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Chick Lit: The Hottest Trend in Publishing
by Kelly James-Enger
Chick lit. No, its not a gum. Its the hip,
sassy name for the equally hip and sassy publishing trend. Launched in the
United States by Bridget Jones Diary, chick lit titles have gathered
momentum and show no signs of slowing.
Dont confuse romance and chick littheyre two
different beasts. For one thing, romance novels are almost nearly always written
in the third person, while many chick lit titles are first-person books. Romance
novels traditionally feature a girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy
storyline, but chick lit novelists have more latitude in terms of subject
choice, romantic storylines, and subplots. It may be their very range that makes
them so popular among readers.
Better yet, because chick lit has been so
lucrative, many publishers have chick lit imprints are seeking manuscripts. What
makes chick lit different from romances? And how can you break into this
exciting new market? Read on for what you need to know about this popular genre.
Chick Lit: A Name for a Niche
While womens fiction has been around for years,
readers have been snapping up books about the issues women in their 20s and 30
face since the late 90s. These books are usually set in big cities, and feature
a character whos struggling to find her way in the world. Shes often searching
for the right guy or the right job while looking for meaning in her life.
But chick lit isnt just for the 18-34
city-dwelling woman, and it doesnt have to shy away from more topics more
serious than diets and dating, says Margaret Marbury, editor of Harlequins
Red Dress Ink imprint, which publishes chick lit. "I often hear that hear
the books are shallow and the characters are shallow, and I think thats a
misconception," says Marbury. "And I think people automatically assume that the
storylines are limited, that theyre all going to be the same. I think we and
other publishers are trying to show that it doesnt have to be limited. There
are many different areas you can go into."
While traditional romance novels have long
offered escapist reading to the 50 million plus readers who buy them, theyre
somewhat formulaic. The main storyline of any romance will feature the love
relationship, almost always between a man and woman, whether the story is set in
nineteenth century England, a modern-day hospital, or a futuristic universe.
Chick lit novels can explore broader themes and feature wider-ranging
"I think what distinguishes chick lit from
romance is that its not all about a relationship between a woman and a man,"
says Allison Dickens, an editor at Ballantine, and co-creator of the XYZ
program, a line of books aimed at 20-something and 30-something readers
that launched in the fall of 2001. "A large section of each [chick lit] book is
usually girl finds boy, girl loses boy, girl wins boy back, but theres a lot
more to it than it. The ones that are really successful and have broken out also
deal with friendships between girlfriends and identity questions."
Take the heroine of Bridget Jones
Diary. "Shes looking for Mr. Right, but shes also looking for the perfect
job and shes also got her three best friends who come over for cooking and all
those other aspects," says Dickens. "I think sometimes those [other] aspects are
not in romance."
Writing for Chicks (Whether Youre a Chick or
If youre ready to tackle a chick lit title of
your own, make sure youre up on the market. While at least a dozen of
publishers produce chick lit titles, each differs in terms of what theyre
looking for. At the least, writers should be familiar with some of the
best-selling titles including Bridget Jones Diary (Helen Fielding),
Good in Bed (Jennifer Weiner), The Nanny Diaries (Emma
McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus), and The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren
Weisberger). A strong voice and good writing are essential, but you neednt set
the book in Manhattan. In fact, a different city may catch an editors
attention. "A lot of the books are set in New York or London," says Dickens. "I
think itd be fun to see some other types of settings."
While some books are written in third person,
most chick lit novels use a first-person narrator. "I think there is an
immediacy with first person. It draws you in and you instantly connect with that
character," says Dickens. "Thats a key part of the very commercial chick lit."
Finally, remember that a good chick lit story
entails more than just a comic retelling of dating disasters. A unique voice,
strong supporting characters, unpredictable plot twists and a compelling theme
can set your book apart and catch an agents or editors attention.
© Copyright 2003, Kelly James-Enger
Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.
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