Is It Chick Lit or Women's Fiction? An Agent Answers by Sierra Godfrey

Welcome to genre Monday! Ever wonder what kind of books fall under women's fiction? Have questions about chick lit? Today guest contributor, Sierra Godfrey, interviews my lovely agent Sara Megibow and gets us some answers.

Chick Lit vs. Women’sFiction
by Sierra Godfrey

I write women’s fiction—or what I think of aswomen’s fiction—even though most people, including my husband, think of it aschick lit. Many women’s fiction writers are particular about what people calltheir genre, because it matters to the publishing industry. We have heard chicklist no longer sells. We’ve heard editors are looking for upmarket women’sfiction. We think what you call it in a query matters. Or does it?

In my RWAWomen’s Fiction special interest chapter, one of our members definedwomen’s fiction as the story of a woman on a journey. But if my protagonist isa 22 year old woman who is searching for her sense of self, would it beclassified as chick lit? What if upped her age to 36? What if the storyfeatures none of the stereotypical elements of chick lit like martinis, a city,and shoes? Similarly, if I write a story about a 32 year old woman on a journeythat leads her to save herself, that might be women's fiction--but is it stillwomen’s fic if I nudge her age to 21? How much does age have to do with genre?

I asked Roni’s agent, Sara Megibow at Nelson Lit, whorepresents women’s fiction. She had some great—and surprising answers.

Chicklit is selling Sara says not only is chick list selling, but thatshe would never discount a submission based on concept. Sara’s method involvesreading and evaluating submissions based on quality of writing—and looking atthe elements of a book and choose editors whose imprints are producing similarkinds of works. She said, “To that end, Ballantine Bantam Dell produces booksby Sarah Addison Allen, which I would consider solidly women's fiction.Meanwhile, Broadway - another imprint of Random House -produces THE DEVIL WEARSPRADA which I would consider chick lit.”

Knowwhere your book rests The job of the author, Sara said, is towrite the best book possible.
But you should have a general understanding of where theirbook would rest on the bookshelf in a store. But that’s it. The agent is theone who should really be familiar with the different editors, imprints, andhouses.

There isan age-range, but… Sara clarified something I saw her say in asummer issue of my RWA women’s fic chapter newsletter (RWA is a fantasticresource!). Ages do influence genre, but story elements matter. Sara said thata submission about a woman who is learning about life after college, whose daysare filled with the first job, dating, money, apartments, martinis, clothes andboys is a chick lit story. “These submissions are almost entirely ones in whichthe heroine is 22-35ish and she has the only POV (or maybe an alternating POVwith the hero). There can be a happy ending, although there doesn't have tobe.”

Meanwhile, for Sara a submission about a woman who is 35to 55ish is women's fiction. “These stories are about family, marriage, midlife crises, divorce, health and health problems (life REAL LIFE AND LIARS byKristina Riggle). Similarly, the story is in the heroine's POV or maybealternating POVs and the ending can be happy but doesn't have to be.”

But, Sara, said, “If the book is about a mature womandealing with life issues - marriage, health, career, family, children, but thatwoman is,
24 years old, I would still shop it as women's fiction.Then, I would troll through my database and choose editors looking forcommercial women's fiction. If, however, that 24 year old woman is spendingmost of the narrative talking martinis and dating, I would choose chick liteditors.”

Justwrite the book of your heart As Sara pointed out, trying to writeto genre is tough. I certainly have discovered this with a story about a 32year old woman who is learning about life – a late bloomer. I struggled a longtime with whether it would be chick lit or women’s fiction and finally decidedit fell more on the women’s fiction side. I questioned whether I should bewriting it at all. In the end, I came to the conclusion that echoes what Sarasays:
“Honestly, the only thing for a writer to do is write thebook of their heart….If the book is about a mature 24 year old and it's women'sfiction, then it's women's fiction regardless of age. Likewise I could see a 40year old woman partying, dating and etc and sell it as chick lit. A savvyauthor will look at titles on the shelves and see where their book might fit.If that author imagines a pretty pink cover with cutesy pictures on the front,then it's chick lit. If the author imagines a more complex, deeper cover indarker tones and maybe even in trade paperback or hard cover it's likelywomen's fiction.”

Thanks so much to Sara Megibow for taking the time toanswer my questions.

So what would YOU classify as chick lit and women'sfiction? If you write either, how do you feel about the the aboveclassifications? Does genre matter to you?

My recommended read for this month is Samuel Park’s" This Burns My Heart, which is probably commercial fiction, but easilywomen’s fiction. It deals with a protagonist who starts young and grows throughlife into her 30s and 40s. It deals with marriage, love, duty, and sacrifice.It’s a gorgeous story with a wonderful female protagonist who will stay with mefor a long time.

Sierra Godfrey writes stories about women who grow fromthe choices they face—and get the guy at the end. She's amember of RWA and RWA-WF, the women's fiction special interest chapter andworks as a freelance writer and designer. Visit Sierra at her blogor on Twitter.

“...a sexy, sizzling tale that is sure to have readers begging for more!" –Jo Davis, author of I SPY A DARK OBSESSION

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!
Read an excerpt here.

All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|