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Chick Lit Is Dead, Long Live Farm Lit

22 May 2013

From The Atlantic:

Chick lit—hot pink covers featuring martini glasses and Manolos, stylish city girl heroines navigating the urban jungle in search of love and career—seems to have gone the way of Friends and the dotcom bubble. “A visit to any chain bookstore will testify that its heyday has definitely passed,” says Salon, quoting an editor who says, “We’ve pretty much stopped publishing chick lit.”

“[T]he bloom is off the “chick lit” rose,” agrees The Economist.

Well I have news. Yes, chick lit is dead (or dying, at least). But in its place, we now have a new genre. Call it “farm lit.”

In farm lit books, our heroines ditch the big cities beloved in chick lit—New York, Chicago, LA—in favor of slower, more rural existences, scrappily learning to raise goats on idyllic Vermont farms or healing their broken hearts by opening cupcake bakeries in their sweet Southern hometowns. Instead of sipping $16 appletinis with the girls, they’re mucking out barns and learning to knit. Instead of pining after Mr. Big, they’re falling for the hunky farmer next door.

. . . .

In Australia this new genre is apparently known as “chook lit” (chook is Australian slang for chicken). Down Under, chook lit is “publishing’s latest phenomenon, with rural romances outselling other fiction.”

But even bigger than the novels, it seems, is the farm lit memoir. Call it the “career girl’s gone Green Acres” narrative, it inevitably involves a journalist or other hard-charging type who repairs to the countryside, either to follow a dream or a man, or to escape a calamity (debt, divorce).

. . . .

So many of chick lit’s tropes—stilettos! Fighting for your big break in journalism! Cute i-bankers! The hottest new nightclub in the Meatpacking District!—were part of a boomtime economy. These days, we’re mostly wearing flats, journalism is breathing its last gasps, we’d rather throw i-bankers in jail than date them, and cupcake baking seems a lot more fun (and cheaper!) than clubbing.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Romance

52 Comments to “Chick Lit Is Dead, Long Live Farm Lit”

  1. Patricia Sierra

    Hmmm…under one of my pen names, I’ve sold almost two hundred chic lit books since yesterday.

    • You need to get in touch with your readers and tell them they can’t read your book any more, Patricia. 🙂

    • Yeah, I wanted to point out that there’s a small but strong market for Chick Lit in indie publishing. 🙂 Along with Western Romances and Traditional Regencies. Niche markets that Big Publishing won’t touch (sales are too small) but that indie authors can happily thrive in.

    • This is what I love about the marketing arm of traditional publishing; only they have a finger on the pulse of readers and they’re too quick to announce a dead corpse. They’re also quick to jump on the latest trend, saturate the market with bad books, and when readers get disgusted and quit buying, pronounce the trend is over. If SE is proving anything, it’s that readers are a polyglot of different reading tastes, and trying to categorize them all into one box is stupid. Write a good book, and they will come.

  2. Waiting for the first ‘billionaire plow-boy’ title to see if the development is sustainable.

    • 😀 love it.

    • Oh, you know there is going to be a rich rancher with 1,000 acres and 100,000 head of cattle, who just can’t understand little Ms. City Slicker, but is powerfully attracted to her.

      • Suburbanbanshee

        That’d be Pioneer Woman’s actual life.

        I mean, I’d been reading her blog, I read her autobiography/ love story, but I didn’t realize just how flippin’ huge that ranch was until I started Googling placenames in her book.

      • Powerful attracted to her, depending on the accent you’re trying for. As in, “Ma’am, I don’t understand you an’ your city-slicker ways, but I sure am powerful attracted to ya.” *tips hat*

      • margaret rainforth

        Already been done!

    • I smell green light.

      Dan

  3. My chick lit/ romantic comedy has been #1 free in the UK kindle store for over a week. I didn’t seek out any promotion whatsoever. Being an American author, with no platform or bestsellers prior to this, I’d concluded it was the genre that readers were missing.

    Whatever genre NY declares dead is a good one for an indie to look at.

    • How’d you get it free in the UK? I’d had the impression (quite possibly a wrong one!) that free-days for Kindle-exclusives were US only…

  4. This makes me very happy! Because, without knowing it, I have written a farm-lit book due to be published mid-June.

    City girl (stylist by profession) inherits old wreck of a house in the wild west of Ireland. Que sexy sheep farmer, cows, sheep and slurry, teamed with stunning countryside and cute farm animals. Title: Hot Property. I had no idea this was going to be the next hot genre.

  5. This whole chick-lit thing is extremely sexist (including the name). Publishing has been trying to kill this genre for quite awhile, stating that it’s dead over and over.

    Have they ever tried to kill another genre? Not that I’m aware of. The concept of killing another genre would probably make people shake their heads. How could you kill sci fi? Mystery? Picture books? I believe they have been trying to kill it because chick lit has a feminist slant.

    There was active discrimination here. They attempted to control the market refusing to publish chick lit books, stating the genre was dead.

    Nonetheless, you can’t kill a genre, you can just re-name it or integrate it under other genres, as this article points out. Chick lit was integrated into women’s literature and romance (which made it more difficult for fans to find) and now a sub-genre, Farm lit.

    And indies, of course, will now by pass everything. Hopefully the genre can recover itself.

    • Horror and westerns were killed a while ago by those that be. Sci-fi has always been a redheaded step-child. Those that be kill things all the time because they are the arbiters or trends and taste.

      • Exactly, I remember when horror was declared dead. Isn’t the cycle something like: fifteen minutes of fame, then oversaturation, then a cooling off, then a deconstruction, and finally a reconstruction?

    • Actually, big publishers did what they always do. After the huge success of Bridget Jones’ Diary, they leaped onto the bandwagon, started new imprints (Avon Red, for example) and flooded the market with ‘Chick Lit’ until readers couldn’t take the deluge. As with any market flood, the publishers will buy *anything* of whatever quality they feel will fill the market. This dilutes the original interest and saps the energy of the trend until publishers declare the market in that subgenre ‘dead.’ And it is, for them, because they over-saturated the market, bought and printed WAY too many clones, and now can’t sell them all.

      By the way, Historical Romance has surged, been declared dead, surged, and is now again on its last legs. And this is all since the early 2000s…

      Meanwhile, readers keep on reading and finding the books they love, in whatever niche. And it’s SO MUCH easier for that to happen now, hooray!

    • “Chick lit was integrated into women’s literature and romance (which made it more difficult for fans to find)…”

      Not to mention flooding romance with a perspective that long-time readers don’t necessarily appreciate, making it harder for US to find “real” romance novels. My opinion is that some of Dear Author’s post about letting historical romance die is a direct result of the direction the subgenre went after chick-lit was integrated. So in a way this death-by-assimilation has actually helped indie writers in TWO (or more!) genres, since trad-pub is offering weak hybrids that no adherents to one form or the other actually like. lol. Thanks, BP!

      • Could you elaborate? That’s an interesting idea if I’m understanding you correctly. Do you mean the historicals got too silly and modern because that voice had nowhere else to go?

        • Yes, that sums it up about right. I could be off base here – it is strictly anecdotal observation base on the new titles that showed up on the shelves near me – but at some point in the mid- late aughts, the same sort of attitude that i think of as being chick lit (cute, light-hearted, unlikely heroine somehow overcomes on luck and pluck, i am explaining terribly but i think you get me…just sort of breezy, superficial problem-y, end game of fiction by and for girls who never really went without or had to face a dark reality) became pervasive in hist-rom. I am sure it was there before, but it was mixed in. Now i can’t find new historicals that don’t have chick lit titles like “i kissed an earl” (and i liked it) or “an earl in the hand” (is worth a duke in the bush) or “the real duchesses of london” . Honestly? The books could be the same and i would never know bc that kind of title tells me it is not the book i am looking for. (although dear god please tell me some old school rapey books got repubbed with a title like this bc that would be hilarious!) i probably sound exclusionary like i dont want new writers and readers in the genre, and i dont mean that…i blame bph for doing what they do and saying “this is what sells now so more of this and only this,” and suddenly that was all there was and even old favorites started writing it, probably unhappily bc the books were not as good, and then you have a major romance reviewer saying let it die already and i have not enjoyed a trad pub romance i bought in about 2 years….

          if the market share of new readers wanting the hybrid was big enough, it might explain why that type got so dominant (newbies all bought the same thing, us oldies were spread out amongst scottish vs pirate vs regency vs medieval vs other). Just my theory.i may be off base. Could just be a case of get off my lawn. But…considering i still love romance enough to write it…

      • A similar thing happened to the “cozy” mystery — a little different in terms of labeling, but the result was similar:

        The mystery genre WAS nearly killed off back in the 90s, when it fractured into its subgenres — and it was mainly thriller or gimmick-cozy. The rest of the genre survived mainly on classics and well-established series, although many of those were marketed as one or the other.

        All you could find in the stores on the mystery shelves (as opposed to the thriller shelves) were mysteries about cats who ran catering businesses. These were positioned to market a lot like the lightest end of chicklit.

        The mystery genre has made a bit of a comeback, but I think indie publishing has improved things a great deal on that front.

    • I’ve lost track of how many times BPHs have declared vampires dead, but the damn things keep rising from the grave…

  6. Call it what you like, chick-lit, romantic comedy. The thing is that it does sell. Most of my books in that genre keep selling and selling.

    I love reading them and I love writing them.

  7. Nicole Platania

    There’s always going to be an audience for chick lit and horror and scifi and so on. People like what they like and will support it. As far as the subject at hand, I’m happy to hear that there is an interest in this ‘farm lit’ genre since I’m currently writing a story that fits (sort of) perfectly in it. Will I ever publish? I don’t know. I’m just writing for me.

  8. I seem to have stumbled into the genre accidentally. It happened to me – I was a suburban/city girl living a nice California existence when my small town soon-to-be husband swooped down out of Canada, married me, and then told me he wanted to move back up to northwestern British Columbia.

    A whole lotta drama later, we live in the back of beyond and we’re turning a one acre plot into a mini-farm, raising chickens, etc., and doing our creative work from home.

    I can attest to the popularity of farm-lit. As a totally unknown author with zip in terms of a promo budget, I put out my first self-pubbed novel (The Cowboy’s E-Mail Order Bride) at the beginning of this month and have sold nearly 2000 copies in the last 2.5 weeks!

    I had no idea I was writing such a mainstream novel. 🙂

  9. Mary Beth Daniels

    But Amazon JUST ADDED a new category for romantic comedy, which is often chick lit.

    I think there are plenty of readers of light romance. Susan Elizabeth Phillips shows no sign of slowing, and the Shopaholic series is alive and well. The Redhead books are killing it in eBook format.

    I have a good time writing funny stories with young women protagonists, and if I snort my pink martini out my nose while reading, that’s just a bonus.

    • Dear Mary Beth,
      I’m searching for the new category for romantic comedy to switch LOVE AND THE ART OF WAR from ‘contemporary woman” but the KDP dropdown isn’t offering it.

      Where did you find it?
      Thanks
      Dinah Lee Küng

  10. Has anyone read Betty MacDonald’s THE EGG AND I, published in 1945? Seems to me she pioneered this genre.

  11. Chick Lit never really died in the UK and trad-published chick lit type books can still be found on British bookstore shelves, intermingled with more serious women’s fiction about troubled marriages and the like as well as novels about women moving to the country to find love and happiness (or not), i.e. what The Atlantic calls farm lit. And they all have the same type of chick lit style covers.

    I also think that the aspect of finding one’s place in the world that was just as prominent in chick lit as the shoes and martinis has been integrated into the new adult genre in the US, only that new adult is melodramatic, where chick lit was lighthearted.

    Never mind that chick lit was not invented with the success of Bridget Jones’ Diary or the even earlier works of Marian Keyes anyway. Some variation of the “young woman in the big city is looking for her place in the world” story has been around at least since the early 20th century, if not even longer. It will be back again in some form.

    As for traditional publishers trying to kill chick lit, one of my favourite examples of the genre is Shanna Swendson’s Enchanted Inc. series, a chick lit/fantasy mix. It was supposed to be a five book series, but the publisher killed the series after book 4, supposedly because chick lit was dead. Never mind that the series was popular and continued to gain readers, as fans recommended the books to everybody who would listen. Anyway, the story has a happy ending, because Shanna Swendson eventually self-published book 5 and even added a book 6.

    • Elaine Normandy

      So the Shanna Swendson books sounded good, and I checked Amazon. The first (Kindle) book in the series is $9.99, 2-4 are $11.99. The price doesn’t become reasonable until the presumably self-published ones. Not a chance I will try it.

      Publisher fail.

      • Yeah, this is a clear case of publisher fail, since the trad publisher continues to charge a lot of money for books that have been out for years, books they don’t even want in their line (apparently, the series was partly a victim of an imprint restructuring itself as a publisher of serious books), instead of returning the rights to the author so she can indie publish them at a more reasonably price.

  12. I have two chick lit books under one name and four thrillers under another. The chick lit outsells the thrillers ten to one. That’s why my current work in progress is another chick lit.

  13. Anthea–for the record Avon Red isn’t chicklit. It’s erotic romance. I know because I write for it.

    • Ah, you’re right! I know there was another Avon Chick lit line that opened, then folded again pretty quickly. In fact, there were a couple at various publishing houses. I was thinking of HQNs Red Dress Ink line – too much red! 😉

  14. Just a few years ago “Amish lit” was supposed to be the next hot thing, especially in Christian fiction. They were sort of farm-romances but with more religion and the ability to combine a 19th century setting with 20th century culture. My Mennonite friends just shrugged and sighed.

  15. Amish is still hot in the C-fic market. There are so, so many of us who cannot understand why. If you walk into stores where books in our market are sold, sometimes ALL you’ll see is bonnet books. It’s tiresome. There’s so much breadth and depth to Christian fic, and all they’re shelving is Amish.

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