Murder She Wrote: Is Chick Lit Dead ?

On At the weekend Missie and I went to a book exchange store shop I’d driven past many times, always saying we’d get there “some day”. Saturday was some day. The shop was overflowing with books – stacked in teetering piles on the floor, bursting out of bookshelves –  and there were little homemade signs everywhere:

I know.

Missie arrived with some books she’d chosen just as I snapped this:

Mummy, why did you take a picture of “How To Kill Your Husband”?


She pointed:

Of course some days I do want to kill him.  Don’t we all?  But Saturday was not one of those days.

I didn’t take a picture of that. I took a picture of the sign on top of the bookshelf. See? 

She nodded.

Were you worried for Daddy?

A shrug. She was already moving on.

What’s chick lit?

Ah, now there’s a question. . .


Typing “chick lit” into Google’s search engine elicits umpteen articles and websites. Recently I read a piece in the The Guardian entitled Should We Mourn The End of Chick-Lit? where Elizabeth Day and Tasmina Perry, concluded that the term and not the genre should be eliminated:

“If there’s a problem here it’s about the word “chick”. Somewhere along the line chick-lit was probably a fun, easy-to-digest marketing slogan but it now seems to be an all-encompassing slur to lots of warm, witty and wonderfully written books.”

My WIP seems to have been slotted into chick lit women’s fiction commercial fiction so I’ve been reading books in this genre lately for comparison purposes: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, The Love Verb, and now Lovehampton. I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to read these titles in the past, but equally, I might have picked them up at a communal book exchange on holiday. These latest three were varying shades of okay. But I’ve read other books in the genre that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed – some Maeve Binchy, Shopaholic Abroad (as an audio book), Bridget Jones’s Diary and many more. Just the other day I read a review of Goodnight Tweetheart on my favorite librarian’s blog; it seems to fit the genre and sounds intriguing too.

So, no more chick lit? Agreed. But there’s a place for commercial fiction. Lisa Jewell was quoted recently in The Telegraph in an another article on the subject:

“Publishers have published women’s fiction into a corner, and now we are all trying to punch our way out of it. We just have to write the best books we possibly can and hope   that, once the pink covers  . . . have faded from memory, we might finally be allowed just to be called writers.”

“Write the best books we possibly can.” Amen.

36 thoughts on “Murder She Wrote: Is Chick Lit Dead ?

  1. I love this post. See I love this genre of book I just hate the term chick-lit. It belittles the work which in my opinion takes real talent to pull off just right. We need to call it something else. I mean we’ve had ‘dick-lit’ for years, it’s called Playboy. At least ours doesn’t need pictures. Oh I slay me.

  2. I agree, D. I think there’s a real balance, here, between knowing your audience and your genre and all that other businessy type stuff and just concentrating on what it is you’re creating. For me, every time I lift my eyes to what’s going on around me, a bit of my creativity gets lost. I work better when I tune the world out.

  3. If I ever get to your part of the world, I want to go to this shop and meet whomever creates those signs!

    I read somewhere that the term ‘chick’ was actually empowering. Yeah . . . not sure I see that. The books may be, but the term certainly isn’t.

    Tweetheart isn’t the typical rom-com but I’m pretty sure How to Kill Your Husband isn’t either. Maybe labels and genres like this aren’t the best way to go, though I suppose it makes finding read-alikes a little easier. What would be the alternative? ‘Women’s fiction’? Ugh.

    (and thanks for the shout-out, Downith — my performance review is coming up soon, and I’m thinking of printing this out: “See? I’m someone’s favorite librarian!”)

    • We’ll go together Sarah.

      I know what you mean about alternatives. But do we need one? As so many people have said in this debate popular books written by men that appeal to women readers(One Day, High Fidelity) don’t get labelled.

      And you ARE my favorite librarian. You can quote me on that.

  4. awwww…Lisa Jewell! I haven’t read her in ages. More than ten years ago, I read her Ralph’s Party and liked it enough to start looking her up and read an interview where she talked about getting laid off and using the time to write that book she had always wanted to write. At the time, I was laid off and I thought, “I’m going to do that,” but then I got a job offer the following week and now, i’m realizing, it has taken me more than a decade to get back to it.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this one too as the term chick lit rings so tinnily and quite a few of those bestsellers are, well, tripe. Yes there must be a better label for well-written and sassy wimminy stuff that knows what real (and experienced!) women thrive upon. Not chandeliers and heels for Gad’s sake, but something more thrumming and less unforeseeable.

    Dick-lit is a great starter and certainly brings to mind some of my novel’s scenes.

  6. You just know those bookshop owners are the type who totally turn their noses up at you when you bring your selections to the counter and they don’t measure up to their literary standards.

    I always disliked the term “chick lit,” not to mention the covers filled with shoes and handbags. Or silhouetted women dashing about…in high heels, carrying handbags. Sometimes the covers completely cover up an intelligent book about young professional women.

    Chick-lit is a demeaning term, and to make it worse, the male equivalent of “dick lit” never caught on (surprise, surprise). That’s because men write fiction and women write “women’s fiction.”

  7. You know, the upside may be in the reader herself. One of my best friends is a divorce lawyer. When she buys a book, and she buys many, she actively looks for those covers many of us disdain. We are coming from the place of knowing how much it takes to put a book out into the world, from the place of elevating our game to the best of our ability.
    But here’s the thing. My friend is intelligent as all get-out, and loves her favorite authors whether they’re labeled chick-lit or women’s fiction. It doesn’t demean her, she buys it, reads it, RECOMMENDS it, and on to the next.
    We may be the minority because of our personal hang-ups. I hope to write a book that someone will enjoy as much as my friend enjoys hers. I’ll do my best, the rest is marketing, and if someone thinks a pink cover with a cupcake on it will get into readers hands, so be it. You get it into their hands however you can. It’s the writing that will keep them.
    My two cents.

    • Reading that back, I just wanted to clarify. When I said “the place of elevating our game to the best of our ability”, I didn’t mean that I elevate above commercial fiction/women’s fiction/chick lit. I meant that although I read literary novels, the further I get, the more I see that my writing isn’t that. I’d love it to be because that’s what I enjoy reading primarily (though certainly not exclusively), but my best isn’t that type of writing. So, I am hoping that what I’m good at is something well-thought out that someone would pick up and enjoy the story. Period.
      I have a bad tendency for things to come out back-asswards and just wanted to make it clear that I hope for something really, really great. For me.

      • This is true for me too, Lyra. Many of my favorite writers – Alice Munro, Helen Simpson, Rebecca Strout, Carol Shields – would not fall under the rubric, but my WIP probably would.

  8. It is a valid point but many, many people, justifiably or not, do judge a book by its cover….I am guilty of that myself. But a friend’s recommendation or good book review can absolutely trump a book cover.

  9. The term chick-lit annoys me, along with the fact that men are simply writers while women are women writers. But it just occurred to me that maybe it’s a good thing to be a woman writer- for telling the stories and experiences of humanity including (and especially) of women. It’s taken a long time for our stories to be told.

    • This reminds me of a wonderful conversation with my ex-husband. (You’ll see why he’s the ex!) He asked me why I was wasting time writing what I was writing. Let’s say it had an element of the ‘feminine’ about it, but was also quite challenging. I pointed out that there is a gigantic female readership on this planet. He suggested it would be a far better idea to write about a male university students’ football tour of Europe. Sheesh. Pass me my can of lager.

  10. Before I forget, kudos to Missy for the shrug. She’s not worried one little whit about Daddy…

    I love how “chick lit” is bad, but all I ever read is how male authors — would that be “dick lit” — are the ones signing the big contracts and getting the accolades. And then there’s the anything-in-a-neat-little-box thing that makes me nuts. Why do we have to categorize and, therefore, put any genre down?

    I’m going to stop now, because I’m a little wound up and who knows where this little rant is headed. Yikes!

  11. I have to admit I avoid all covers which have even the merest hint of pink, any gold or silver embossing in ridiculous lettering and a picture of a woman – any woman. I am sure I have missed out on loads of good literature simply because I can’t stand the frothy and frilly outside and wouldn’t even pick up such a horrendous item for a browse in a book store. I wish, wish, wish the publishers would stop doing it.

    • If you look at the books jumbled together in those pictures above – they do all have a same-y frothy look. I may have to go back to that shop and do some more investigating/marketing research.

    • Maeve is so good, so prolific, so hard-working and accessible, all those things. I think she’s a genius and never seems to get the same kudos as Tom Clancy etc. But then again she is quietly working away, amassing a fortune and pleasing millions and millions of readers every day. Not bad.

  12. Women’s fiction is probably my favorite genre; I enjoy both serious types as well as those that lean toward chick-lit. I guess I would classify two of my three novels as women’s fiction too. But does that mean I’d tell a guy he wouldn’t enjoy them? Sheesh. The corners we put ourselves in…

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