In the wake of the #ritassowhite and the growing awareness of how black authors are systematically discriminated against in the romance community, there has been a lot conversations about what we can do as readers and reviewers. For all the attention we pay to the Ritas each year most readers, bloggers and reviewers are not and will never be RWA members. I am librarian member, which is a limited membership, that doesn't give me access to the forums or allow me to vote. But the pronounced discrimination against Black and Indigenous writers at RWA and prejudice and exclusion of Authors of Color more generally is an industry wide problem. As a reader, blogger, and reviewer I am part of that industry. I might be unpaid but I know that I am part of the industry, thus part of the problem.
You might be asking yourself, "What can I do?"
Track Your Reading:
Inspired by others, last year I started keeping a reading log, so I could get a better idea of how inclusive my reading really was. It is very easy to think one is reading inclusively because the white/straight default is so strong and nothing like hard numbers and charts to make you aware of how far there is to go. This is the first thing I would recommend to readers who wants to do more. You can't recognize patterns until you look at your data. I would suggest you start simply. Just a spreadsheet with the books your read and a couple of categories you will want to track. My spreadsheet this year is more granular, but I didn't really know what I really cared to learn till I looked at the first round of data.
Evaluate Who You Follow:
When I first came into Romance I mostly followed white reviewers and authors. They were the biggest names, the most visible and the most retweeted. They had their books in the library and on the RITA lists. And as a result almost everything I read was written by white authors.
Really look at who you follow, it matters. Do you have black bloggers on your follow lists? Do you read the reviews of Black, Asian, Latinx & LGBTQIA+ readers? Do you follow their Instas? If you are not, it isn't because they aren't out there on their platforms. Their work is invisible to you because you haven't looked for them. Once you find someone who is giving good inclusive recs, look at who they follow. We all influence each other.
The big publishers have advertising and promo budgets, and access to us through their newsletter databases. We've all seen how certain books are seemingly are everywhere, that isn't simply organic, that is marketing. If you are already an established author, that ARC is an easier sell to readers and reviewers, more likely to be coveted and talked about, more likely that folks with big platforms were approached and offered the book. Privilege builds on privilege.
Read Someone New:
We all have favorite authors, authors who are auto-buys, authors whose books we drop everything else to read. Our TBRs get crowded, and maybe you are mood reader, and prone to re-read binges. We can very easily let our reading be dictated by others. We want to be part of the conversation, read that hot book everyone else is reading. But I urge you to try a book a black author whose work you have never read before. Make room for them on your reading shelf in between your favorites.
If you have a favorite-can't-miss tropes, you can search WoCinRomance's database for ideas, look at Girl, Have you Read's weekly new release list, or maybe try one of those three 2019 POC Rita finalists (Courtney Milan's organizing a virtual bookclub to do this: Romance Sparks Joy). If you are reviewer, sign up for Love in Panels/BawdyBookworms/Jenreadsromance's Diverse Romances Press List and get a monthly list of new and upcoming books by AOC and LGBTQIA+ authors. Also if you didn't look at them in the past take a look at the #Rombklove prompt posts, as we tried to create diverse and inclusive lists for our prompts.
Reading and then talking about you read, leaving reviews is time-tested and effective way to support authors. Hopefully you will like me turn those New-to-Me authors into your new Auto-buy authors.
Recommend books by AOC to your Library:
My library bought another of my recommendations - I always feel so powerful when this happens.— Melinda (@MelindaEdits) March 26, 2019
A way to support authors you love is to rec their books to your library, even if you’ve read the book! It means you’ll introduce them to so many new readers 😍 pic.twitter.com/n4Zr5mVhzB
Melinda's tweet reminded me of another simple action readers can take. If you library uses the Overdrive ebook system or collects patron recommendations, take the time to suggest your library purchase books by authors of color. Many people rely solely on their library collections and the diversity of collections varies widely.