Chick Lit is Dead. Long Live Chick Lit. By Dorothy Koomson

I’m constantly hearing that the market for non-literary women’s fiction – commonly known as ‘chicklit’ – is saturated, over-subscribed, on its way out because there is just too much of it out there. Basically, that ‘chicklit’ is dead. Is it? Is it really? Hmm… I’m not so sure. And I’ll explain why.

Before we get into this debate, though, I feel I should nail my colours to the mast and make it clear to those not in the know thatI’m not keen on the term ‘chicklit’. Why? Because I think ‘chick’ is derogatory to women. Yes, I’m aware that a large number of people don’t agree with me. You might not agree with me. But, it’s a fact that I’m pretty sure we can both get over while we talk about the genre. Instead of ‘chicklit’, I use ‘heartlit’ to mean books that touch my heart and inspire an emotional response. Other people call it ‘commercial women’s fiction’. Let’s just assume we’re all talking about the same thing. Because, whatever you call it, we’re talking about a particular type of book; a certain brand of story. We’re talking about books that examine, expose and reflect our everyday lives. Whether they are full of romance or full of frivolity; whether they are tense and psychological or laid-back and laugh-out-loud funny, these tales tap into the many, many elements that make up our lives.

And gosh do I love reading these types of books. I like a literary tome with lots of complicated, intricate imagery and clever language as much as the next person, but if I want to relax, want to be entertained, want to find out about something, want to just experience the life of someone who would be like me if not for an accident of birth then I will hunt out one of these stories.

I will open the cover and dive in, swimming – sometimes effortlessly, sometimes furiously, sometimes just bobbing along – through the pages until I get to the other side and pull myself out of that particular pool, shut the cover and reflect upon what I have just experienced.

There are hundreds upon thousands of these books, novels that come under the chicklit/heartlit/cwf umbrella. And of course, as in any other genre, they vary in quality: some are good, some are not so good and some are distinctly average.

What’s unusual, I suppose, about this particular genre is not that it’s written in the main by women for women, but that people are constantly talking of its demise. They are saying so because there is so much of it, often speaking sneeringly of the ‘fact’ that it is one-dimensional dross that it is unsustainable and that if it isn’t already dead, it soon will be. No one talks about science fiction, crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, horror, etc in those terms. And I’ll tell you why, and why anyone who claims that chicklit/heartlit/cwf is dead is wrong.

It’s because, as far as I can see, compared to most other genres, chicklit/heartlit/cwf has evolved the quickest. Books in this genre are different to how they were when this genre first exploded. They are now constantly and regularly dealing with meatier, weightier issues. Readers are demanding more from these stories: more depth, more intrigue, more humanity. Writers are embracing and enjoying the challenge of dealing with challenging subjects within the confines of a good story, with realistic, likeable characters.

I truly believe that rumours of my favourite kind of storytelling’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. I don’t think chicklit/heartlit/cwf is dead, it is merely changing. It is moving with our times. It is evolving, demanding more of its writers, delivering more to its readers. It is in the process of becoming something newer, shinier, better. And that’s A GOOD THING, right? Yes, I think so, too.

© Dorothy Koomson 2011

Dorothy’s latest release is the excellent THE WOMAN HE LOVED BEFORE.

Dorothy Koomson’s Website

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8 Responses to Chick Lit is Dead. Long Live Chick Lit. By Dorothy Koomson

  1. Yasmin Selena Butt says:

    In my head I define ‘chick lit’ as contemporary romantic fiction. Romance is often a central theme. I don’t have a problem with the term or readers who like the books. I’ve enjoyed some myself like Jemima J by Jane Green some of Wendy Holden’s novels.

    What I **hate** with a passion is the laziness that I’ve seen critics, media, publishers, jacket designers employ in tarring young female writers with the same brush, regardless of the realities of what’s inside the book. I have a pet hate of jaunty covers. I don’t like the snobbishness of the books being dismissed as shallow or frivolous.

    I get annoyed when you have writers like Marian Keyes being bandied as lightweight chick lit when I know her books cover rape, addiction as well as romance. Or Lisa Jewell who I love, who can write a man’s story as convincingly as a woman’s – read A Friend In The Family to see what I mean. It’s the tale of 3 brothers. Yet that would be called chicklit, just because she’s a female writer! Why can’t you just call it contemporary fiction like David Nicholls or Nick Hornby’s books do? Both writers appeal to both genders. I got into Lisa Jewell via a boy! I got into Nick Hornby via a girl!

    So it’s the laziness that winds me up. Not the term. Not the books. It happens in the music industry too. I’ve written a novel, it’s being edited as we speak but God help me if when it’s published it gets called chick lit. I’ll come after you with a spade!

  2. Yasmin Selena Butt says:

    p.s. Rant over lol… and I like ‘heart lit’ I think that’s a better term and yes, it does touch the heart. Good blog ; ) x

  3. Cally Taylor says:

    Here here! Fantastic post Dorothy.

  4. Jenni says:

    Fantastic post. I love the label of heartlit and your swimming pool analogy is perfect.

  5. Karen says:

    Very well said 🙂

    It’s awful that we still have to defend reading or writing ‘chicklit’ as though it’s something to be ashamed of, but I do think it’s a pity the covers sometimes don’t do the story justice.

  6. Pingback: Why I Write Contemporary Women’s Fiction « JULIET MADISON ~Australian Author~

  7. Sandra says:

    I feel so much happier now I undretnsad all this. Thanks!

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