Commercial Women’s Fiction: What’s In, What Has Been, and What’s on the Horizon

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).

11 thoughts on “Commercial Women’s Fiction: What’s In, What Has Been, and What’s on the Horizon”

  1. Hi Marcela and everybody,

    Thank you for setting up this discussion. I’m a member of the San Antonio Romance Authors and of course writing romance is the key, though lately I’ve seen writers want to write books with romantic elements only, not have the romance be the central theme. One of the big publishers of romance is Harlequin. I know I’ve read alot of their books through the years. They’ve added new lines like ‘Harlequin Next’ for the woman who has lived her life up to a point, she’s married, her kids are in college, so now what’s next and usually something happens to turn her world upside down. One of the books I read the heroine didn’t have a love interest. It was more about her relationship with her dad after her mom died. Then, they’ve also added a line called Everlasting, these books answer the question – what happens after the ‘happily ever after’? The books can have various POV’s and can have a time span of decades. The central theme is the love that a couple has through all the years of their marriage, through the ups and downs. They’ve just released two books.

    My point is that there is a market for these books, as Marcela said, and though you may not want to write for Harlequin, clearly just the fact that they introduced these two lines says that readers want these kinds of books.

    Lupe

  2. Great blog Marcela!

    One of my oservations as a writer is that some editors have a very strong idea of what they want. I was once approached to write a young adult and she wanted something that was more Gossip Girl/Sex and the City than my idea.

    But the feedback from my readers encourages to fight for the integrity of my stories. They’ve said that my heroines – Tamara, Isa & Isela – remind them of themselves or women they know.

    What advice would you give to authors who want to continue to be working writers and yet, have ideas that may appear to be untried?

  3. Thank you Marcela for the informative and timely info. I’m curious too about the Latina lit. More so about the chiquta lit. I have never heard this term. Are publishers currently looking for YA geared toward latinas?

  4. Hi, Marcela! Do you think Latina fiction is becoming more mainstream, and how do you think the Latina market compares with the African American market in terms of readership. I’ve heard from AA friends that Caucasian readers don’t pick up their books that often, aside from fellow writers who know their work.

  5. I consider myself a Women’s Fiction author and that’s how I platform myself. I write about real women and their real lives. I want to continue writing about real women with real issues. I’m currently working on one that doesn’t have a “romance” as the base element of the story. Is there room in the Women’s Fiction genre for these kinds of books? Will there be a “trend” for them? This manuscript is definitely not a comedy. Definitely dramatic. Is that too heavy? Am I going to have a hard time finding a buyer for it?

  6. This is all very exciting and encouraging news. When pitching, is it still better to call it women’s fiction with a comedic twist, etc. (anything but using the phrase chick lit?)

  7. It’s nice to hear chick lit is still alive despite all the death knells some are tolling.

    As someone who has books that have tagged “chick lit” but feels they are actually more women’s fiction — is there really a distinction or is chick lit really women’s fiction with a particular voice and/or humor?

  8. Hello Marcela,
    What about married lit? And I’m not talking hubby leaves her for a younger woman. Would there be a market for a story with a woman who has raised kids and they are teens now and need her less in some ways and now she wonders what is next?
    Could that be the next trend?
    I’m not usually on the cutting edge of these things!
    Chris Redding

  9. Okay, chicks are still getting off on their men and jobs and shoes and the possible meaning of life, but there is this vast audience of over 40 year olds that needs reading material. Any ideas on how to reach them?
    What about people who don’t care about expensive shoes or even being reed thin and glamorous, who are more interested in finding a way to make money to support two kids in college at the same time?
    There have to be more women out there like this than those who actually give a damn about clothes and hair and make up and sexy men.
    Will there ever be a place for “regular women’s lit”?
    Sorry to sound like a whine, I’m just feeling a bit put out today.

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