Pub Rants

State of the Chick Lit Nation

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About a week or so ago, I was on the phone with an editor. We got talking about the market as we are wont to do.

She said, “The chick lit market is in the toilet.”

Perhaps melodramatic but in a lot of ways I have to agree.

Red Dress Ink is significantly cutting back on the number of titles they plan to publish in a year. Dorchester’s chick lit line (Making It) is only going to publish one book this spring and it happens to be from one of my authors (COUPON GIRL by Becky Motew). I chatted with another editor at Simon & Schuster and she said it pretty much had to be extraordinary for them to take on something new.

I’ve been shopping a chick lit work now for several months—something that two years ago probably would have sold in a couple of weeks.

So I have to agree. Maybe the market is in the toilet. A year ago, I was scheduled to do a Chick Lit workshop at an upcoming conference (they always schedule a year in advance and boy what can change in that time frame). It’s entitled The Hottest New Genre etc. I’m thinking of renaming that poor seminar. How about The Hottest New Genre that’s in the Toilet?

If you are new and want to break in, you pretty much have to reinvent the genre to impress the editors. I’ve been reading some chick lit sample chapters recently. The ones I’ve seen are well done and cute but that’s not going to cut it anymore.

So what happened?

Basically, the market got overcrowded and a lot of chick lit was published that was only average rather than outstanding. Readers got jaded, bored, I don’t know. You tell me. You folks out there, if you enjoyed the genre, ought to know. Why aren’t you buying new releases?

Is the chick lit trend now dead?

I’m not rushing out to perform CPR because it’s not really dying. Chick lit, as a genre, is probably here to stay, but it’s suffering much needed growing pains.


83 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    I’ll agree. I’m an agent, and I just sold one of the best chick lit novels I’ve ever read, but I was amazed that out of 13 editors, only 2 made an offer. Two of the other editors admitted that they’ve significantly cut down on the number of chick lit they’re doing. The others cited the setting or other vague reasons for passing.

  2. Anonymous said:

    I love fiction of all kinds, but the main thing that turns me off of chick lit is when it tends to be shallow, esp. shallow characters. Quirky, cute characters are only interesting for so long…

  3. Anonymous said:

    I’ve not read many chick lit novels, but the ones I have read all suffer the same flaw–unlikeable heroines. Qurky, cute and shopping-obsessed will only get you so far (like to page 4) as far as I’m concerned. Why read on about the travails of someone you loathe?

  4. doc-t said:

    Hi Kristin, I hope you don’t mind if i just take a guess at what could be happening. this is ONLY a guess.

    As I understand it. Chick lit really sort of took off in the early to mid 90s. Also, the heroine of these novels is ussally young – mid 20s. Ussually there’s the boy meet girl situation, but she has to have something more. She has to excel or overcome in a mans world.

    The intended market is young women – most of whom are in their 20s. I expect many women in the 90s identified with these heroine. They were young, single, hoping for love, and trying to over come in a mans wolrd.

    They are now 30-something, married/divorced, mothers, managers, and business women. They’ve succeeded. They have already made it in a man’s world. They may be looking for romance but they’re not looking for love.

    Is it not possible that the realities of being a business woman, wife, and mother makes reading about a 20-something girl with soemthing special, seem a bit…fluffy?

    But then the question becomes, why are not the new generation of 20-something women not buying into chick-lit as much as the previous generation. Three reasons come to mind. 1: college 2:a different world 3: HBO.

    College

    Many more 20-something women are in college and graduate school. If she enters college at 18, graduates at 22, immediately enters graduate school/ med. school/ law school, she finishes (with luck) by the time she’s 25 to 26. I work at a university doing research. I believe the average age of the PhD graduates is around 27. (that is from personal observation.)

    these young women are busy reading text books, journals, and articles. they are studying. Quite simply they have less time for casual readin.

    A Different World.

    Todays 20-something fem grew up in a different culture/environment than the last generation. This generation of women, are almost completely liberated sexually. In the 80s the young women I knew were very shy and careful when discussing sex. The young women I talk to today are as blatant, if not more so, than men. Many are not LOOKING for prince charming. Some plan on BEING prince charming. Some are so confident they are insisting prince charming come to THEM. The young women of today have less of a struggle to overcome and make it in a man’s world (note i didnt say the struggle was gone). There are scholarships, programs, assistantships and overall awareness of the issues women face.

    I think it’s fair to say that the 20-something female of today is a different creature than she was yesterday… If i had to bet, I’d say she’d be more interested in erotica than chick-lit.

    HBO

    Sex in the city. You can get Chick Lit on T.V. now… sort of. Desperate housewives is a newer on. I would expect that to diminish the need to get it from books.

    well.. that was long winded. Sorry. I could be COMPLETELY off here. But I just think the market has changed.

  5. E is for Editrix said:

    Basically, the market got overcrowded and a lot of chick lit was published that was only average rather than outstanding. Readers got jaded, bored, I don’t know. You tell me. You folks out there, if you enjoyed the genre, ought to know. Why aren’t you buying new releases?

    This was definitely it for me. First the oversaturation, and then the blandness. I was reading a chick-lit novel recently from an author who was interested in writing for us. While the writing itself was solid, the characters all felt like they were generic brand. Like I got the knock-offs from Payless when I wanted the Jimmy Choos. Hell, I’d have been good with Nine West. (Great, now I’ve gone off the shoe deep-end.)

    In any case, I put down the book half-way through it, and that was that. But I hope the genre rebounds. I need some good light-reading from time to time.

  6. Crazy Chick said:

    I feel bad saying this, because I support the chick lit genre as a whole, but I just don’t buy it. It’s not something I’m going to spend my money on; it’s something I’ll read, but I’ll borrow it from a friend or the library.

    This is probably because I have a limited book buying budget (since I have a limited budget in general) and if I’m going to buy a book it’s going to be something that isn’t going to take me four seconds to read and that I’ll probably read over and over. I bought both Bridget Jones books because I knew I’d read them again and again (and have), so chick lit’s not completely out of the question, but it takes a much lower priority than classics I’ve always wanted to read or new paperbacks I just feel I have to buy.

    This isn’t just chick-lit specific, though. I feel the same way about mysteries and thrillers, too. Those are impulse buys, for airplanes and the like, instead of something I’ll walk into the bookstore planning to purchase.

    Could just be me, though.

    -C.C.

  7. Shanna said:

    I’m a big fan of chick lit, in addition to writing it, but when I look at my bookshelf, I see only two chick lit books published in 2005 that were from American authors. My collection remains almost exclusively British or Australian.

    I’m not entirely sure that American publishers ever really “got” chick lit or truly understood what it was that made those early British books so popular. They seem to have primarily focused on the quirky/edgy or else they went the other way and tried to be meaningful and literary while still having the stand-by chick lit elements. They seemed to think that what defined chick lit was that modern attitude and edginess.

    What I loved when I first discovered those British books (back in the day when I had to buy them in England) was the underdog heroine, the one who wasn’t setting the world on fire and who maybe didn’t even have a strong external story goal but who eventually prevailed by being a decent person, after all, and by making the right choices while the other people around her eventually brought themselves down with their own bad behavior (see almost any book by Wendy Holden or Jenny Colgan). I think American editors tend to be very focused on proactive heroines, which often gives them a little harder edge. Or else they’re totally sad sacks. The British heroines tend to be plucky underdogs making the most of their current situation even if they’re not doing much to change the situation. It’s a subtle difference, but I can identify more with trying to survive in a job I hate than I can with stepping out to start my own business and shake things up (even though I’ve done both).

    I loved getting a book that was still in many respects a romance, but that didn’t follow the conventional format of the romance novel. There was an element of suspense to it because you didn’t know how it would end. You couldn’t be sure which guy she’d end up with or even if she’d end up with anyone at all. That kept the pages turning for me.

    At first, I bought everything that came out because there wasn’t enough. Now that there’s more than enough, and now that my favorite British authors are being published in the US, I can pick and choose. What I look for is something that will give me the familiar reading experience (some laughs, caring what happens to the characters, maybe even a tear or two, and then a sigh at the end) but in a way I haven’t read a dozen times but also without being self-consciously different and quirky.

    What I think the chick lit boom did for the industry is open up new possibilities for women’s fiction, finding something that isn’t necessarily romance but that isn’t the darker, issue-laden Oprah book. There’s now room for books that are funny and real and maybe a little romantic but not necessarily in a conventional way, no matter what you call them. Before the chick lit boom, those kinds of books were depressingly scarce. They may not stick the chick lit label on them in the future, and they may be less about what people think of as the usual chick lit themes (dating and shopping), but they’ll still be published.

    So maybe it’s the label that’s dying and not the market for that kind of fiction? I’ve noticed that certain publishers are still publishing chick lit-type books, but they aren’t necessarily calling them that, putting them within any kind of identifiable chick lit imprint or in any other way treating them differently from any other novel, aside from covers that reflect the tone of the stories.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Kristin-

    Do you think hen lit, mommy lit are also suffering? What exactly is the difference between Women’s fiction and one of these labels?
    Unfortunately, I think some good well-written books got buried under the chick lit label (pink book covers with high heels and shopping bags) but they probably got more attention this way–it is a marketing ploy–or, at least it used to be.
    Personally, it makes me cringe to think my book would be marketed in such a way. It just screams THIS IS MINDLESS DRIVEL.

  9. kirsten said:

    So maybe it’s the label that’s dying and not the market for that kind of fiction? I’ve noticed that certain publishers are still publishing chick lit-type books, but they aren’t necessarily calling them that, putting them within any kind of identifiable chick lit imprint or in any other way treating them differently from any other novel, aside from covers that reflect the tone of the stories.

    Hi, Shanna, I bet you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  10. Anonymous said:

    I read a few of them, but I tired of them very quickly. Maybe I’m just too old (40) or too settled (4 kids) but I found the heroines’ travails very shallow.

    I love a good escape from the drudgeries of daily life 🙂 as much as the next person, but I just can’t get worked up about shoes, purses, and snippy 20-somethings.

    Another thing–I’m a romance reader and I like my happy endings. Maybe that’s shallow of ME, but romance would not be the largest selling paperback fiction if plenty of others didn’t agree. Chick lit caught the romance reader’s attention for a while, but in the end it just doesn’t deliver the same satisfaction.

  11. Elektra said:

    It seems like chick-lit is getting into more ‘serious’ topics.
    A few years ago, I could read chick-lit as something light and fluffy, to cleanse my literary palette between classics. Bridget Jones. Shopaholic.
    But the newest books are chock full of life-threatening diseases, overcoming trauma, and general downers. It’s really not the fun read I wanted when I bought it.

  12. Shalanna Collins said:

    (committing hara-kiri)

    I’m always just behind the wave.

    I still think my chicklitty novel is more of a women’s fiction/literary/fantasy novel than it is a shoes-and-shopping chick lit.

    I agree with you completely on the bans you stated for fantasy novels, by the way (in that other thread, but I didn’t want to post right after the oddly hostile last post currently ending that thread.) May I add that starting in the middle of a battle seems like an “in medias res” to most critique group members, but it means I don’t have any empathy for the characters and don’t get hooked. It’s better to start by the campfire where a fellow is wrestling with his crossbow and possibly thinking of his next move in the morning when he hears a twig snap . . . and another . . . and then the sentry cries, “Alert!”

    Now I wish I had sent you the query about my urban fantasy novel instead of the one about my chick lit, for as much as you MIGHT like the chick lit with paranormal elements, you might find the dark urban fantasy more marketable . . . who can say? I know it’s one at a time, so I’ll wait and see. The urban fantasy market isn’t going anywhere, IMHO.

  13. Faith said:

    I’ve known this about chicklit for quite some time. {I’m repped by a well known agent} And I always wonder why writers fall prey to writing what’s “hot” because those “hot” genres never stick around long.

    Btw, I enjoy reading here so I’ve linked to your blog.

  14. Anonymous said:

    I wonder what about the genres that straddle the fence… paranormal chick lit, easily converted into funny paranormal, or chick lit mystery…

  15. stay_c said:

    I used to love to read it, but three things really killed it for me.

    1) Kristen is dead on about the number of average books. I want something above average. If I want average romance, I’ll read a Harlequin.

    2) Red Dress Ink (and perhaps others) are missing endings. I want to know what happens, not this vague drive into the sunset ending like in “You have to kiss a lot of Frogs” and “How to Meet Cute Boys.”

    3) The price. I don’t want to pay $12 for a book that I can read in 3 hours. I might as well go to the movies for those prices.

  16. Angie said:

    Kristin-

    Glad to see another Colorado girl in the wilds of the internet. 🙂

    Being a prime example of the chick lit demographic (mid-20s, single, good career, etc.), I agree with your assessment. While I’ve found a few great chick lit novels, I’ve also grown tired of the overly neurotic “heroines” that just make me cringe as I read. I hope the genre doesn’t go away–just that the publishers focus a little more on quality over quantity.

  17. GirlGrownUp, Still Draming said:

    I have to agree that if I’m going to spend the money, it’s got to be something I will want to pick up again and again, as I rarely splurge. (recent splurge: The Notebook DVD, now that was chick-lit on film….made me want to fall in love all over again).
    Just hearing the term “chick-lit” makes you think it’s going to be some kind of fluffy (and as I said above accidentally as anonymous #2) it just can’t be so shallow and quirky.

  18. Anonymous said:

    As bookstore employee, I have to say I think the trend isn’t dead so much as shifted. Most of the customers we had that read these are reading the paranormal or suspense romances now.

  19. Anonymous said:

    I loved chick lit. And I’ll still buy every Marian Keyes I can get my hands on, but in recent months I’ve put down more than I’ve finished. That said, I just discovered Jennifer Weiner. I guess she’s not actually chick lit per se, but she has that feel, that snarky, urban, fun pace I love. Her book Good in Bed is one of the best I’ve ever read. If I can find books similar to this, I’ll definitelly be buying again.

  20. Maya said:

    I read Kirsten’s blog and my first instinct was that the audience had grown up.

    I agree with Doc-T’s assessment except for one thing. She suggested that the chick lit readers had moved on to erotica. I think there’s a step in between. From chick lit, they moved to erotic romance where they could find a “Happily Ever After” (HEA). They are JUST NOW moving to erotica, which is chick lit with lots of heat, tough heroines and no guaranteed HEA.

    I’m one of the founding members of Passionate Ink, the RWA erotic romance chapter. We started our chapter last May and, in less than two months, had 300 members.

  21. Anonymous said:

    Hi – I’m just wondering, do you ever go onto sites like RoseDog and Authorlink to look at manuscripts?

  22. Shanna Swendson said:

    I have to disagree about the chick lit readership having moved on. From what I hear directly from readers, what I see in bookstores, what I hear from booksellers and what I see on chick lit message boards, the voracious chick lit readers are still reading chick lit pretty voraciously. It’s just that there’s now so darn much of it, and of varying quality. If the readership keeps reading the same amount, that still spreads sales out among more books, which adds up to fewer sales per book.

    Not only are there all the books still coming out now on a pretty regular basis, but there are all those books that were published during the glut that all but the fastest readers with the most free reading time haven’t been able to catch up with. Books that fit into the chick lit classification make up the bulk of my reading, and I’m still behind even on some of my favorite authors. I know I’m buying as much as I always have, but there’s more out there that I’m not buying (and I also have a to-be-read pile that’s about to topple and bury me alive).

    Along the way, I think readers have learned to be more discriminating as they have more choices. It’s no longer just a “Yay! A chick lit book!” reaction. When I’ve been burned a few times by a particular publisher or imprint, I learn to skip that one in the future. I’m particularly annoyed by the trend a couple of years ago of putting a cartoony chick lit cover and description on every book with a young heroine, even if the book turned out to be dark and depressing, so I tend to skip books by publishers who’ve done that too many times unless I’m familiar with the particular author and know she’s not going to leave me wanting to slit my wrists when I want something light and fun. I’ve learned which authors I enjoy, and even some of them have lost me along the way (I’m currently in mourning for a former favorite author whose last book left me deeply disappointed).

    I guess there are different strokes for different folks, and all that, because what I like best about chick lit is that there isn’t a guaranteed HEA. I like that edge of suspense, of not knowing how the book will end the moment I start reading it. I want to keep turning the pages wondering not only how the ending will happen, but also what will happen. I’m far more interested in the conflicts inherent in finding Mr. Right than in working out the conflicts with the Mr. Right who’s there at the beginning of the story. That’s just where I am in life, and I think that’s part of the appeal for those who do prefer chick lit. There’s plenty of romance out there for those who prefer that, and I’m not convinced there was ever a mass migration from romance to chick lit. I think the bulk of chick lit readers came from elsewhere (many of them weren’t previously big readers until they found something that spoke to them).

    I’m really not sure how much of the chick lit audience is migrating to erotica or erotic romance, given that there’s generally little descriptive sex in most chick lit (you’re often more likely to see the funny, bad sex scene with Mr. Wrong described in detail than you are the rapturous scene with Mr. Right). I’m sure there’s some overlap, as with any other genre or subgenre. My main reading genres are science fiction/fantasy and chick lit, and that’s probably not an automatic overlap, either. At any rate, it’s not a mass migration to erotica from chick lit.

    With me, at least, although there’s tons on the shelf, there’s very little that’s exactly what I want. And yeah, the $13 cover price makes me even pickier. I have to be really, really sure I want a book before I buy it, and I won’t pay that for one that looks too slim — I’m not buying a $13 80,000 word book.

    Like all maturing markets, this one will probably shake out. The good stuff will stick, the marginal stuff will go away. Now that a niche and readership has been identified, there’s an established market for lighter women’s fiction that isn’t necessarily romance, and that was exceptionally rare and hard-to-find (and very difficult to sell if you happened to try to write it) before chick lit really hit. As I said earlier, it may no longer be called “chick lit.” Most bookstores don’t even have a specific chick lit section, anyway, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it printed on the spine of a book. They’ll just be another kind of book that’s part of the array of choices, and publishers may just be buying books they like as part of an overall mix within general fiction instead of trying to fill specific chick lit slots.

  23. December Quinn said:

    I have to agree with everyone else here, I think-it’s a combination of things.
    The heroines got less likeable, the heroes more bland. As angie said, you started wondering why these guys wanted to be with these neurotic, always-doing-things-wrong women. Bridget had spirit and was willing to do whatever she had to do-it seems a lot of authors forgot that and went overboard making their heroines whiny.
    Yes, perhaps the market grew up a bit as well. I know that as a married mother of two, I’m not as interested in chick lit as I used to be.
    Or perhaps the demand was overinflated to begin with.

    Or it could be there are a lot of writers now (myself included) who try to use that cheeky chick-lit-type voice in other types of romance, so the reader has more options-there seem to be more funny romances put out today, and most of the other writers I know write funny. Five years ago, hardly anybody seemed to if they weren’t doing chick lit.

    It’s a shame, though. Good chick lit is a true delight, and I hate to think of good writers not getting a shot because the market isn’t there anymore. (Yes, I know great writing will always win in the end, but still.)

  24. Diana Peterfreund said:

    I think Kristin is right, that the market has been glutted. People have read the same old shopping-bad boss-bad boy story and are looking for something different. I also think the production values went WAY down there fora while, and I went a long time without readinga chick lit that really made me laugh the way I did when I first got into the genre.

    I also think the label of chick lit has been dragged through the mud and people are reticent to call anything that has substance AND the chick lit tone “chick lit” because that means it’s fluff.

  25. kitty said:

    As an older reader/writer here, I’d like to see “older chick lit.”

    There’s a commercial on TV (can’t recall the product) in which Kathy Bates (in her car) says, “Face it girls. I’m older and have more insurance.” I laugh my butt off every time I see that. Y’wanna new market? There it is. All those sweet young thangs of the 80s are now more like Kathey Bates today.

  26. Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said:

    I’m an antiquarian and used bookseller. I have no demand for chick-lit in the “after market.” I don’t buy it because I can’t resell it. After-market demand is a good indicator of durability.

    However, an exeptionally well written book will eventually generate some interest. If my oldest daughter takes over my business, she may be begging for good chick-lit 20 years from now.

  27. Bernita said:

    Kitty, I hope you are right about a market for “older” heroines, whether it’s via chick lit or romance or general genres.

  28. Anonymous said:

    This sounds like a lame reason, but I love love chick lit. But I can’t find it in the bookstore. Every bookstore is different in how they stock/shelve them. Usually I end up walking up and down the fiction aisle looking for the little red dress picture on the spine. I never go to the store to get a specific book – I go to browse. And it used to be easy to browse through the romance section. The fiction section is just too hard to tackle and the chick lit gets lost. Even worse, so many bookstores don’t even carry it that after an hour of perusing I’m left with nothing.

    So I’ve given up looking for it. If there was a chick lit section of the bookstore, I’d be all over the genre.

    Like I said, lame excuse, but true.

  29. Buffy said:

    I read chic lit like mad during the Bradshaw days. Then, I dunno, I got bored. Realised, like others, I could find a lot of what i was looking for in glossy mags and on Television.

    I agree with the comment about British Chic Lit that someone made. We may envy Carrie. But we relate, like hell, to Bridget. Also, Colin Firth helps.

  30. kitty said:

    Bernita & anyone else: Is there a market for short stories? I’ve written a short story (commercial/women’s) and now I’m looking for a market. Any ideas/recommendations?

  31. Kathy Holmes said:

    I love chick lit but am selective about which authors I will read. What I don’t see – and would really love to since I write it – is chick lit with older protags. It seems that the books out there with older protags are more traditionally written. What prospects do you see for this market?

  32. Anonymous said:

    I used to love reading chick lit, but now I buy those books very rarely, and only if they come highly recommended, or if they’re by an author I already love.

    The first reason being is that I’ve mistakenly bought a lot of chick lit that was utter crap. And the worst are those sickening romances disguised as chicklit. Hate those!

    The second is what another person already mentioned – the unlikeable protagonists. Why are so many chicklit ‘heroines’ totally superficial and shallow? I love Jennifer Wiener (or I did, before that book that was all about the joy of having babies – ick) because her characters have depth. They may want a boyfriend, a new pair of shoes, or a wicked career, but they have a life beyond the superficial.

    I read “The Devil Wears Prada”, and stuck with it, even though the whiny, loser protagonist drove me crazy. Something about the plot still compelled me to finish it, so I took a chance on her next book, which is basically the same story set in a different industry. I’m done.

    Books written for young women should still strive for quality, in my opinion.

  33. Gina said:

    As a chick lit reader (and writer) I love the escapism… for me I never really got into traditional romances mostly because of the predicatable HEA endings. I do however agree that the market has been flooded with mediocre products. I read one recently, where the beginning started out okay, then towards the middle the author started repeating conversations (she would tell someone about the guy she was dating, long conversation would ensue – then a few chapters later she would debate telling her friend about the new guy…huh?), by the end it was as if she was way over word count so they just strung together a few paragraphs wrapped up the story, the end. Except it wasn’t, it just ended. One minute she is completely in love, the next she is alone… I guess one of the paragraphs that was cut revolved around their breakup.

    Unfortunately for a while this kinda became the norm for chick lit, more mediocre stories to pile on the shelves. But I think its changing, evolving whatever – yes the readers that ‘grew up’ with chick lit are older and perhaps looking for more in the books they read… Bridget Jones was spectacular, but really how many times can that story be told?

    So, as a writer I try to think outside the box. Yeah what I write would be classified as chick lit but only because of the ever present ‘voice’. But I also like to include real life stories… one of my MC placed a child for adoption, another is dealing with an alcoholic mom. I think we are all still looking for the escapism but really how many of us can relate to the sex & the city style stories? I mean seriously, how many of us would really be able to tell a Prada bag from and knockoff? And would we really care?

    g.
    http://www.gigigeorge.blogspot.com

  34. Yasmine Galenorn said:

    Basically, the market got overcrowded and a lot of chick lit was published that was only average rather than outstanding. Readers got jaded, bored, I don’t know. You tell me. You folks out there, if you enjoyed the genre, ought to know. Why aren’t you buying new releases?

    Why? Primarily because I got tired of whiny, ditzy characters. I love some chick lit (and ‘lady lit’) but the books I still own have characters that really came alive to me in good ways. It seems like a lot of the chicklit heroines were turning into whining brats who couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag. If I want that, I have only to go down to the mall.

    Like all genres that go through a heating up period, there will be a lot of titles thrown out to the public and the strong ones tend to rise to the surface. Maybe now, editors are looking for substance over quantity, and you can have substance and quality in any genre.

  35. Dorothy said:

    Whoa. How terrible. I hate to hear this. Just when I was in the middle of one…hmm…a new genre…now that’s a concept…think think…

  36. The Beautiful Schoolmarm said:

    I read this, then took a long look at the fantasy genre. I think it’s suffering from the same syndrome, and will suffer the same (neccessary) growing pains.

    What divides hen lit from chick lit? Is it just older chicks?

  37. Rhonda Stapleton said:

    Dorothy – same here. I’m in the final revision stages of my first chick lit, and I’m getting ready to start querying agents this month…*sigh*

    You guys are freaking me out. FREAKING ME OUT, I SAY!! lol

  38. Dorothy said:

    LOL, Rhonda…I have an idea. Just submit as a women’s fiction with attitude…can that work? And, Doc, sorry, they already have chick lit for daddy’s…sorry…grin…

  39. Elektra said:

    I’ve a question for–well, pretty much anyone who wouldn’t mind answering.
    When E-mailing sample chapters to an agent who requested them in response to an e-query, do you need a cover letter? Or is the body of the E-mail considered cover enough?

  40. Anonymous said:

    Well, if I never see another fluffy ‘chick lit’ novel, where the girl has a miserable job and even worse boss, wears Jimmy Choos (how can she afford them?), and has a gay best friend….I mean seriously, how many of the same books can we read?

    There just isn’t enough chick lit with substance out there, like Sarah Dunn’s The Big Love for instance. If there was, I’d buy it all up….that’s where I see the growth. I hope.

  41. Maya said:

    Elektra: Your email IS your cover letter. Treat it the same way you would your cover letter. And be sure to remind the agent that you are responding to his/her request.

    Good luck and regards!!

  42. Anonymous said:

    I don’t think the genre is in the toilet, but as a reader, I am jaded by novels in which the characters buy shoes and clothes, sleep around indiscriminantly and have a gaggle of girlfriends to provide cute oneliners. Many Chicklit novels forgo an attraction or sustainable relationship in favor of lame story about a woman who bedhops her way to the therapist’s couch. Why? What’s so wrong with a happy ending? Face it. The evolution of Chicklit has upgraded traditional romance into a modern romance for a modern woman. It dares to combine genres, pitching mystery or murder or humor with a believable, imperfect heroine. Above all, she’s a woman who CAN. Can work, can play, can change, can succeed, can love, can be alone, can have a cat, can be a CEO or a witch or a bitch. Let’s ditch the stereotypes. Bring on the powerful smart sassy (and yes, sometimes vulnerable) broad who can cut it anywhere … and get the man … if that’s what she wants. And maybe that’s what the majority of readers want, too. I agree that readers don’t need to see the heroine skip down the road into the everlasting sunset, holding hands with a sexy guy, but it’s satisfying when the savvy Chicklit heroine takes the first tottering stilletto steps toward a new kind of future … after she’s stuck it to the bad guy with her Prada purse (or whatever).

  43. Robert said:

    I was practially tarred and feathered for quoting an English newspaper that said the same thing two years ago. Anyone with any forsight should have seen it coming here too. After all, it is an English genre.

  44. Manic Mom said:

    Great post Kristin. I totally agree that there was a mad rush to get anything and everything out there, and in doing that, authors who have really great stuff now are suffering by that.

    Yes, the genre’s in the toilet. I just hope no one flushes!
    Stephanie

  45. Brian G Ross said:

    Was thinkin’ about pennin’ some chick-lit stuff as well, knowin’ how popular the genre is (just ask my fiancee!) but now, on YOUR authority, I’m gonna let that ship sail!

    Thanks – now, back to that other stuff I write…

  46. Anonymous said:

    Reading everyone’s comments, I think it becomes pretty apparent that, contrary to common belief, writing chick lit isn’t a no-brainer. You can’t just have a character who lusts after designer shoes and a nasty boss. Good chick lit isn’t formulaic, and a cute cover won’t cut it. I’ve read more bad chick lit in the last year than I’ve read good.

    But as long as publishers are buying books that are nothing more than fluff in pretty packagaing they’re driving the genre into the ground. If Nicole Ritchie and Pamela Anderson can get a book deal because chick lit is “supposed” to be all about designer labels and bar hopping, can you blame readers for losing respect for a genre that once used to satisfy?

  47. Anonymous said:

    Please, Nicole Richie and Pam Anderson have NOTHING to do with how chick lit sells.

    Nothing.

    Their book sales are simply driven by their brand name recognition. What they write doesn’t matter so much, as it will likely sell regardless.

    In a sense, it’s like Devil Wears Prada. That book didn’t sell because of the writing, it sold because of the curiosity factor. Was Anna Wintour the Vogue editor really THAT bad?

    It’s a peek into a world we don’t have access to.

    Those types of books will always sell.

  48. Nancy P. Sutton said:

    I think back in the beginning these publishers were handing out multi-book contracts to first time authors with the hopes that they’d be the next big thing. And it didn’t happen. Seriously, hardly anyone has pulled out of the pack from all of these same-old-same-old chick lit stories? Jennifer Weiner and Marian Keyes have done it, but the were at the beginning of this curve. Honestly, who from Red Dress or Dorchester or Avon or NAL has really achieved that super star, gotta have it status? No one. Yet, most of those authors got multi-book deals in the beginning (good for them!) and are continuing to write the same stories that we keep seeing. I don’t blame the authors, I blame the publishers (RDI being one, admittedly) who were filling their list up three years worth. Who in the world knows what will be “in” or interesting in three years? From what I’ve gleaned from talking to industry professionals, editors just jumped at too much stuff to get on that trend, therefore causing the oversaturation. There just aren’t a lot of challenging, interesting, different focused works out there to stand apart. And many unpublished authors I know who did take chances, and write extraordinary books were told by editors that unless they, themselves lived the story, they didn’t want to buy it. (James Frey anyone?) There are many, many chick lit authors who will (sadly) fade into non-existence once they ride the crest of their chick lit deals. Perhaps that’s why so many chick lit authors are turning to YA, paranormal and suspense. Interestingly enough, under other names. I’ll continue to hope for that next great book and author that will break free from the pack. I so need it.

    Nancy P. Sutton

  49. Amra Pajalic said:

    As a reader of romance novels in my teens I moved onto chick lit in my early twenties. It gave me the buzz and lighthearted feeling that romance did before I outgrew it. Now I’m over chick-lit and it’s the paranormal series that do it for me (think Charlaine Harris ‘Sookie Stackhouse series’ and MaryJanice Davidson ‘Undead’ series.)

    From my perspective it got harder to find a good chick lit novel without feeling like I’d read it all before. Now that there are breakouts to the genre (Kyra Davis combining chick lit and mystery) I’m much more interested. It still has that breezy, fun tone but also some meat to it in terms of dealing with the realness of life.

    And I have to agree with other commentators. So sick of the whiny heroine, the marriage/relationship that was perfect until one day the protagonist finds their partner cheating and realises it’s all a lie (wtf-were they in a coma or just brain dead), the protagonist obsessed with fashion (ever heard of a career or qualifications), where they don’t know what they want but just feel vaguely dissatisfied even though everything is okay (again-are they brain dead).

    It just comes across as very shallow and empty. Romance has maintained its hold on the market because the publishers understand what sort of pay-off the reader wants. But I think they never quite understood that with chick lit. They thought that it’s about the Sex and the City aspect when it was about dealing with the social realities of women who weren’t seeking (or hadn’t yet fallen into) the traditional life of marriage followed by kids followed by a life of mediocrity in suburbia.

  50. Devonna said:

    I like chicklit, but it’s very hard for me to find a book about someone my age. I’m 37. I’ve never been married, although I hope to one day. I’m too old for the 20-something chicklit out there, but not quite at the age where I enjoy the slightly more mature henlit. Where’s the stories for ladies my age? I think there’s a huge demographic out there that’s being ignored.

  51. Kate said:

    I’m a British chick lit author and yes, this sounds like the same backlash we’ve had over here in the UK. When I was trying to get my first novel published back in 2002, I was told that many editors had stopped acquiring: there were also endless sneery features in UK newspapers criticising cut-and-paste Bridget-clone heroines.

    However, ‘chick lit’ (a label that now embraces all the mum lit, hen lit, menopause lit sub-genres AND, in Britain at least, is randomly assigned to almost any novel by a woman under 40, about a woman under 40, who is being published by a mainstream commercial imprint) is still alive and well. The acquisitions race that made the market crazy for a few years has calmed down, but editors are still buying, and readers too. My agent persevered, and Book 3 is coming out in three months.

    What is happening is that the core idea or the setting or character DOES need generally need to be very distinctive or to have a Unique Selling Point: Book Group Lit is a recent example, and I am sure commercial women novelists (and the ‘lad lit’ guys like Mike Gayle) will continue to innovate and find new contemporary stories to tell.

    ‘Chick lit’ written as a cynical money-grabbing exercise, slavishly following so-called ‘rules’ (e.g. lots of shoe-shopping and Cosmopolitan drinking)deserves to fail. But stories that inject the circumstances of ordinary women’s lives with added humour or wit or wisdom, will always have a place. So no need to organise the wake just yet, I’d say…

  52. Anonymous said:

    I think you completely missed the point of “Nicole Ritchie/Pam Anderson” syndrome. When publishers have limited space on their list and there are only so many books they can buy, why would they take a chance on good, solid, different stories and characters when they can promote a book by a politician’s daughter, a movie producer’s wife, a movie studio assistant, a Vogue assistant, the sister of a celebrity, a Hampton’s bartender or the like?

    And, if what you say is true, and these books have always been around, why are they marketed as chick lit and not another form? Jackie Collins gave us a glimpse into the life of the rich and famous with some authority, why weren’t there a flood of copy cats then? Devil Wears Prada is always hailed as one of the pre-eminent examples of chick lit, how sad is that? Not a terribly complex story, not great writing, even annoying characters yet it lives as the standards-bearer of chick lit. With publishers cutting down their chick lit lists even more due to the market’s current state, who do you think has a better chance of getting published, a good chick lit by an unknown or a ghost-written or poorly developed book by someone with a name? Eventually that’s all we end up with, books by people with sexy bios and little substance, as demonstrated by the slew of new chick lits published (The Gift Bag Chronicles, Everyone Worth Knowing, Twins of Tribeca, The Perfect Manhatten, The Ivy Chronicles, etc.) If I was a chick lit author, I’d be very, very nervous.

  53. Carla said:

    I’m late commenting so most likely no-one will read this, but never mind. The question ‘Why aren’t chick lit readers buying the new releases?’, together with some of the suggestions in the comment thread, sounds like something a publisher could sensibly ask a market research company. What do readers of chick lit look for? What turns them off? How can they tell from the packaging (cover, colour, title, blurb, etc) if a book is chick lit?

    Do publishers commission much market research? Or are decisions mostly made by ‘instinct’?

  54. Kathy Holmes said:

    RJ – While I call my blog “chicksover40” I’m writing chick lit for the late 30s going on 40/just passed 40 crowd. It’s a great life-changing milestone which I enjoy exploring through my fiction.

    I hope all of these comments haven’t scared Kristin but it’s obviously a very hot topic. 🙂

  55. Anonymous said:

    This was so interesting. But it does leave me
    wondering whether to term my chicklit voiced woman’s fiction as chicklit
    or women’s fiction now when I query. Sigh.

  56. Benny said:

    Cultural Theory 101:

    Labeling any genre (whether it’s literary, music, film, art, whatever, but especially literary) will automatically cut its shelf life in half.

    That’s because this is an industry that is constantly on the lookout for The Next Big Thing, and a type of work that has an easy and catchy handle (“chick lit”) is just as easily discarded by the fickle trend-watchers.

    Chick lit filled a niche, then overfilled it, and it has reached such a point that 85 percent of its ever-maturing market will barf if it has to read the words “I’d kill for that pair of Manolo Blahniks” one more time. The plot and characters and dropped-names of chick lit novels have become cardboard to the point of utter ineffectiveness.

  57. Anonymous said:

    Being a 24 year old, college educated, single, white, middle class girl, I’m smack dab in the middle of the Chick Lit demographic. I started reading the genre just like 99% of chick lit readers, with Bridgett Jones’s Diary. Also, Sex in the City. It was fun and cool and I wanted more! I read some really awesome chick lit books, but eventually, they all started to sound the same. Now, when I browse the bookstore, all the chick lit seems to run together in an ocean of pink and mint green. Yeah, that book about the neurotic shopaholic chasing the sexy bike messenger might be fun, but it’s not NEW fun. I’ve had this fun before. It’s fun dejavu.

    That’s why I don’t buy chick lit anymore, it’s all too similar. I’m reading a lot of fantasy romance now. That’s a genre that keeps drawing me back! Always something new.

    Thanks for the new blog to read!
    Rachel

  58. Shanna Swendson said:

    A few more points that have struck me in the past day or so:

    While we tend to think of chick lit as being about 20-somethings, remember that the two big things that started the trend were actually about 30-somethings. Bridget Jones was a 30-something singleton drowning in a sea of Smug Marrieds who looked at her as an object of pity. The Sex and the City women were in their 30s (or older). These were refreshing because, in general, it was women in their 20s who were dating, shopping and finding themselves in fiction, while women in their 30s were settling down, getting married, having kids and being established. One of the things that was so exciting about Bridget Jones and Sex and the City was the fact that they portrayed 30-somethings who were still single and independent instead of settled down, and the challenges this group faced — something that reflected a reasonably new and rapidly growing urban demographic that had previously been mostly invisible in fiction.

    When the publishing industry somehow translated this into “young and hip” 20-somethings, they lost some of what was fresh and interesting about the works that kicked off the genre.

    Meanwhile, a lot of the stereotypes heaped on the genre, such as the obsession with designer shoes, are actually from Sex and the City and not actually that common in chick lit novels. I’ve read a lot of chick lit, and maybe it’s self-selected because of the kind I read, but I haven’t found that too many actually do follow the sleeping around/shoe obsessed/gay best friend mold. I start to suspect that most of the genre’s critics who delight in bashing it haven’t actually read all that much and instead have seen a few episodes of Sex and the City, and therefore assume they know what chick lit is about.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure the industry has done a good job of promoting what they’ve published. It was mentioned that there haven’t been a lot of breakouts, and I think that’s true. Perhaps because of the tendency to publish in original trade paperback, which doesn’t get the reviews or publicity push? The books that have broken out have been almost exclusively hardcover releases. There are a lot of people who identify themselves as big chick lit fans who haven’t even heard of anything beyond the Shopaholic books and The Devil Wears Prada. Maybe The Nanny Diaries. I’m on a few reader message boards, and it’s a near daily occurence for someone to join the group and introduce herself by saying, “I love chick lit! I’ve read all the Shopaholic books, and OMG, The Devil Wears Prada is the best book ever!!!!” but when you ask about other chick lit they’ve read, they’ve heard of no other authors you mention. A few fans of Marian Keyes or Jennifer Weiner occasionally show up, but whenever I start recommending rank-and-file, trade paperback original authors from my bookshelves to these readers (such as, if you like The Devil Wears Prada, you’ll really like Fashionistas), it’s like a total revelation to them that there’s more out there. There are people re-reading the Shopaholic books because they don’t know there’s anything else available.

    I think the industry may have thought they had a hungry market, so they could just fling out the pastel-covered books and readers would find them, but in my observation, that doesn’t seem to be the case. They can only find the books that get the big publicity splash.

  59. Anonymous said:

    I have to agree with with Doc-t said; it’s not so much that the genre is dying but that the women who started reading the novels are no longer twenty something single females. When I started reading chick lit, I was in my early 20’s and couldn’t get enough of it. Now I’m in my early 30’s married with a child/self-employed and although I occasionally like to read about the single life I really look for stuff that relates to my lifestyle now. We’ve all grown up, Chick lit needs to grow with us.

  60. Heather said:

    Why can’t we have chick lit about a girl who shops at Target and is infatuated with the check out boy at the supermarket? 😉

  61. Natalie Damschroder said:

    On the other hand, I’m not sure the industry has done a good job of promoting what they’ve published.

    That’s exactly what I was thinking while I read this very long comments trail. {g}

    As a writer, I get market info from an author’s perspective, and since the very beginning, editors have been insisting that chick lit is a TONE and not a topic. Yet most of the complaints here refer to the belief that chick lit is all about shoes and shallowness. It’s obvious that perception has to come from somewhere, and it’s either because too many of the books are like that, or too many of the books are marketed as being like that.

    I love the chick lit voice, but I’ve never loved that kind of content. I hated Bridget Jones’s Diary and Sex in the City. But there have been some wonderful books written in the chick lit tone without the so-called trappings associated with the genre. I loved Shanna Swendson’s book and the next one can’t come soon enough for me. I also enjoy Julie Kenner’s books, which have (the now too-often repeated, sorry) chick lit tone but also have adventure and paranormal elements, as well.

    Nancy said something about how few authors have “broken out” to become really big, but I don’t think that has anything to do with genre. That’s true of any genre, including literary fiction. Everyone dreams of becoming the Julia Roberts of fiction, but most are happy being the Hilary Swank–who says she’s just thrilled to be a working actor.

  62. Devonna said:

    MG and Kathy,

    A book with the heroine over 30? Yes, I’d definitely read it. I’m not a picky reader ~ I devour almost anything I can get my hands on. It just has to be a good story ~ something to keep my interest.

    Being in my late 30’s {gasp}, my tastes have changed. I no longer really enjoy the Diana Palmer books anymore where the heroine is barely out of grammer school and the hero is almost always old enough to be her father….although, she’s still one of my favorite writers, just wish she’d acknowledge she does have readers over the age of 20.

    It does seem society is changing, and hopefully the genre will change with it. Although some folks still get married young, it seems like there isn’t such a rush to the alter like there used to be..and quite a few people are waiting and getting married later in life. Or, maybe they choose not to marry at all, but there’s nothing wrong with a good love story.

  63. Anonymous said:

    I think Shanna and Natalie are right on. All these people are saying “Give me chick lit with a 30-something protagonist,” but they’re already out there! So why aren’t people finding them? All the books with the cute girly covers get space and, of course, all the typical names get coverage in magazines and print, so why aren’t publishers doing a better job of showing readers that there are chick lit books out there that appeal to more than the shoe-shopping, boyfriend-yearning crowd?

    Maybe if publishers did a better job of getting exposure for chick lit stories that aren’t stereotypical and overdone, they’d also get more readers and sell more books. Novel concept – actually put money into promoting a book instead of mailing out to some stale publicity list and hoping someone decides to cover a book.

    Maybe it’s time everyone stopped blaming the genre and started asking why they don’t know that 99% of chick lit exists outside of Sophie Kinsella and Jennifer Weiner?

  64. Anonymous said:

    Ditto on the other comments regarding shallow characters.

    Chick lit is essentially a character-driven genre, yet many of the novels fail to deliver protagonists who are rich or emotionally complex.

    Flat, one-dimensional characters (e.g., Mrs. Bennett and Lydia in “Pride and Prejudice”) are wonderful as foils, but they can’t sustain an entire novel.

    A mark of good writers (e.g. Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood) is being able to create characters with whom readers will connect.

  65. Anonymous said:

    Ditto on the other comments regarding shallow characters.

    Chick lit is essentially a character-driven genre, yet many of the novels fail to deliver protagonists who are rich or emotionally complex.

    Flat, one-dimensional characters (e.g., Mrs. Bennett and Lydia in “Pride and Prejudice”) are wonderful as foils, but they can’t sustain an entire novel.

    Forget demographics. I will read about a character in any range as long as she’s got something interesting to say.

    The mark of a good writer (whether it’s Margaret Atwood or Melissa Senate) is the ability to create characters with whom the reader will connect.

  66. Anonymous said:

    I read a few chick lit novels, bought in paperback. I agree that, with a limited book budget, I wouldn’t buy a hardcover that was just a read and throwaway (or lendaway) book.

    But how much chick lit can you read anyway?

    I’m reading David Mitchell now, Number 9 Dream, but I wouldn’t want to read a ton of books about 20-somethings in Tokyo, either, although I like Tokyo as a setting for novels. (Out, by Natsuo Kirino, is another good one.)

  67. Anonymous said:

    As a voracious reader, I can attest to the fact that chick lit went from clever to crap (and voluminous amounts of it) and that’s why this reader doesn’t bother to pick it up at the store any more. As a writer, I hate the idea that there seems to be a disconnect in differentiating chick lit from women’s fiction. And also wonder what it is about paranormal that it seems to be the only fiction being sold any more. Enough freaking vampires already!!!!!

  68. Anonymous said:

    So another thing that killed chick lit is multiple book deals for writers who had at best one good book in them. RDI went from stellar to sagging IMHO b/c they had 2nd and 3rd books from authors that really were impossible to get past that magical first 50 pages…

  69. Anonymous said:

    So here’s another thing that killed chick lit for me (aside from the generic simpering plotlines that didn’t expand much). Author blurbs that were completely nonsense. At first w/ chick lit, author blurbs seemed pretty sincere, but it got to a point that you could tell another writer endorsed the book because both she and the author shared either the same literary agent or publishing house, and you realized pretty readily that if that author had actually read the book, she would not have agreed to put her name so prominently on the cover (because the books became very mediocre!!!)

  70. Anonymous said:

    doc-t said…
    how about chick lit written from a guys perspective???

    Okay, so i’m laughing to.. it was just a thought.

    I THINK THAT WOULD BE CALLED “DICK LIT” LOLOL

  71. Anonymous said:

    someone mentioned Sarah Dunn’s The Big Love–right on. That was a great book. But for every one of those, there have been 50 stinkers.

  72. pennyoz said:

    Chick Lit suffers from the derogatory term for a start. So if you have a terrible description it’s not far from being “in the toilet”. It also suffers from bad covers!
    And another thing I think that it suffered from. Publishers are not welfare agents. They’re business people who deal with artists. There’s no romance in publishing. It’s cold hard sales. If crud sells then the publisher will sell crud. And since it sold by the bucket load, then bucket loads were needed. Good, bad, ugly, “chicklit” filled the lists until fingers got burned and suddenly the ugly, the bad and the good got swallowed up into the same bucket.
    I think as a genre it will never die, but it’s going to be wearing a plaster cast for a while while the bone knits.
    Can we label “guy” stuff as “guy buy”.

  73. Anonymous said:

    Dear Kristin,

    I am a screenwriter and Screenwriting prof in Canada looking for my next project (I specialize in adaptation).

    After reading your “State of the Chick Lit Nation”, I am writing to inquire if, in your professional opinion, COUPON GIRL would make an audience-worthy movie.

    My previous experience is adapting thrillers and one western. The screenplays based on the novels, are out in the marketplace.

    I am now looking for a romantic comedy and/or a family entertainment (Disney-type) story.

    If COUPON GIRL – or any other novels that you represent – “fit” the above and you wish to discuss this further, please send me an e-mail and let me know.

    Thanks in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

    Yours truly,

    Prof. Alex Stirling
    SHERIDAN COLLEGE INSTITUTE OF
    TECHNOLOGY AND ADVANCED LEARNING
    Canada
    [email protected]

  74. Angie said:

    One of the best things I’ve gotten out of this comments thread has been the names of a few new authors to try. My “to be read” pile has certainly gotten taller and I have faith that I won’t cringe my way through these new books. Thanks!

  75. hell4heather.com said:

    I came here to research what people are or have been saying about chicklit as I try to sell mine. Which is bloody funny by the way! I know this thread is old now, but thanks for the insight! My protagonist is 40 something, not drunk, disorderly or bed-hopping and she’s not a fan of shoes or bags – she just happens to be on honeymoon on her own 😀