Sunday, August 29, 2010

Women's Fiction: Is It Only for Women?

In a discussion recently on a writer's online loop, the question was raised about Women's Fiction as a genre and whether the stories that fit this genre could be enjoyed by men.

Author Lisa Craig presented the distinctions between women's fiction and romance in an article for in which she offers varying definitions of women's fiction. The focus seems to be on the woman facing some challenge, crisis, or opportunity and finding her own inner strength to move forward. The story may or may not involve a romantic relationship and, when it does, the hero gets much less page time than the heroine. The romance is secondary to the overall plot.

The question is, are women's fiction stories 'only' for women? I was approached by a man at a book fair who picked up one of my novels and asked, "What is this about?" I gave him a blurb on the story. He then asked, "Is this a women's book?" I explained that it was women's fiction--a story a woman would find engaging and entertaining, and that a man might learn something from. To my amazement, he bought the book. I asked if he was buying it for his wife. He said, "I'll probably give it to her after I read it."

I once conducted an eight-week group for women at midlife. At the closing session, one of the women asked if I would consider running the same group for the men in their lives so they would better understand what the women were going through. Of course, they then agreed getting the men there would take a small army or a guarantee of pizza, beer, and a sports event. If men like Nicholas Spark, Richard Paul Evans, and Nicholas Evans can write stories that appeal to women, why shouldn't those same stories appeal to men? Personally, I think we underestimate men when we assume they won't connect with the feminine perspective in a book. As a reader, I enjoy fiction written by men and featuring male protagonists.

When you think about it, what better way for men to gain some insight into how women think, feel, and behave?

Christmas is coming in a few months. Buy your guy a woman's book for a change. Share your favorite women's fiction story with him and see what happens (and then come back and let me know :)

Happy reading.



Carol North said...

Hi Linda:
To answer the question in the article title. Yes, it's for men. My women's fiction, Savannah Heat, is getting rave reviews from men. One woman told me she brought the book home and her husband grabbed it. He wouldn't let her touch it until he finished it that weekend.

linda_rettstatt said...

Fantastic! We need to start a movement with this :)


marcillesibley said...

Nice post, Linda, but honestly, I don't think many men will read women's fiction. Or maybe it's only my husband who won't. He doesn't like anything "touchy-feely." He reads fiction to escape, to be entertained.

linda_rettstatt said...

That's probably true for a lot of men, just as some women prefer romance novels and won't reade thriller, intrigue, or police dramas. It's a matter of taste. I wonder,though, if more men would read books that fall into the women's fiction genre if they weren't labeled as 'womens' books

Thanks for stopping by.


Kayelle Allen said...

Glad to see this post. I'm baffled by the concept of "women's fiction." To me, it sounds exclusive instead of inclusive. I wonder if whoever came up with the term had some sort of gender bias? Maybe they felt the term would appeal more to women. I have no idea.

To me, it's vaguely disturbing that some of the best fiction on the market has a gender-related term. As if warning men away, or saying it's not of interest to anyone not identifying fully as a female. How does that apply to transgendered people, or intersex people? Would they not read it? Would they read only books with transgender or intersex relationships or stories?

The answer is no, of course not. Nor does "women's fiction" appeal only to men. All people love a good story. Otherwise, why would fables like Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales have survived?

Kayelle Allen said...

You know, I meant to say: Nor does "women's fiction" appeal only to women. I was writing something else entirely on a different screen, when up popped this little niggly thought... "did I say that right?" I had to come back and check. >_< Good grief. Am I the only one who does this? *facepalm*

linda_rettstatt said...

Thanks, Kayelle. I think the label of women's fiction is like a double-edged sword. It identifies a genre of stories geared toward appealing to women's tastes and experiences. But in doing so, it draws a line may cause male readers to back away. I embrace the label because, in publishing terms, it's where my books best fit. So I guess we need to educate the male readership that the book won't actually burst into flames if they pick it up

Linda Kage said...

I have a good friend who's writing a woman's fiction book. I keep thinking what a man would think reading it. They'd get quite a view into the woman's perspective. Interesting blog. Thanks.

Linda LaRoque said...

Great post, Linda. I think a lot more men than we'll ever know read women's fiction and romance on occasion. Some may not admit it. I think sometimes the covers of books keep men from picking them up. Your comment to the man who bought your book was perfect. I totally agree with Kayella's comment about the genre name. It steers men away. What is the industry thinking???

linda_rettstatt said...

I do think that Women's Fiction is an aptly-named genre as these books tend to target a specific readership of women. I don't think the genre is sexist in that to say a book is 'women's fiction' implies it is 'only' for women. It implies that the book features a female protagonist and her story. Not all books sold under the genre feature the emotional struggle of the woman. Some examine the character's deep inner strengths for meeting a challenge. Not all women in women's fiction novels are facing relationship issues. Certainly the title may put off some male readers but, when you think about it, all genres have a target audience. While I would love to see more men read women's fiction, I know that women are my target audience.

linda_rettstatt said...

And I am so enjoying your comments and this discussion. :)


Fiona McGier said...

I think it depends on the age and maturity of the man. Younger men are more concerned about their appearances, so they probably wouldn't read a book written by a woman, even if it was hardcore porn or action only! My husband reads all of my books before they are published, and has made useful suggestions...he says he appreciates that I create 3-dimensional men, who are not just there for the heroine to fall in love with. I think if the story is interesting it shouldn't matter what gender the author identifies with, but unfortunately to many readers, it does. Maybe it's the covers?

Sandra Cox said...

Good blog, Linda!