My novel began with a simple idea: a painter going blind, and spiraled into an adult coming of age story about a 27 year-old forced rethink the identity she spent her whole life cultivating. I embarked on this journey intending to write chick-lit and ended up in upmarket women’s fiction. I think it’s important to note that I had no idea this was the direction my book would take when I wrote it, and authors working on their first few drafts ought not to care. Fundamentally, what matters most is story is character.
In the process of querying, however, I have been asked time and again to define my books genre. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I had to do a fair amount of research before concluding that it was in fact, upmarket. Having done a lot of the grunt work already, I thought I’d share a few definitions for those who are also writing women’s fiction.
Definitions [click the links for more details and references]:
Women’s Fiction: is an umbrella term for women centered books that focus on women’s life experience that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels.
Book Club Women’s Fiction: can be any genre, include romance that is not the center of the story, “happily ever after” is prevalent but not required, and must have a central story arc.
Upmarket Women’s Fiction: fiction that blends the line between commercial and literary.
Chick-lit: literature that appeals especially to women, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme.
Commercial Women’s Fiction: fiction that focuses on events and emotions more so than the prose. Commercial fiction uses high-concept hooks and compelling plots to give it a wide, mainstream appeal.
For broader fiction categories check out AgentQuery.
There are quite a few authors who hate being defined by any one category because they rightfully don’t want to be pigeon-holed or type-cast into being a one-note author, and I’ll admit, the idea of ditching labels is appealing, but for the purposes of querying it’s helpful.
One of the many reasons it’s helpful in terms of getting an agent (says the agentless writer), is that a well-defined book means you can begin building your author “platform.”
This is a new term I’ve picked up recently, and let me tell you, it’s all the rage. It’s also one of the seemingly most exhausting tasks that new authors must conquer. Jane Friedman does a great job of defining it as:
- Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves?
- Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA program.)
- Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g., size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments) or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).
- Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance: If you have visibility, authority, and proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if your marketing vampire fiction (unless perhaps you’re writing about a vampire orthodontist who repairs crooked vampire fangs?).
The bad news is that it must be done. The good news is that while you’re querying, you have time, and none of this needs to happen overnight.
For information on how to build your platform, check out these sites: