Reflections on What I've Been Listening To: When in Romance

May 31, 2020

I love podcasts, so is it any surprise that I listen to so many? While I love a good romance podcast, I also think it's important to look outside my own niche for inspiration, to learn new things, and for entertainment.

On this installment of Reflections on What I've Been Listening To: my thoughts on a recent-ish episode of When in Romance.

Img I’ve been taking some long walks now that the weather is nice, and walk time is prime podcast-listening time.

This week I listened to a When In Romance episode from March 23, 2020. This is a Book Riot podcast focused exclusively on romance, and hosts Jess and Trisha talk about book-related news. I first heard about this podcast when they were guests on episode 359 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books with Sarah Wendell.

One conversation I really enjoyed from this episode was when Jess and Trisha talked about The Ripped Bodice’s annual racial diversity and inclusion report:

The Ripped Bodice annual racial diversity and inclusion report has been released, and Jess offered some reflections on it.

This report is speaking specifically about traditional, “big 5” publishers, and their efforts (or lack thereof) to publish racially diverse authors. I enjoyed the conversation about how it’s obvious which publishers are making actual efforts to make change, and specifically why being aware of the problem isn’t enough.

Speaking to how some comedy writer’s rooms have sought to address the challenges of hiring diverse talent, they discussed how comedian Samantha B uses a blind applicant submission system and works hard to eradicate the barriers applicants face. For example, mentoring and coaching applicants, and actively recruiting applicants, is important because BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in many cases do not have the same access as privileged white candidates to professional mentors, previous (particularly unpaid) training/internships, or other resources that would help make an equally talented applicant stand out.

The conversation definitely made me think about my perspective as a podcaster in the romance space. One example of where I see white privilege and financial privilege impacting podcasting is that I often get contacted by PR companies that writers have hired to help them get media coverage either by having the book discussed on the podcast or booking the author as a guest. Anecdotally, I can only think of one time that one of those PR companies pitched a BIPOC writer.

To be clear, I rely on my own scouting to find and invite guests for Shelf Love, but PR agencies influence who gets interviewed for articles (particularly for big platforms), whose books get mentioned in various media channels, whose books are pictured all over Instagram in curated book shots, and whose voices you hear. I am influenced by the work of PR agencies whether I know it or not when I read “Best Of…” lists, blogs, Instagram posts, or tweets.

But let’s imagine you’re a white podcaster who relies a lot on PR agency pitches to book guests or choose books: you don’t get to throw your hands up and say “I want racially diverse guests but I never get pitches for BIPOC authors!” Or “I got three book pitches and it just so happened that the two from white authors were ‘more professional’ or appealed to me more.”

  1. If racially diverse candidates aren’t applying, is it because you haven’t made your platform welcoming to diverse voices?
  2. Have you considered that there are systemic issues at play that result in many fewer BIPOC authors having access to the same resources, like PR agency support?
  3. Have you examined your biases when it comes to books that “appeal” to you?
  4. Have you examined your biases when it comes to how you expect to be approached?

To be clear, I’m not perfect even when I make a concerted effort to be aware of my biases and privilege and also make a concerted effort to align my actions with my intentions. It’s a constant, iterative process that white people in particular need to be aware of.

For example, I’m in the midst of a project about the modern romance canon where I invite my guests to nominate a book. I haven’t put many parameters around this project publicly, but I had a discussion with Katrina Jackson that will air soon that explores that a bit more and also where I acknowledge some things I didn’t think of when I started.

In the meantime, if you’d like to listen to this episode of When in Romance, either search for the 3/23/20 episode in your favorite podcast app (episode titled “Some of it is nice news”) or follow this link.