I thought I was going to be irritated by the Women’s Hour piece on women’s fiction. I thought it was going to be one of those tired and tiresome discussions about how we don’t use the term “men’s fiction”, and how women’s fiction is what we would call literary fiction if it were written by men.
But I found myself agreeing.
For context: some customers complained to WHSmith about their shelving only fluffly, light, pink novels under “women’s fiction”, which seemed to imply that women only like that kind of writing. WHSmith responded by removing the label. Great customer service?
There is no doubt that a market for those novels exists, and those people, shopping in a hurry, want to be pointed to the kind of books they like. So removing the signpost is not particularly good customer service.
The thing is, though, that we have a label for the kind of book that the customers were referring t0: “chick lit”. Some women like those books, some women don’t.
“Women’s fiction”, however, is much broader than that. I think it’s a useful term. Where would you put The Time Traveler’s Wife if not there? I am a woman, and I like to read books like that. I have no problem with grouping them together so that I can find them.
But The Time Traveler’s Wife doesn’t belong in “chick lit”. Nor, for that matter, does Inevitable, but since Authonomy don’t have a “women’s fiction” section, I had to use the “chick lit” label and couple it, slightly oddly, with “literary fiction”. If it were marketed to be pink and fluffy and placed alongside Sophie Kinsella’s novels, I would be mortified. Or at least as mortified as I could be if my book were actually being published.
My plea is this: call chick lit “chick lit”, or “light romantic reads” if “chick lit” is going to offend some people, but please use “women’s fiction” for something broader than that. The label is useful, but only if applied correctly.