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Thread: I am not a romance writer (genre identity crisis)

  1. #1
    PRing my little heart out WhatTheWhat's Avatar
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    I am not a romance writer (genre identity crisis)

    Hey all,

    Okay, here's a good one: Several years ago I decided to write a story for NaNoWriMo. I chose "chick lit" because I was going through sort of a rough patch in my life and I wanted to write something lighthearted to offset it all. Long story short, I wrote it and it was good (I thought).

    But after querying many, many agents, I learned that no matter how pleasant my story, "chick lit is dead" and "no self-respecting agent or publisher would touch it with a *&#^@ing bargepole." (I'm paraphrasing, of course--at least the second quote.) However, agents have no problem with "contemporary romantic comedy," and an agent has made me an offer. (We're working on an R&R before I sign.) This makes me happy.

    So what's the problem, you ask? Well, it's this: A while back, I figured I should become very well versed in my genre, which apparently defaulted back to "romance" after the death of "chick lit." I started reading all sorts of romances, joined the RWA, and entered a few contests.

    I haven't won any contests. The ones that offer critiques praise my "voice," but savage my story's structure and main characters. I've been told to totally rewrite the story to focus more on the love story, get the hero in there in the first chapter instead of the third, and lose the MC's growth and development. In fact, I've been advised, I should completely change the MC's personality to make her strong and pretty much ideal so readers can root for her.

    No, I'm not listening to this advice.

    However, it's made me realize that I'm having an identity crisis of sorts. My novel is not a romance novel. I am not a romance writer. Not only does my story contain "other stuff" besides the love story, sometimes it even takes precedence.

    In addition to that, I've also realized that I don't like very many romance novels, even ones that come highly recommended and are highly rated. (I don't mean to offend any mainstream romance writers here AT ALL--this is all me--my personal preference. Doesn't make me right.)

    So what in the world do I do now? Am I women's fiction? I always think of women's fiction as more serious than the stuff I write. Do I have to cling to the chick lit moniker and wait till it loses its stigma and comes back into vogue? Do I have to say "*&#^ you all" to the traditional publishing world, call it whatever I freakin' want, and self pub so I can function without fear of trend backlash?

    I have to admit I'm a bit flummoxed (can you tell?) at being genre-less. It's kind of like being a soul without a body. Any suggestions?


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  2. #2
    It sounds like you write "women's fiction," at least to me. And no, women's fiction does not automatically mean "serious," although it can be. Women's fiction is a huge umbrella that does include chick lit (which, from what I see, isn't dead as much as it is backing off from oversaturation).

    I'm not surprised you got the critiques you did if you entered RWA contests: they're judging your non-romance story by romance standards! I wouldn't have changed my story either.

    I follow these sites to keep up with chick lit and women's fiction. I actually found many, many more chick lit sites than women's fiction sites. If anything, it should reassure you that chick lit is still being written and published. It just has to be much better than it used to be, which isn't a bad thing.

    http://womensfictionwriters.wordpress.com/
    http://internationalchicklitmonth.com/
    http://www.chicklitclub.com/
    http://chicklitisnotdead.com/
    http://chicklitplus.com/
    http://chicklitcentraltheblog.blogspot.com.au/

    Good luck!
    Last edited by Bubastes; 05-28-2012 at 03:09 AM.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    I agree. Probably women's fiction.

    But maybe you could give us examples of published books that are similar to yours?

    I'm also wondering what the agent thinks of the genre?

  4. #4
    Hmmm... I think I disagree. Captcha's Avatar
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    If you're close to getting an agent, I'd recommend waiting until that's in place and then asking him/her for advice. The agent will have the advantage of having read your work AND having an intimate knowledge of the market, so you're going to get better advice there than here.

    That said... if you don't want to write romance, don't write romance! I think there's tweaks and adjustments we can make to our natural styles in order to suit the market, but it sounds like you're looking at something much more significant. Write what you want to write, and let your agent figure out how to market it.

  5. #5
    Crypto-fascist Soccer Mom's Avatar
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    Chick-lit isn't dead. Really isn't. It's just "light-hearted women's fiction." But it's still chick-lit.

    There's no shame in not liking romance. You should read and write what you enjoy. I've tried to write other things and somehow they always turn into romance which just confirmed for me what I should be writing.

    I say continue pitching your work but as women's fiction. If you decide you've exhausted agents, you can always query epubs or consider self-pubbing if it suits what you want to do.

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    Have you checked out the Chick Lit chapter of RWA? I recently joined and there seems to be a good amount of published authors in the chapter. They also run their own contest.
    http://chicklitwriters.com/

  7. #7
    PRing my little heart out WhatTheWhat's Avatar
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    Thanks, everybody. I did have a conversation with my agent-to-be about this, and we didn't come to any conclusions, but that was about a month ago. After I got the contest feedback, I realized I must be women's fiction. (One judge recommended "women's fiction with strong romantic elements"--wow, that's a mouthful!) But as I said, I was a bit squiffy about it because I always think of women's fiction as multi-generational stories with lots of heartbreak, loss, bonding, and pastel covers of the ocean with seagrass waving in the salt breeze in the foreground. (Yeah, I know I'm incorrect on that one, but it's my default impression.)

    LJD, I'm not sure what's similar to mine. I need to read more. Interestingly enough, I found and loved Kristan Higgins after I finished one of the earlier draft of my MS. Our styles are similar...and hers are pure Harlequin romances. So go figure.

    Bubastes and JenniferG, I have ChickLitClub bookmarked and even did a guest blog for ChickLitClub Connect. I entered the Stiletto Contest last year, and the responses were split--two judges loved it and two hated it. So no finals for me.

    Soccer Mom, I'm glad to hear chick lit isn't dead. I don't think it is either. A genre by any other name...

    And thanks for the welcome, SM! I joined quite a while ago but don't spend a lot of time here; I'm a Facebook addict instead.


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  8. #8
    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    IMO, chick lit is/was simply women's fiction, with a specific light-hearted tone and a strong romantic subplot. But very few chick lits were actually genre romances, at least not the ones I read.

    I agree I'd let your agent worry about it, and no, chick lit isn't dead. It's just that people don't really call it chick lit anymore.
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW Silver-Midnight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WhatTheWhat View Post
    One judge recommended "women's fiction with strong romantic elements"--wow, that's a mouthful!
    So, it is possible for something to still fall into the Romance and Chick Lit(or Women's Fiction, but from what I see more so, Chick Lit)?

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WhatTheWhat View Post
    I'm not sure what's similar to mine. I need to read more. Interestingly enough, I found and loved Kristan Higgins after I finished one of the earlier draft of my MS. Our styles are similar...and hers are pure Harlequin romances. So go figure.
    I used to read a lot of chick lit, and Kristan Higgins was the first romance author I enjoyed. Some of her novels do seem closer to chick lit to me. Recently she has started having both the hero and heroine's POV (last two novels, I think).

    You might find this interesting:
    http://www.readreactreview.com/2010/...m-thinking-no/

  11. #11
    PRing my little heart out WhatTheWhat's Avatar
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    Ah, thank you for the link, LJD. That was quite enlightening and very helpful! I especially liked this definition:

    For chick lit or light contemporary womenís fiction, the heroineís romantic interactions are often elements in the novel, and they may even play a major role on occasion. However, the main focus of the story is on her personal journey to greater self-understanding. Whether she ends up with a man or not is irrelevant, but she needs to have learned something from her experiences over the past 300-400 pages and, in my opinion, be in a better place (mentally, spiritually, etc.) than she had been at the beginning of the book.
    That really describes my MS exactly. My MC is not perfect by a long shot at the beginning, as she makes bad choices (relationship and otherwise) and is a bit of a doormat, but she matures and grows a spine along the way. I consider my story to be as much about her growth as a person as it is her snagging her hero. (There is a HEA.) So I guess I really am "(light contemp.) women's fiction" (another mouthful, but I'll take it!)

    I am fascinated about Higgins--how did she end up publishing through Harlequin, I wonder!


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    Quote Originally Posted by WhatTheWhat View Post
    That really describes my MS exactly. My MC is not perfect by a long shot at the beginning, as she makes bad choices (relationship and otherwise) and is a bit of a doormat, but she matures and grows a spine along the way. I consider my story to be as much about her growth as a person as it is her snagging her hero. (There is a HEA.) So I guess I really am "(light contemp.) women's fiction" (another mouthful, but I'll take it!)
    Sounds like the kind of book I'd like to read! I'm also struggling a bit with the "chick lit" versus "romantic comedy" versus "romance" labels. I recently got some contest feedback where the judge said that the heroine needed to have her life together at the beginning of the book -- but this book is about the heroine getting her life together. So ... I dunno if that supposedly disqualifies my book from the straight romance genre.

    I am fascinated about Higgins--how did she end up publishing through Harlequin, I wonder!
    Doesn't she publish through the HQN imprint? I know those are generally broader stories than the short Harlequin categories.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by WhatTheWhat View Post
    But as I said, I was a bit squiffy about it because I always think of women's fiction as multi-generational stories with lots of heartbreak, loss, bonding, and pastel covers of the ocean with seagrass waving in the salt breeze in the foreground. (Yeah, I know I'm incorrect on that one, but it's my default impression.)
    I just found out my novel is women's fiction, and the protagonist is a dude, the story told entirely from his POV. So the women's fiction label was a surprise to me.

    So from what I understand now, women's fiction is essentially this: books marketed toward women. That's it. My book may have a male protag, but it's the sort of thing MOSTLY women would like.
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  14. #14
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin DyLoveday's Avatar
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    I know what you mean. I wouldn't have considered my debut novel an erotic romance. It has some hot scenes in it but the MC is truly one messed up human being and although she redeems herself at the end, it's a long road. There's also a HEA. My publisher asked me to add more intimacy before chapter 6, so I'll be adding a few scenes in edits.

    I aimed at the fantasy market but it ended up in romance. Go figure. I'm happy it found a great home with LSB and I did read a hell of a lot of romance so maybe that explains it.
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    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JenniferGoodnight View Post
    I recently got some contest feedback where the judge said that the heroine needed to have her life together at the beginning of the book -- but this book is about the heroine getting her life together. So ... I dunno if that supposedly disqualifies my book from the straight romance genre.

    I have never in my life heard this piece of advice.



    But again, if your story is mainly about the heroine getting her life together, and everything in the story serves to further her doing that, it's women's fiction. If it's mainly about the romance, and everything in the story serves to further the romance, it's genre romance.
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  16. #16
    PRing my little heart out WhatTheWhat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JenniferGoodnight View Post
    Sounds like the kind of book I'd like to read! I'm also struggling a bit with the "chick lit" versus "romantic comedy" versus "romance" labels. I recently got some contest feedback where the judge said that the heroine needed to have her life together at the beginning of the book -- but this book is about the heroine getting her life together. So ... I dunno if that supposedly disqualifies my book from the straight romance genre.
    Thanks, Jennifer! I'm sorry you got the same advice I did, but it's heartening to know I'm not the only one out there who's been told that an evolving, growing, learning heroine is a bad thing.

    So...live and learn...romance protags need to have it together from the get-go, women's fiction protags are allowed to be flawed at first (and maybe--ssshhh--even a little bit at the end). Guess mine's women's fiction, then! I'll pass all this great info I've gleaned from this thread to my agent; I'm sure she'll agree we should hit the women's fiction market.


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  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stacia Kane View Post
    I have never in my life heard this piece of advice.


    But again, if your story is mainly about the heroine getting her life together, and everything in the story serves to further her doing that, it's women's fiction. If it's mainly about the romance, and everything in the story serves to further the romance, it's genre romance.
    Agree with this.

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    Thanks, Stacia & LJD! I'm revising and I'll keep that in mind as I go along.

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    blue eyed floozy shakeysix's Avatar
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    I've been scolded because my heroine wasn't worthy of being a romance heroine, because my heroine was 41 years old, because my endings are not happy enough and for most of the reasons you have given.

    These days I call my genre WTF-IAGTWIA. (what the F I am going to write it anyway.)

    The one thing I can tell you about my female characters is that they won't take a scolding. --s6

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    Quote Originally Posted by shakeysix View Post
    These days I call my genre WTF-IAGTWIA. (what the F I am going to write it anyway.)
    LOL!!! I'm stealing this for my genre too.

  21. #21
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin KristiJ's Avatar
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    Interesting discussion...
    I was at Story Masters with Donald Maass and James Scott Bell...they were talking about the rise in 'cross genre' fiction.
    I had the same problem with my novel, The Corpse Goddess. It's part horror, part urban fantasy, with romantic elements. The publisher 'classified' it as straight up urban fantasy. I would compare it to the tone of Neil Gaiman (of course, I'm no Neil Gaiman), so I'm not sure about that classification...but hey WhattheWhat, if you have an agent, you're doing something right!
    I like the WTF-IAGTWIA! sounds great to me!
    and 'genre identity crisis'...Love it!

  22. #22
    Friendly Neighborhood Mustelidae The Otter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WhatTheWhat View Post
    But as I said, I was a bit squiffy about it because I always think of women's fiction as multi-generational stories with lots of heartbreak, loss, bonding, and pastel covers of the ocean with seagrass waving in the salt breeze in the foreground. (Yeah, I know I'm incorrect on that one, but it's my default impression.)
    That made me chuckle because that's kind of my default impression too. But yeah, it's a lot broader than that. In some ways it serves as a place to stick books that don't fit into any other category, because it's easier to market genre books than books that are just "fiction." I have a novel that straddles the line between several genres so I appreciate how difficult it makes things.

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