Chick Lit Books – An Open Letter To Real Book Lovers

george wade

Lucy Kelson: George, I think you are the most selfish human being on the planet.
George Wade: Well that’s just silly. Have you met everybody on the planet?
– ‘Two Weeks Notice’.

This weekend I had my very first book signing event at the Waterstones store in East Kilbride, Scotland. It was a great and pime at my first signing... for a chick lit book?votal day for me, being a newly published author in the shop nearest my home, where I’ve spent many happy hours getting high on new book smell and about three purchases low on cash. And all with my big sister and various other members of my family watching and cheering me on.

The Waterstones staff were fantastic; so supportive and encouraging as well as taking care of my needs and sharing stories of other authors’ come-from-nothing successes to bolster my confidence. All in all, it was a fabulous day – a huge thanks to them for inviting me along.

But there was one moment that threatened to spoil it all at the very beginning. As I sat watching shoppers stroll by, all avoiding eye contact with me as though I had a clipboard and a ‘Market Researchers do it in the Street’ t-shirt on, the very first stranger to approach me smiled, picked up a copy of ‘The New Mrs D’ and glanced at the back cover for all of one second before placing it quickly back down with a scowl and taking off as fast as her legs could carry her.

Being perpetual jovial sorts, my sister and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘This is going well, don’t you think?’ I said, showcasing the books in front of me with a sweep of my arm like a model displaying prizes on ‘The Price is Right’ …and knocking my glass of water over them. (Oh yes I did).

Three down, twenty to go…

Don’t get me wrong, I do judge a book by its cover, but never without having read the entire blurb first. So what was it that made a person run away after having a glance at my cover and a read of the first two lines on the back?

I don’t know and I never will. But here’s my best guess. Dare I say, that brightly coloured, cartoon cover and the promise of a light-hearted, comedy novel that screams, ‘chick lit’?

The week before my first signing, I had responded to a comment left on a Facebook book club wall that asked something like, ‘does anyone else here hate chick lit?’ So I bit my lip and wrote what may have been a contender for longest Facebook comment in a thread ever. It went something like this:

‘As a writer of what has been called chick lit, I’d like to defend it if only because it depresses me that it gets such a bad rap, like it doesn’t deserve its place in literature. I read all kinds of genres and regularly have two or three very different books on the go at the same time but I never rule an entire genre out. I love to try something new, dipping in to different writer styles often. Chick lit has its place for light reading, for laughs, for comic escapism. I have had several men who professed to hating the chick lit genre read my book then come back and tell me they really enjoyed it. I was thrilled when science fiction writer Dylan Hearn, who took the plunge into something new for him, read my book then wrote a rave review and blog about it, admitting he had never picked up a chick lit book before.

I want to defend the genre because it is reading all of the dismissals of it that stops many women from writing what it is in their heart to write, for fear of being rejected by the ‘literary police’. Anything new, bold and original is exciting to find and nothing would ever be created if writers didn’t take the difficult step of bringing their stories out into the world. The fact is, we all have different tastes and to me, writing is not just a craft but an art. It should be a joy to bring that which you were meant to do out in to the world and, after all, art is about freedom of expression. It’s about capturing the imagination and taking it anywhere you wish it to go. An individual may hate the work of Van Gogh, but that doesn’t make him any less of the incredible & innovative artist that he was. It’s all a matter of personal taste. What sings to one person can screech like nails on a blackboard to another. And what’s wrong with that?

Perhaps you read one or two bad chick lit books. Perhaps, like me, you’re of an age where you’ve read countless books with will-they-won’t-they, she-hates-him-then-she-loves-him plot lines and think you can’t stand to read another. But then, if you are like me, you’ll remember that you loved these once and now you’re older, you’re perhaps looking for something different. It doesn’t make those kinds of stories any less relevant, they’re just not relevant to you.

I would ask anyone not to discount an entire genre based on some they’ve read or seen, as not all books in any genre are the same. The majority of chick lit writers are women and we should be encouraging more female writers to find their voice. The only thing I have to say that I don’t like about chick lit as a genre is the name. I’m 44 years old, I’m not now nor have I ever been a ‘chick’. I hope it changes to ‘contemporary fiction’ or something equally suitable. I’d like something that says I write commercial, comedy fiction for all genders.

And for the reader, let’s not be afraid that no one will ever take us seriously if we admit to liking a bit of easier reading and laughter – the best medicine there is. There is a lot to be said for so called ‘easy reads’ too. They encourage more people to read and that, we should all be able to agree if we’re true book lovers, is a fundamental and beautiful thing.’

Others have written on this very subject of course. In his article for Huffington Post, entitled, ‘Stop Being Literary Snobs and Embrace Chick-Lit’, Ben Mirza writes, ‘There’s a reason why these people hate chick-lit, and it’s nothing to do with declining standards. It is simply that these people hate escapism and frankly, hate a genre that focuses on the general lives of women.’

The hatred of escapist comedy reading is something I know many readers have and there is absolutely no wrong in this. To each his (or her) own. For me, one of the most interesting things about comedy is the fact that everyone loves to laugh, yet comedy books seem to be the target of the harshest critics, often accused of appealing to a readership of the lowest, common denominator.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a little bit tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t be reading. Overall, I want books that test my intelligence, scare me a little bit, make me think, make me question things, freak me out, make me cry and make me laugh – and I can get all of these things in a year filled with reading a little bit of something from every genre. There’s a special place for all of it in my brain.

Lucy-Anne Holmes sums it up nicely in her 2014 article for The Guardian:

‘I’m not going to apologise for enjoying books that focus on women’s careers, families and love lives, as romantic comedy often does. As a woman – as a person – discovering what I love to do, feeling empowered to do it and falling in love have been pretty seismic events in my life, ones I can identify with far more than discovering a murdered body in a disused car park.’

So let’s not profess to be specific genre haters; let’s continue to be book lovers with open, hungry minds requiring nourishment from a wide variety of sources . And to those who still say they hate chick lit, I say, ‘that’s just silly. Have you read every chick lit book on the planet?’

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Heather Hill

Mum of five (not the band), I am an author and comedy writer based in Scotland, UK

37 Responses to “Chick Lit Books – An Open Letter To Real Book Lovers

  • Reblogged this on weeflo64's Blog.

  • Well done Heather and well said xx

  • Well said. Romance writers (who are predominantly but not solely women) get a bad rap for their chosen genre too. But like romance, chick-lit is also a thriving genre and deserves respect. You go, girl. 🙂

    • Thank you Lane. I have loved countless romance novels over the years and continue to do so. Romance is another escapist read, which strengthens the argument about some people just not wishing to go down that road with their reading. Personally, I love a good, hot-footed run away from life for a while 😉 x

  • Deborah Hodgetts
    ago3 years

    A fantastic piece. Very well said Heather! x

  • Unless a a book requires the same sort of effort and pain as crawling up a broken glass covered Everest whilst smashing yourself over the head with a frying pan, it’s not good “literature”. Reading isn’t supposed to be fun or enjoyable you know. (Note: This also applies to watching films and listening to music)

  • Many people don’t realize what a wide range of subjects and styles chicklit can cover. It is not limited to happily-ever-after stories (although there’s certainly nothing wrong with that!) Nor is it necessarily predictable.

    • Absolutely and everything you’ve said here is I think sadly the presumption in many cases. I have read quite a few excellent, thought-provoking books recently that may be classed as chick lit and not all comedies. They include the subject of domestic abuse, (What Have I Done by Amanda Prowse), Alzheimer’s disease (The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman) and an often humorous, non-predictable book about infidelity (Shari Low’s Moment of Truth).

  • Funny…I usually turn away from books that AREN’T chick lit. 😉 I do like other genres, but chick lit is my go-to genre. Great article!

  • Great! Absolutely great! As part of international chick lit month I’m posting on chick lit on my blog. Sure, like you, I’m not that crazy about the label. But, regardless of the label, it’s fun reading.
    Love your term the literary police. 🙂

  • To be honest, the only chick-lit I’ve read is Jacqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls, the novel that in a way began the chick-lit genre as we understand it today: plucky female heroes, lots of sex and bitchiness, romance, and comedy. She’s not what I’d call a literary writer, simply because her prose style isn’t that dazzling, imagistic, or complex, but she was a born storyteller and her books are frothy escapist fun, with even something serious to say about the vicious showbiz culture they explore.

    Sadly, literary snobbery covers most “genre” fiction, from chick-lit to fantasy and crime, like the judge on the Whitbread Award panel rumoured to have said that a crime novel would win the top prize “when Hell freezes over”, or this quote about snobbery towards comedy by the great comic writer P. G. Wodehouse (who certainly was literary):

    “I go in for what is known in the trade as ‘light writing’ and those who do that – humorists they are sometimes called – are looked down upon by the intelligentsia and sneered at.”

    Anyway, thanks for this enlightening article, it was a real joy to read! 🙂

    • Thank you! Interesting that you mention ‘Valley of the Dolls’, which I believe is one of the best selling books of all time. Great example. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to comment. 🙂

    • I think all creative endeavours eventually become full of cliques. We have art that no-one apart from the establishment likes, unwatchable films given excellent reviews, enjoyable books derided. Strangely, things people like don’t require massive subsidy from those who are considered to stupid to appreciate the “good” stuff.

      I remember being told a great anecdote at a literary festival a couple of years ago:

      Jeffery Archer and Jilly Cooper were at some award event. She commented that it must be marvelous to win one of the awards. He replied that it would but everyone on stage would kill for their sales figures.

      • That’s a great story. And I heartily agree! 🙂 I have struggled for funding – another bug bear. I’ve been turned down several times in favour of writers with far more serious and potentially award winning endeavours than mine. I’ll just have to keep writing my jokes on my ailing Samsung notebook while being afraid to put the heating on….

        • You don’t get funding, you (am I) are writing stuff people will read so you are as obviously as rich as that Dan Rowling. Funding has to be reserved for people doing things no-one reads/looks at/watches because they are GOOD.

  • I’ll never understand people who get kicks making others miserable but I’m more than happy to make them suffer in my writing 😉
    Snobs come in all shapes and forms about all subjects. All they are doing is displaying their own ignorance. I have no issue with somebody reading and not liking my books (OK, maybe it irritates me a little) but dismissing a story based on a table is nonsense. I have exactly the same problem with people not wanting to read one of my books because it’s labelled as science fiction. I’m sure writers of thrillers, westerns, romance, fantasy, horror – and literary fiction – face the same issue. Don’t let them get to you. You’ve written a great book. The fact they’ll never read it is their loss, not yours.

    • Thank you for this lovely 🙂 I will plod on regardless with the signings, even if they keep throwing the book at me! ;-D PS I have Absent Souls on my Kindle! Can’t wait to get stuck in xx

  • Fantastic! Well said. I’ve just written my first novel (unpublished…maybe one day!) and still feel quite shy when I tell people it’s a rom-com. But since having my son I have found that I only have a few minutes to read a day before my knackered brain finally melts. I want to use that time to read funny, fast-paced stories with happy endings. And what is wrong with that?

    Am off to seek out your book now! 🙂

    • Thank you Claire and the very best of luck to you with yours. So many people love rom-coms, hold your head up high. They share a huge chunk of the best sellers lists. What I would say is have as many people read it to feed back before submission as possible and be prepared to rewrite many, many times (if you haven’t done this already). Pay for a professional edit if you can too. Then get it out there! And thank you so much for stopping by x

  • Well said, Heather! I love many genres, including romantic comedies, and will never understand why people must be so dismissive of them. By the way, I finally got around to reading your book – I’ve had a backlog! – and loved it very much. 🙂 Thanks for a wonderful read!

    • Thank you so much Sue, I am the same, I have so many books to get through! Thank you for reading 🙂 xx

  • Great post! As a fellow genre writer, please let me wish you the best of luck with your book release.

  • Great post! I’ve had too many to count book signings (but it was four, I did count, but where nobody could see) where people have picked up my books, looked at the blurb and then audibly sniffed and put the book back on the pile. God help them if I then saw them queuing up with a copy of 50 Shades..I can passively-aggressively defend romantic comedy until the cows come home!

    • Ooh Jane, if it still happens to you four (brilliant) book signings in, I’m ready to accept my forever fate, lol! Thank you for your kind comments 🙂 xx

  • hate a genre that focuses on the general lives of women.’

    That really only explains why some men don’t like it and it makes me uneasy for anyone to blanket label all critics as “sexist”. There are plenty of women who don’t like the genre at all and plenty of men who don’t like it for reasons.

    The genre doesn’t appeal to me purely because most “chick lit” is about interpersonal relationships. I don’t see a relationship as a plot in itself. Like onion, which I like to add flavour to food rather than to be the flavour, I prefer relationships to add to the plot rather than to be the plot. I don’t get a sense of fulfilment from that sort of plotline… unless it’s secondary to something else that will grab me.

    • Hi, thanks and I hear you. As I’ve said, my own reading list is pretty varied and in my writing, the relationships are there but not entirely as central as it might seem from the synopsis. I write comedy with exploration of relationships and deeper issues. Maybe in truth, chick lit is too broad an umbrella for everything? I’m unsure. Many people think chick lit is romantic and romantic comedy. I don’t write romance myself. Often I look for escapism in my reading and often it’s to be eductated but mainly it is to broaden my mind and my experiences, which means not discounting any book based on genre alone.

      • Maybe in truth, chick lit is too broad an umbrella for everything?

        Perhaps. As it is, it seems to cover anything written by women and aimed at women which would include lighthearted comedy you write, romance, and anything about personal struggles (strained family relationships for example).

        It’s probably disingenuous, especially as we don’t lump scifi, fantasy and horror (all of which I write) and action books as “Man Lit” (even though many women don’t read them purely for the perception that they are by men for men).

  • I wandered over from Dylan’s and got totally distracted with that Goodreads train crash saga. Amazing. Anyway. Chick lit. I don’t like Bridget Jones for example, but there again I don’t like Harry Potter.

    However, I read a book recently, Click. Date. Repeat. by KJ Farnham about internet dating. It was well written, pretty well edited ( a few minor errors), and, I gave it five stars according to set criteria. I review for Awesome Indies and both I and the administrator agreed it would be good to give a chick lit/contemp romance a good rating if it was a well written book, ie making exactly your point that there shouldn’t be elitist snobbery around different genres. The book also went on to be awarded a Seal of Excellence.

    So, while chick lit isn’t my preferred genre, I am happy to acknowledge good writing of whatever genre. I find it easy enough to enjoy a good book whatever it’s about, including chick lit 😉

    • Hello there. Yes, the Goodreads was rather unique and cringeworthy. 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to read more and comment here – I am going to search for Click. Date. Repeat. Sounds interesting! I will look out for more of your reviews. It’s wonderful to see indie authors supported on the Awesome Indies site. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      • Awesome Indies reviewing is done anonymously and I don’t re-review them on my own blog, I tend to keep them separate. I was interested in Click etc because I’d read a book about speed dating, The Jacaranda Tree or something. Maybe you’ve seen it/read it? I didn’t find it as good. The prose wasn’t so precise or well crafted, and there were too many errors. Same genre, similar topic, relationships and speed/internet dating, but very different books in terms of quality.

        But there again, reading for pleasure and reading/editing for money are very different!

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