If you’re a writer, and somehow also not a man, there is one very important question you need to ask yourself: am I writing in the genre of Romance, Chick Lit, or Women’s Fiction?
Since those are the only three genres in which women writers ever women-write, it’s impossible that your work falls into any other category. No. Not even if your book has aliens. You might think you’ve just written a political thriller, but you are wrong. Stop arguing and slap an image of a pair of pink sunglasses superimposed over the Capitol Dome on the cover. Voila: Chick Lit. You’re welcome.
It’s essential for you to distinguish which category of lady-books your work falls into. This is to make absolutely sure that no female reader ever buys your novel thinking it’s in one category when it turns out to be in another. This could really confuse her! Remember, Romance readers only want to read Romance. Chick Lit readers don’t want to bother with your trumped-up Women’s Fiction. And Women’s Fiction readers, if you think you’re so smart, why don’t you just go read Proust? Everyone stay in your zone, and nobody gets unduly challenged.
Now, for the nitty gritty: How can you tell which genre your story belongs in? Here are some tips and tricks to help you classify your writing into one of three neat, hairless, vagina-shaped boxes.
Is a romantic and eventually sexual relationship between a sexy man and a beautiful woman the central theme of your novel? Is the man a gruff pirate with a heart of gold, a cruel Viking with a heart of gold, or a struggling single dad who’s spent years building up a wall to keep women away from his heart of gold? Then it’s probably Romance. (Note: If the man is a taciturn lawyer with a heart of gold, and the woman is a plucky paralegal, and they meet-cute because she spills a pitcher of water on him during a deposition, you may have wandered into Chick Lit territory.)
Whether it’s contemporary, historical, paranormal, or vamparawerewolfhistoricontemporary, romance novels all have two common themes: True Love, and Boning. If you find that your novel is missing either of these crucial elements, just throw it in the garbage right now.
Romance novels are also required to have a “happily-ever-after” ending—in which it becomes clear that the hero and heroine are going to spend the rest of their lives staring into each other’s eyes and being deeply in wuv forever after. Some even feature a quick flash-forward to a dewy, emotional wedding scene. If your novel has a “happy ending” but it takes place in a massage parlor, you may have inadvertently written Women’s Fiction. In that case, just make sure the narrator is gritty and had a hardscrabble childhood, and throw in a lot of confusing flashbacks and a tragic miscarriage.
So named because the books ladies like to read are not considered “literature,” so it is not always easy to distinguish between Chick Lit and Romance. Fortunately, there are several rules of thumb that can help you sort the two out. For one thing, while Chick Lit novels also tend to focus heavily on romantic relationships and sex, they are also about the journey that the female protagonist goes through as she pursues those romantic relationships and sex; sometimes she goes to work or stops for coffee, etc. Her love life is an important part of the book, but not to the exclusion of her other important hobbies and defining life experiences, like shopping, drinking Cosmos with her girlfriends, working for a magazine, and getting mani-pedis.
When you are trying to figure out whether or not what you are writing is Chick Lit, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “Could the scene I just wrote have conceivably appeared in an episode of Sex and the City?” If the answer is yes, you’re writing Chick Lit. If the answer is no, then you need to add more Cosmos and mani-pedis, and maybe a sexy misunderstanding with a fireman.
One of the least necessary categories of fiction, Women’s Fiction has the distinction of not being enough about sex, romance, firemen, or cushy magazine jobs for it to qualify as either Chick Lit or Romance. If you take your writing “seriously,” like to use big words like a smarty-pants, and think that women will be interested in reading about sad-sack things like depression, difficult marriages, maladjusted children who talk back and other tragic scenarios, then by all means, try your hand at Women’s Fiction. Just don’t expect a lot of interest from either female or male readers. After all, male readers have their own fiction to read, and female readers don’t like to read about sad stuff unless everything gets resolved happily in the end. If you do manage to get your Women’s Fiction novel published, make sure your cover is sepia-toned and features a desolate beach, a bare tree, or a woman photographed from behind as she looks across a desolate beach or at a bare tree. This will ensure that readers hoping for a fluffy summer romp will not pick up your book by mistake, which would be the real tragedy.