In which I consider what’s in a (genre) name

‘So what do you write?’


‘But what sort of books?’

‘Er… well…. erm…’

That’s a conversation I have at least a couple of times most weeks. I usually end up saying I write ‘Romantic Comedy,’ but usually follow the claim with a rambling disclaimer about the consistency of the funny and the frequent absence of hearts and flowers, and because of those disclaimers it’s not a terribly satisfactory description. So what might  be my better options?


Chick Lit?

Wikipedia describes chick lit as ‘genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.’ That’s probably as good a description of what I write as any, although I’m quite interested in issue of modern manhood (oo-er missus) as well, so why aren’t I 100% comfortable with the term?

I think it is simply the mental association that I have between between the term chick lit and ideas of pink, glittery covers with pictures of shoes on them. And having just typed that sentence I now feel an overwhelming need to add a disclaimer making clear that there’s nothing wrong with a pink sparkly cover – but somehow they don’t quite float my boat anymore. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that assumption though. It does seem clear that pink, sparkly, shoe covers are somewhat out of vogue. I quick skim of the chick lit bestsellers list on Amazon shoes that there’s still a fair amount of pink, but substantially less sparkle and hardly any pictures of shoes, so maybe I need to update my assumptions, woman-up and come out as a proud Chick Lit Author.

Or I could tell people that I write…

Women’s Fiction?

Women’s Fiction or Commercial Women’s Fiction (for those writers who want to make clear that they’d like to get paid at some point) are popular terms in the publishing industry, and encompass rather broad church of stories and authors. They’re terms to which I have only one objection. It’s the word ‘Women’s’. And actually it’s two objections. That is to say that my objections to that one word are twofold. Firstly, why on earth are books about love and family and emotion only for women? Men deal with all those things and it seems plausible that quite a few of them might be interested in reading about that stuff too. Why on earth would we want to create a banner across the top of our books that says ‘Men not allowed’? And secondly, I get the sense of an sneaky little implication that this isn’t quite Proper Fiction. It’s just for women, bless their sparkly pink stilettos. It saves their fluffy little brains from the effort of trying to read the Real Books. It irritates me in the same way that the Women’s section in Sunday newspapers irritate me. I feel like I’m being shepherded away from the real news to look at some nice soothing pictures of dresses. Again, that might say more about my tendency to make assumptions that anything else.


So Chick Lit/Romantic Comedy/Women’s Fiction writers of the interweb help me out! What sort of books do you write?


And if you fancy finding out what I actually do write, you can buy ebooks and actual paper short stories here.

Author: Alison May

Writer. Creative writing teacher. Freelance trainer in the voluntary sector. Anything to avoid getting a real job... Aiming to have one of the most eclectic blogs around, because being interested in just one thing suggests a serious breakdown in curiousity.

22 thoughts on “In which I consider what’s in a (genre) name”

  1. I agree it is very tricky, Alison. I really don’t like the term ‘chick lit’ yes because of the pink, shoes and sparkly stuff, but mainly because of the word ‘chick’. Are women small, yellow, fluffy and say ‘cheep’? I don’t think so. I really think we are going backwards to a time beyond the 1970s where, duck, flower, petal and luv were all acceptable names bestowed upon women as terms of ‘endearment’. I would argue they were terms of ‘belittlement’, if that is actually a word. If it isn’t it should be 😉 So I prefer Women’s Fiction. It does have it’s problems as you pointed out above. Is it only women that are interested in stories about love, family, passion etc? I tend to say suspense/mystery with an element of romance when asked, although time-travel isn’t normally included within that. It is in my book though, and since I write them I can say what I like 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m afraid, Alison, that if you write Romantic comedy, you might as well hang the Chick Lit sign around your neck! I have tried to convince people that Rom Com and Chick Lit are two distinct entities (you can be funny whilst never even *mentioning* shoes or shopping), everyone conflates the two. Why? I have no idea! It’s a bit like people imagining all fantasy films have orcs and elves in and then getting cross about the Avengers not having either…

    I also hate the term Women’s Fiction (why not just make the books extra-tiny, so they fit in our wee little girlie hands).. can’t we just call what we write ‘Fiction?’ Mind you, I call what I write ‘dark psychological fiction – with jokes’….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not that there is anything wrong with shoes, nor is there any direct correlation between high heels and chick lit. I like noir and crime… and I still love my shoes!
    I agree, the whole genre thing gets me very riled and angry. A good book is a good book and we should be more open to all kinds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nope. Definitely nothing wrong with shoes. I love a good shoe. I’m just slightly resistant to viewing a fondness for shoes as my defining character trait! And it certainly doesn’t imply a wish to read shoe-related fiction in large quantities.


  4. Gawd, why do we have to categorize everything so closely? I blame Amazon and its tagging ststem. OK: I write Pastiche Victorian Crime Murder Mystery Comedy. Everybody clear about this? No? Neither am I.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, a good book is a good book. Trying to define what I actually write leads me into a quagmire of confusion because each different could come under a different banner, depending on the theme.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Really steamy romance. Out and proud, although my two Piatkus books did fall into the um… sort of women’s fic/rom com so I can exactly where you’re coming from but since I think the vast majority of my readers are women, and I’d like to be able to give a clear message to any potential reader, I don’t have a problem with saying women’s fiction or rom com as in Real Life I rarely if ever have met a reader who is offended by that and suspect only a very few are. Actually I write New Adult at the moment but hardly anyone in the Uk knows what that is.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I find a lot of readers like to say ‘Well, I read X author’ and that helps them and me to judge whether my work is something they’d like. Saying my latest are a little like Sylvia Day or previous ones are like Paige Toon or Jill Mansell or Jilly Cooper seems to be a lot more accessible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes – relating it to a specific author can help.

      I don’t mind saying rom com at all, apart from the fact that I don’t want readers to be disappointed when they get to the bit where the heroine’s bed ridden with depression, for example, because they feel I’ve promised them fun and japes throughout. So my concern about calling it romantic comedy is different to my unease with women’s fiction and chick lit as terms. With romantic comedy, it’s more about not wanting to mislead or give false expectations.


  8. It is tricky and difficult to fight the general perception of what we write. I will still proudly show off my new book with it’s pink cover and shoes and woe betide anyone who tells my heroine that she’s a piece of fluff – she will stab them with her pink stilettos!


  9. Please Miss, Am I allowed????

    I get really ticked off by literary snobs, or by other blokes who look down on “romantic fiction” as a genre.

    If its well written, I’ll read it – and review it! I’m secure enough in my skin to not give a stuff about what ANYONE thinks about my reading choices.

    I see your point re Amazon’s tags, but – for what its worth, I NEVER use them.

    You all keep writing’em, I’ll keep reading’em! (and incidently, I’ve really enjoyed nearly everything I’ve read in the last year.



  10. A great blog, Alison. I just say that I write quality commercial fiction, and when pressed for more info, I say that my books tell a love story. I hate these genre titles as books are seldom black and white (OK, you know what I mean!), but I guess it’s only right that the reader has some idea of what they’re likely to be getting if they buy the book.


  11. Oh good question – I would say paranormal romance but then people think you do Twilight and pink sparkly vampires or you’re trying to copy JR Ward and her Black Dagger Brotherhood. So maybe paranormal historical fiction – with a bit of romance? What do Mary Stewart and Barbara Erskine do? Because I would love my stuff to be categorised like their stuff. Hmmm.


  12. Good topic for discussion, Alison and one we all relate to. Things get even more complicated when writing across different genre- all of which then require further definitions. This need to box and label fiction is a tad exasperating.

    Having said that, I think I’ll try out quality commercial fiction too! That covers the gamut nicely. I think Dickens could have worn that label very cheerfully.


  13. I don’t have a problem with any of the labels, they don’t put me off. If I’m looking for a book to read, I will look at genre, then the if I’ve read the author before and like them, if not the blurb and recommendations from people I know have similar taste … then I buy. My dear old Dad happily reads Chick Lit … and is a huge fan of Jill Mansell (or is she romantic comedy or commercial women’s fiction).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: