Occasionally, real authors walk into my book store and ask to sign their books, opposed to unreal authors who remain in that unknown nether galaxy of far, far away Authorland.
As a bookseller it’s always an unexpected surprise to meet an author face to face, reminding me that there is actually a person who wrote and rewrote that book before it landed on the book shelf. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting local author Jane Porter who came to the information desk and introduced herself. Friendly and unassuming (no Jackie Collins get-up or airs) she was actually camped out in our café with her laptop pounding away on her latest book trying to finish the last 200 pages to meet a deadline. As she signed the multiple copies of Easy on the Eyes that we had on the shelf she chatted away about the book industry and her career as a writer. The conversation came around to her shocking statement that chick-lit was dead, how the recession had killed it and the affect on her and many of her fellow authors in the genre. Inwardly, I felt embarrassed. I should know this. I’m a professional book seller. It then dawned me that our new release tables were sorely lacking in the tell-tale shocking pink covers that personified the genre. Gone, all gone, along with the billions of dollars that seemingly disappeared overnight from people’s 401K’s and home values.
Since the economy was in the tank and no one had any extra money to fly their Lear jet to Hawaii, ski St. Moritz or shop in NYC it was no fun reading about hip, stylish, career driven thirty-something women who did. Potter explained that when publishers saw the plummeting decline in sales for their niche imprints they abruptly did an about face, authors were asked to make last minute major revisions on unpublished manuscripts and other authors who had been successful in the genre were now cast aside. Jane is a big name in the chick-lit biz. Her best selling 2008 novel Flirting with Forty was made into a movie with Heather Locklear. She also writes classic romance’s for Harlequin. She is not going away. She has always written about deeper issues with humor and insight. It may have saved her.
So what does all this have to do with Jane Austen you ask? Ever since the Pride and Prejudice inspired novel Bridget Jones’ Dairy became a best seller in 1996 spawning a genre and million pink book covers, Jane Austen has been called the grandmother of chick-lit. This always amused me. She really has little connection to the genre except her novels contain a few similar characteristics: the importance of wealth and social connections, an erring heroine who lacks the afore mentioned wealth and social connections, and a rich but honorable hero who must earn her love. Jane Austen just happened to be the first modern novelists to use these elements, the current darling of the media and a convenient target to hitch their genre to.
Trends seem to go full circle. We may not have pink covers anymore, but we still have Jane. She never goes out of fashion and you get a lot more satisfaction from the final denouement. If you don’t know what denouement means, it has nothing to do with sex, though it sounds as if it should. Honestly, I do not think chick-lit is dead. It’s just had a make-over. Now its heroines don’t just shop for shoes and have sex, they have a social conscience while they’re doing it.
If you think chick-lit is dead please don’t tell WriteMeg