Chick-lit dead? Back to Jane Austen folks!

     

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for their niche imprints they abruptly did an about face, authors were asked to make last minute major revisions on unpublished manuscripts and other authors who had been successful in the genre were now cast aside.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

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12 thoughts on “Chick-lit dead? Back to Jane Austen folks!

  1. That was fascinating. Laurel.

    I would have thought that escapism was the thing , now that reality for so many of us is not what it was but I can fully understand if the s*x and shopping books are not so popular as they once were.

    Bridget Jones Dairies were different, however. Bridget’s lifestyle was not particularly glamourous, IMVHO. Her world was chaotic: if she went on a so-thought “glamourous” skiing trip, it was a disaster. It was her imperfections which made her human, funny and for me , very likeable.

    Perhaps like Jane Austen we just are sick of pictures of perfection, and don’t wish to read about perfect, impossibly expensive,but ultimately meaningless lives anymore.

    Something different ,written with humour will probably survive, don’t you think?

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    • Escapism is popular, it always will be. The difference is that before chick-lit books were about fantasy shoe buying and heroines who were flawed – think Devil Wears Prada or Confessions of a Shopaholic – now they do the same stuff but for a humanitarian cause like go to Africa to help fight Aids and fall in love with the alturistic doctor there. That is a gross exaggeration mind you. Many of the women’s fiction books are well written and engaging. Now publishers just want more edge and purpose to the plot.

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  2. Hahaha! I’m reading along through post, nodding my head at everything, and then I see your final line. :)

    You can’t tell me “chick lit” is dead — I totally agree with you! It’s just had a makeover. Many of the “traditional” chick lit novels — dealing with divorced spendthrifts or hot twenty-somethings working in New York — don’t appeal to women anymore, but couldn’t a general malaise over the genre be a reason for that? Personally, I’ve gotten tired of seeing many of the same plot points rehashed over and over again… one can only read about so many high heels, cheating boyfriends and family dysfunction.

    Someone like our dear Austen? “Chick lit” of an entirely different nature. And that nature never gets old!

    How cool that you met and chatted with Jane Porter — and what a great post! Really enjoyed your thoughts, Laurel Ann, as always! :)

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    • Hi Meg – thought you might relate to this post! ;-) Have you read any of Jane Porter’s novels? She writes about older heroines so was not sure you had. It was a pleasure to meet her.

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  3. Pingback: | Capas de Jane Austen | Jane Austen em Português

  4. Say it isnt so? I love chick-lit! With budgets being reconfigured monthly– how else am I to go on exciting trips to St Moritz and Tahiti, etc??? I hope these authors arent discouraged and just keep writing. Love the stuff!

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    • Chick-lit will survive. Like anything that is widly popular *cough* like Austen and zombies and monsters and vampires, it has its own cycle. As long as people buy the books, they will continue to be published. Not to worry Christina – you can still have you chick-lit indulgences! There just won’t be as many to choose from. ;-)

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    • I think the reasons for the decline in buying chick-lit are many Enid. It has been a widly popular genre for 15 years. Genre’s seem to go in cylces (not Austen of course) so the combination of readers tastes evolving or changing, the economy and the repetition of the same plots and premise may have caused the drop in sales. There is a lot of talk about it on line if your want to research it.

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  5. I will always read chick-lit, and I believe there are others that will as well. I will say I have noticed the lacking amount of new chick-lit on the bookstore shelves. I even discussed the very thing with my favorite bookstore manager “Martha” just the other day.

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    • You are more observatant that myself Emma – and I am in a book store daily! Maybe it all becomes a blur after a while like when your are working a jigsaw puzzle and you can’t find that piece until you walk away and come back. Fresh eyes. Since the bright pink covers have gone, chick-lit now blends in. One telltale sign of a chick-lit book though is that most covers have whimiscal art on the front as opposed to a more relatisitc photo or historical images on fiction. Check it out next time your in the store.

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  6. Pingback: Where Has All the Chick Lit Gone? « Emily and Her Little Pink Notes

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