Guest Post by Author Nancy DiMauro: What Is Women’s Fiction? I Know It When I See It!

Dear Friends,

After three days of watching CNN, I decided it was time to shut off the TV and move forward with things that are normal, while not forgetting about the things that aren’t.  It would have been easy to abandon the blog for a week, but then, when is the right time to keep going? The right time is now. I don’t stand on any soap boxes because that’s not what I’m here for, nor what I’m about, but when I saw authors tweeting and FBing blatant self-promotion over the weekend, I all but went bonkers.  

I’m done with bonkers. 

To each his or her own. 

And my own is now to move forward with a normal post on our normal blog in a normal way.  So please welcome Nancy DiMauro to Women’s Fiction Writers as she discusses, once again, the meaning of women’s fiction—as she sees it.

Amy xo

I Know It When I See It—or—What Is Women’s Fiction?

by Nancy DiMauro

paths less travelled coverMore women buy books than men. Publishers look for “Women’s Fiction.” So, what the heck is women’s fiction?

The phrase “I know it when I see it” is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters. (Here’s the link.)

Yes, I know I’m not supposed to quote Wikipedia, but the definition’s perfect for my purposes. Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quote from Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) was his response to the question: “what is hard-core pornography?”  Because the phrase “hard-core pornography” is difficult to define in a manner to include all possibilities, Justice Stewart refused to provide an objective test  but instead articulated a subjective one.

Women’s Fiction is an umbrella term that encompasses any fiction whose audience is primarily females over the age of 25. So, how do you know it when you see it?

To me, stories in almost any genre comprise women’s fiction. I think J.D. Robb’s In Death series as well as Patricia Cromwell’s Scarpetta series are “women’s fiction” even though they are thrillers.  I also see Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks as women’s fiction.  Chick lit was women’s fiction  although we’re supposed to forget about that label now. And don’t get me started on “Hen Lit” which was Chick Lit aimed at the over 50 crowd. Women and men write Women’s Fiction.

No wonder there’s no set definition in the publishing marketplace.

It’s the combination of strong female characters and stories that focus on the issues we wrestle with every day that makes Women’s Fiction. I want to identify with the protagonist’s character development arc; the story of who she was when the adventure started and who she becomes as a result. It may be, and often is, that the character development is the B or secondary plot, but it’s there.  Eve Dallas from the In Death series has changed dramatically. She’s become more as she has accepted the joys and hardships that come with being a woman, and having gal pals.

Think about it: Conan the Barbarian and James Bond don’t change.

I started writing fantasy because most fantasy protagonists are alpha males like Conan. Women were fought over, and protected. Sure there were a few exceptions.  And I wanted a main character I could identify with. Women role models in fantasy were few and far between.

So, I write stories about strange universes and kick-butt main characters. My fantasy protagonists find the idea of a metal bikini instead of plate armor ridiculous. After all, what warrior would go to battle so ill protected?  They are guardians, spies and psychic detectives.  They are women.  And to me, I write women’s fiction.

WEB_N Greene-1Nancy’s novel, Paths Less Traveled: Strange universes. Kick-butt heroines. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Musa Publishing.

You can find Nancy at her blog, web site, Facebook and Twitter.

5 thoughts on “Guest Post by Author Nancy DiMauro: What Is Women’s Fiction? I Know It When I See It!

  1. This is a thought-provoking post, Nancy, especially when so many publishers–and self-published authors–are so keen on “branding.” For instance, I submitted a synopsis for my new novel, which was women’s fiction with paranormal elements, but the editor turned it down because they wanted me to write something more in keeping with the novel they’re publishing in July, a book that is smack in the “I know it when I see it” category of women’s fiction, a character-driven novel with, yes, a mystery at its core, but the mystery has to do with tangled relationships and there are strong mother-daughter and romantic elements in the book. It’s sad that publishers can’t see that women who will read one genre will very definitely jump ship to happily explore another, like fantasy or mystery (which I read often), provided there is that key character development that you discuss here. On the other hand, I understand why branding is so important; I know what to expect from Jodi Picoult, for instance, or from Juliette Fay, while I often steer clear of fantasy and science fiction because so many of those books are entirely plot- or ideas-driven and lack the deep character development and emotional conflicts that interest me. So thank you for chiming in on the debate! (Happily, my wonderful editor DID buy the next book on the basis of a synopsis that was more in tune with the sorts of books I’d been writing before, by the way. Whew! Always good to have another book simmering on the stove…)


  2. Chiming in late at night on my iPad so will try not to make too many typos. Just wanted to comment that James Bond changes a lot! Connery was totally different from Roger Mooore who was very different again from Dalton and Pierce Brosnon. And I don’t know ‘ Conan well enough to mage a judgment.wa


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