Dear Bitches, Smart Authors Podcast

94. An Interview with Farrah Rochon

At RT, Sarah sat down with Farrah Rochon about her contemporary romance writing, her experience both self publishing and publishing through traditional presses, and about her conversations with writers and readers about diversity in romance.

Farrah talks about her experiments with cover images for her books, and we discuss how we connect diverse readers with the diverse romances they want to read. We don't reach any conclusions that shatter the earth, but we talk about the varying signals that covers send in romance, and how audiences react to them.

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

DVD The Sapphires Book Rochelle Alers Haven Creek Book Brenda Jackson Irresistible Forces

Book Beverly Jenkins Destiny's Embrace Book Beverly Jenkins - Destiny's Surrender Book Taming the Wolf - Maureen Smith

Book Just a Little Taste - Moments in Maplesville series Book Forever's Promise - Farrah Rochon


Book The Virgin's Guide to Misbehaving This podcast is brought to you by Berkley, publisher of New York Times bestselling author Jessica Clare’s steamy new romance The Virgin's Guide to Misbehaving.

Playing innocent is easy.

After being the quiet, shy girl her whole life, Elise Markham is ready for a mental makeover. She’s done keeping to herself and staying out of trouble—it’s time to break out of her shell and maybe meet someone intriguing in the process. So, on a photography trip to Bluebonnet, she has a whole lot more on her mind than snapping photos, especially when Rome walks into the picture.

Playing dirty is fun.

The newest instructor at Wilderness Survival Expeditions has a colorful past, to say the least. Having come from a family of notorious con artists that destroyed his credit and reputation, all before his eighteenth birthday, Rome just wants a decent job and a quiet life in a town where no one knows his name.

He’s exactly the kind of bad boy that an innocent girl like Elise should stay far away from. But Elise is tired of doing what’s right. She’s ready to throw caution to the wind—and let Rome show her just how exciting being bad can be…

The Virgin's Guide to Misbehaving by Jessica Clare is on sale now wherever books are sold!


Our music in each episode is provided by Sassy Outwater. This is a song called “Mackerel & Tatties” by Michael McGoldrick from his album, Aurora. You can find the album at Amazon or at iTunes.

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  1. 1
    P. J. Dean says:

    Thanks for this interview and a diversity discussion that didn’t turn into something unpleasant. Farrah is spot on though. I’ve heard all of the same marketing stuff concerning romance books with non-White faces on the cover. But how honest, or fair, is it to erase the characters in the book from the cover? Or bait a reader who may not want to read about those characters? Dilemma central. Personally, I stick with whatever the characters look like for my covers. This fall ought to be verrrry interesting when my interracial historical comes out with a Black heroine and a First Nation hero set in Colonial America. And let’s not forget about the hero’s Jewish professor at the medical school he’ll be attending. Yes, that cover ought to be a challenge since I’ve requested no warbonnets, no beads, no feathers and no bare chest.  A challenge indeed.

  2. 2

    Thanks to Sarah and Farrah, for the excellent conversation about diversity or the lack thereof, in publishing. As a writer of color, listening to Farrah’s struggles on the road to publishing her 21 titles both encouraged me and made me sad. How discouraging is it to find out that there might be systemic segregation at play with book covers and even acquisitions featuring people of color.  I know that other authors are doing great work bringing attention to the need for diversity in books and publishing—many wonderful authors like Jeannie Lin, Courtney Milan, Farrah Rochon, Jim C. Hines and editors Rose Fox and Daniel Jose Older (their anthology LONG HIDDEN is totally worth the exorbitant Kindle price) among others.

    I’ll keep trying and if traditional publishing doesn’t want my multicultural characters, I feel heartened knowing that there are other options available to me. Thanks for reinforcing the positive message that we all want to read books about ourselves but are also interested in reading about others.

  3. 3
    SB Sarah says:


    Yes, that cover ought to be a challenge since I’ve requested no warbonnets, no beads, no feathers and no bare chest.

    NO BARE CHEST?! What were you THINKING?! (kidding!)

  4. 4
    P. J. Dean says:

    @SB Sarah

    LOL! Of all of my requests for that book’s cover, the request for no bare chest will probably be the hardest to fill. Every day I hear keening cries coming from the publisher’s art department, the kind usually only dogs can detect. Lack of man titty is a terrible thing.

  5. 5

    I’ve come the the conclusion that the publishing industry does not want to allow writers of color certain types of covers. They are the ones “in the know” of what will sell.  The only way I could get covers with fully dressed 19th century African Americans (since I write inspirational) was to pay for it myself.  I love my covers, as does nearly everyone who sees them. The irony is that I had to shell out the money so that creative people in the publishing industry could envision what that kind of cover looked like.
    Now we’ll see if they sell this summer….:)

  6. 6
    Qualisign says:

    @Piper Huguley

    Your covers *are* gorgeous!

  7. 7

    Thank you so much Qualisign! I appreciate your kind words!  I hope that what Sarah and Farrah talked about in this great interview won’t hurt me too much. :)

  8. 8
    Teresa says:

    Thanks so much for the podcast. I find, that as an African-American reader myself, I often avoid those with the label of AA fiction because it’s not specific enough.  As Farrah Rochon mentions, it can be everything from urban fiction to Toni Morrison and Walter P. Jones to Maya Angelou.  When I select romance, I know what I’m getting. When I select AA fiction, not so much.  I made it a point to tonight when searching for library ebooks on Overdrive to search the AA fiction section and read through the synopsis to find true AA romance.  I would love to hear a podcast with other authors of color and other suggestions of authors.  I loved Farrah’s I’ll Catch You.  I also loved The One She Was Warned About by Shoma Narayanan from the Harlequin Kiss line because it seemed authentic to me.  As was said on the podcast, most love to learn about other cultures through reading fiction.

  9. 9

    Firstly, thank you SO much Sarah for taking the time to respond to my long-winded listener mail! I felt SO much better to know that I’m not alone in my criticism of unpleasant heroines!

    Secondly, I really REALLY enjoyed the topic of this podcast. It’s coincidental, too, because I recently read an AWESOME book by Jeanie Lin called The Lotus Palace with a Chinese hero and heroine. (I also filmed a video review for the book, and such will be posted to my channel [linked above!] next Tuesday.)

    In general, I really enjoy diversity in romance, and while I can understand why others fall into the “This is not for me” marketing trap, I count myself lucky that I, as a white female, haven’t been forced to jump over this mental hurdle. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful because it allows me to jump right into Asian cinema and African-American romance novels and Chinese historical romance mysteries. At the end of the day, when a person chooses to ignore a book based on the culture of its characters, they limit their playing field of entertainment SO much.

    Still, while it’s worse than sad that this “marketing hurdle” exists to begin with, but I try to remain positive, for it feels like we’re closer to diversity in this genre now than we were decades ago? I don’t know if that’s necessarily true or not, but at least there’s hope.

  10. 10

    Hi all! I know I’m several days late, but I was enjoying a rainy Disney vacation with my niece and nephew when Sarah posted the podcast. I’m sorry I missed out on the Twitter discussion this podcast sparked, too! Seemed like a good one.

    @SB Sarah, thanks again for continuing to bring the subject of diversity in romance into the spotlight. It’s apparent that, despite the hurdles that have been crossed, there is still a very long way to go in the publishing industry.

    @P.J. Dean, I just wanted to clarify that my decision not to put people on the covers of my self-published books was not to dupe readers in any way. There are scores of romances published every year that do not feature couples on the covers. Many of the popular small town romances (see the Rochelle Alers cover above) and erotica novels in the Fifty Shades vein feature just landscape scenes or inanimate objects. The point of not putting people on the cover is to remove the very real barrier that I believe is in place when a non-white couple graces the cover of a romance. Whether people want to admit it to themselves or not, for some, POC on the cover means “not for me” and, as a writer, I don’t want anyone looking at one of my books and thinking that it’s not for them. I don’t consider it being dishonest in the same way I don’t consider a Robyn Carr or Sylvia Day book without people on the cover to be dishonest.

    Your observation sparked a question in my head about whether people feel they should be told that they are reading a book about POC. Are we, as authors, obligated to tell readers the ethnicity or race of our characters, even if it doesn’t have any bearing on the story? If so, why? Fodder for another discussion.

    @Piper Huguley, you have some of the most ridiculously beautiful covers I’ve seen in ages. I hope they intrigue people enough to want to know about those characters. Fingers crossed for you!

    @Teresa, happy you enjoyed I’LL CATCH YOU! :)

  11. 11
    P. J. Dean says:


    Did not mean to sound judgmental. First, congrats on your success and that your experiment worked for you. This discussion of how to sell and make appealing, romance books with non-White main characters to ALL readers of romance has been going on for quite some time now without much movement forward. First of all, if someone prefers not to read multicultural, or any sub-genre, that’s fine by me. No one should feel that their past time has become a duty.

    I’m probably going to shoot myself in the foot with this but the following observation is nothing new. It’s really not about the color of the characters in the books. Books with non-White characters sell well. When written by White authors. It is only when both the main characters and the AUTHOR are non-White does the hand wringing begin. “Will it be any good? “Will I understand it?” “Is it for me?” When asked, readers always say that they just want a good story. So why then are so many good romance stories with non-White main characters by non-White romance authors going un-read? The real issue is about assuring the interested, reluctant, mainstream buyer that he/she will be getting an equivalent, enjoyable reading experience with a non-White romance author who writes non-White main characters as they would be getting with White authors who’ve decided to dive into that genre. But coaxing an interested, reluctant reader takes a long time.

    I write interracial romance in several sub-genres and that truly is a ghettoized niche. So many assumptions made about it. So, no, I will not be removing models of color from my book covers. Folks need to know what they are getting. If by knowing that I am non-White and have models of color on my covers would make a reader unsure of my ability to tell an entertaining story, it is best they don’t pick it up. And, yes, race matters in this industry (be it characters, authors or book cover models) otherwise this discussion would not still be going on.

  12. 12


    I think it’s just a matter of approaching the same issue by different means. For me, I truly believe that a reader will enjoy my stories despite my race and the race of my characters (and have had a number of white readers contact me via Facebook to let me know that this is true), so I do want them to pick up the books. I want the story to stand on it’s own, without them asking those “Will it be any good?” “Will I understand it?” “Is it for me?” questions that may automatically pop up the minute they see POC on the cover.

    My choice to make my covers “ethnically neutral” is to remove the instant barrier having POC models on the cover creates for many of those same readers who say they just want a good story. In my opinion, that neutral cover is a means of insuring that they aren’t inhibited by latent biases that are probably buried so deep that they don’t even recognize that they have them (if that makes any sense).

    I think one way to combat this long-standing problem is to start rejecting the notion that the default for romance is books written about white characters by white authors. The thought of non-white people asking those same questions mentioned above of white romances written by white authors would seem preposterous to many because for so many years that was all that was available. But that isn’t the case anymore, so why are we still, as a community of romance writers and readers, relying on that default white narrative as the standard? Why are books with POC and other kinds of “otherness” still considered niche, especially when it doesn’t reflect our world?

    When people read my books, they’re getting a romance novel that happens to feature African American characters. I don’t feel that it’s my job as the author to warn readers that the characters are of another race, especially if race has nothing to do with the story. If the race of the characters is what they choose to focus on that’s their issue, not mine. It’s pretty safe to assume that when a non-white person reads a white romance they are not constantly thinking about the characters’s race/ethnicity, so why should I bear the burden of bringing race and all of its baggage into picture if it’s not the focus of my story? It seems completely unfair to me. 

    I can totally understand why some authors would take the stance that you have taken, but frankly I was tired of being pigeonholed. Self-publishing has given me the freedom to remove one of the major things that pigeonholed me, and I’ve taken advantage of it. It’s a choice every author, thankfully, can now make for their own work.

  13. 13
    Sarita says:

    @Farrah Rochon, you make very good points. People who are part of dominant majorities get so used to thinking of their group as the default ‘normal’ and everyone else as exotic variations that most of us aren’t even consciously aware of it. When I studied abroad a lot of my program-mates complained that Costa Rica had ‘less’ culture than the surrounding countries because it was more Americanized. As if the USA didn’t have a culture. Because our food preferences, language, holidays etc. are ‘normal’ and culture is what other groups have. (I make it sound like it was just my ignorant fellow students thinking this way, it was actually a really eye opening experience for me.) Anyways, I agree that white cishet middle class (or at least written with middle class values) as ‘regular’ in romance and anything else as a niche subgenre is something to be improved on.

  14. 14

    First time listener to your Bitchin Blog and podcast and I’m stoaked that your interview with Farrah Rochon is the first one I hear! Loved it by the way :-)

    Diversity in romance….does that even exist?

    As a reader I can honestly say that I’ve never picked up a book that had people of any color other then white on it. Not because I prefer stories with white people (I’m not even a white person!) but because that’s what I see first on the shelves and top rated lists.

    If I want a book with characters who have different ethnicity or physical conditions or even different religious backgrounds I need to actively seek it out.

    That, right there, is the problem, at least in my opinion. Books should be categorized by genre only. All contemporary romances should be found together no matter the color of the skin, the religious background or anything else that normally gets it put into a sub group.

    I loved what you said, “Everyone should be able to see themselves in a romance.”

    That’s exactly how I feet and it’s the reason why I started writing. I wanted to write a book that would make plus sized women feel good about themselves, to know that there are actually men out there who are attracted to them. It’s rare to find a good book with a strong plus size character as the leading lady. I hope that I will not only produce sexy intense reads but with heroines who are curvy and confident.

    I’m still in the beginning stages of my writing and website but this interview you did with Farrah was spot on. It was just what I needed to hear. I hadn’t even thought about how using scenes or objects on the cover of books helps break down the “this book is not for me” mentality. I will definitely keep that in mind when it comes time to publish.

    Thanks for talking about this topic! Can’t wait to hear more Bitchin’ podcasts!  ;-)

  15. 15

    As a reader I can honestly say that I’ve never picked up a book that had people of any color other then white on it. Not because I prefer stories with white people (I’m not even a white person!) but because that’s what I see first on the shelves and top rated lists.

    If I want a book with characters who have different ethnicity or physical conditions or even different religious backgrounds I need to actively seek it out.


    This is my biggest problem with the way some romances are shelved. A person shouldn’t have to put out extra effort in order to find books with more diverse characters. It is maddening.

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