Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Term of the Week: Women's Fiction

What exactly is women's fiction? If the book is targeted to women does that make it women's fiction? Does it need to be written by a woman? Does it have to have a female protagonist? Does it have to deal with women's issues, or simply more general issues but presented from a women's perspective? Is romance a must?

My own opinion is that it can be written by either a man or a woman. It needs to have a female protagonist. A relationship has to be one of the central themes (this could be a romance, mother-daughter, friends, sisters, etc.). I personally don't group romance novels in the women's fiction group anymore; I think they are worthy of their own category considering the formulaic requirements and multiple subgenres (regency, paranormal, historical, contemporary, gothic, etc.).

Why does it matter? It's not like book readers walk into the store and say "I'm going to buy some women's fiction today." But buyers for book stores use these labels all the time, and since they are the gatekeepers it means the rest of the industry uses such terms too.


Liz said...

Just out of curiosity, you said you don't group women's fic with romance anymore...I take that to mean at one point you did?

I was a member of RWA for several years and recall several published authors 'hoping' to ditch the romance label and have their books be considered women's fic.

Not sure what their position is these days as I'm no longer a member, but I thought their discomfort with the romance label was interesting.

Any new labels you are hearing bandied about? Labels of the future?

Jonathan Lyons said...

I did at one point, but I think as more subgenres popped up I revised my opinion...

I think labels of the future could be a great blog entry. I'll try to post something soon.

Robert Henshaw said...

As sexist and unfair as it is, I understand and accept how women's fiction must have a female protag, but is there a label/nickname for a novel (regardless of genre) that seems to appeal mainly to women, even if it has a male protag/narrator? The Kite Runner comes to mind. Most of the people I know that have read it/enjoyed it are women...probably because of the emotion, etc. So if you've written a book like this, is there some kind of way to label it as "not women's fiction, but chicks sure dig it!", but not as wordy?

Or, is this basically "Literary" fiction, which seems to appeal more to women then men?

Jonathan Lyons said...

Well, the truth is that women buy far more books than men, and therefore a majority of books are geared towards women as a result. This is just my opinion (and everything about this definition is definitely just an opinion), but I think it needs to have something unique beyond that in order to get grouped into women's fiction.

Robin S. said...

So,let's say there's a strong female protagonist, with problems to overcome, relationship-wise and others, but what the author is shooting for is more a commercial/literary blend than women's fiction. Is there a difference?

I'm guessing there's no clear line of demarcation - is that right? A novel can be both women's fiction and some "other", but calling it women's fiction is simply a "label" to help it find a home demographically, and on bookstore shelves?

Maya Reynolds said...

Ohhhh, thanks for this post. You made me think.

I absolutely agree that women's fiction can be written by either a male or female and that it is all about relationship.

The part I have a problem with is that women's fiction needs a woman protagonist. While most women's fiction does, there are books that don't. These may merely be exceptions to the definition, but it makes me wonder if the genre is evolving.

When I think women's fiction, my mind automatically goes to a favorite author of mine: Jodi Picoult.

Her books often use multiple POVs--both male and female. But, off the top of my head, at least two of her books have a male protagonist: The Tenth Circle about a man whose daughter is date raped and Salem Falls about a teacher who is falsely accused of sexually abusing a student.

What I find interesting is the trouble I have had getting the men in my life to try one of her books. What's that about? Is it just the frilly covers?

cate said...

re Henshaw's comment:

I've been wondering this! What do you call a book that is about family and relationship issues but has a male protagonist? I believe "mainstream" might fit, but there seems to be a lot of differing opinions out there...

Jonathan Lyons said...

Actually, book cannibal and I had a long debate about whether a female protagonist is needed. It's all so nebulous.

As for Jodi Picoult, I read Salem Falls (and that was enough for me). Though obviously the majority of her readership is women, I still would group it with the upmarket commercial fiction stuff solely for classification purposes.

What's scary about all of this is that reasonable people can differ, but the label "women's fiction" really is used in the industry to help market books.

Maya Reynolds said...

Jonathan: I agree Salem Falls was not one of Picoult's better books--I never finished it.

I think of her the way I think of Robert Ludlum; I either love his books or I hate them--there's no in-between.

Since you read books with a paranormal touch, try Keeping Faith. And stay away from Second Glance.

Tammie said...

Great post!

I've had some tell me that women's fiction did not include romance because romance requires a happy ever after ending and women's fiction doesn't.

But to me the lines blur when you throw in that an agent is looking for Commercial, Mainstream and Women's fiction.

Women's fiction could fall into the first 2 catagories - or am I way-way off track?

Kate said...

The only reason I care about these labels is that I need to know what to call my MS when I query an agent. I have a novel that seems to fit your definition of women's fiction, but I like to think it could be considered literary as well. Is there such a thing as "women's/literary"? Where do you draw the line between commercial and literary? If a book is character-driven, has some subtlety and attention to language, but is still accessible to the average reader, where does it fall?