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WHAT IS WOMEN'S FICTION?
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. It is distinct from Women's writing, which refers to literature written by (rather than promoted to) women.
The topic of Women's Fiction came up this past week because I had to judge four entries for a well-known contest sponsored by a chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Each judge is allowed to choose her preferred categories. I, alas, had excluded only three, leaving me, as it turned out, with something called Mainstream with a Central Romance. Fine. I read a lot of Mainstream Romance—Nora Robert's longer works, for example. I also read a lot of Mainstream Mysteries and Suspense, some with romance, some without. So no problem . . . except . . .
Three of the four contest entries were Women's Fiction. In the course of trying to figure out how to judge them and what to tell their authors (only one seemed to realize she was writing Women's Fiction), I was forced to analyze what Women's Fiction is and what makes it different from Romance. I ended up judging the contest entries on their writing merits, not deducting points for lack of romance, but making sure the authors understood they were not writing what RWA considers Romance. (There was much back-and-forthing between the Category Chair and the Contest Chair and me. Fortunately, we were all in agreement over my decision to treat the manuscripts at face value, helping the authors know not only what they needed to do to improve their writing but that they needed to take a second look at what genre they wanted to write.)
Women's Fiction is totally centered around women. There can be multiple points of view, but all the POVs will be from women. Women's Fiction concentrates on women's daily lives, often dealing with angst - birth, death, divorce, betrayal, problems with children, problems at work, health issues, the infirm, the elderly, etc.
As an editor, I've had some experience with Women's Fiction. One series, in particular, is right on the edge of Romance (with a new couple in each books), even to the extent of offering an occasional male POV. Nonetheless, the stories are centered not just around one heroine but around an entire group of women. As with so many genres, there is quite a bit of leeway, from those that have an actual romance to those where men are totally ignored. But the basic criteria are clear: In Women's Fiction: the stories are strictly female-oriented, with the men as also-rans. Only a few of the male characters are "heroes" in the Romance sense of the word. Some are good men, some are blah. Many are thoughtless, heedless, betrayers, nothing more than baby daddies. Others are more worshipped in death than they were in life. Some WF feature genuine romance, but it's usually peripheral to a story centered around events of so-called female interest in a particular area - often a small town.
If you have reached Chapter 4 in a book you thought was a romance and no male POV has popped up, you may be reading (or writing) Women's Fiction. [Ignoring first-person books, such as Gothic novels.] In Romance, even Mainstream Romance, it is expected that a strong male character will appear in the beginning chapters of the book. As an author, you might be able to get away with him not having his own point of view yet, but he needs to be an integral part of the plot, even if seen only through the heroine's eyes. He needs to show a gift for some snappy dialogue, whether it's confrontational, professional, flirtatious, or whatever. If you're writing Romance in any of its many sub-genres, you have to get that hero in there right up front. (The preferred method is to allow the hero his own point of view no later than Chapter 2 or 3.) Otherwise, your readers, who dote on heroes, won't like it.
Nor will your agent or editor. Or your Great-aunt Miranda.
Evidently, however, there are a number of women out there who like to read about the trials and tribulations of other women. Maybe it's a case of "There but for the grace of God go I." Or perhaps it's because there's balm in discovering other women have suffered similar problems. Whatever the reason, there seems to be a market for Women's Fiction.
Personally, I only read WF when I'm asked to edit it. My feeling is that there are so many problems in life, I prefer to escape into the world of make-believe and Happily Ever After. I cringe at Act II of Into the Woods, which reveals what happens after Happily Ever After. That much realism I don't need.
But that's me. (If you'll pardon the vernacular. That would read very oddly if I used correct grammar and wrote:" But that is I.")
The important point of this blog post is to make sure that authors understand the difference between Romance and Women's Fiction. In Romance you need a hero as well as a heroine. The romance needs to occupy a goodly portion of the book. I personally tend to emphasize characters and plot, but make an effort to keep the romance going even when my h/h are involved in action scenes far from the bedroom.
If you're more interested in the female world - the little every day things and/or the disasters of general living - then perhaps Women's Fiction is for you. You can indulge in all-female dialogue, female-oriented family situations to your heart's content. Grandmothers, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Aunts, Girlfriends - these are your characters. Your genre is Women's Fiction. Written by Women, for Women, and forgetabout the men.
If you like female-male interaction, from first meeting to you-know-where, then you're a Romance author (or reader). You have a huge number of sub-genres to choose from, from simple "category" (Harlequin/Silhouette) to long, serious Mainstream Romances, Historical Romance, Romantic Suspense, Mystery with Romance, Paranormal with Romance, SyFy with Romance (sometimes called Futuristic), Fantasy, LBGTQ, etc., etc. (Yes, the latter are male-male or female-female, but they're still Romance.)
So . . . authors, ask yourselves where your heart is. Is it with the traditional trials and tribulations of women? Or do you enjoy writing about the romantic interactions between two people?
The first is Women's Fiction. The second, Romance.
Authors, know your genre. And don't stray. Each genre has its fans, and you want to be sure you're going after the right market.
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Thanks for stopping by,
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