Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Women's Fiction

I seem to get a ton of questions about women’s fiction; there are a lot of people concerned with everything from word count to a definition of what women’s fiction is. So let me see if I can clear some of this up, and of course muddy the waters a little.

The first thing to understand about genre definitions is that there’s a reason they are so difficult to understand. Genre definitions, like genres themselves, are fluid. They change with the market and with the times. In other words, years ago, there was a very clear line between what was considered romance and what was considered fantasy. Now, not so much. Books that were previously considered strictly fantasy are now finding their way into the romance section at bookstores and vice versa. Which is why I try to encourage authors not to get too hung up on the specifics of a genre. If you’re not sure by definition what genre your book fits into, take a look at fairly recently published books you would consider similar in theme and style. How are those being published? That might help you define genre better than a list of rules ever will.

Women’s fiction is a strong and growing market and I don’t see that changing, ever. What I do see changing are the types of books considered women’s fiction or published in general. Let’s use chick lit as an example. While chick lit was given its own genre it was, and still is, essentially women’s fiction. A few years ago chick lit was the hottest thing going and every bookstore displayed a sea of pink martini glasses. Now, just a few short years later, the term chick lit is taboo and not to be spoken of ever again. However, that doesn’t mean you still can’t write a light, humorous book about a young woman in an urban setting. You’re just going to need to give it a little more oomph, a little more angst than a lot of the previously published chick lit titles had, and you’re not going to be able to call it chick lit. The irony of this entire post is that strangely I’ve been seeing a lot more queries of late for books formerly known as chick lit and I’ve even requested a few. The overall concept isn’t dead, just the simplified version (if that makes any sense).

I’m very frequently asked by authors what editors mean when they talk about women’s fiction and what exactly are they looking for. Are they looking for Friday Night Knitting Club, Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, or Bridget Jones’s Diary? Yes, yes, and yes. All of those titles are women’s fiction and all are being sought out by editors. Like everything in publishing and everything when it comes to reading in general, what we’re all seeking in women’s fiction is subjective. The type of women’s fiction that might really grab me and warm my heart might not be the same type of book that excites Kim or Jacky. Women’s fiction is a huge, huge genre and not as simple to define as, say, cozy mysteries. So try not to get hung up on what the editors are looking for specifically and write the book that will warm women’s hearts everywhere, because that’s what we all really want.