Sunday, 13 March 2011

Is there life beyond chicklit?

At a recent writers' conference I met some very interesting fellow writers, most of them women over the age of 40. Whilst chatting about each other's work, we discovered that we're all writing something similar - that is, upbeat stories for women who are past the first flush of youth.

The younger market - 20 to 35 year old - has a wonderful selection of authors to choose from, all producing fun, exciting, hopeful stories that cheer the heart. For women beyond this market, available literature is sparse and, where it exists, often tackles issues like a husband leaving for a younger woman, problem teenagers, decrepit parents or depression over the empty nest.

Speaking as a woman of 50+ I find that these novels might reflect a part of women's lives but they mostly leave out the fun, energy and ambition we all still possess. Of my contemporaries, two have recently embarked upon happy new relationships; another has started a successful business; one has achieved promotion that takes her all over the world and another loves the fact that an empty nest gives her and her husband time to travel when holidays are cheaper.

A completely different picture to that painted by much contemporary literature. The fabulous Jane Green is one of the few writers that has made the transition from chicklit, aging beautifully with her readership and giving us satisfying, complex stories relevant to women over 40. If she can do it, why can't more authors be given the chance?

This is therefore a plea to publishers and agents. There is a HUGE demand out there for upbeat, interesting stories pitched at women who've outgrown chicklit and moved on from finding Mr Right. If you ever receive a manuscript about older women having fun and doing something fulfilling, please give it a chance. Move on from the misery memoirs and celebrity biographies and create a new genre specifically for that massive readership with time on their hands, money in their pockets and very few great books to choose from.

If you're a reader or fellow writer, please leave a comment - I'd love to find out if you feel the same.

Laura x

16 comments:

Studentmum said...

I agree with you as a woman of a 'similar' age. It's not just books, I was looking for a magazine to read, bought one I've looked at before and found that NO women featured were over 40. It felt alienating to say the least. (Also a waste of money)

Laura Essendine said...

Thanks Student Mum. As we're the ones with the purchasing power, you'd think they'd be chasing after us, desperate to cater to this fantastic market.

Elaine Saunders - Complete Text said...

I heard that the largest consumers of crime fiction are middle-aged women. Could that be because it's intelligent, well written and doesn't usually involve chasing Mr Right around Chelsea in kitten heels? Would love to read something intelligent and fun, tailor made for my age group.

Lizzie said...

Great post, Laura ... and you know that I agree with every word! I've tweeted the link this morning so hopefully you'll get more traffic to read the blog.

And you're also right about us being the ones with the purchasing power.

Here's to henlit!

Lizzie

Judyastley said...

My last book (Other People's Husbands) featured a woman in her forties who had married a much older man. It was a romantic comedy about the two of them, their family, the age issues and (for her) a powerful a mid-life crush. One online review site claimed to have liked it very much but only gave it 3 marks out of 5 because it had Older People in it and she couldn't relate to them. Given that early 40s isn't exactly decrepit, I felt a bit miffed to say the least. Think the prejudice will continue so long as it is youthful reviewers and supermarket stock-selectors who call the shots.

niniacampb said...

I'm Nina Bell, and I write in this area: my heroines are in their forties and fifties, and my books, The Inheritance, Sisters-in-Law, Lovers & Liars, and (Sept 2011), The Empty Nesters, are family dramas. I write in this area, because there's so little else to read, although Elizabeth Buchan is good. It is baffling, though, to know why there aren't more books being published and promoted for our age group - but it has often been commented that women 'disappear' in terms of media after about 40, so it may be that syndrome transferred to books.

niniacampb said...

lJust thought I'd add that Judy Astley is also good in this area, and Penny Vincenzi's, because her books have a large cast, with central characters who are not always young, are also relevant and fun.

Laura Essendine said...

Hi Judy,
Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your experiences as an author. Maybe "older" readers should make a point of marking down chicklit because the characters are too young to relate to. Supermarket and commercial book buyers are being incredibly short sighted - one day they'll be in the literature wilderness too
Laura X

Laura Essendine said...

Hi Nina,
My next stop is to check out your books! Over 40 women may be invisible in society but, in real life, we're a powerful force to be reckoned with. Perhaps it's time we started speaking up for ourselves. Agree re Judy and Penny. Laura x

Laura Essendine said...

Hi lizzie,
Thanks - as ever. Laura x

Lizzie said...

Fanny Blake is talking at the RNA meeting In April. Her first novel features three women in their 40s and 50s, so she should have something interesting to say about older heroines.

Nina, I shall check out your books. And Judy, I'm longing to read your next novel, whatever age your heroine is! x

Lizzie said...

And finally ... because you're in Twitter purdah you won't have seen that Lizzy Kremer one of the top chicklit agents responded to you and me. Basically, she said she'd tried to sell books with older heroines but publishers aren't interested.

I think you should break your purdah (just temporarily) go on Twitter (read what LK said) and give the link to your blog so other people can join the fray this afternoon. x

Stephanie Zia said...

Couldn't agree with you more. I've just self-published my novel Ten Good Reasons To Lie About Your Age (blackbirdebooks) as a PDF ebook and Amazon kindle download, both in the UK and the US. It's about a baby boomer rock chick suddenly widowed at 50 who is torn between ageing gracefully or disgracefully. The response it's getting in the US, who are so much more comfortable with ebooks, is fantastic. As Judy's novels have proved, there is DEFINITELY an audience for this type of novel.

Laura Essendine said...

Hi Stephanie, So right. If publishers tell us there's no demand, we writers may just need to create our own publishing circle and marketplace. I'd certainly read your book - can you post a link here or do you have a blog link? Laura

Laura Essendine said...

I sent a link to the post to the fabulous Jane Green who replied with "Great piece, all true, and thank you for wonderful compliments!!". Can't wait to read her new book, The Love Verb which is sitting on my shelf right now. We need more established authors like Jane to push the age boundaries

Charlotte Rains Dixon said...

Chiming in a few months late to this discussion, but I found this post when I googled "baby boomer chick lit agent" for my novel. So a whole-hearted hell yeah in agreement to everything you wrote--there's a huge untapped market out there!