Last Thursday, October 26th, was not a good day for AAR. By the day’s end, many on Twitter—romance authors among them—had tweeted and retweeted accusations that AAR and its readers are racist, sexist, and ablest.
The stated reason for this outpouring of loathing for AAR was the [email protected] column we ran on Friday, October 18th, which asked “Does historical romance have a quality problem?” In response, readers/commenters suggested that historical romance is suffering from the use of tired tropes and stale prose. Others decried the lack of accuracy from titles to terminology, and that HR had become too message-y. Many bemoaned the plethora of dukes and earls. Readers argued with one another and name checked authors they thought did the genre well and those they felt, at times, did not.
At some point, almost a week after it went up, the column and its responses caught the eye of someone on Twitter who was offended by both the question and the comments. This individual posted about the blog and the anger quickly spread like wildfire on social media. This fury seems to be about two different things.
First, there are many on Twitter who found the comments readers posted offensive and who believed it was AAR’s job—I think that means mostly me, the publisher, but it may also mean reviewers who posted on the thread—to either (and I’m not sure about this) not publish those comments or to reprimand the posters of those comments. Second, there were a few comments I didn’t publish because they involved personal attacks. (“You are disgusting,” read two. Another accused all on the thread of only wishing to read “super white and right” books.) Those Twitterers upset at AAR called that censorship.
Were some of the comments offensive? Well, they did offend others. Does that mean they shouldn’t be published or that they should have been argued against by me or other AAR staff? I don’t think so.
The [email protected] is a question we post each Friday. We started this for two reasons. One, we’re publishing so many reviews and blogs—552 reviews and 68 blogs thus far this year—we think our readers are hearing A LOT from us and we’d like to hear more from them. Second, we are committed to creating community and a weekly discussion seems like a good way to accomplish this. And that discussion is reader driven not staff/reviewer driven.
But wait, you say, isn’t AAR committed to an inclusive community? Yes. Yes, we are. And we feel that’s reflected in our reviews and in our Steals and Deals picks—in the content we create and curate.
Thus far in 2019, 15% of the books we’ve reviewed feature leads of color. 15% are by authors of color. 10% feature queer protagonists. In 2020, those numbers will increase.
According to an oft-cited 2018 study by The Ripped Bodice, 7.7% of romance books published by major houses are by authors of color. If you accept those numbers, that gives our number of 15% of our reviews by AoCs some context. We are nearly doubling the big names of the industry in terms of putting characters and authors of color before readers.
Additionally, some of our most popular blogs this year have been our AAR Loves lists. In these, AAR reviewers recommend books we love. Here’s what a few of our AAR loves lists look like in terms of inclusion:
Marriages in trouble: 19% by authors of color 19% non-hetero characters
Disability: 14% by authors of color 31% non-hetero characters
Seasoned romances: 20% by authors of color, 25% non-hetero characters
Musicians: 21% by authors of color, 25% non-hetero characters
Again, is it enough? Of course not. The obstacles to authors of color and to non-heteronormative stories are such that it will take more than any blog to turn the ship. But we are trying to do our part.
Well, OK, you say, but some of the comments made people of color feel erased. That’s a harder thing to deal with. I hate—HATE—that anyone who read the comments at AAR felt personally invalidated. But, as the publisher of a daily blog, I believe it is important to listen to the speech of others until that speech crosses the line into direct personal attacks. I also believe that having difficult conversations makes us more likely to better understand those with whom we disagree.
As for the accusations of censorship—I ultimately published all but the aforementioned comments—it’s clear to me I haven’t done a good job of stating what the rules are for commenting at AAR and that’s on me. I will not publish personal attacks but I haven’t stated that and I will this week.
Many of the people on Twitter who were part of this discussion and who believe AAR and its readers are racist believe this, in part, because of the tweets of Tessa Dare and other romance authors–several of whom were criticized in the thread and many whom we have reviewed.
On Thursday and Friday, Tessa took AAR and its readers—I’m assuming she meant the readers in the comments although other tweets seem to encompass AAR and its readers writ large—to task for being racist. Tessa has 35K followers so many people saw her tweets and retweeted them. Authors, other bloggers, and readers retweeted the Tweets stating AAR is racist and exclusionary—AAR’s missteps around our Readers Top 100 Romances poll were mentioned many times but so were things that are simply false. Many tweeted that we should be shut down, ignored, and shunned. Tessa suggested that authors deny us ARCs (advanced review copies).
I’m not interested in getting in a battle on Twitter–has anyone ever “won” one there? Nor do I wish to attack anyone, including Tessa Dare. But I will defend AAR, its staff, and its readers. I am fine with being personally attacked. I write the [email protected] column, I am the publisher, nothing is published at AAR that I don’t OK. I am not happy however with authors attacking our readers or the AAR staff.
Who are AAR’s readers? They come from all over the world and they come to AAR because they love romance. If you read the comments they make at AAR, they are overwhelmingly measured, interested in better understanding the genre and its concerns. Do people occasionally say things that give me pause? Sure. But romance itself is a narrative of overcoming differences and finding connection. It routinely champions forgiveness and redemption. To be all about romance is to be here for all of you, those whose beliefs I share and those I don’t. I ask you to be kind but honest, true to yourselves but open to the perceptions of others. We can do this.
And the staff? AAR reviewers and staff are diverse. We are women of color, white women, straight women, queer women, married women, divorced women, widowed women, and disabled women. Few of us are wealthy and several of us live paycheck to paycheck. Almost all of us work. Some of us are parents and some are not. We live in Canada, in Europe, and in the US. Some of us are religious, others are not. The one thing we all are is willing, week in and week out, to share our love of reading romance without any compensation other than review books.
Lastly, this has felt to me like an argument that mostly white people are having about mostly people of color. That’s not where I want to spend my time. I’d rather spend my energy supporting those who feel excluded. If you are an author of color and you would like your book considered for review at AAR, please email me a blurb at [email protected] If you are a reader of color and you have suggestions on how I can make AAR a more inclusive welcoming place, please email me the suggestions or put them in the comments below. If you identify as part of any marginalized group, I ask the same things of you too.
Publisher at AAR