I Write It, But I Can’t Define It. What Is Chick-Lit?

~ By Shelly Bell

My name is Shelly Bell and I read and write Chick-Lit.

My friends and I began dabbling in the genre back in the early nineties, when hairspray and waterfall bangs were in style (which I never needed because I’ve always had naturally, big hair). The first Chick-Lit author I remember enjoying was Olivia Goldsmith, who is most popular for writing The First Wives Club, a movie which incidentally co-starred a friend of mine, Elizabeth Berkeley. But I digress.

I stayed up all night reading her book, Flavor of the Month. All eight hundred plus pages of it (Try and get a publisher for that these days!) I loved Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge, Marian Keyes Rachel’s Holiday, Jane Green’s Jemima J, Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed, and Emily Giffen’s Something Borrowed. Imagine my shock when I entered the publishing world this year and learned that Chick-Lit is dead.

Apparently, someone forgot to tell my friends and me, because we still buy it, as do thousands, if not millions of readers.  Currently on the Kindle Best Sellers List, our very own Juliette Sobanet is ranked 1st on the Top 100 Free list for her book, Kissed in Paris. Sophie Kinsella’s latest, I’ve Got Your Number, is ranked 34th on the overall in the paid Kindle store and 3rd for Contemporary Romance.

While researching book trailers, I stumbled across one which immediately captured my attention. It Started With a Kiss by Miranda Dickinson. It is ranked 144,800th in the Kindle store on Amazon and 554th in the Kindle store on Amazon U.K. Whether her book sells better in the U.K. is because she’s a British writer or because they read more Chick-Lit there, is a study I believe would greatly benefit our genre.  At first glance, it appears as though Chick-Lit is more popular in the United Kingdom regardless of the writer’s country of origin.

When I wrote A Year to Remember, I didn’t give a thought to its genre. Eventually, I settled on Women’s Fiction, since at the heart of the book lays the theme of addiction. When I submitted it to agents, they classified it as Chick-Lit and politely declined (most of the time) based on the contention they’d have a difficult time selling Chick-Lit to the publishers. Then again, there’s the debate as to what exactly is Chick-Lit and how is it different from Women’s Fiction?  I’ve heard that Chick-Lit has a lighter feel, a more personal feel. I’ve also heard that while both concern women’s issues, women’s fiction only focuses on those issues which could actually occur while Chick-Lit contains situations which are unrealistic. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that one. I had a publisher asking me if my book was really Jewish Literature, since its characters are Jewish. My mother thinks it should be called Romantic Comedy. In the end, I’ve classified it as Chick-Lit/Contemporary Women’s Fiction. Although I’m thinking of creating my own genre- Jewish Contemporary Fat Chick- Lit with Romantic Elements. What do you think?

I’m reading a book called 150 Pounds, A Novel of Waists and Measures, written by Kate Rockland. I’m about halfway through and I still don’t know whether to classify it as Chick-Lit or Women’s Fiction. The websites selling books don’t help. Some will list books as General Literature, others as Contemporary Romance, others as Women’s Literature, and some as Chick-Lit. My publisher listed my book as Contemporary Romance. It does contain romance, but the point-of-view is limited to the protagonist, Sara and it does not have a traditional hero and heroine.  I do believe that unlike Women’s Fiction, Chick-Lit must have a happy ending.  In Chick-Lit, the boy and girl will get together and live happily-ever-after while in Women’s Fiction, girl will realize she’s better off without the boy.  They both have end happily but the women’s fiction is more introspective. Without giving the ending to my book away, I believe I satisfy the qualities of both Women’s Fiction and Chick-Lit.

Chick-Lit seems to be a sub-genre of Women’s Fiction, which is a more general term given to books written by women about women’s issues (We can save whether authors such as Nicholas Sparks  and Jonathan Franzen write Women’s Fiction for another blog). Of course, I’d argue that Romance is also a subgenre of Women’s Fiction.

In researching Chick-Lit on Amazon, I discovered a non-fiction book which is scheduled to release in June. The book is titled Chick Lit: The Stylistics of Cappuccino Fiction (Advanced in Stylistics) and is authored by Rocío Montoro. According to the book’s blurb,

In recent times, Chick Lit has risen to a certain level of prominence. This is the first book length study that looks into the distinctive features of this much-discussed genre.

Chick Lit is examined in relation to its linguistic peculiarities and their role as far as narrative, sociological and feminist issues are concerned, amongst others. Montoro’s stylistics includes a cognitive slant that highlights futher readerly aspects of the texts.

The approach illuminates how the genre works, and how it is set apart from others. In this respect, the stylistics of chick lit is understood in its contect of production and reception. Montoro evaluates reading processes and investigates readers’ responsive attitude to the genre.

This interdisciplinary work explores the boundaries of the stylistics of chick lit and works reflectively, looking at how exploring this genre can help the twofold aim of testing existing models of linguistic and cognitive analysis. It will be essential reading for those interested in cutting-edge stylistics.

I can’t wait to read it. I’ve contacted her to see if she would be interested in giving an overview of her findings. Until that time, I’ll define Chick-Lit like the Supreme Court of the United States defines pornography- “I know it when I see it.”

Shelly’s debut book, A Year to Remember, is currently available as an e-book through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Soul Mate Publishing. In addition to RWA, she’s a member of Savvy Authors and EPIC. She indulges her reading addiction by reading Chick-Lit, women’s fiction, romance and all categories in between. 

16 thoughts on “I Write It, But I Can’t Define It. What Is Chick-Lit?”

  1. I think chick lit is a combination of tone/voice and plot/circumstances. When I think of some favorite chick lit authors–say, Meg Cabot and Shelly Bell–I think the voice feels younger and the stakes, while suitably high for the character, are maybe a part of growing up. Almost like a coming-of-[the next] age novel, where the protagonist has to move into her 30s. Maybe that works best in a wealthy environment, and not so well in a recession. Chick Lit reaches deep into the protagonist’s soul, but her world view is funny, so you never get that dismal, desperate, dark, near suicidal feeling that makes me put the book down before I walk with my children into the ocean.

  2. I’m a chick lit writer and seem to have fallen into the role of Defender of the Genre in the past couple of years (a role I embrace!).

    I’ve been asked to define chick lit many times and I think it’s about the tone in which the book is written – fast-paced, very personal and funny. Reading chick lit is like listening to your best girlfriends chat about their lives over many glasses of wine.

  3. A Year to Remember is chick-lit because it is about empowering women, conveys in a light tone serious issues, makes the reader laugh and cry, and feels thoroughly modern. The book explores how to live with oneself despite the flaws, how to love oneself before one can love another. I think it is the first of many important books from a very talented writer.

  4. What an interesting and thoughtful post. I’m currently revising my latest story (not romantic suspense this time) and was wondering how to market it. It isn’t exactly women’s fiction, and it isn’t classic chick lit, it isn’t romantic comedy, and yet it has elelemnts of all three. I’m going to go with contemporary romance. : )

  5. The reason I can comment is that I spent nearly 30 years in the library world. Sure, genre paperbacks went out the door by the armfuls — even in grocery sacks (literally) — but there was never much BUZZ about them. But the titles which some people refer to as chick lit — whether THEN (before the term was declared, by ‘experts’, as poison) … or now — had long waiting lists, got a lot of notice from reviewers, and were often made into movies. Plus their authors got interviewed on network TV.
    I can’t add anything to the on-going dilema of chick-lit’s “definition” but I can tell you that readers love compelling stories with interesting and believable characters who encounter romance (of one kind or another) and stumble into humorous situations along the way.
    I’ve written two of those — completed, but not yet published — and have one other which just MIGHT squeeze under the same umbrella.
    But the first of my fiction ms. to see publication — hopefully this April — is NOT chick lit, in my opinion. I think of it as Romantic Suspense. Though, since the definition is so fluid, there may be readers who consider it Chick Lit.
    Look for it in April from Astraea Press and tell me which cubby-hole it belongs in.
    “The Overnighter’s Secrets.”

  6. Okay, now I don’t know WHAT it is I write because I write women’s fiction with romantic elements with an HEA!!! So what would I call that? I can shop it as contemporary romance or WF or WF with romantic elements or commercial fiction? AACK – and the agents are the gatekeepers who will label it as they see it.

  7. M.C, I don’t think chick-lit is dead. I think it has been packaged differently. It’s called something different (i.e., commercial women’s fiction) and given a different kind of cover, but it’s still out there. Yes, the more established authors have more success, but that’s consistent with the publishing industry as a whole right now. If I chose to write my book from the point of view of both Sara and the man she ends up with, then it would be contemporary romance. The story wouldn’t change, only the style. That’s why I’m interested in the non-fiction book about the genre, since it will clarify the style and linguistics of chick-lit. I think it gives the reader a feel for the character and it’s more relatable.

  8. This –> “Jewish Contemporary Fat Chick- Lit with Romantic Elements” <– totally would make me buy the book. 😉

    Question: Is chick lit mostly still alive in already established chick-lit authors? Sort of how JK Rowling could keep putting out wizard books for the next 200 years, but to the rest of us, it's over and done with.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *