These are all great comments! Let me address them one-by-one:
Irene: Yes, there’s a market not only for 40+ but also 50+ women. According to the AARP, one American turns fifty years old every six seconds–that’s a lot of potential readers. And many of the agents and editors I know are 40+. The funny thing is most of the writers I know who write chick lit–presumably fiction by and for the 35 and under crowd–are actually 35+. Clearly there’s a disconnect between what readers are buying and what readers are living. I suspect what will turn the tide is when a book by and for 40+ women makes a lot of $$$. That’s what it took for African-American fiction (e.g. Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan) and children’s fiction (e.g. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling). After a title for older women hits, in a big way, that’s when the publishing industry will proactively publish books for older women.
Chris: I think your question is pretty much the same as Irene; while I’m sure there are exceptions, most women would probably be 40+ by the times their kids need her less and she’s ready for the next phase in her life. I don’t see it being a trend, at least not until a book with that kind of character and theme proves hugely profitable.
Caridad: Chick Lit is indeed alive and well, though it seems to be skewing younger–9 times out of 10, when agents or editors come to me looking for a writer, especially Latinas, it’s because they’re seeking YA chick lit. There are quite a number in the works, enough so that I’m calling it “Chiquita Lit”. But there is a different between women’s fiction and chick lit. Women’s fiction is a very broad umbrella, and chick lit is a subset. When agents and editors–and more importantly, booksellers and readers–hear “chick lit” they have a certain expectation that the novel will be light, fun, and current. If it’s edgy, dark, or historical they’ll be confused or disappointed. It’s the difference between a movie starring Cameron Diaz vs. Helen Mirren–yeah, they’re technically both chick flicks, but filmgoers will have a very different expectation of what each film would be like.
Yolanda: Pitching is a crucial skill most writers need to hone. The first step is to develop the objectivity to compare your work to that of other writers. What specific writers and titles out there can you authentically compare your work to in terms of tone, setting, theme, characters, etc? Come up with at least three to six examples, preferably published within the last five years. Take your list and go to your favorite local bookstore and see how they’re packaged; for example, if they have pink covers with illustrations of thin girls with cute accessories, you’re chick lit. If you’re stumped, visit the author’s web sites and see how they describe themselves; also google the authors and titles and see how the publishers, the media, and particular how book reviewers describe their work. Those descriptions probably fit your work too.
Vicki: Whether or not you have a hard time finding a buyer for your work has less to do with your craft, or its themes or characters, and more to do with your platform. Have you had short pieces published in periodicals? Has your work garnered any awards? Is your day job connected to your work (e.g. you write Law & Order type thrillers and you are a trial attorney by day)? The weaker your platform, the more challenging it will be to get published. I’m not saying it will be impossible; anything is possible. People without platforms, especially in romance, get published everyday–but they are generally not well-published (meaning, their publishers spend little to no money or effort marketing their books).