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. 

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