One of the best things about working in romance publishing is working with many, varied women on a daily basis, whether they are authors, fellow editors, or part of the greater publishing team. But one of the deserved criticisms of romance fiction is its lack of inclusivity: most romance heroines are middle-class, young, abled, and white. If one (or more) of these factors are different, then the book is labelled an ‘issues’ book. It’s published under a different imprint or marketed as diverse.
Marketing (indeed publishing!) is a very tricky business when it comes to risk-taking. The market is considered very conservative, and the business model can be seen as only buying what has already sold. It’s hard to break out a new book into the market, and even harder to get the right book into the hands of the right reader. As more and more books are published every week, visibility and discoverability have become the single largest challenge in publishing.
When Escape was first envisioned, we had four Fs as our vision statement: fast, flexible, fun, and fearless. Fearless meant risk-taking. Our digital platform meant we weren’t going to be bound by the conventions of commercial trade publishing. Now that we’re almost five years into our experiment, International Womens Day is a good day to admit that in many cases, we’ve held to our creed, but not always. Sometimes taking risks fell before keeping our doors open. Sometimes we were legitimately worried we couldn’t edit or publish a work with authenticity. Sometimes we had a choice between a book we knew would sell and a book that we didn’t, and we played it financially safe. And sometimes, as with all publishers, we were busy and tired and overwhelmed and overworked and the only books we had on submission were from the core romance demographic and we just didn’t have the time or energy to go out seeking new and diverse voices.
Sometimes we failed at being fearless.
Sometimes we were afraid.
But over the course of our nearly-five-years, we have managed to find and support and publish many amazing authors who have written amazing and amazingly diverse heroines. So today, on International Womens Day, I would like to shout out to those brave writers and their brave characters, and provide you a not-comprehensive list of some brave books that might be perfect reading for a day like today.
Here’s to fearless books: may we write them, may we read them, and may we see them published proudly and widely.
Features a Chinese-Australian heroine who returns home to her small town and her parents’ Chinese restaurant.
“Short Soup was a breath of fresh air, truly it was, and I really enjoyed it.”
“The book resonates with the power of love.”
“Great characters and setting for this short, sweet and hot romance novella.”
Features an Indian-Australian heroine who is seeking an arranged marriage.
“Maddie, the heroine, is a fantastic example of a woman who knows who she is. It’s really nice to have a heroine who respects herself and those around her.”
“This is a great romance!”
“Ms. Dunk did a great job at keeping the story moving and interesting.”
“breezy and fun and fresh”
“I especially loved the humour throughout.”
“I loved that I was so invested in all the characters.”
Features an African-American heroine competing on a reality TV show for authors
“this book was cute; an easy read and had a sweet ending.”
“This is a MUST READ if you enjoy contemporary romance!”
“Plotting to Win combines the thrill of reality television with superb writing skills and character development that make this book impossible to put down.”
A YA novel that features a heroine with a chronic illness (rheumatoid arthritis)
“Wow, this book was an amazing breath of fresh air for me.”
“While I would have liked this book just because of the horsey stuff, what made it a fulfilling read is the personal growth Melissa undergoes.”
“Amazingly easy read. A great double love story with a message of strength and what true friendship is like.”
Heroine is 40+
“Right from the moment that they get stuck in the elevator, and all the way throughout this fantastic book, it was clear to me that this was going to “rev my reading engine””
“pour yourself a glass of bubbly and settle in for a wonderful wedding weekend with some really quirky characters and some serious life issue lessons learned.”
“it’s fun, flirty and sassy”
Features an historical heroine with an occupation
“I so enjoyed this most beautiful romantic story ever”
“The pacing is perfect, the characters are well developed, and the setting was a welcome change.”
“The Healer is a powerful and riveting story that had me from the beginning”
Features a divorced, single mum in 1970s Australia
“It is beautifully descriptive, heck I could almost hear the waves at the beach, feel the sting of a summer sunburn, hear the cicadas echoing down the street.”
“The beauty of this book, though, comes from the way it manages to point out the timelessness of the characters’ issues and journeys.”
“So who ends up with who? You will have to read this wonderful book to find out and I guarantee you will love it.”
A YA novel featuring an Iraqi refugee heroine and an American hero
“This book is considered Young Adult but I feel it caters to anyone who is politically minded, interested in current events or someone who generally enjoys a forbidden romance.”
“Beth Fred was not afraid to tackle a tough issue and we, the readers, reap the rewards.”
“Miriam is probably one of my favorite female leads in YA of the year.”
A new adult romance with a lesbian heroine
“This is really very, very sweet.”
“a quick, light, airy read that I would recommend to any rock star readers who enjoy the setting”
“new fresh voice”
Features a heroine with a prosthesis
“April’s Glow is filled with humour but it didn’t take away from the sincerity and gravity of the issues the characters faced.”
“I loved the story, I loved the characters and I loved the two furry minor characters, Romeo and Juliet :)”
“A refreshing, feel good read.”
Features an domestic abuse survivor
“strong storyline and … delicate treatment of some very nasty subject matter”
“a fabulous read and one of the best romantic suspenses I’ve read in a while”
“a thoroughly enjoyable story with all the right elements of danger, suspense and romance”
Features a heroine aged 40+
“delightful rural romance”
“I’m a sucker for second chance romance novels, and this one did not disappoint!”
“an entirely enjoyable sweet romance”
Heroine comes from a very poor socio-economic background
“nice, addictive and out of the ordinary New Adult romance”
“a New Adult Romance I simply can’t praise highly enough”
“There are not many complex, interesting and just all around great books in the New Adult genre, but This is Now is certainly one of them.”
Features a heroine who can’t have sex
“A wonderfully well written story by a very talented Aussie author. HIGHLY recommended”
“I fell into the story and was swept along by thoughtfully conceived characters that set this story apart”
“a sensual, gentle romance, with beautiful, tender moments”
Historical romance with a bisexual heroine
“I also love the idea of women like Lady Cecilia, a woman who is living ahead of her time and taking control of her life, her sexuality, her pleasure and, the people she seeks that pleasure with.”
“This may be the steamiest story I’ve ever read in my entire life.”
“This book is amazing. Nothing is what it seems, and despite being set centuries ago, its intricate plot could have happened today.”
Historical romance featuring a woman convicted of prostitution
“solid characters, an interesting story and a developing romance that definitely has a bumpy ride”
“A meaty angsty marriage of convenience historical”
“a fabulous historical romance that is authentic and yet very romantic”