Okay, I cribbed this story from various blog entries and tweets that I was eavesdropping. Here's the thing:
In an entry dated March 10, 2014, Booktalk Nation - booktalknation.com - announced that Kristin Higgins is now "tackling the lack of diversity in romance", apparently motivated by a letter to Harlequin complaining about "the eerie racial and cultural homogeneity of [their] books".
As an aside, I love the LOL-worthy aspect of this letter addressed to the publisher of Harlequin Kimani, the only devoted series with black people, or that they are also the publisher that put Brenda Jackson's titles in the Desire line - and their Indian authors' titles in various mainstream lines (Modern, Kiss, Riva, Sexy, etc) - without putting some scenery on the cover to hide the "blackness" of the cast inside (like Grand Central Publishing does to Rochelle Alers's books). Say what you want about the publisher's other crappy stuff, but this is also the publisher that gave Jeannie Lin ample chances to showcase her Chinese historical romances and give readers looking for black, and the occasional interracial, series romance with a dedicated line like Kimani.
The letter stands only if the person writing it is merely looking at the HQN MIRA titles or the "white" category lines in a rare month when Brenda Jackson didn't have something out in the Desire line, but even then, that isn't Harlequin's fault - the reader could have looked around for places to find these romances. And most of those places lead back to Harlequin. I am given to understand from some authors of romances with black and other non-white characters themselves that their books just won't sell if they are marketed to readers that already are used to a staple of romances with white or what could pass for white folks (those South American gigolos, for example, or those white people wearing Arabian garbs and pretending that they are sheikhs). Or they are the "token" books with black people, written by white authors. Some even claim cynically that readers online like to talk about how much they love and adore diversity in romances, but these readers won't buy those books when those books are available.
Either way, the fact is that publishers like Harlequin and Kensington and St Martin's Press and Grand Central Publishing and Avon - gee, that's like more than half of the big traditional presses out there - do give authors a platform. Only, the platform is usually segregated from the mainstream "white" lines, not because the publishers wear KKK costumes during their Christmas parties, but because it makes sense to do so from a business point of view. There are books of this nature out there. Readers who want to support such lines can easily locate them.
So, if they want to support diversity in romances, give these books a try. Tell friends about them. (I look at Goodreads book pages for Kimani romances - the amount of comments on a typical book page can be abysmal.) Instead of complaining incessantly about not being able to see Donna Hill's books placed next to Sandra Hill's in bookshops, give her books a try. If you like it, blog about it and try more books of this nature instead of resting one's laurels. Only when the publishers realize that people really support these books with their money instead of cheap words on the Internet that they would do something to integrate those books more into the mainstream lines.
Back to Kristin Higgins. Oh boy. This is up there with Suzanne Brockmann swooping into our midst in the great darkness and saving the gays from persecution. So, what did the Savior of Diversity do, you ask? Donate all proceeds from her book to some appropriate charity?
Here's a quote from the article, which has now been yanked down:
In Waiting on You, the latest from bestselling romance writer Kristan Higgins, high school sweethearts rekindle their steamy relationship ten years later. She is Irish-American. He is half Puerto Rican. Details that would hardly be worth mentioning, except in the overwhelmingly white world of romance fiction.
That's... not groundbreaking at all. I may not be so underwhelmed if the heroine is, say, half-Pakistani and half-Eskimo, but seriously? Irish-American? And considering the number of South American gigolos pumped out by Harlequin Presents in a year, excuse me if I'm not fluttering in excitement over a half - half! - Puerto Rican hero. Let's talk again when the hero is Iraqi.
This whole exercise is a cringe-worthy example of PR gone wrong - Booktalk Nation's business is to big up their author clients, after all - that is especially, hilariously awkward because it trivializes a genuine issue that concerns non-white authors in the romance genre. To sell a book by a white author. Which is nowhere as "diverse" as it claims to be.
It's really not surprising that the Booktalk folks quickly pulled the thing down. That's the only decent thing to do.