Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why is there women's fiction but not men's fiction?

My question is why a category called "Women's Fiction" exists (particularly when I'm unaware of a corresponding category called "Men's Fiction").

Given that women are the ones buying most books (if what I've read about this is accurate), it's not as if we need to specifically target them. It seems to me that the only group we target with this category label is men, telling them "Hey, sorry, but this book isn't for you."

When my books are published one day, I want everyone to read them. My goal isn't simply to be published, it's to be read. I don't want to signal to anyone that my book isn't for them. The thought that someone could get it into their head to categorize and market my book this way terrifies me. It seems like sabotage.

Are there stats that show the "women's Fiction" label creates more additional sales to women than the lack of that label would provide in sales to men? That might explain its persistence, but I don't know where one would get such stats, if they exist (I mean, you'd need a control group for comparison, right? Or no?).

And if that's so, then I'm even more surprised that there isn't a corresponding category "Men's Fiction" that would increase sales to them for books that deal with . . . Men Stuff? (we had the borderline-dismissive category "chick-lit" for a while, but I never saw "dick lit". Like Rodney Dangerfield, women writers get no respect, it seems).

Given the richness of the English language, there must be some more inclusive words to describe this category that could appeal to all genders. Why don't we use those words instead? From a marketing standpoint, this doesn't make much sense to me.

You missed Tucker Max?

And "lad lit"?

Tucker Max (I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell) is the epitome of Men Stuff lit. Take a look and you'll see what I mean.

Lad lit was coined to describe books like High Fidelity. The term never caught on.

It sounds like you're viewing categories like the NAACP views redlining. Categories aren't "you can buy a house here but not there." Categories are "if you like that book, you might like this one too."

Categories are designed to put books in front of readers most likely to pick them up.

Using myself as an example: I gravitate toward the crime/mystery section of the bookstore. Put a book there and if it's got an compelling cover I'm likely to pick it up and read the flap copy.

If you shelve a book in crime that isn't about crime, and is mostly about relationships and love ever after, I'm going to put it back on the shelf. And readers who gravitate toward love ever after themes aren't going to find this book cause they're shopping over in women's fiction not crime. Notice I say readers, not women. Women's fiction is read by a lot of people who aren't women. I know this because it's a HUGE category and sells well.

Categories are a way for book stores to help readers find books they will like. It's the same reason all the cereal is in one area of a grocery store, not shelved alphabetically with all the other products being sold. I don't want to sort through frankfurters to get to Frosted Flakes, much less wiener schnitzel to get to Wheaties!

When you say you want everyone to read your book I can appreciate that goal. What I know about selling books though is that you want your book in the place where readers are looking for it. Not everybody is going to want to read your book. The sooner that isn't heartbreaking news and just a recognition of how things are in the world, the better off you're going to be.


Anonymous said...

Can I create a new Genre : Shark Lit?

CynthiaMc said...

When I hear "dick lit" I think Lord of the Flies and Tarzan.

Colin Smith said...

Not everybody is going to want to read your book.
What?? Not... everyone...? But... I... my book...??!! Say it ain't so! But I'm such a riveting storyteller!! Everyone... Hey. WAKE UP!! :)

Seriously, though. Young Adult. A category that has grown into a large and diverse field of literature, and is read by a wide range of ages, not just teenagers. In fact, I think the statistics show that a majority of YA readers are not YA themselves. Yes, I will walk the YA aisles of my local B&N. And yes, when I see teens there part of me gets a little uncomfortable, and part of me wants to give book recommendations to them.

Oh, and of course, if you're an adult who enjoyed reading Harry Potter, you have delved into kid lit. MG to YA. Did anyone stop you? :)

nightsmusic said...

I buy books in certain categories because that's the category/type of book I just happen to like reading. If you don't categorize your book in some way, I won't read it. And it irritates me to spend hard earned money on a book that is shelved in one category only to find, once I'm involved in it, that whoever decided on that category must have been drinking at the time because it's so far outside the description.

Picture a humongous library, every shelf filled to the brim with books, with absolutely no indication at all what any of those books are about. That's what you have with no categories. If I want a mystery, I'm not spending half my day looking for one. So you have women's fiction (which I refuse to read) and chick lit and mysteries and suspense and romance and non-fiction for a reason. People will read your book because they're drawn to that category and then because the blurb/press/word of mouth has interested them. To not categorize it in any way puts you at a huge disadvantage and probably a slush pile of 'nos' as well.

Theresa said...

Janet's points about the marketing value of this category are reassuring from the sales/profit angle. But I share OP's concern (or my perception of the concern)that "women's fiction" is also used as a way to marginalize women writers and their themes.

Donnaeve said...

I'm glad someone asked this question and I'm happy with the answer you gave since I've wondered the same thing. At the same time, it still seems sort of sexist and I'm not a staunch feminist. I'm more along the lines of being pragmatic when it comes to how I exist in the world. Minor example: I'll hold the door for a guy if I'm ahead of him. Who cares who gets the door? Just be polite. There's more, but I'll stop there so I don't drift off into talking point politics.

My view and I think OP's as well - why use the term Women's? There are a lot of "categories" that exist already that would seem to solve where to place books - even if women are the ones buying more of of the ones about a woman's journey, relationships, etc. And I'm not talking about Romance - at all. Keep that, because it's different than what I'm thinking about - which is mainstream, contemporary, general fiction.

Interestingly, DIXIE DUPREE was signed by a male agent. And a male editor is the one who picked it up. They didn't categorize it as Women's Fiction - they used the term Upmarket Southern Fiction. I'm still astonished to this very day I have men who loved this story.

I think the question isn't about not categorizing it. It's about the word choice.

EliasM said...

While women are the leading book market driver, books--like 97% of every other consumer product--are still pitched to men. This falls under the FFS category.

BlancheDuBois said...


Susan said...

Donna: I thought Dixie was MG? It pleasantly surprises me that your editor and agent categorized it as Upmarket. I feel like my books fall into that category, too--even though I categorized my first book as MG/children's due to the age of my MC, the book wasn't necessarily aimed at children. And while my forthcoming book is based around a teenager with a coming-of-age journey, I still feel like it doesn't fit into the YA section (this calls back to the question I asked here last fall about whether it should be YA or Adult). I still don't have a clear-cut answer, but I know who I wrote it for, and I know it falls into the in-between of commercial and literary. It's a strange place to be--in that in-between.

I'll stand by my assertion that categories are confusing as hell unless you have a clear-cut genre (with mysteries, fantasy, and romance, for example, you know exactly what you're looking for and what you're getting). But what if a book doesn't fall into those categories? It's tough to search out the coming-of-age books in a bookstore, for example, because they're either houses under MG/YA or General Fiction. Categories can be useful but I feel like they're at once too restrictive and not narrow enough. It's a strange game.

BlancheDuBois said...

I'm the OP. The issue is not categories for me. I know categories are necessary, and am not at all opposed to them. The issue is that somewhere along the line, it was decided to name this particular category in such a way as to appear to suggest that it shouldn't be of interest to roughly half the population. No, not everyone will want to read my book, and I've never found that reality "heartbreaking" in the least. What is heartbreaking, though, is the not-so-subtle sexism of such a categorization. My book deals with intense emotions (grief, especially, touching on men dealing with grief, too), aka "women stuff". It also deals with WWII, violence, and other things broadly associated with "men stuff". What concerns me is that someone focuses on the Emotions, and decides "women's fiction". I think that would be a huge mistake and sell the book short.
I'm not even suggesting those types of books shouldn't have their own category. I'm suggesting the naming of it was short-sighted and limiting. I believe it will turn off potential male readers who might otherwise have given those books a chance.

Unknown said...

OP, it sounds like your books would fit more in a historical fiction space, or have you already been told where they'll one day be categorized? Dealing with intense emotions doesn't disqualify your books from being shelved in another genre where they would belong.

DeadSpiderEye said...

You can't find guy stuff because there's an awful lot of resistance to it, try putting something like; it's a cross between I the Jury and Casino Royale on your next pitch and see what happens. Strangely people complain that this is a recent development, in fact this is not the case, it's always been that way; right from the early 19th century authors pitching their work at the female market. It's just that during the 20th century we had periods of intense focus on the male market, such as in the 30's and the post war period, so from our perspective it might look like the world has gone all girly. Plus there was the SF genre, which was seen as exclusively of interest to speccy space cadets, too busy reading to have a girlfriend.

This is not a situation that is reflected globally, Asian markets have more focus on male readership but it's a difficult market to crack because you know, culture/language and because there is more focus on the male market, the quality is transcendently higher. Not just higher than the stuff you'll find on Amazon Kindle from the Jake Steel crowd, higher than what you'll find on a lot of best seller lists.

It was interesting that Janet should cite High Fidelity as a title of interest to guys because that the book that I would say killed Hornby's credentials a guy stuff author.

BlancheDuBois said...

Thanks, Donnaeve. You have understood my point. It's not a problem with categories. It's the naming of that category. I, too, have no problem with the romance category, because those books are about romance. But the label of Women's Fiction seems almost designed to marginalize. It has never sat well with me. That's why I mentioned that, with a language as rich as English, couldn't we have found more inclusive language to describe the themes of those books.

RachelErin said...

And sometimes readers decide. Naomi Novik explicitly said she wrote Uprooted for adults in a question box on Goodreads - but it was #5 on best YA fantatsy of 2015 on Goodreads.

I'm inclined to agree with her - yes the MC is 17, yes it's in first person, and it has coming-of-age elements, but I think those are secondary to the main emotional arc, and the voice doesn't feel YA to me. The tone of the romance also feels adult. When I saw the ranking I was curious which YA readers (teens or adults) had been the primary voters. I don't remember for sure which shelf I found it on in the library, but I think it was adult fantasy.

Do booksellers and libraries ever re-shelf stuff if a book categorized by publishers gets claimed by another category?

(I mention Uprooted a lot both because it's Amazing, and because it's one of my comps.)

And I agree with Donna, I accept (and even embrace) categories, but I do think the some of the names need updating (women's fiction being my least favorite).

Donnaeve said...

Susan, A lot of people think that b/c of the age of my protagonist. It's definitely not MG, or YA - although just like us adults reading in their categories sometimes, I believe MG and YA would find it appealing although it deals with rough social issues. The publicists (and likely marketing) have recently updated my press release to say this: "In the tradition of THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES and BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA comes a story about mothers and daughters, guilt and pain that passes between generations, and the courageous Dixie Dupree, an eleven year old girl with a shining spirit who must survive the unthinkable in 1969 Alabama." So, if you think about the correlation with BEES and BASTARD, you can figure/know the audience.

Blanche I think we're thinking alike! (in case you didn't read my comment.) :)

BlancheDuBois said...

I hope you're right. It's not strictly historical fiction, either, I'm afraid. It moves on from WWII to the current era. It's more like a family saga, though I don't think it exactly fits that category, either. [Sigh]

Colin Smith said...

Funny, but from the blurb I never thought of Donna's book as MG. I immediately thought Southern Lit. And while the comparison with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (which came from AJ, I think, who read an ARC of it) is high praise indeed, it doesn't surprise me category-wise. It's been said a gazillion times before, but MG and YA are not just about the age of the protagonist(s). That's a factor, but there's a voice, a sensibility, an outlook on life that comes through. If you want to get a good sense of that, read anything by John Green. He's not a prolific writer, but he is probably the finest YA writer around today. I think he captures the essence of YA voice.

Donnaeve said...

And I see now our comments have crossed in the internet space of a nanosecond!

Donnaeve said...

Colin Yes about the things with YA/MG. It's also about other little nuances when it comes to writing those stories. For instance, DIXIE was sent to a YA and a MG editor at one point - just to see what they thought. The feedback was, "there's too much adult involvement."

And from a YA writer friend who's under an R&R - the YA category is all about "me, me, me." Meaning, the protag, and those they are interacting with, need to solve their own problems without or with very little, adult involvement.

BlancheDuBois said...

I did, and we are. ;-)

Donnaeve said...

I meant to also say I'm off to Raleigh to take Mom to the airport. It's her first trip alone without my Dad - ever. She's flying to Maine for a month. I will miss her so much! Our Monday afternoon Scrabble games will be on hiatus for a month.

I'm happy for her, and nervous at the same time.

Y'all have a great day!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Isn't this why Janet wrote (I can't remember if it was here or QueryShark) that she doesn't require a querier to label or categorize their story? Because too often, authors get it wrong.

I think I get genre. But categories...that's a whole 'nother puddle of ice cubes. Mainstream? Upmarket? Commercial? Although I did find this infographic helpful.

And I also get that little niggle from the term "Women's" Fic. Is it sexist? But it's defined (oh, oh, am I going to get this wrong?) as a story centered on relationships or issues. Isn't that a good thing? Doesn't the world need a little bit more stereotypical femininization and a little less stereotypical machismo? We can always use thought-provoking books, not just in non-fiction but in fiction too.

I just steeped the leaves for my day's supply of sweet tea for 20 minutes. sigh. Waaaaay too long.

Unknown said...


Holy Cow it's been a while!
Wife and I just got back from Argentina and Brazil two weeks ago. She was healthy for 4 days before her fever started. 6 days of a fever of 102 (even with Tylenol) and now she's getting tested for Zika. Funny enough, we didn't see one mosquito during all our Brazil missions work. Not one. Thank goodness she isn't pregnant, but scary stuff...

By the time we get the results from the CDC it'll probably have passed through her system. Her fever is finally coming down a little. Hoping she can work from home today.

Anywho, send your thoughts/prayers my way if you have a moment Reiders!


As for the topic of the day, can't help but laugh at the Max Tucker comment. I made it through about 10 pages of that book before my skin started to crawl and I had the sudden urge to repeatedly shower, but Janet's right.

Sometimes it helps to look at this question in terms of a different industry entirely. Let's say you like Blues music. And one day you find Nickelback's new CD in the blues section... Maybe you like Nickelback, but you're not in the "Blues" section to find more dirty rock. You want blues. That doesn't mean you can never buy a rock album again. It just means you want blues currently at that moment.

Call your genre whatever you want to call it, but you're not including or excluding anyone unless you're stretching the truth -- in which case readers/agents/other authors will more likely be peeved with you than anything else because they feel you lied to them.

Write a great book and people will gladly cross genres to read it.

Unknown said...

Lad lit? In all my years of book selling, I never once heard that! But I will say that HIGH FIDELITY is a great example of how to write voice, and is one of the funniest, most heartbreaking books I've ever read.

DLM said...

"Chick lit" for me is a label roughly equivalent to the pink razors at the drugstore. I will never, EVER buy the pink razor, as it offends me (and is more expensive; anyone ever notice how much more women's products cost than equivalent ones for men?). I'd agree with Donna and Blanche, the issue is the nomenclature.

That said, it is all but impossible for me to pity poor boys who feel marginalized by the existence of the pink label. Or threatened by it.

My work is what I've always referred to as "muscular" historical fiction. It's not entirely obsessed with the smallest detail of Late Antiquity military gear, but you won't find a damned thing about bonnets in it either. (Personally, I find too much detail in either the "girlie" of the "manly" direction to be cases of "your research is showing, but that's another day's comment.) THE AX AND THE VASE focused on Clovis I, and was told first-person from a male POV. The WIP is rich in female characters, but personally I feel it's no more pink-labeled than the first novel was. My focus is on character, plot, setting. These things have no gender.

And it's worth noting that the gender binary is itself reductive. In this day and age, to presume the old boy/girl heteronormative market expectations is a bit behind, isn't it? Girls can be made of snips and snails and puppy-dog's tails, and not all of us who dislike pink labels hate men.

Just write the story, get the work done. Your story is the only determiner of how limited its own appeal will be.

DLM said...

Ohmigosh BRIAN! Both yay and yes, prayers for you both.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I simply do not read women's fiction. I am one of those readers who will totally ignore a book put in this category. I read a wide variety of genres but romance or woman's or even Christian is not going to draw me unless someone I respect recommends the title or the author is a friend or relative.

No book is going to draw all readers. We all have our preferences so I will more likely be perusing the thriller/ mystery section with an arm full of fantasy books while lamenting that Stephen King still takes up 90% of the space on the horror shelf. Can't anyone else write superior horror? Off I go to search for a good paranormal, psychological thriller. Oh my, the ghosts that haunt me.

BlancheDuBois said...

Ugh. I wrote some replies to people's comments using my mobile, which allows replies to specific comments, and puts them right underneath the one I'm responding to. Now I'm on my desktop, and see that my replies to those people are scattered throughout the comment thread. Sorry . . . this is what I get for simply lurking so often, and not commenting in the past.
My "exactly" comment was in reply to Theresa.
My "I'm the OP" comment was in response to Nightmusic.
My "I hope you're right" comment was in response to MiriBaker.
"I did and we are" was a response to Donnaeve asking if I read her comment.

Sorry. I just couldn't leave those comments hanging out there without context. And I suppose this won't make sense to anyone who's reading on the mobile site or a browser where everything is where it should be.

Anyway, the NAACP/redlining remark from Janet was funny. I know categories don't prevent people from buying whatever they want. But I wonder if they might convince someone that they don't want it, without exploration--including reviewers, not just ordinary readers. I know some categories do that for me.
Can a guy buy a book from the Women's Fiction section? Sure he can. But he might feel similar to the guy who is excited to buy his girlfriend something from Victoria's Secret, but doesn't want to be seen carrying that pink bag around the mall.
He's going to miss out.

Cheryl said...

Yeah, I also tend to think Women's Fiction is a ghetto. Does it ever win major literary prizes? Even when the writing is the same quality with similar themes?

Is A Widow for One Year women's fiction, or just fiction? What about The Stone Diaries?

According to Wikipedia, the WFWA says: These stories may have romance. Or they may not. They could be contemporary. Or historical. But what binds them together is the focus on the main character's emotional journey.

So how is that different from straight up fiction except with a female protag? Aren't all protags supposed to have an emotional journey?

These aren't rhetorical questions; I've never seen a bookstore in Canada with a WF shelf, so I honestly have no idea.

Colin Smith said...

I must say, the "Women's Fiction" category does seem a bit anachronistic these days. Partly because most modern readers are women anyway. But also because our culture is very sensitive to stereotypes, and the category name "Women's Fiction" is (it seems to me, anyway) based on a stereotype of women (more emotional, more about relationships than action, etc.). Regardless of whether or not there's any truth to the stereotype, it seems at least insensitive--especially for 21st century audiences. And, as others have pointed out, it does tend to alienate half the potential audience for the book (men read that kind of stuff too, you know). It's like the YA books I've often griped about that have the shirtless hunky dude on the cover. That does nothing for me (except make me roll my eyes), so is the publisher making the assumption I wouldn't want to read this Urban Fantasy (or whatever it might be)? How is the muscular shirtless guy/angel/alien appealing to this happily married straight middle-aged dude? I might enjoy the story, but I'm being told by the marketing that I won't. That's a problem.

Can we think of something better?

DLM said...

Blanche, my Imaginary Alaskan Boyfriend has this feeling on buying feminine products (or lingerie, I'd say): all it means is he's got a woman in his life. He's fine with picking up tampons or pantyhose or what have you. It's anyone JUDGING that who has a problem - and, really, has anyone ever actually done that? Is there a man who looks at another man buying feminine hygiene products who thinks that makes the other guy "girlie" ... ?

If there is such a man, does his opinion matter to anyone reasonable?

For most guys, I'd think carrying the VS bag signifies he's going to have a good time some time soon.

As a side note, for several years now I've given my stepfather his Christmas gift in a VS bag that's been recycled just for our own silly holiday tradition. He may not remember it this year, if he's even still with us, but it's been a funny moment for the past few Christmases.

If a guy buys Bridget Jones or Jewel or a pink razor, I really don't care. That one guy I dated who wanted to take me to the Aimee Mann concert - I'll admit I judged him, but that was because I told him flat out I hated the sound of her voice and he still wanted to "share" the concert with me. Hating it. Um, dude.

Labels like lad lit and chick lit are sad and reductive of their audiences. Maybe someday we'll fix that. In the meantime, people who like the types of literature found in these categories WILL find it, and read it.

Colin, I hope something better will develop. The worst part of these labels is their acceptance by the market of readers. When I see agents going on about chick-lit, in particular, I cringe and probably will never query them.

Colin Smith said...

OK, so about thirty minutes passed between starting and finishing my last comment (I have to talk to co-workers from time-to-time). Sounds like a lot of us are on the same page: we get what "Women's Lit" means, we just think it's time for a new name for the category.

Brian! It has been a long time. Yes--absolutely will pray for your wife's full recovery. Nice to see you back with us. :)

The Sleepy One said...

I'm surprised no one has argued that Tom Clancy's work, for example, could be called Men's Fiction. I know women who have read it and liked it, but for a while it was also normal to see men reading something by Clancy on a flight. Or maybe Craig Johnson or CJ Box. I'd guess they've done well due to hitting that sweet spot of appealing to both genders, but their work comes off as very 'male.'

About YA versus adult: if you read widely in YA and general fiction, you'll see the why something like Shadow Of The Wind is not categorized as YA. Daniel is 17, and faces issues that you'll see in YA, but the novel isn't YA (even though a teen might enjoy it).

BlancheDuBois said...

Colin: "Can we think of something better?"
In a nutshell, Colin, precisely the point of my original question.

And I, too, roll my eyes at those covers, despite being a heterosexual female. I prefer sexy nerds who keep their shirts on, and dazzle me with the contours of their brain. ;-)

Lauren B. said...

I know it's probably just too broad, but I've always wondered why books don't just get characterized as "Drama" the way television/film does.

Karen McCoy said...

Sending prayers, Brian!

Susan said it exactly. I'll stand by my assertion that categories are confusing as hell unless you have a clear-cut genre (with mysteries, fantasy, and romance, for example, you know exactly what you're looking for and what you're getting).

Yes. I believe most bookstores have a general "Fiction" section (someone correct me if I'm wrong) and libraries use general fiction to solve this conundrum as well, and sub-categorize by stickering (romance, mystery, sci-fi, etc.) I wasn't aware of any women's fiction sticker, though. Libraries solve this problem with the following subject heading in the catalog:

Man-woman relationships -- Fiction.

Subject headings can sometimes dictate the vocabulary that library catalogs use, and are often where readers can click on a particular subject to get similar books. Subject headings, though, have not always been updated to reflect current categories (women's fiction, for example, is not a subject heading, and if you search it in a catalog you'll come up with a bunch of stuff that doesn't really go together). And, some subject headings are wrought with double entendre:

Great Britain -- Hung men

This refers to men who have been hanged. Not, er, what everyone else was thinking.

Janet hit the nail on the head: you want findability. Everything else is just static.

Regarding differences between MG and YA--in my experience, it's been a difference in tone. MG can be a lot more zany than YA, for example (think James Patterson's I Funny TV series--which, as a selector, I got out of YA and into MG so it could find its audience). This is also a case where the same author (James Patterson) can be found in multiple areas in both book stores and libraries.

Karen McCoy said...

Colin: Looking at your comment, I realized Man-woman relationships is also anachronistic, in a way, because it doesn't account for LGBT lit. Subject headings are wrought with out-dated connotations, though, as I said...

I'm not sure if there's any way to solve this to make everyone happy...?

nightsmusic said...

Brian! So sorry to hear about how sick your wife has been. So often, people have no real idea of the dangers involved in missionary work. It's not just the tiger eating the lady, you know? Prayers to you.

BlancheDuBois: Maybe better the book gets sold before you really worry about where it will sit on the shelf. I'm not trying to be rude. Realistic. Too often, I speak to other writers who go on and on about how their book is this or that when really, to the general reading public, it's none of those. It starts out as one thing and evolves into something (sometimes) completely different. That said, do I like the term 'women's fiction?' Nope. But as I said, it gives me a pretty good idea of what the book is about and I've had my own journey with demons and angels and grief and all the other flotsam that comes with how old I am. I don't want to read about someone else's so I avoid them. If that category helps me step away from them, I'm good with that.

And since when did hamburgers become sandwiches?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Not even three hours in and over 35 comments. WOW.
My genre, "whatever lit".

Colin Smith said...

Karen: Seriously?! Someone must have been having a laugh. Is there also a category for "Hung women"? "Hangings" would have sufficed to avoid... uhh... confusion. :)

I find it interesting to see what kind of books B&N displays for Father's Day. They tend to be military, biography, cars, and DIY. I'm sure there's solid marketing that suggests these categories appeal most to American fathers. Personally, not so much. Maybe it's because I'm a naturalized American father. ;) I don't mind military, and I can go for biography (I'm reading Chernow's ALEXANDER HAMILTON at the moment--and wow, what an excellent biography it is... more some other time), but I'm not that into cars, and I'm a liability when it comes to DIY. Beyond hopeless.

Sorry, there I go babbling beyond the 3/100. Sorry... I don't mean to diss the guidelines. :)

BlancheDuBois said...

DLM: I had to read a couple of times before the phrase "Imaginary Alaskan Boyfriend" jumped out at me. I'm intrigued, and there's clearly something I've missed by not reading every comment on this blog in the past.

Karen McCoy: Thanks for "Great Britain -- Hung men

This refers to men who have been hanged. Not, er, what everyone else was thinking."

Now I'm cleaning up the espresso that came out of my nose when I read that.

The Sleepy One said...

Karen, my favorite description about the difference between MG and YA is that, in MG, you're finding your own place/voice within yourself, and in YA, you're figuring out your place in the world.

Kitty said...

I checked out Tucker Max's book and noticed the category below, "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought." One book stood out: "Sh!t My Dad Says," by Justin Halpern. Years ago, I had the following email exchange with Miss Snark.
Me: Would the word dickhead in a title be considered objectionable?
MS: Oh man, that’s exactly right. But Richard Cranium works juuuust fine!

Brigid said...

Karen: "Hanged, Ami. Your father was not a tapestry." Feast for Crows

Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt series also comes to mind as a Men's Fiction type of deal.

Karen McCoy said...

Colin: Seriously. And yes, I think there is a hung women category. For some reason, when it comes to subject headings, it's really hard to get them updated. Everyone wants a category (I kind of like muscular historical fiction!), and if the Library of Congress keeps what we call "controlled vocabulary" somewhat, er, controlled, the assumption is that it will be easier on the catalogers (but not necessarily on the readers).

This is why, Lauren B., that it is highly unlikely books will be referred to as drama--especially when libraries have the complication of categorizing television/film in the same building...

roadkills-r-us said...

Donnaeve said most of what I wanted to say, except that I can't claim DIXIE DURPREE. 8^)

As for MG/YA, I don't think of them as categories, per se. For instance, the Dragon Lord Chronicles are YA fantasy. I read a LOT of YA fantasy and YA SF as a teenager. I still do; read a good bit of it (old and new). And it was generally marked as both at the library.

We just got back from 2+ weeks in Scotland, Germany, and Albania. It was a cross between pleasure (visiting family and friends) and research for my series. Anyone have any experience with writing off some of a trip like that for taxes? And yes, I iwll be talking to my accountant!

Karen McCoy said...

BlancheDuBois: Apologies for the espresso geyser! :)

Brigid Yes!

The Sleepy One: I love that definition. Will have to write that down.

Andrea said...

I'm a woman and if something is marketed as women's fiction, I don't read it. Not my cup of tea. It has nothing to do with identifying as a feminist (which I do - too many women are still abused and murdered because too many men see them as their property), but with my reading interests.

I find the idea that a book would be classified as women's fiction because it deals with intense emotions quite bizarre. I'm looking at my bookcase and in one glance I see at least a handful of books which deal with intense emotions. Try A History of Loneliness by John Boyne. A beautiful, disturbing, immensely important story. Or The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry, Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier... What I like about these stories is that I don't have the feeling while reading that my emotions are being manipulated. The author isn't trying to make me cry, they're telling the truth, disguised as fiction. And that's what I like most about my favourite genre, fantasy (and mythology). If done well (as in Ursula Le Guin's stories for example), there's a truth in there somewhere which the author is trying to communicate. It's funny how children's fiction is usually very good at that too, but somehow it often gets dismissed as something inferior, and so does YA fiction.

Dena Pawling said...

It's been quite a while since I read this discussion, but when I was researching what to call one of my WIPs, I did some research into women's fiction. It went something like this – there's crime and/or mystery, there's SF and/or fantasy, there's romance, there's lots of category/genre, but what do you call a book that is more focused on character, rather than plot, that's not a “classic” and not literary? Not that long ago, most books with women as MCs were romances, and there's a lot more to women than just “as part of a romance”. What if you have a book that focuses on the woman's emotional journey, and she's the star of the show, she's not “just part of a romance”? So women's fiction began. And as previously posted by someone else, women's fiction is about the woman's emotional journey – there's more to being a woman, there's more to stories that are ABOUT women, than a romance. In a way, it was initially considered the feminist response to the old-school relegating women to secondary roles. Here was a category ALL ABOUT WOMEN and their unique character. Women had interesting and worthy stories to tell, and not just because they were investigating a murder or falling in love.

Most authors who write women's fiction [who I've read about] are proud to be part of that movement.

I can see how nowadays it seems like an outdated or sexist term, but from what I've read, it was considered liberating when it first came out. There was more to women than romance.

Scott G said...

DLM asked a few questions I thought I had enough expertise to answer:

"Is there a man who looks at another man buying feminine hygiene products who thinks that makes the other guy "girlie" ... ?"

That would be a strong "NO." The thinking there would be more in the realm of sympathy. An "I feel your pain" moment. If I'm behind the guy in the check-out aisle and he looks at me with a shrug, all it takes is a slight nod and I can make him feel better.

"If there is such a man, does his opinion matter to anyone reasonable?"

Again, no. A guy who thinks the other guy is "girlie" in this situation is probably not a man. He's probably a snot-nosed kid whose old enough to vote for Donald Trump but not old enough to buy a drink, or if he is, he's the kind of guy who would expect something other than engaging conversation in return.

"For most guys, I'd think carrying the VS bag signifies he's going to have a good time some time soon."

Well, that's a definite maybe, DLM.

Julie Weathers said...

I think people are giving women's fiction a bad rap here. Women's fiction is not about being emotional. It's about exploring a character's journey who happens to be a woman. This can be something like Amy Tan's books, which I thought were great. Maybe Pearl S. Buck's Imperial Woman could even be classified women's fiction. Scott Eagan thinks Philippa Gregory can even be classified as women's fiction because the goal of the book is understanding the female psyche.

I'm going to toss out Diana Gabaldon again so forgive me. Her books appear everywhere. It's like an Easter egg hunt. Literature, fiction, historical, romance, fantasy, here-in-the-front-because-we have-no-idea-where-it-goes. A friend was given one of the original books with the old fussy covers. She refused to read it for years thinking it would be a bodice ripper.

I confess I'm a cover snob. If a book has a bad cover, it's going to take a strong recommendation for me to buy it. I had to remove the cover on a mystery set in Oklahoma. That image of those gawd awful yellow boots with all that hideous inlay peeking out from under the mesquite bush just instilled too much rage every time I picked up the book. Well, no wonder someone killed that idiot. Those boots were terrifying the horses.

Anyway, there are a lot of good books that are classified as women's fiction. If the book is good, people will start talking about it and find it or ask for it. I think Outlander initially got pigeonholed in romance, which didn't make Diana happy as she felt there was much more to the story. Readers started talking about it and proved it had more to offer. Librarians, people in books stores, book sellers, buyers started looking beyond romance.

Get people talking about your book. It won't matter where it is.

And I'm pre-caffiene so none of that probably made any sense.

Julie Weathers said...


Sorry to hear about your wife. I hope she gets well soon.

DLM said...

I was going to shut up at three comments, but Scott G just made me gigglesnort, so I had to say thank you, it's only polite. To be fair, the Imaginary one feels no pain at running ordinary errands, even if they do include his daughter or the woman in his life. :)

Karen, you've given me the vapors! I should perhaps thank you too, but that might be inappropriate in itself, so will leave it at a behind-the-fingertips titter. Hee.

Blanche, you haven't missed anything, it's just that at 48 years of age the word "boyfriend" is not merely embarrassing, it's frankly inaccurate/irrelevant. Things with the guy I call X on my blog are complex; twelve years at 4k miles distance render most relationship paradigms problematic, linguistically speaking. He's the guy who ruined me for all the others, that's basically it.

Julie's got another header on her hands here: "Get people talking about your book. It won't matter where it is."

Okay, and I shall bow out after blowing my word and comment limit. Have a good time, y'all.

Julie Weathers said...


Father's Day is one of my favorite holidays. Power tools are on sale. Rawr. DeWalt!

In the bookstores they put a bunch of interesting books on sale, military history, history, pirates, military, woodworking. Lawsy, I am in heaven.

Craig F said...

It is all a conspiracy from the publishing companies. That is how they want their readers to think. If so it is way too simplistic. Maybe it is just that they categorize so they know where to find some of their writers.

In truth almost all books are a coming of age story. The category is just what stage in that process the book sits in. We are just coming out of one phase of that in adult reading. That means that the publishers have finally gotten it beaten into their brains that we are all tired of damaged heroes.

That damaged hero theme exasperated the break between men and women. At least as far as that phase of publishing went. Women were damaged by relationships and men were damaged by drugs alcohol and/or death.

I had always thought of category tags as a warning when I didn't feel like reading a particular theme. Some days it worked like a signpost to attract me too.

Maybe it is time for me to break out my stuff. I write for enjoyment. My books are escapist with both men and women in strong leadership roles. I don't bother to put markers on color. The reader can make that differentiation for themselves.

Brian: I hope they figure it out. I think Zika is just a scapegoat to more endemic problems down there. The environmental damage and lack of adequate water treatment are much more expensive problems.

If it isn't Zika go to a health food store and get a high quality refrigerated probiotic. One with fourteen or more strains of bacteria. Make sure it is refrigerated and you keep it cold. Those are live bacteria and they work better.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: If our new home requires any DIY work, I know who I'm calling. ;) Okay, shutting up for real now...

Karen McCoy said...

Diane: You had me at vapors! :)

Joseph S. said...

The original poster raises a good question. I shy away from Women's Fiction. Fist I assume somebody has made a study or learned from experience men don't like these types of books so I interpret Women's Fiction as Men won't like it (and that includes you, Joe), or they are anti-men.

Second, I also assume that Women's Fiction is soft porn or sappy stories, neither of which I want to read (I cry reading TV Digest). Realizing I'm probably wrong, I checked and that reinforced my perceptions. I know nothing of these books but they sound sappy (Everything We Keep, When I'm Gone, In Twenty Years, Me Before You, First Comes Love) or soft porn (Prince With Benefits, The Perfect Stroke, Hugex3, Lady and the Champ, Until Harry)(having guys on the cover who look me is a giveaway.

DLM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DLM said...

Breaking my shutting-up because - how did I miss Leah B's suggestion for "drama" ... ??? Brilliant. I've always felt genre is more indicative than categories tend to be in any case (see also - YA being blockbuster with adult readers).

As for suspicion that women's fiction is all just anti-men, sappy, or soft porn, I honestly don't even know where to begin. Admitting to knowing nothing about a book but rejecting it with prejudice regardless is precisely the problem we're discussing.

Julie Weathers said...


Ha! Well, my table saw, planer, tile saw, router, and various other power tools are still in Texas in storage as well as umpteen antique heartwood pine boards I decided I wasn't leaving behind. I may have had to leave my house, but I was taking my boards to make some kind of furniture out of. I built all my cabinets in the house, so I'm familiar with basic furniture building.

You should try some of it, though. It's satisfying, especially on your own home.

Craig F said...

Yeah Colin, you should try. Building or rebuilding a house is not really hard. High school kids do it without much training or many tools.

Check out a couple of books on the subject before you give up. There are also lots of people you can ask.

By the way, most local lumber yards have better quality stuff at a cheaper price than the big box stores.

Colin Smith said...

Julie/Craig: Thanks for the encouragement, but really... no. Woodwork is an area where my skill and desire are pretty evenly matched. :) I can attempt odd-jobs (assembling bookshelves, attaching locks, getting the toilet to flush, etc.). But projects like building cabinets from scratch... no thanks. To me, it's like painting. I can admire the skill of those who can with no desire to attempt it myself.

Julie Weathers said...


Agreed on the local lumber yards, plus I like the service better. At the McCoys in Odessa, there was an older man who would always make a beeline to help me if he was available. He'd give me hints on how to set up jigs for woodworking and getting a pro finish on projects. Well, about anything. He was a renaissance man and knew about everything.

At Home Depot with two exceptions, it was like pulling teeth to get help as they all assumed I was stupid or were stupid themselves. The one guy was a plumber and he always just gave me what I needed, gave me hints on how to do the job easier, and took it for granted I knew what I was doing. The other was a carpenter who would usually load my wood for me and then say, "All right now. Do me a favor. I tied down the wood, but don't drive like hell going home." He knew I was picky about lumber and would always help me pick out straight boards.

Anyway, Colin, sad you're missing out, but it's not for everyone. Kind of like women's fiction, I guess.

Lennon Faris said...

I've wondered before who coined these labels.

You guys crack me up.

Adele said...

To each his own. I know people who'd never read women's fiction, others who eat it up.

I'm a very visual person, and I avoid what I call 'leg books' - books with covers that have a photograph with somebody's lower legs in a prominent position. A girl in shorts walking down a beach. A woman in a conservative suit with a background of a cornfield. The leg-only photos irritate me for some reason. I don't know why legs have suddenly become a book cover must-have, but when I recently checked a display at my local big chain bookstore I found 5 leg books out of 20 books in the display. Different authors, different publishers - I can't figure out the commonality - perhaps the same cover designer? - but I wish they'd stop.

nightsmusic - I got so determined to find the hamburger sandwich reference you mention that I copied all the posts to a Word document and used the Find feature, but nobody else has mentioned them. Anyway - don't have the reference, but when hamburgers first became popular, they were commonly called hamburger sandwiches, so people had some idea what they were. Just like pizza used to be called pizza pie. (Oddly enough, this same topic was raised at my Sunday morning coffee klatsch.)

BJ Muntain said...

I've never paid much attention to 'women's fiction'. I'm really not that interested in anything contemporary and real-life. To me, it's just contemporary fiction with a female protagonist, and 'contemporary' is the word that turns me off there.

If my memory can be trusted (and that's dicey), 'women's fiction' didn't become a category until the 90s. Perhaps the 80s. Yes, the fact that there were books about women that weren't romantic was good. But I think the name 'women's fiction' has been outgrown. It's not for all women, and it's not just for women. It may be, now that there's a movement to include more women in more fiction, that separating it from the general fiction area is problematic. Sort of the way girl's toys are separated from boy's toys. Now you have shelves of toys that either boys or girls will like (the 'boys' shelves') or shelves full of pink stuff (the 'girls' shelves').

Off Topic:

Welcome back, Brian! I hope your wife feels much better very soon.

Hamburgers ARE sandwiches. Sandwiches are basically food between bread. They became simply 'hamburgers' over time, because EVERYONE ate them between bread. Me, now that I can't eat most bread, I have only the hamburgers themselves. And I'm good with that.

Stacy said...

This is fairly off-topic (perhaps not since the site is all about categories), but I don't want to bury it in another post. I just strayed across a link Victoria Strauss (of Writer Beware) provided. Seems like a great resource for novelists.

Manuscript Wish List

Hope I've created the hyperlink correctly.

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

stacy: Yes, you did! Well done. :) The Manuscript Wish List is agent Jessica Sinsheimer's baby (not literally, you understand), though others have contributed heavily to the project. If you follow the #MSWL tag on Twitter, you will see it referenced a lot.

Sorry, I'm supposed to have shut up. Shutting up again. :D

John Davis Frain said...

If there was a category called "Men's Fiction" and someone wanted to publish me there, color me marginalized. I'm okay with that.

But I'm also a dues-paying member of Sisters in Crime, so maybe I still haven't figured out what category I'm supposed to fit in.

Julie Weathers said...

Women's fiction doesn't have to be contemporary. It can be contemporary or historical. It can include romance, but not necessarily a HEA. It's character driven with the focus on the woman's journey.

I think the OP is worrying about something that really doesn't need to be worried about. Here's Julie looking through the stallion register. Hmmm, yup, I like this one. He's the perfect mate to my darling little mare JW Fly The Colors. I'll name the baby JW Troop The Colors. I'll have to nominate it to the All American, of course. I'm going to be so mad if he draws the inside hole. The track is always so heavy there and if he gets cut off early there's no way to make up ground.

Cripes, I'm going to lose the race for sure. And I just bought a new hat.

*kicks rocks*

You're writing a book. You don't even mention if you have an agent yet. You're not published. BUT, when you do get published, don't put your book in that crappy women's fiction section because you want everyone to read it.

How about this?

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord and pass the taters! My book is published and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure people read it and love it so they tell everyone else about it.

CynthiaMc said...

I am from Alabama and I just now discovered that there is a category called Southern lit. What is it? Is it books set in the South? Whose South? Southerners can't even agree about which states are really Southern. Is it books by Southern writers? Is it Southern writers writing about the South? (back home we just call that real life). Or is it something Yankees made up just to confuse us?

Now we live in Florida, which is geographically as far south as you can go without falling in the ocean but is culturally a mix of refugees from New York, Puerto Rico, Cuba, India, Brazil, Mexico, and snowbirds. There are a few native Floridians, but you have to hunt for them.

Categories give me a headache and I get bored easily so I mostly get books at Goodwill where they just fling them on the shelves and I grab whatever looks interesting. Or ebooks from the library where I search for "What's new and available now" or whatever y'all recommend (thanks for Jack Reacher - he kept me busy for quite a while).

Thanks for Hung Men. That made me laugh all afternoon.

CynthiaMc said...

Brian - hugs and prayers.

BlancheDuBois said...

Julie Weathers
My book is already written, and in the query stage, for what it's worth. There are people reading partials, but we all know that could amount to naught, or amount to something exciting. Hell if I know. But I can walk and chew gum at the same time--I can work hard on my manuscript, and also wonder about the broader world of publishing and marketing. In fact, my long-term goals demand that spend some time thinking about that (not obsessing, but certainly thinking and learning).

My concern about the naming of that category isn't only for my book. My concerns are more broad, as others have mentioned, in terms of the status of women writers in general, no matter what subjects they write about. The label doesn't forbid a male to buy it. But let's not pretend it wouldn't influence some men. And among those men may be professional critics, who continue to take works by and "for women" less seriously, and review them less often.

Your suggestion is spot on, though--No matter what category my book should land in, I would indeed be doing everything I can (and have been doing for a few years worth of research and writing, and revisions) to write something people will want to read and that they'll enjoy and want to recommend.

It's also possible to want, at the same time, to not send a message to male readers that it's not meant for them. That's what I think the title "women's fiction" does (as we have seen here from a comment or two: "soft porn", "sappy" were some pretty sad assumptions). I get what Janet says about it being a guide that tells readers "if you liked that, then you might like this book, also." That makes perfect sense, and is one reason we have categories. But I also think it could do the same thing--and possibly more broadly, in terms of audience--without being labeled by gender. But I have no illusions that my question on a blog, even Janet's blog, is going to result in some grand transformation of the book biz. I mainly wanted to find out if there was an angle I was missing.

Let me be clear, though, because you actually sounded offended by my question (I sincerely hope not): my original question wasn't a remark on the merits of Women's Fiction, itself. I don't question the merits of work by writers of Women's Fiction for one second. I merely question the wisdom of naming the category in that way. As some have suggested, at one time it might have been seen as helpful to women, in the sense that it showed women were about more than simply romance. But I'm of the opinion that it's outlived its usefulness to modern readers and consumers.

Of course, my opinion on the subject, plus $2.75 will get me a ride on the A train. Uptown or downtown. Pretty sweet.

Colin Smith said...

CynthiaMc: I believe I'm correct in thinking TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE would both be considered "Southern Lit."

Even if I'm wrong, it's worth it for another plug of Donna's (stbnytba) forthcoming debut novel. Which you can pre-order HERE. :D

Shutting up again.

Cindy C said...

Wow, lots of comments today! I think many books are somewhat hard to categorize, and while I always gravitate to the mystery section, I also like to browse through all the genres, and general fiction, women's fiction, whatever. I've found boons I love all over the bookstore and library.

Totally off topic, but I just arrived in Muncie, IN for the Midwest Writer's Workshop. Of course, it won
N't be as good as last year when I Met Janet, but I'm looking forward to it! If anyone else is here, let me know. (I'm here under my actual name, Cindy Crawford.)

Donnaeve said...

I've popped back in b/c I wanted to send hugs/prayers to Brian (Captain! BS!) and his wife for her continued recuperation and health. If I could put that red circle in here with a line through it to say, essentially "NO ZIKA" I would.

Craig made a good point about the other challenges health wise in those areas though - so not great - but encouraging.

And Julie - you actually sort of made "our" point. (actually Blanche did a stupendous job there of her concern around WF. Anyhoo, your point being that there are some good books cat'ed at WF. Exactly. Which means "some" might not read it - as they've said here...b/c. WF.

It's been a long day. Mom is flying the last leg of her trip, and I'm relieved she seems to be having fun!

Oh, and CynthiaMc - as to Southern Fiction (or Southern Lit as you called it...) what Colin said. And Secret Life of Bees. And The Help. Etc.

John Davis Frain said...

Sisi Cindy,
Have a grand time at Midwest Writers Conference. Learn a lot, and share if you come away with anything brilliant.

Remember, Muncie -- at least according to favorite son David Letterman -- is the eighth wonder of the world! It's the only hole above ground.

Julie Weathers said...


I'm not offended, but I do get a bit irked that people sell some categories short. Oh, you write romance, or fantasy, or women's fiction.

There are some wonderful works amongst the women's fiction shelves. I wonder if A League Of Their Own wouldn't be women's fiction if it were a book. What about Little Women, The Color Purple. Anyway, there are really so many wonderful books that are considered women's fiction. Plus, if that's what your book is, that's what it is. Embrace it.

Men's fiction might not have a distinct label for it, but action books tend to lean more toward a masculine crowd. W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy, Alan McDermott, etc.

People didn't not read Harry Potter books because they were mg books. As I said, I tracked down the Hunger Games books in YA.

If people are talking about them, they'll come looking for them. You may develop a following you hadn't planned on. People who read women's fiction read other genres and talk to people who read other genres. If they like the book they're recommend it regardless of what the label is.

The last agent who had the full on Far Rider gave me some very in depth commentary. What I didn't want to hear was, "This is really a YA. To sell YA, you're going to have to do this...."

I don't really want to write YA, but I guess that's what I wrote. We'd already been debating this on the writers forum as some people thought it would be YA, others felt it wouldn't. This agent laid out the case.

It's a label. It means I need to rewrite a bit differently. It means I'll have a different audience initially. It is what it is.


If people like it and talk about it, other people will read it. It doesn't mean only kids are going to read it.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth Carpenter said...

Brian - In my prayers.

Beth Carpenter said...

I don't want to sort through frankfurters to get Frosted Flakes, either, but what if I'm looking for matches? Are they under picnic items, cleaning supplies, kitchen tools, or hardware? That's when I wish there was an "M" aisle.

Julie Weathers said...


There are going to be some people who won't read it because it's women's fiction. There will also be some people who won't read it if they labeled it literary fiction, or romance, or fantasy, or action, or horror, or whatever. My point is it doesn't matter what label you put on it, someone is not going to read it because of a label.

Let's say for a moment, not that it's going to happen, but we get rid of the label women's fiction because it's outdated. It's kind of like climate change, global warming, global cooling, climate change, weather. We have to look up the current popular word for weather periodically to be politically correct.

So, we have a category that focuses on female characters and their life journey. What do we call it? When people realize that the new name for the genre is what women's fiction used to be called will it make them want to read it more? Will men who aren't at all interested in reading about this story change their mind if it has a different label? I always read the description when I read a book, not just what it's classified as. I read some of the writing.

What if the publisher decides it fits better as commercial fiction than women's fiction?

I think a lot of people like women's fiction and Blanche is worrying needlessly. However, wee woodland creatures like to worry. It's in the DNA, so I'm not going to say don't worry.


First, congratulations on finishing the book and the requests for partials. That ought to be validation right there.

I don't agree that a critic is going to take a book less seriously because it's written by a woman. Especially in this day and age when the battle cry is diversity and every agent is looking for more books written by minorities and women are counted in that number. Good writing will rise to the top regardless of what category it's in. That's really the only thing we have any control over, making it the best story it can be. After that we can promote and market, but we need to have the product to market.

According to QueryTracker, 251 agents are looking for romance, 216 fantasy, 256 historical, 344 women's fiction, 593 literary. It seems to me if that many people are looking for women's fiction that indicates there's a pretty strong market. There are some very well known male agents on the list looking for women's fiction.

I really want you to be at ease. I think it's not going to be as dire as you think. You'll be in good company if you land in women's fiction, which you may not, and there will be people looking for you.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Brian - lovely to hear from you again, and sending prayers your way right now...

BlancheDuBois said...

Julie Weathers
"I really want you to be at ease. I think it's not going to be as dire as you think. You'll be in good company if you land in women's fiction, which you may not, and there will be people looking for you."

Thanks for these kind words, Julie. Here's hoping you're right--and that I'll get to find out first hand before I shuffle off this mortal coil. ;-)

And I've no doubt that I'd be in good company among the many fine writers of Women's Fiction, should I land in that category.

Claire said...

Very well put, Blanche, and I share your concerns. There's a world of difference between a label that describes subject matter (eg 'crime') and one which suggests the target audience ('women'); even if this was not the original meaning of the designation, it's what it has come to mean. And that's damaging. The suggestion that women's lives are a 'special interest' topic and are not of interest to a general readership is not good.
It's part of a bigger problem, of course, within the literary world - the stats about the number of male-authored and female-authored books reviewed in the 'serious' papers are alarming - and also, depressingly, the world in general.

Ardenwolfe said...


Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Weighing in a day late because I've been busy being a Woodland Creature elsewhere (more on that later).

A few hundred years ago, ALL novels were classified "romances". Some of this is still evident today in the word for 'novel' in other languages: roman.

Now, Romance with a capital R means a story where romantic love is the main plotline and the ending is HEA (happily ever after).

That said, don't think that genres are cut and dried and a genre book is easily classified.

I'm tossing a ms in the #PitchWars ring. The mentors' wish lists have just come out and I'm having some serious angst. My novel crosses genres, and is ticking off a few items on many a "Do Not Want" lists. This woodland creature is freaking out because her genre novel is hard to categorise. If I call it Fantasy, ppl will question why the plotline is clearly Romance. But if I call it Romance, ppl will question why the Peanut Gallery is all, "We hope they don't get together" and there's not an HEA.

If anything, I'm having a hard time because of the specificity of genres restricts me too much.

That said, it's a good book. Totally the bee's knees.

RM Haskell said...

I recognize the value of categories like crime/thriller, romance, and science fiction. These categories tell you what kind of story you'll find between the covers.

Categories like "Women's Fiction" tell you who the story is FOR. In my opinion, categories have no business making that distinction.

Also: "Women's fiction is read by a lot of people who aren't women. I know this because it's a HUGE category and sells well."

Given that women make up the majority of the readership, this is a rather large assumption.

RM Haskell said...

I wanted to add to my above comment--I also recognize the value of categories for age groups. But gender-based categorizing seems as marginalizing and counterproductive as a category for people who have brown eyes or who are between 155-200 pounds.

R Mans McKenny said...

Julie and Blanche-
Read through your entire exchange and glad a truce was found. As a writer of WF (proudly so), just wanted to add a link to a piece about Jennifer Weiner's perspective on the argument from the New Yorker a few years ago that got a lot of traction:

R Mans McKenny said...

RM Haskell,

As an author of WF, I feel like I'm telling a story uniquely centered on the experience of the characters in the novel as women. In my case, that would be several women struggling with infertility. While the story has other layers beyond that, it isn't a false distinction to say that men don't suffer miscarriage (though they do suffer from the loss of a pregnancy, too, and could enjoy the book, too).

For me, the term "women's fiction" focuses on the main character's journey, not the target audience. To me, this is much like "science fiction" isn't just for scientists, but uses themes and tropes of that branch of knowledge. Some stories are uniquely female (like sister relationships, mother-daughter bonds, the relationships of female friends) and can be read by many, just like relationships of male friends (Sideways, etc) can, too. Why those are just called fiction and ours are Women's Fiction-- I think the branding never caught on, as discussed above. Honestly, I would call Sideways "Dick Lit" if the category existed, but ah, such is life.