Jodi Picoult on Women’s Fiction as a Book Category

Personally, I'm quite happy to describe my novels as women's fiction. To me, women's fiction can be defined as below (with thanks to the author Becca Vnuk), and I'm happy with this. These are the books I enjoy reading as well as writing. And it's not that I think men won't be interested in them, rather that it's less likely:

"The common thread is that the central character is female, and the main thrust of the story is something happening in the life of that woman (as opposed to the overall theme being a romance or a mystery of some sort). Emotions and relationships are the common thread between books that belong in this category. A woman is the star of the story, and her emotional development drives the plot."

And I suppose for me, it distinguishes my fiction from chicklit, which Wikipedia defines as:

Heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists. The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways.

But some writers feel very strongly about their novels being described as women's fiction.

Take best-selling author Jodi Picoult, for example.

In an interview for the Orlando Sentinel, Picoult said: “I don’t write women’s fiction. What that means is I have lady parts. There is absolutely nothing gendered in my writing. Some books I think of as more male-centric than female-centric. Honestly, when most people talk about women’s fiction, they’re usually talking about a light-and-fluffy beach read. If anyone is describing my books as light and fluffy, you have serious issues.”

Interviewed on, Taylor Jenkins Reid (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) also expresses her dislike of the women's fiction category.

She said, "Anytime I meet someone and they ask me what I do and I say, "I'm an author," and they say, "Oh, what kind of books do you write?" I say, "I write fiction." And they say, "Well, what does that mean?" What I choose to answer is, "I write book club books. I write books that you would read in a book club." What I mean by that is I write commercial fiction that is hopefully accessible to anybody that wants to read it, but they can be thought-provoking and give you something to talk about. But that's a very long answer to a small question, and the short answer is I write women's fiction, and the reason why it's called women's fiction is because we want to make sure, in no uncertain terms, men know "don't read this," which is just absurd.

"We have a society in which woman have learned to read about men and to find interesting things about the inner lives of men, and we have not done that same service for men. We have told men that women in their lives are not interesting to them, that the stakes of domestic fiction is not relevant to them — all of these things are completely untrue. Books about love and family are just as important and can be just as skillfully and beautifully written as books about war. I don't know why, so often, we put such a larger value on the story areas that men are interested in than what women are interested in. I also just don't buy the conceit. I think we just haven't allowed for men to admit when they're interested in these things, to open themselves up to be interested in these things. We've said, time and time again, to men, "What goes on in a woman's mind is not relevant to you." And that's just crazy. What goes on in every man's mind is relevant to me. We exist in the world together. I'm married to a man. The world is full of men. We should be doing that same thing for men. I think we're fixing it slowly. Big Little Lies was such a great example of a story, exclusively about women and about issues that directly affect women, that men watched. They cared. We're at the beginning of it."

(You can read the full interview here).

What do you think of the Women's Fiction book category? Are you happy with it the way I am, or do you agree that we're excluding men by using it? And if we are, is that right? Do, in fact, women's fiction books have something to offer men too?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

All for now.


6 thoughts on “Jodi Picoult on Women’s Fiction as a Book Category

  1. i think it's a problematic, potentially limiting term. it can work out marketing-wise because women buy more books. one of my favorite sue miller quotes describes women's fiction as writing about “families and marriages, infidelity and divorce — what we call ‘literary fiction’ when men write about those things.”

    i think it is condescending and perpetuates the idea that men should never be asked to consider relating to women as a main character while women and girls are asked to do that from the first book they 're assigned in school.

    i find people think women's fiction and romance are the same genre. they're not. i use 'commercial', 'book club', and 'literary' as terms to clarify.

    1. Margaret K Johnson

      Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Katie. Yes, I agree, I like commercial fiction, and women's fiction and romance are definitely not the same genre.

  2. It's such an interesting question Margaret - I have sometimes found myself reading a book by a woman and thinking that if it was by a man it wouldn't be described as women's fiction and wondering if that is fair. A lot of books I've read don't fall neatly into a genre so I suppose it's easy to categorise them as women's fiction if written by a woman. I wouldn't be offended if someone described my own books as women's fiction but I don't know how much that would tell them about the book.

    1. Margaret K Johnson

      Post author

      Thanks for your thoughts, Katie. It is tricky, isn't it? I don't read many books by men because they don't draw me. I should probably give them more of a chance in order to see whether they are dealing with very similar subjects and themes.

  3. For years, I claimed to like reading women's fiction, but would have been shocked if anyone interpreted that as chick lit, or romance.
    Becoming a writer raised my awareness to the problems associated with the name. I have no idea when or where it originated, but suspect that, as Katie said, it was an American marketing tool, which is fine, but exclusive.
    Words are powerful, and we need to think carefully about which ones we use. I don't like the word, commercial as a genre. Literally, that would mean the book was about commerce. Book club is okay, but a bit vague, and literary would scare some people off. My preference is to use mainstream fiction. Stories about people, animals, life.


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