Welcome to the second week of What An Agent Wants!
We're asking our esteemed agent panel a question a week for the next ten weeks and publishing the answers right here for you guys. This week we ask...
Is Chick Lit Dead? Are Publishers still buying it?
Madeleine Buston of the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency
Publishers are still buying chick lit as long as it has that something 'extra'. For instance, I recently sold a debut called NEVER GOOGLE HEARTBREAK by Emma Garcia to Hodder which is a romantic comedy but totally unique in the way that she integrates extracts from the nevergoogleheartbreak.com website into the narrative. The main thing that set it apart from what is out there is the voice. Every time I (and Emma’s editor) reads it we literally snort with laughter it is so funny
Laura Longrigg of MBA Literary Agents
Women’s fiction is very clever at reinventing itself and while the genre of Chick Lit has suffered from being overpublished (as historical romance was in its day) – oh dear, we do love our band wagons, remember Aga Sagas? But romantic comedy (now officially a Romantic Novelists Association prize category), crime with female protagonist/woman in jeopardy, and most interestingly of all of course the paranormal/fantasy elements creeping into mainstream women’s fiction (despite vampires also having their day – see above) are all on publisher’s wishlists, in my experience. And of course the ‘reading group’ novel is a must have – Room, Before I Go To Sleep and My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You…
Hannah Ferguson of The Marsh Agency
Chick Lit most certainly is not dead; however I would say that it’s a challenging time to break debut authors into the genre. A new author is a risk, and at the moment publishing houses are being very cautious with the risks that they take. I think this is more a sign of the economic times, rather than indicative of what readers want to read. I think there is extra caution within publishing houses at the moment – but if an author’s book is truly good, then with a lot of hard work, imagination and perseverance I believe they will get there…even if it does take years and years of hard slog first!
Lisa Eveleigh of the Richford Becklow Literary Agency
Women will always want to read fiction that either reflects their own life and experiences or takes them into another world entirely, depending on the personality/mood of the reader. So I don’t think chick-lit is dead, but I suspect it’s changing in tune with the times; there is not as much ‘froth’ about. Also, only the very best is finding a reasonable deal from a publisher now. A book does need to stand a chance of being selected by Richard and Judy or the TV Book Club, and it’s worth analysing those titles to see what has appealed about them.
Sarah Lutyens of Lutyens & Rubinstein Literary Agency
We think that though the label is no longer particularly original - or accurate - the market will always be there for accessible, romantic, life-enhancing commercial fiction which you don't need to take amphetamines to keep you reading. But there is no doubt that the development of tv bookclubs and reading groups which look for meatier themes for discussion on the small screen has pushed the commercial fiction market more towards a kind of plot driven book 'about' something, strong on relationships (and not just romantic ones). And the fact that at a certain point the market was all but flooded with Bridget Jones look -alikes meant that readers - and therefore publishers - were asking for books about more than another Chardonnay-fuelled search for a boyfriend.
Diane Banks of Diane Banks Associates
It depends on how “chick lit” is defined. “Chicks” (broadly defined as women in their twenties and thirties, dreadful though the term is) still want to read novels, but in these economically uncertain times, people tend to be more contemplative, grounded and driven by the need to take responsibility for themselves and their lives. Neither the aspirational heroine of the eighties bonkbuster nor the self deprecating “heroine just like me” of the late nineties / early noughties romantic comedy are culturally relevant in the post-credit-crunch climate. Publishers are certainly still buying women's fiction but, as always, it needs to fit with the zeitgeist and the zeitgeist has undergone a major shift in recent years. Younger women's fiction needs to be high concept and older women's fiction needs to be issues driven in order to appeal to today's readers who want to be challenged by their reading as they are being challenged in other areas of their lives.
Sheila Crowley of Curtis Brown
There is always a great debate over what ‘Chick Lit’ is and many authors do not want to be categorised under this umbrella. My experience is that Publishers are being more selective at the moment and so am I. The cycle of a book continues to change as the Retail environment changes and the EBook evolves more in the market. Publishers want the same feeling as an Agent when they open up a script and when that magic happens, the book will be published with passion and flair.
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