especially, I believe because our relationships with editors, marketing staff and publishers tend to be closer and more accessible than in other professional fields, we tend to forget publishing is a business. It’s the bare, at times seemingly ugly truth. With most businesses, the law of supply and demand, the bottom line, rules it. What if we all decided, out of our monthly book budgets, we’re going to buy at least one book with diverse characters or by an author of color? From the voices lifted on social media, it appears readers and authors across races support more diversity. But confession without action means nothing. A person will place their resources behind their passion, where their hearts lie. Yes, publishers are watching social media and viewing what readers and authors are saying. But they’re responding more to what their money is saying. If you’re declaring with your words that you support diversity in romance, but only putting your money toward books that aren’t diverse, then your words mean less than nothing. Supply and demand. Demand more diverse books by buying more diverse books.

If you take nothing else from this blog post, please understand we are the gatekeepers. The change makers. The solution.

All of us.

Change comes when we do. When we look at a book and not determine it’s worth or strength on the color of model’s skin. When we start understanding that diversity isn’t about a group of people, but all people. When we put our money where our mouths are, and tell publishers with our resources that we demand more.

Here’s a starting point for you of authors of color and/or authors who write books with diverse characters:

Nalini Singh

Robin Covington

Kit Rocha

Sabrina Sol

Alisha Rai

Pintip Dunn

Vanessa Riley

Reese Ryan

Alyssa Cole

Beverly Jenkins

Tif Marcelo

Tracey Livesay

Melia Alexander

Theodora Taylor

 

USA Today Bestselling author Naima Simone’s love of romance was first stirred by Johanna Lindsey, Sandra Brown and Linda Howard many years ago. Well, not that many. She is only eighteen…ish. Though her first attempt at a romance novel starring Ralph Tresvant from New Edition never saw the light of day, her love of romance, reading and writing have endured. Published since 2009, she spends her days—and nights— writing sizzling romances with a touch of humor and snark.

She is wife to Superman, or his non-Kryptonian, less bulletproof equivalent, and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They all live in perfect, sometimes domestically-challenged bliss in the southern United States.   http://naimasimone.com/
https://twitter.com/Naima_Simone

Category: BlogBrooksOur AuthorsRomance

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39 comments

  1. Great insight into what we need to do beyond lamenting about the need for more diversity in publishing. True change needs to occur at the ” cash register” As a POC, and an aspiring author, I naturally read across the spectrum, but I have non-poc friends who mean well but who needed me to steer them toward actually buying diverse books. Therefore we all have a responsibility to educate by talking about it until the “tarantula” is no longer SCARY. Naima Simone, I find me a new author today. That brother on the cover makes me want to see what’s underneath, oops! I meant within. Hmm!

    1. Hi, Micki!
      I love that! “Until the tarantula is no longer SCARY.” LOL! That’s awesome. And you’re so right. We support each other with our money AND our words. Because words alone will only influence publishers so much. But our money will induce change in how they acquire books. Supply and demand. And no oops! 😀 When my mom first saw the cover of book 1, she was like, “Naima, do you know there’s a fine a– black man on that book?” LOL!! Thank you for stopping by and reading, Micki!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. And thank you for the rec list. My library needs more books by AOC.

    You’re absolutely right — if we can relate to vampires, it shouldn’t be a leap to relate to our fellow human beings. The excuse that we can’t is, aside from downright insulting, stale and lazy.

    1. You’re so welcome for the rec list, Rosalie! And I wish I could’ve added more, because the list is looong! And that excuse of not being able to relate is insulting and lazy. It means you didn’t even try. Thank you for reading, Rosalie!!

  3. Excellent post, Naima. We ARE the gatekeepers in this case. We are all responsible for the change to come. Let’s do this! (And NO to the spiders. And YES to the max on characters I get excited about because they represent ME! 😉 )

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience. I admit, I’m one of those people who believe we all should and do get along, and am shocked when I see evidence otherwise. It’s my “blinders” of equality. Personally, I find the first blue cover to be hotter than the second. I see no reason why readers wouldn’t pick it up. (I also don’t go for long hair! LOL) But I also know that my own blinders keep me from seeing things other people may — wrongly — do.

    There are some other statements I’ve heard that I also think about: The second book in a series always does better, and then helps sell the first book. Finally, the color red is hotter than blue and then attracts more.

    Still, back to those numbers, and such a discrepancy. I haven’t read either of these, and I’m between deadlines and on a semi-spring break. So guess what? I’m buying “Scoring with the Wrong Twin.”

    Once again, thank you for adding to the discussion.

    1. Hi, Louisa! I’ve heard the same things about the second book, and actually, what I noticed was that after Book 2 came out, I did receive more sales for Book 1. Which was really cool. Maybe people who read the second book and were introduced to the first book’s hero wanted to go back and read his story. Maybe that will help change opinions, too. Hopefully.

      And I, for one, am thankful for your blinders that keep your mind open and not narrow as other people’s minds can be. Can I also say that I’m a fan of your books, so you buying and reading Scoring with the Wrong Twin has me grinning hard. Thank you!! <3

  5. Great post. As a queer author of color I also blogged about this aspect but from a different tract: that of learning from my parents to eschew my Latino/Native American heritage and pass for white. It became so deeply ingrained that when I started to write my own works I automatically made everything as while as a Scandinavian winter – without question – until the first diverse character hit the page: as a cook. That moment left me with a mental ass kicking that rattled everything I thought I knew about me. For those so inclined you can read about that experience here:

    http://www.mdneu.com/blog/the-quagmire-of-passing-when-a-person-of-color-eschews-heritage-to-succeed

    1. SA, you have so blessed me today. Your blog. I’ve never read another one like it from your point of view. Your history, your story, and your journey is powerful. I loved what you said, “I’ve evolved and am doing my best to be better at it each time I consume or create media. I watch movies and TV shows told from a solid PoC point of view. I vote with my dollars for stories if I see they have PoC on the cover or in the blurb. I want to be the change I want to see in the world. I get excited when I come upon new works or new voices from that perspective. It doesn’t mean I’ve given up watching Euro-centric stories. I just pepper them in among the other stories I find myself enamored with. Not every author will “get it right” – do we ever despite how hard we try to research and ask for input? But I love when an author makes that choice. It’s a choice I’ve had to make, too.”

      Because supporting diverse books and authors IS NOT about no longer reading books by white authors or with white characters. It’s about being inclusive. It’s not not an either or. And I just want to thank you for sharing your story, because I know that couldn’t have been easy.

  6. Wonderful post! Very enlightening and eloquently stated. The power to bring about change falls to us, the reader. If the sales numbers/demand is there, the publishers will listen!

    1. Thank YOU for being a part of this story, Nikki! As a writer of diverse books, you know first hand what I and so many others experience every day. Thanks for staying in the fight!

  7. I love this post. This post was difficult (and maddening) to read, but you did a fantastic job of sharing the painful truth. Thank you for these hard facts. The depth and layers of racism, some of which in romance publishing I feel is institutional, will not be changed overnight but the more voices that speak up, the more optimistic I become. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Oh, and let me add a few more names to your fabulous list:

    Vanessa Riley
    L. Penelope
    Priscilla Oliveras
    Alexis Daria
    Sonali Dev
    Mia Sosa
    Courtney Milan

    Tip of the iceberg:)….

    1. Thank you, Denny! I totally get you about it being maddening and difficult to read. Believe me, it was difficult and maddening to write, which is why it took me a while to settle it in my head. Racism is institutional, and as some of us just don’t want to admit, even in the romance publishing industry, which is beyond incredible considering the subject matter we write about: love. I don’t know about others, but the love I read about and have been taught about must be a different kind. Mine speaks of it being blind, all-encompassing, powerful, victorious, covering a multitude of sins. But like I said, maybe that’s just me. And I’m being so facetious right now. LOL! No, change won’t be easy or fast, but that doesn’t mean it can’t–that it won’t–happen. And yes!! Add more names! I wish I could’ve included all the authors I love but this blog would’ve been suuuper long. LOL! Thank you, Denny!

  8. Absolutely fantastic blog. This line is so perfect: “If any genre should be the poster child and vanguard for diversity and inclusivity, it’s romance. Our message is love.”

    To the list of exceptional authors writing diverse romance, can I please add:
    Alexis Daria
    Mia Hopkins

  9. Thank you for all of your phenomenal words. As a writer and a poet I’m constantly looking for a way to express my words and also create covers that the first of all I my work. I became a cover model because I wanted to bring diversity not only for the color of my skin but also for the shape of my body and the sway of my hips. A lot of people authors and photographers, have given me very very negative reviews of myself as a model. But that does not stop me. That does not make me less than. I consider myself to be a role model to young girls around me, because they are constantly watching me and they see themselves in me as I see myself in them. There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that one of my girls,that I mentor says to me, “if Miss HC Can Be Brave and Bold and a model then so can I.” So I was brave and I was bold and when my book “BeYOUtiful” resonated itself in my mind I knew exactly who my cover model was going to be. A brazen, outspoken, beautiful woman of color. Me!

    1. Martha, this really resonated with me. I’m thrilled and humbled by your courage and tenacity. As a writer, poet and model, you know how hard it is to put yourself out there for possible criticism and opinions. Some asked for and some unsolicited. 🙂 I thank you for celebrating and flaunting your beauty with pride and joy. It’s like I mentioned above, we need to realize how what we do speaks to our children and the younger generation. We have a part in shaping how they view themselves, and representation is a part of that. So continue to be brave, bold, beautiful and brazen!! <3

  10. Amazing post! I am not a POC but in the series I’m writing, I made sure to have a diverse cast of characters. I’m also buying and recommending the books written by women of color in order to share their amazing voices and stories that effect all of us.

    1. Hi, Artemis! I LOVE that you’re including diverse characters in your books. Like I mentioned above, one of the first times I read about a black woman in a book was by a white author. I don’t believe diverse books should be written exclusively by diverse authors. How else are we going to learn and appreciate one another if we only write characters that reflect what we look like, who we grew up with, the neighborhood we lived in, the economic bracket we exist in? One of the reasons we should read diverse books, too, is to learn about one another. And by writing them, when we have to do research, ask questions–it only increases our knowledge and experience of each other. So yes! So glad you’re doing that! *pumping my first for you* LOL!

      1. I love your enthusiasm! One of my favorite authors to read and talk with is Beverly Jenkins. Such a dynamic force for change; love that woman! Met so many great authors when I lived in NC. Reese Ryan, Kianna Alexander to name a couple. It’s way past time these women are heard and appreciated.

  11. As someone who is definitely not a POC or a minority, I’ve always had a hard time understanding the struggle, but I want to do what I can to help change the world to a better place for everyone. Your post was really an excellent read for me and I’ve been trying more over the last year to expand my reading range and seek out new authors and go beyond the typical cultures I choose to read books from. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by most of the books I have chosen and found several new authors I enjoy to read. There are definitely times I read to escape, but I also truly appreciate an author that uses their books to subtly (or sometimes not to subtly) educate and bring awareness to racial and social issues. Learning while enjoying an excellent story is always great. Now I’m off to one click some books…

    1. Hi, Jennifer! You’re already part of the solution. By having an open mind, being willing to try new books and new authors, by supporting with your money–you’re already pushing this movement forward instead of hindering it. I’ll be honest. I haven’t loved every book with diverse characters that I’ve read, just like I haven’t loved every book with white characters. Above all, it’s the story and whether it captures your heart and imagination. But we won’t know if books with POC or by AOC will if we don’t give them a chance. Now don’t let me hold you up from one-clicking! LOL!

  12. Thank you for the great post, Naima! I’ve been trying to incorporate more diversity in my stories for years and have had heroes and heroines from many different cultures, ethnicities, and religions, I’ve often wondered how the majority of readers respond to this trend in the romance industry. Your post was very eye-opening and will be the basis for some discussions with my own readers.

    1. Awesome! Discussion brings action, which brings change. I adore reading books with heroes, heroines and secondary characters from different cultures. It’s so interesting and fascinating, even while completely entertaining. It’s one of the reasons I adore Alisha Rai’s books so much!

  13. Interesting post, Naima. I admit, I struggle to get my head around your post because a character’s ethnicity has never stopped me from reading a book (although I tick the box for having no interest in footy *smile*), so it hurts my brain trying to understand how others would. After all, we all put on our pants the same.

    There are books I’ve read with diverse characters and hated them – but it was all to do with the writing and nothing to do with the characters (the same can be said for any book I’ve stopped reading, unless it was scary and then it wouldn’t matter how awesome the writing is). But there are also diverse books I’ve loved.

    To keep your list of authors with diverse characters growing, here is another to add:

    Anita Heiss (an Australian indigenous author of women’s fiction)

  14. Wonderful blog, Naima. I had a surprisingly similar experience with a series i wrote for Dreamspinner Press called the Long Pass Chronicles. The first book, Outing the Quarterback, has the handsome white football player on the cover. The next two books in the series feature the equally delicious African American and Native American heroes. The first book sold far more copies. I didn’t think that much about it at the time — first books sell more, the first cover was spectacular, i’m not known for sports romance, yada yada. But then i was told by publishers and other authors that ethnic characters on covers depress sales. I was stunned. My books are automatically diverse (I am a heterosexual, white woman writing gay romance) so no one can claim that they don’t want to deal with issues of acceptance and exclusion in my romances. Those themes are always present, even if very secondary. But these books got great reviews, won awards, and books 2 and 3 are among my favorites i’ve ever written. You’re blog has made me even more aware of what i can do to improve the future of diversity in romance — and i plan to vote with my credit card. Thank you again for this great blog. : )

    1. I love that, Tara! “Vote with my credit card.” I’m going to steal that. LOL! I’m so sorry you’ve experience as well. I’d heard the same thing about POC on covers not selling well, and had seen it for myself with other authors’ books. I went into writing Scoring with the Wrong Twin, that it might not sell as well as my other books, but still… It’s disheartening, and you try not to become discouraged. As you said, I still love book 2 in the series. I adore it. Yet there are readers out there who loved book 2 just as as I did, who had the opportunity to buy book 1 but deliberately chose not to because of the cover model’s skin and who the hero was. Still, like you, it’s not going to stop me from writing diverse characters. We just have to do our part in changing the future of diversity in romance! <3

  15. Hi, AJ! And you make a great point. I’ve read books by AOC and/or with characters of color and didn’t care for them. Just as I’ve read books by white authors and/or with white characters and didn’t care for those either. The book should stand on its own merit, not on the race of the author or characters. And I’m adding Anita Heiss to my list! Thank you for the rec!!

  16. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the man buns 😉

    But everything you said is just wonderful, Naima. Thank you so much. We tell stories of men and women and their journey towards being better versions of themselves supported and encouraged with their one true love who will stand with them in good times and bad until death do they part.

    That’s what distinguishes romance and makes it such an important

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