Thursday, January 19, 2017

Am I writing womens fiction or YA?

I’m a fairly experienced novelist (five novels published with major houses), but I’m nevertheless stumped on the rules for women’s fiction. I wrote a NA, with a 22 year old protagonist; after some wonderful, but critical, feedback, I’m now working on a major revision of the novel. I’m changing from 1st to 3rd person, adding several more POV characters, and expanding to almost a third more in the word count, given those new characters. I hope to explode the original, slim NA novel into the women’s fiction genre. Do you think it’s possible for a novel with a 22 year protagonist to be considered in that genre?

New Adult is the most slippery of categories but it's also VERY new. And it wasn't meant to replace any of the womens fiction category, it was created to expand YA.  It's morphed into something else but it's not the only place you can find characters who are in their 20's.

Generally if you call something womens fiction in your query, I'm going to read the pages with that in mind. 

I know a lot of people get the category wrong in their query but I don't actually read your pages thinking that.

Thus: call your book women's fiction and see what happens.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Again Janet, your timing is superb.

If "NA" covers women in their 20's, is there an "OA" to cover those of us a little longer in the tooth.
And what does "longer in the tooth" mean anyway? I know it has something to do with horses and gums but really, I haven't ridden is years.

I love women's fiction, I'm writing women's fiction. I just finished a rewrite of my latest, women's fiction. (I got back up on the old horse after someone said I couldn't.)
If I don't kick my ride in the butt we'll both be too long in the tooth to enjoy the gallop.

Giddy-up and have a nice day boys and girls.

Colin Smith said...

Isn't DIXIE DUPREE considered Women's Fiction (among other things, like AWESOME!!)? The MC there is eleven. So I don't think age is the defining factor.

Janet: You said:

Generally if you call something womens fiction in your query, I'm going to read the pages with that in mind.

I know a lot of people get the category wrong in their query but I don't actually read your pages thinking that.

Here's how I interpreted your words: "If you call your novel X category, that's how I'm going to read it. A lot of people get the category wrong, but I read your pages assuming you know the category."

Getting the category wrong can affect how favorably you read our pages (you're excited to see "Women's Fiction" but it turns out to be "YA Contemporary"). And yet in the past you have told us not to worry too much about nailing the category. Do you see the woodland creature wheels spinning? The confusion? The panic??!! Of course, I think you like to pepper your very helpful advice with these gems, just to keep us on our toes. :)

Amy Johnson said...

Carolyn--Your horsey comments got me laughing. I think you're right about "long in the tooth" relating to horses. Since their teeth keep growing, unlike human teeth, a horse with longer teeth would be older. Hence, long in the tooth means oldish, er...more mature.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: I'm not sure "Wide in the bum" is as flattering a phrase... ;)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Aside from sending rodent wheels spinning off into oblivion (am I really writing fantasy? Truly?), it's good to know an experienced novelist still has these kind of questions.

So, does this mean we should hold on to our rodent wheels even after agent/publisher is secured? Should we upgrade to a rodent maze after crossing the gatekeeper threshold? Ok, delirious at day job so off to secure coffee.

DLM said...

Colin and 2Ns, I like superannuated; such a lovely word. And it might even fool people into thinking you're not dotty just yet (or, in some cases - that you really, really *are*).

Categories based on ages and genders always bother me a little bit. While "women's fiction" has a far less pejorative ring to it than the execrable "chicklit", it bewilders me that there's such a division of audiences. We want to reach the widest possible audience, and yet we narrow focus. Gender divisions like this bother me the most.

I know that for razor companies, throwing around a bit of pink plastic means they can charge 30% more for a product that really needs no gender. But what is the practical purpose of gender-segregating art?

There is no such pink-labeling in the visual arts. Music doesn't come stamped "this is for boys"/"this is for girls" in this way. It just seems so reductive.

Why is this considered a marketing tool? I mean, yes, easy categories. But why is it publishing requires so many (and proliferating, at that!) categories? Why put things in ever more, ever smaller boxes?

Jessica said...

I relate to this so much OP. I'm currently struggling with the NA/YA division myself, since my MC is 19 and technically financially independent. It's maddening.

I'm not familiar with women's fiction--what's the difference between that and "chick lit"? That seems even more maddening, because to me, they sound like the same thing. As DLM said, it doesn't seem fair to make the distinction between genders. But I also don't read women's fiction, so who knows? It might actually be something I'll enjoy.

Unknown said...

Is there something to be said for not specifying the genre in the query?
Can the queries ‘voice,’ description of characters,introduction of plot, or description of conflict carry the day?

Mary said...

Someone called my novel YA yesterday and it's the first time I heard it put in that category. Kind of surprised me. I did not write it thinking, oh this is YA, it just made sense to have my character be 19. I'd say...write what makes sense and don't worry about the category. I didn't ever call it women's fiction either. I feel like those categories are a little limiting. I've had some burly ranchers read my book who sure as heck wouldn't have if I had labeled it such.

Steve Stubbs said...

I would be careful with too many POVs. A woman sent me an MS with so much head hopping in it my head was hopping after a few pages. I had no idea whose POV was represented at any time. She said her stuff cannot be changed in any way, and as far as I know the book is still unpublished.

OP wrote: “I’m nevertheless stumped on the rules for women’s fiction.”

I may not understand ther question, but from what I have seen, the rules are pretty simple:

The main character must be female (big news).

If the market is YA she must be one herself. 22 is excellent.

She’s looking to marry or hook up with big money. Hint: Multimillionaire is not big money anymore. His yacht should be the size of the QE2/

If possible, the man she hooks up with should own his own major European country. At least he should have a European title and a chain of castles, complete with moats and alligators.

An exception is FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, in which Christian Grey is not titled, but extremely rich. If that does not make any sense, E.L. James is British, which makes it even more confusing.

He must be young, which implies he inherited his money. Christian Grey is young and made billions in a couple of years, so it is OK to strain credulity. The loot is the thing.

Rich is non-negotiable. The heroine must model her attitude after Zsa Zsa Gabor,

The heroine must be wimpy beyond belief. She does NOT model after Zsa Zsa in this respect. No slapping police officers on the Hollywood Freeway. Lots of stammering, blushing, and eyes downcast, presumably to see if any money spilled out of the guy’s pockets onto the floor.

You can kill the fellow off if you want to, but the heroine has to get HIS MONEY by the end of the book. Getting him along with it is entirely optional.

Lots of description of how heroine benefits from HIS MONEY. Fancy houses, fancy cars, fancy restaurants, fancy trips. all acquired without effort. None of this has to make any sense or be realistic.

Did I mention that HIS MONEY is important?

If the novel is feminist, the rules are entirely different. There must be two main characters, they must be lesbians, and they must stick it to the patriarchy. They do not have to be homicidal maniacs but it is desirable for them to murder at least one man. Despite all their nastiness they are innocent victims of the vile patriarchy. All the good guys are female. Male characters are just disgusting creatures inserted for target practice. They are also poor and of no interest to the Zsa Zsa Gabors of the world, although they can wield unjustified power against innocent females. This may seem silly as hell, but this stuff is really fun to write.

Kara Reynolds said...

OP, I queried a novel last year with a 22yo MC as Women's Fiction, and the overwhelming response from agents was that the MC was too young for the genre. Based on my voice and my own age, I decided to rewrite it as YA, but I also considered age-ing up the MC and rewriting to make it more WF. Even the chick lit era protagonists are in their late 20s. WF now really seems to be about women in their 30s and beyond.
Good luck to you with whatever you decide!

Dena Pawling said...

Here's my 2 cents. Obviously there can be exceptions to these “rules”, but this is what I understand readers of these categories expect in your book, and if it doesn't have something similar to these, the readers will be disappointed and/or you'll find yourself with an entirely different set of readers.

NA is about the “transition into adulthood”, generally including college, military, first job, first love/marriage, etc. Age range is generally 18-26 or so. Some people describe NA as “YA with more sex”, which is true for many NA stories but I don't think it's always true as a description of the category.

WF is about the “woman's emotional journey”. Most WF has the MC in her 30s or 40s, sometimes older [definitely more established in life than an NA protag], whose “established in life” suffers a dramatic change. Someone, probably a comment on this blog but I'm not sure about that, said the most common WF trope is the MC gets divorced or widowed and goes back “home” to a small town to start her life over again. [Kind of like this joke: What do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your house back, your wife back, your dog back, your truck back.......] Some people think the WF trope could use some expanding because it's almost always the same.

Someone here said Donna's book is WF, and the MC is age 11. So obviously these things are not necessarily “rules” but it's the content of the story that is the most relevant.

My WF has the MC as age 27, which is considered on the young end of WF and the upper end of NA. She is out of college but starting her first job, so it would qualify as either. It's actually not so much her emotional journey tho, so I'm not all that convinced it qualifies as WF and may just be “general fiction”. Altho definitely NOT a fiction novel.


Colin Smith said...

Speaking of Donna, to help our dear friend during her time of exile, here's some more Carkoonian poetry:

It's a well-known fact
Many Carkoonian poets
Can't count


Claire Bobrow said...

Janet: "I know a lot of people get the category wrong in their query but I don't actually read your pages thinking that." That is very good to know. I really dislike categories as a book consumer. Bottom line, I just want a Good Story. I realize that librarians and book sellers need to know how to shelve their books, but I feel like categories may steer people away from reading great stuff. On the query end, I haven't had a lot of experience there yet, but it's nice to hear that a wrong category might not instantly doom you to the trash heap.

DLM: "Categories based on ages and genders always bother me a little bit...Gender divisions like this bother me the most." I couldn't agree more.

I once got into a friendly argument with a male co-worker of my husband's about whether Portnoy's Complaint or Pride and Prejudice was the better book. He agreed to read P&P if I read PC, so I did. And guess what? He didn't read P&P. I assume he decided it was a "woman's book" and not worth his time. I'm glad to say I read PC - it wasn't my favorite book in the whole wide world, but I'm never sorry to have read something interesting and well-written.

Unknown said...

OP, my sense is that most WF does feature female protagonists older than 22, but I've also witnessed over the years that WF is becoming a more inclusive, broadly-defined genre. I've gone back and forth about how to label my own WIP, but I've taken to labeling it upmarket WF because it centers, as Dena says, on the protagonist's emotional journey. It just so happens, though, that I have three alternating voices in the book, and one of those is the husband's. His emotional journey matters, too! Still, it passed the definition of WF as laid out by the Women's Fiction Writers Association, and that's a helpful and broad definition. If you haven't checked out their website and joined the association, you should really consider it! They are a wonderful organization -- with positive and helpful members. Good luck and I hope you'll keep us posted on your progress!

Donnaeve said...






Susan said...

Ah, categories. The bane of my writing existence. I'm another one who never knows where her books fit, so I feel for Opie. I just recently accepted that I'm a YA author, although I don't specifically write for young adults--at least, not according to what's in the market today.

I internally call my work nostalgia fiction because my books are generally historical, and I write coming-of-age stories featuring younger characters. But you can't put all of that on a category card, so how does one market? Literary YA seems to cover the problem for the most part, and it works because I'm finding crossover in my readership.

Still, it's frustrating not knowing where your books belong because they straddle different areas--whether because of the character's age or the subject matter or the voice/tone of the book. I would take a close look at your story--when you're looking at character age along with the voice/tone and si next matter, where do you see your book belonging? More than that, where do you want it to belong? Maybe start there and let beta-readers and your future agent help you cement that.

Donnaeve said...

Can I just say, I do NOT like the entry tunnel to get here from Carkoon.

(wipes dust off)

Women's Fiction is supposed to be about the emotional journey of the MC.

That said, I never placed DIXIE in that category. I place it in Adult Fiction/Southern Fiction. When my books are placed on Pub Mktplace - both were listed under General/Other vs the Womens/Other area that's there for WF and/or Romance.

That said



Susan said...

Ugh. The perils of typing on a phone and not proofing...That should be *subject* matter. Stupid smartphone.

Claire B. I hope your husband's co-worker didn't continue to insist Portnoy's Complaint was better after refusing to read P&P. That would ruffle my feathers--you can't hold a belief that something is better than something else if you completely disregard the something else. Then again...

Man, I'm grumpy today.

Beth Carpenter said...

I think Dena has the definitions right. As for chicklit vs. women’s fiction, chicklit tends to be more, shall I say, immature, with quite a bit of slapstick. It also centers more closely on the protagonist’s ego. The chicklit heroine has a best friend, but she’s mostly there as a sounding board. Women’s fiction tends to involve more complex relationships, friends, kids, exes, etc. I’d think the ages would overlap a bit, depending on the personality of the protagonist.

Steve, I think the billionaire story you describe (except for the dead hero) would fall into romance rather than women’s fiction. I, personally, don’t find snarly billionaires particularly romantic, but other women must.

We writers tend to fight the idea of categories as limiting, but they’re there to help readers find the books they want. Recently, in a newly remodeled grocery store, I was looking for a jar of sun-dried tomatoes. I looked by the canned tomatoes, then by the pasta sauces, then in the condiment row near the olives and pickles. I’d almost given up when I saw a store employee and asked. They were on a shelf in produce. I never would have looked for them there.

If your civil-war love story isn’t in the historical romance section, but floating around in general fiction looking for a wider audience, the historical romance readers probably won’t go looking for it. They’ll pick up another book instead.

Laina said...

Jessica and Mary

Just FYI, if your MC is 19, your book is probably not YA! Different story structures come along with the age of the protag, among other things I have too much of a headache to go into, lol.

BJ Muntain said...

I belong to a couple science fiction/fantasy writers groups on Facebook. Almost weekly there's a question: What genre am I writing? The discussion then goes on until the genre is as specific as 'NA military science fiction romance with paranormal elements'. I understand that, when you're an indie publisher and you put your books on Amazon, you want to choose the right categories, but do you really want to choose five categories, some of which have no real bearing on the market?

I tell people I write space opera, and some of my series is. Some of it is also space crime, space thriller, space mystery... maybe I should just call it space adventure. But many people would consider that space opera, anyway. And what about the stories that actually occur on Earth? Is near future space opera a thing? Hey, you know what? I'll just put it on the science fiction shelves in the bookstore, and the readers can decide if it meets their needs.

I'm not the least bit interested in women's fiction. I prefer less-than-real fiction, fiction that takes me OUT of real life and somewhere else. Science fiction, fantasy, even mystery or thrillers or historical. I crave adventure. But I'm sorry, Women's Fiction is not my thing. Neither is Romance. Or anything mainstream. Give me a Romance, and I'm thinking of how a good murder would fix things. Give me a contemporary fiction, and I'm waiting for the aliens to show up and make things exciting.

In other words, I'm probably not the person to ask about the WF or NA genres. Unless they have aliens. Or at least space technology. Or even magic.

Brigid said...

Steve, have you ever read YA?

Code Name Verity, Goblin Emperor, The Thief, Uprooted, Exit Pursued by a Bear...any of that?

Brigid said...

Or women's fiction for that matter, since your comment addressed both.

Lennon Faris said...

I always forget particularities of genres and have to look them up. Have fun, OP!

Robert - most agents specifically ask that you include the genre and word count in a query, so you'd run the risk of annoying them off the bat if you don't include it. It lets them get a quick, general peek at what they're getting into before they dive in. If the query reflects the right tone, you start on a good note I guess :)

Steve Stubbs, you crack me up.

Cheryl said...

This whole discussion is my bugbear. I've decided to write what I write and then scattershot submit. Is it non-category romance or NA? Submit to agents who rep both. Submit to agents who rep one and mark it as that.

My favourite novels of those I've written seem to cross category boundaries and it hurts to try to make them do otherwise. That's why I was glad when I realized the current WIP is magic realism. That's a solid genre and few of the other elements matter within it.

Heather Wardell said...

Having self-published 19 novels I call women's fiction, I define the genre as being focused on a woman's journey. It might be a romantic journey, a career one, or a "where do I fit in the world" one, but it's about moving from one state of being to another and how the character changes along the way.

I've written about anorexia, amnesia, alcoholism, depression, learning to stand up for yourself, surviving an assault, winning a lottery, and so many other things... but always with a focus on how the woman learns and grows from her experiences. To me, that's women's fiction.

And, sorry, Steve, it doesn't require a billionaire and a "wimpy beyond belief" heroine! It's far more broad and far deeper than that.

Colin Smith said...

Let me take advantage of this lull in the conversation to off-topically (Ha! I created an adverb!! Take that, Strunk and White!!) mention that my FirstBorn and I will be in New York next Thursday and Friday. So, if you happen to be in Manhattan, you might see us. Right? I mean, it's not that big... ;) What are the chances I run into a literary agent or two...?

Theresa said...

Susan, I love your category of "nostalgia fiction."

Julie Weathers said...


Yes, as Amy said, older horses have longer, more angular teeth and the cups are worn down so you can judge their age by the teeth. Long in the tooth is an older horse.


"I'm not sure "Wide in the bum" is as flattering a phrase... ;)"

It is if you're a Quarter Horse. We always prided ourselves on having horses with very nice hips, which meant wide, muscular butts.

As y'all know, the revision on Far Rider is due to the last big time agent informing me this is a YA and needs a re-write with that in mind. I didn't have it in me to tackle it at the time, but I will start on it before long.

It's not just that the MC is 16, the voice apparently lends itself to YA.

I have five POVs in FR. Some people have warned me off that. Big time agent not only didn't want me cutting the characters, he wanted me to go back and focus on them more and explore their stories. I won't have to do a whole lot to go deeper and invest the reader more as I already know their stories.

As with everything, I think it depends on the story and how it's handled. There is no right or wrong, there is only, "Holy cow, that was good!"

As far as figuring out where your book fits, some are hard to peg, Outlander is found in romance, literature, fiction, historical, fantasy, science fiction (seriously?), Scottish (didn't know that was a genre I guess the travel section).

I guess, we come full circle to just write a compelling story and let the gods sort it out.

AJ Blythe said...

I guess if you are unsure what genre your ms falls into, make sure you follow our Queen's query letter structure. Your query letter should start with the story and the admin comes later. You don't want an agent to stop reading in the first sentence after the words "my book is this genre" because they don't rep it.

Right off the bat your query needs to be about the story; hook the agent and the rest can be sorted later!

As I am trying to teach myself: don't stress the small stuff =)

Craig F said...

So the category of New Adult still isn't codified and set in stone. My thoughts, when I first heard of it about six years ago, was that it was just a marketing ploy. It was meant to get kids who had grown legal and would no longer read YA because it was about kids.

Women's fiction is another category. All categories are for it to point a genre in a marketable direction. YA has almost grown into being a genre because no one even notices if it is romance, crime or slice of life anymore.

Crime novels have also broken the cast. The categories of it can stand alone. Thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals, lawyer books and such are all categories of crime novels.

Women's fiction points out that it is an emotionally based story.

On multiple POVs: I have at least eight in each story I have written. That doesn't make them all the MC. A query should be about the MC.

If you are lost on your MC there is an easy test. The character there at both the beginning and the end should be the MC.

JD Horn said...

I like Dena Pawling's explanation of the categories. (Though in truth I'm still hoping my stories will eventually be granted their own genre. Doing so would save me and a lot of other nice people some headaches.) :)