Monday, November 19, 2007

Women's Fiction

What is "Women's Fiction"? It's not romance, because that is a genre unto itself. Is it any old novel written by a woman? Or maybe any novel written by a woman that doesn't already belong to any of the big genres? Well, according to this article in the NY Times, Bantam Dell is starting a whole new imprint just for "Women's Fiction," with the idea that they will publish books that will appeal to reading groups.

Gawd. Could anything be more insipid or insulting?

Let me guess: all the books will have Happy, Life-Affirming endings. They will deal with problems Real Women have today. They'll be a little bit spicy -- but not too much! I wonder if Bantam Dell's new imprint will like my new post-apocalyptic lesbian gang novel? Will it appeal to book groups? Will it make them feel good about being in a book group? You know, I think I'll go ahead and write the Book Group Guide right now, because this book is very deep and I want to make sure no one gets too caught up in their coffee cake and misses some of my amaaaaaazing symbolism.

Argh. I'm not writing a lesbian gang novel, unfortunately. But if I ever start writing "women's fiction" please shoot me.


Mr. Saflo said...

Until somewhat recently I worked at a mall bookstore. A few months before I left, a message was sent from up on high that, due to its popularity at our location, we were to set up a "Chick Lit" section. Please note that this was the company's term - it even came up as a subgenre in our search system. Anyway, our job was to comb through the fiction section, plucking out any that came up as chick lit; the thing was, it wasn't just the obvious that was listed as such - the ones openly marketed in that, uh, "genre", like Jennifer Weiner and Helen Fielding - but also people like Claire Messud, Joyce Carol Oates, and Francine Prose. It was then that I realized with SHEER, UNMITIGATED HORROR that what our system (both senses of the word) was saying was that if you are a woman, and you write fiction, you are writing Women's Fiction.

The main problem is that chick lit, women's fiction, women's interest, whatever you want to call it, is entirely a marketing term. The bookstores don't care what effect divisions like this have on publishing, or people's reading habits; their reports say that female readers like female writers, so they toss them all together to increase bulk sales.

Keeping with the theme, I should mention that previous to this we also had to create, as per the company, an "African-American Fiction" section (which included Zadie Smith - they really thought this one out down at the home office).

rmellis said...



*wakes up*

One can only hope that this too shall pass. Another good reason to shop at independent book stores!

Someone should send Zadie Smith a memo letting her know she's now "African-American."