Much Ado About Women’s Fiction

Almost two years ago I started Women’s Fiction Writers (WFW)  because these things were true.

1. I write novels for women about women’s lives, but I do not write romance. 

2. There was no place online for like-minded writers and authors or to discuss these works.

What I didn’t know was also true, was that controversy about what I called Women’s Fiction bubbled under the surface and spilled onto the floor. Some don’t like the label Women’s Fiction because there’s no Men’s Fiction label. Some don’t like the label Women’s Fiction because the common misconception is that it simply means fiction for women, including romance. Some don’t like the label Women’s Fiction simply because they enjoy being contrary.  Others don’t want anyone to think their books are more appealing to women than men.

Frankly, I have no problem with my work being called Women’s Fiction, although I also gravitate toward the term Book Club Fiction. I have no problem with the fact that THE GLASS WIVES will likely appeal to more women than men. I know I write with women readers in mind. That’s not an accident. Why would that bother me? I am a woman after all and I enjoy books that explore women’s families, relationships, lives, and worlds. I honestly don’t care what someone calls it, as long as she (or he) reads it.  And I realize that a book cover with tea/coffee cups is geared to women readers. YAY FOR WOMEN READERS! YAY WOMEN’S FICTION! YAY WOMEN’S FICTION WRITERS, AUTHORS, SUPPORTERS, FRIENDS!

Why focus on the negative when there is so much that’s good about books for and about women?

No matter what you call it, there’s usually something brewing around the idea of Women’s Fiction and the latest brouhaha was the fact that Romance Writers of America has tightened its rules and disallowed the inclusion of anything other than straight-up romance categories in its contests and in its chapters. And you know what?  They can do that!  The problem for me ensued when the RWA-Women’s Fiction Chapter realized it had to change its mission statement of serving Women’s Fiction writers to serving Romance Focused Writers.

Many of us no longer belonged. Me included.

So there’s a new organization starting up. Right now it’s just an email loop but the Founding Team is working on the legalities of a brand spanking new non-for-profit, professional organization called:

Is there a clear definition of Women’s Fiction? No. And that’s okay. The Founding Team (of which I am not a member) is striving for this organization to be inclusive, not exclusive, but inclusive within the realm of Women’s Fiction.

The email loop, at this point, is the place for very lively banter about what is women’s fiction and what is it not. It’s where participants are sharing Women’s Fiction projects and writing goals, query angst, and writing craft questions and conversation. What this email loop is not, is a place for promotion. That’s right—until the kinks are worked out and the guidelines have been set, no one is promoting his or her own blog posts or books. BIG NEWS will be shared, but the loop moderators are doing a fabulous job at keeping the group focused.

Think this sounds like something you might like?

Here’s the official word from the Founding Team Leader:

“The need is for an organization dedicated to women’s fiction. Whether the stories are contemporary or historical; literary or commercial; include a dash of romance, a heap of romance or none at all; the stories all have one common thread—they are about a woman’s emotional journey.

A new organization—Women’s Fiction Writers Association—is being launched to fill the need. It will be an inclusive community of career-focused women’s fiction writers with networking, education and support at every step in their career path.”

To join the email loop and be part of the conversation, contact Laura Drake at Laura_drake1123 [@] yahoo [dot] com

I am thrilled with how this blog—WFW—has evolved and the community it has created. But I’m also thrilled for the chance to be part of something new and different. Nothing will change here. I think it will all just get better!

I was on the Board of Directors of RWA-WF and will be proud to be a founding member of WFWA. In the future I know I’ll be involved, volunteer, and maybe even run for a position on the Board of Directors or chair a committee.

But for now, I’m just part of the conversation.

I hope you will be too.

Amy xo

61 thoughts on “Much Ado About Women’s Fiction

    • I hope you’ll join in the conversation, Priscille! You can be as involved as you like, or simply read what’s going on. (I tried that, but I itch if I don’t chime in!) I know this will be something great, and I’m happy to be “in on it” from the start.

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  1. Great news! Sounds wonderful. I’ve notices how many other groups (on Facebook notably) are all about self-promotion. While that is a necessary evil, there are so many other things related to writing to discuss. That’s what I’m looking for—a group focused more on the ongoing conversation rather than just a place to say “hey, look at me!” Thanks to everyone working on this.

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  2. Thanks for this cogent, reasoned post, Amy. WFWA has an opportunity to bust many stereotypes. Among them: that only women write women’s fiction, and that women must be all things to all people. I’m not quite sure why an “emotional journey” seems genre specific to anyone, though. Story itself is an emotional journey. I challenge anyone to write a completely cerebral story that will sell well. Story as emotional journey is espoused by some of my very male writing mentors—Donald Maass, James N. Frey, James Scott Bell.

    Yet women’s fiction is not all emoting. The fact that much of it is touted as “book club fiction” shows that it offers up plenty of thoughtful material for discussion—for men and women (who do happen to be in the majority as purchasers of fiction). Will The Glass Wives have book club questions included?

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    • I think the emotional journey part of a WF definition that seems genre specific to some is the one woman’s journey bit. We all know stories in general are emotional journies of some kind. There are many WF novels from the POV of one female protagonist that explores her emotional journey during a specific crisis or life event. To me, that’s one form of Women’s Fiction not all encompassing. WF is a large genre that covers many forms. It think to define it as soley the emotional journey of a woman is too narrow. And it agree with you 100% that WF is not all emoting.

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  3. Great news, Amy! Thanks for letting us know, and I will definitely be contacting Laura. I’d love to be part of a group sharing information and knowledge about the women’s fiction market. As all the recent controversies have shown, women’s fiction is far too misunderstood and, unfortunately, quick to be attacked (sadly enough, too often by other women authors). I am proud to write work that is not romance but is aimed at a primarily female audience. Not only is it what I enjoy doing, but it also makes good business sense since women are the *overwhelming majority of the general reading public*. Great to know there’s a new association to bolster this important genre.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this news, Amy. I was just yesterday going on a bit of a tirade with a friend about my frustration with this concept of boxed lit. I write what are to me deeply romantic stories–do I write romance? I would say so. Would it follow the description of RWA’s definition of Romance? I don’t know. It seems curious to me that as writers it is already hard enough to find our voices in our own work but then the layer is added of where does that voice fit? Why can’t the box be bigger? We all write, we all love to tell stories. I understand that the industry needs categories, but do readers? I’m not sure. And I’m not sure we writers need them either.

    Excited to follow these developments!

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    • “Why can’t the box be bigger? We all write, we all love to tell stories. I understand that the industry needs categories, but do readers? I’m not sure. And I’m not sure we writers need them either.” I agree 100%. I too write love stories, family dramas. I don’t fit the RWA mold and if the WFWA is about the woman’s emotional journey soley, I won’t fit there either. I’ve been longing for a gorup to call home since RWA’s changes this summer. I am hoping and praying it will be with the WFWA. We shall see. Either way, I am totally enjoying the debate. As a political junkie I love a good debate. I could go on for days about pretty much anything.

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      • Charli,
        Think about this…and I mean this lovingly. 🙂 Maybe you’re taking the “women’s emotional journey” as someone meaning it’s the ONLY thing pertinent to women’s fiction. To me, it is always one of the important elements of the story, but not the only one. About a couple’s journey? Sure—and that’s an emotional journey for the woman. A family saga? Same thing. Friendship story? Pertains there too. My book, The Glass Wives, is about a woman is who is a mother and friend and the relationships intertwine and the emotional journeys belong to everyone. Not all books include emotional journeys. But women’s fiction? Yes. About women AND MORE? Yes. But a woman’s emotional journey is a big part of it. Maybe not the only part. But a part. Take it out, and it’s probably not WF.

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        • “But a woman’s emotional journey is a big part of it. Maybe not the only part. But a part. Take it out, and it’s probably not WF.” Yes, I agree 100%. Most novels consist of an emotional journey of some sort. Regradless of genre. It’s part but not the whole. So the deifnition of what WF is as it pertains to WFWA shouldn’t soley be that either. That’s my concern, how WF is going to be defined for the WFWA. It’s a very slippery slope as we saw with RWA. The definition should be broad, imho. For most, WF is many things and I hope the WFWA will embody that. Right now the home page has it defined. Founding members have defined it on the loop, not intentionally but they have. Some have said nothing is set in stone yet some are saying what it is, even if it is their opinion, here and on the loop. Some questions on the loop have yet to be answered regarding this and it’s frustrating to come from the RWA-WF situation, feeling abandoned, to this huge question mark. The definition of Romance and RWA’s mission clearly spelled out we didn’t belong. Will a narrow definition of WFWA do the same for some in this group? Some also felt the loop moderation reminders went beyond just reminding people not to promote. Again, like RWA. The founders can say what the intention is but when so many feel otherwise it’s hard not to worry. There is WF that is only about the woman’s journey, yes. But there are many others where the focus is on a cast of characters and their physical and emotional journies. I hope you can understand where I am coming from now. If Wf is the emotional journey of the woman, a main female protagonist soley, then I do not write WF according to that definition. But to me, that’s not all WF is. Again, I have a broad definition of what WF is and I thought the WFWA was founded to support that. While I know starting an organization from scratch is tough, been there, it shouldn’t be that hard to tell us what exactly we are. Will the group get to vote or decide the mission/definition? Is it in the hands of the founders? I feel like all of us from RWA-WF are founders in a sense, we all supported this group and came here thinking different things apparently. We were all so excited to find a group of our own we didn’t decide early on what WF means for the WFWA and if we all fit. We shall wait and see I guess.

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          • And I find the beauty in that it can be one thing to me and another thing to you—and it still fits under the umbrella of women’s fiction. I don’t care about the specific definitions as long as what I write is not excluded from the mix. I want to be able to discuss what I write with others who get it. That’s all. Family/woman/man/couple/group emotional journey is what Women’s Fiction is to me.

            I don’t get bent out of shape too easily. I don’t mind the WF label. But I’ll tell you that now that I’m talking about my IRL book that is coming out, regular people have NO CLUE what WF is. And it’s not for them. It’s so agents and editors and publishers and bookseller know what they’re getting. It’s so they know who the reader might be.

            People assume my book is either romance or chick lit until I say otherwise. If someone picks up my book expecting either, they’re not going to be happy. But if in speaking with people I can get across that it’s a commercial/literary combo about a family, well then I don’t care what they call it.

            And I include lots of variations of WF on this blog. I have had guest posts by romance authors too. We all have something to say, but here I focus on my broad interpretation of WF and anything else I deem worthy. Yes, even books with male protags! Have a great one coming up in a week or so. It’s amazing!

            This blog remains mine—I support WFWA but I’m the bloggy mama around these parts. 😉

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  5. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing, Amy. My friend and I just this conversation! We agreed that we write women’s fiction and not romance. I will be joining this group!

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  6. Yay! This is so cool! I was initially disappointed to hear of RWA’s decision, but now I think that it’s opening up a whole new set of opportunities. I’m excited to see where this new Women’s Fiction Writer’s initiative is going and to be part of the conversation in anyway.

    I second what Kelly said above. And it’s so great to see women writers supporting each other.

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  7. Yay, Laura and Amy and team. Signing up to be a part of the conversation. I really like the definition, above, by Laura (and that it is so inclusive of so many sub-genres and types of women’s lit). And the “emotional” part of the explanation, to me, simply speaks to character-driven, internal stories (without lots of car chases and things blowing up!).

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  8. The thing I don’t like about the women’s fiction label is that it declares that these books are FOR WOMEN, which I don’t think can ever help us. It’s exclusive rather than inclusive. Even if we are writing about themes and topics that women tend to enjoy more often than men, I don’t think that needs to be declared. People will naturally pick up the books they want to read, regardless. There is no other genre that declares who it’s for, but simply what it is. I wish people would call it domestic fiction, or relationship fiction, or life fiction instead? The way I see it, aren’t we writing about the emotional lives and journeys of PEOPLE? Is it really just women? Because if so, my book would be 33% disqualified. So that’s my beef with the women’s fic title, which it seems I needed to unload here in your blog comments (sorry about that!) Something else, anything else would be better, really. (Anything but “chick lit”, I mean, lol!)

    And it appears I have things to say, so maybe I should check out that email list. 😉

    That said, whatever it’s called, I’m glad this niche of stories will have a group to champion them. They’re my favorite kind of stories both to read and to write.

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    • Laura, I agree with you. I think we’d be much better off calling it relationship fiction rather than women’s fiction. In the stories I write, the journey of the male characters is as important as that of the females. If women’s fiction can be about the relationship between a mother and daughter, why not a father and son? Why exclude half the human race? I believe woman are attracted to women’s fiction for the type of stories we tell, not the plumbing of the protagonist. I hope the WFWA won’t exclude authors who write relationship stories from a male perspective. Those stories are just as interesting to me as stories from a female POV.

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      • From my understanding–the previous incarnation of RWA-WF included male perspective WF also. That’s what Keith Cronin wrote with his novel, ME AGAIN and he was a member of RWA-WF and RWA until the rules changed. And now he’s joining WFWA. I hope to have a male POV in my third novel. I don’t think anyone will kick me to the curb for it. 😉

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  9. I was about to join RWA when they made the announcement about narrowing their focus. I’ll be glad to be part of the group furthering the discussion. I have never minded the label–I think those of us who read it and write it know what it is when we see it.

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  10. I was also about to re-join RWA when I heard about their announcement. I don’t support what they did or how they went about doing it. Thank you so much for sharing this info about WFWA. 🙂

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  11. Just sent an email to join the group.

    I can understand those who object to the name, but it does seem to be the simple fact that books need to be labeled, mainly so the reader knows what they’re getting. Generally, with people in the know about the industry, I say I write “humorous commercial women’s fiction.” But, geez, that’s a crazy mouthful. And try finding that category on Amazon! It would be nice if we didn’t have to try to fit our writing into neat “boxes” but we do, and WF is a well-known, well-established category, so I don’t have a problem with it.

    Just glad to find a group of WF writers to be a part of! 🙂 Thanks for the info.

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  12. Love the WFWA and I love the debate over what WF is. It’s been great to read people’s thoughts. Even here in the comments, I’m seeing some familiar names and hope the conversation continues. My big concern is that WF is about the woman’s emotional journey soley. That’s my issue. I believe WF can be a mix of journies. A couple’s, a family’s, etc. It doesn’t just have to be about one lead female. I think some people are far too literal when discussing this. Every story is an emotional journey of some sort, no duh. There is WF that is from the sole POV of a female protagonist and its about her journey. I love those and read them quite often. I’ve also read WF from multiple POVs and its about their collective journey, each one weighing equally. Those multiple POVs can be from a male, a parent, a friend, lover, or child. I’ve read Romantic WF where its the couple’s journey, not just hers. Family journies where the end is a culmniation to all their experiences. That is my opinion of WF. I fear a narrow definition of it will be eerily similar to what many left RWA for. Just my two cents. I hope that those here will sahre their thoughts on the loop. It would be nice for the group to see everyone’s thoughts.

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  13. I would have never known about WFWA before reading about it here, and think that having this for such a long-standing category as women’s fiction is the absolute best thing that could happen for it. Really looking forward to learning more as it begins to progress and take shape.

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  14. I was enormously disappointed to learn of the lack of support and eventual dismissal by the RWA of any writing that is not deemed a full romance novel – even eliminating the romantic elements category from all contests and the unfortunate disbanding of the WFW chapter. I joined the group and my local chapter in hopes of finding a supportive environment in which to further cultivate my craft. It was and continues to be difficult. I don’t write romance and even with the romantic elements category, my novels were continually deemed “not romantic enough.” I very much look forward to participating in and learning more about this newly formed organization and how it promotes women’s fiction.

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    • Lottie, just an FYI – the RWA Women’s Fiction chapter has not disbanded. We’re continuing under new leadership. We’re planning a mini-conference at Nationals and we’re looking into setting up an online workshop. So despite the rumors and the changes in RWA, the Women’s Fiction chapter is moving forward.

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      • Andrea, I’m glad you chimed in. Maybe you can explain who qualifies for membership in RWA and therefore RWA-WF and who does not. RWA does not recognize WF outside of the genre of romance, there are no WF contests, and members must be romance authors to have voting rights. The whole thing confuses me, but I know that I can’t be in RWA because I do not write romance in any way. What’s fabulous is that now there is a place for those of us who do not write romance–and two places for authors who write romance AND Women’s Fiction.

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        • RWA defines romance as having a central love story and an optimistic ending. The hero/heroine dynamic that is generally associated with romance is not required. Neither is a “happily ever after” or “happy for now,” as long as the ending is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. But the love story must be central, and not a subplot. Romantic elements aren’t enough anymore.

          Authors who don’t write romance are welcome to join RWA as associate members rather than general members. They can’t vote, and they can’t run for chapter office (even though they pay the same dues rate). But RWA does offer a number of benefits for non-romance writers, especially those who aren’t published yet.

          On the other hand, the WFWA is a wonderful, supportive organization for ALL authors of women’s fiction. Even though it’s just starting out, it’s already a vibrant, supportive community. I’m so happy to be a member of both!

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  15. Thank you, Amy, for starting the conversation. “Women’s Fiction” is a genre that stands on its own, and it should be respected as such!

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  16. This is exciting news, and a great introduction to your work, Amy. I sent a message to Laura and subscribed to your blog.
    There’s a lot of “talk” here about being outside a box or making the boxes bigger. The problem with boxes is that by design, some people end up off in the corners and can’t fit in.
    I’m a hooper, (hula-hoop), so I think in circles. The plans for a new group bring to mind the circles that radiate out from dropping an object into still, (perhaps stagnate?) water. It’s good to see change, even when it causes splashing.

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  17. Bravo to Amy and all the other writers of women’s fiction who realize what a great group this can be! I am watching avidly and will be glad to promote WFWA success any way I can. Let’s do this!

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  18. Having followed the conversation / debate in the RWA-WF group, I am thrilled that we now have a new organization and also that the conversation is opening to hear more voices. It’s an exciting journey. Who knows where it will end?

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