Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What Exactly Is Women's Fiction?

Categorizing one's novel can be a difficult thing. When I first released A Whisper to a Scream, I went with "General Fiction," not wanting to pigeon-hole my work. However, the more I am learning about marketing, it seems "General Fiction" casts too large a net. I need a niche. Besides, even though Whisper has two strong male characters in John and Tom, the focus is clearly on Annie and Sarah, the co-protagonists.

I decided on "Women's Fiction." But, what exactly is that?

Some think it is any novel with a strong female protagonist. Others see it as only chick lit and romances. Still others term it thusly because it happens to be written by a female.

It is a non-genre genre.

The wide scope of these words was evident when I started a thread on Kindleboards seeking women's fiction authors for a Listmania I was creating for amazon.com. I received posts from romance novelists, fantasy authors, women sleuth writers and a few books like mine.

I went about reading what I could on the Internet to see if I could narrow it down, but came up with very little information. Three literary agent blogs had definitions, but they were all different. My A Handbook to Literature from college does not include any mention of it, so it must be a relatively new term. Even amazon.com does not have a clear category. When you type in "Women's Fiction," it beaks down into subcategories of "Domestic Life," "Friend Fiction," "Mother and Child Fiction" and various others.

So, here is what I can deduce from my research. "Women's Fiction" deals with subjects women can relate to in their real lives. It focuses on family, friends, children, careers, love and loss. Like other writing styles, it can range from literary to commercial. Yes, there can be a man waiting at the end of the novel, but there needn't be. And a happy ending is not required.

Classic examples are Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot and the Bronte sisters. Contemporary writers could be Anne Tyler, A.S. Byatt, Maeve Binchy, Sue Monk Kidd and Kathryn Stockett.

For the most part, women's fiction characters are older than their chick lit counterparts, and the story does not end with a wedding, but rather begins with it. Ultimately, it is about how women deal with the passage of time, the coming of age at each stage. In other words, life.

What do you think?