Is chick-lit dead or has it had a re-brand?

Having spent a large chunk of my professional life working in marketing, I’ve had to deal with the discipline of branding on a day to day basis. Whenever you’re implementing some aspect of a marketing strategy, the words “is it on-brand?” are usually uttered at least once.

God forbid you might put something out there that’s off-brand and be responsible for single handedly ruining customer perceptions of the brand.

What?! The stock photography you used in the advertisement didn’t feature a happy, smiling customer? And where in the guidelines did it say you could use avocado green? 

I’m being tongue in cheek here – and it probably also illustrates that I’ve spent a little too long in the marketing industry – but it it is actually big business. International corporations can spend billions on a re-branding exercise. BILLIONS.

I once worked for a company that had very strict branding guidelines (and I’m sure they’re not the only ones). There was an entire department dedicated to ensuring everything that went out remained ‘on brand.’ Did anyone say “branding police?”

It all started with one Bridget Jones…

Branding in the writing world is big business too. Put simply, Genre = Target Market.

The chick-lit brand was first thrown into the limelight by one Bridget Jones back in the mid-nineties. Like her or loathe her, the brand is now well known and chick-lit is a well used term.

In applying labels to my writing (the marketer in me made me do it, while the creative side of me cringed), Radiant was easy – romantic suspense.

Working on my second novel however, I’m having a more difficult time. To my mind, it’s chick-lit. But if you do some research, it turns out more than fifteen years on, chick-lit doesn’t have the most positive brand associations. Fluffy, light fiction for women. Some authors don’t even want to attach themselves to that label for fear it will affect their worth.

In fact, chick-lit is so last century publishers aren’t even calling it that any more apparently. It’s now ‘contemporary women’s fiction’ or similar.

So why did this happen? Well, you’ve got to admit there’s something in the name that makes it less than desirable. ‘Chick’ is slang for women and “lit” is a shortening of the term ‘literature.’ It’s kind of like saying it’s stories for women that aren’t high brow or intelligent enough to be into real literature. Hence why it’s developed into something of a guilty pleasure for a lot of women.

It was a great book, even it if it is only chick-lit…and statements to that effect.

Young Woman Looking Away from Book

Fortunately for a few of us, some women are proud to own it. Generally I read for enjoyment. The same way I go to the movies for enjoyment. I like something that will make me smile, giggle or even belly laugh. It makes my world a little brighter and provides a break from the same old day-to-day routine.

Does that make us ‘chick-lit’ readers stupid? I’m going to go with ‘no’ here and highlight a major misconception of the genre: just because it can make me laugh, does not mean there’s nothing of substance in there.

I almost bought into this misconception myself recently. Somehow, until last year, I had never read a Marian Keyes novel. Figured I’d better get on and read one seeing as I might currently be writing something that falls loosely into the same genre.

My expectations were this: light, fluffy, easy read. Hopefully enjoyable.

The reality was far better: hilariously funny, poignantly sad in parts, shockingly honest elsewhere and raising serious issues like depression, marriage breakdowns and more, as food for ongoing thought.

It was a stark lesson. I had fallen into the trap of believing a label. Shame on you, marketing professional.

Or not. Maybe that’s why book shops and publishers are now referring to it as ‘contemporary women’s fiction.’ Perhaps they realised that the genre has so much to offer and the term ‘chick-lit’ just doesn’t do it justice.

Some current issues, with extra laughs, but hold the fluff, please

Chick-lit at it’s best encompasses all those things above that Marian Keye’s seems to effortlessly convey every time she puts pen to pater. In short, it’s modern day life as seen from a women’s point of view. (Food for thought: would Jane Austen and Emily Bronte have fallen into the chick-lit category had they been alive today?)

At it’s worst, well, chick-lit can be trite, lack depth and purpose.

But surely that’s the same for any genre? Some books are brilliant, others less so.

What’s your take on the label ‘chick-lit?’ Love it or loathe it? Or have we just moved on?

Any ideas for a better name? ‘Contemporary women’s fiction’ just doesn’t do it for the marketer in me!

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