In an interview with the Hairpin this week, best-selling author Jennifer Weiner discussed the pinkish-gray area between serious literature and chick lit. When it comes to marketing, she said, an author’s picture is worth a thousand literary judgments:
If you’re smiling in your (color) author photo, it’s chick lit. If you’re smirking, or giving a stern, thin-lipped stare in your black-and-white picture, and if you go out of your way in every interview to talk about how “unserious books do not deserve serious attention,” then it’s literature.
These comments exist within a larger crusade Weiner has waged to get the literary world to take fiction written by and for women more seriously. It’s a campaign founded in a very real under-representation of such literature in publications like the New York Review of Books and the New Republic.
. . . .
If she’s right, then female authors of chick lit should have smiling color photos, while female authors of “serious literature” should be dour and colorless on their book jackets. Since it’s hard to be completely objective about categorizing a book as one versus the other, I used the ultimate arbiter of literary classification: Amazon.
Amazon includes among its “Literature and Fiction” category a sub-category called “Women’s Fiction” (a euphemism for chick lit) and another called “Literary Fiction” (a.k.a. the real stuff). “Women’s Fiction” has a handful of sub-sub-categories, including “African American,” “Divorce,” “Domestic Life,” “Friendship,” “Single Women,” and “Sisters.” “Literary Fiction” is not broken down further.
To conduct this study, I compared the photos for the top 20 best-selling female authors in “Women’s Fiction” with the same group in “Literary Fiction.”
. . . .
Seventy-five percent of “Women’s Lit” authors were smiling, compared to 55 percent of “Literary Fiction” authors. But if you look at not just whether someone’s smiling, but with how much gusto, of the shiny, happy writers, 60 percent of chick lit authors bared their pearly whites, while more than 70 percent of the literary writers did. The chick lit writers smiled more often, but when the literary writers smiled, they did it with abandon.
Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.