Just like in every other area of the media, trends are prolific in book publishing. This can be a good thing and a bad thing for books. Good in the sense that when something hits and hits big, like Bridget Jones Diary, The Nanny Diaries or The Devil Wears Prada, we know for sure that lots of other books in that category, now known as chick lit, will follow. So, authors scramble to write their frothy, fun commercial successes at breakneck speed, publishers rush to buy, buy, buy, and agents push to sign up clients whose books they can sell quickly and for the best deal possible before the trend subsides.
Before long, the deluge hits, and the market is saturated with books that look and sound alike, way too many for the consumer to process (it might take a year or more for this to happen since publishing is still very slow to get product into the marketplace). And so, the trend ends, and in some cases, as with chick lit, crashes hard. This is difficult for everyone involved – authors, agents, editors, and publishers. What you’re left with after the publishers move on is a pool of talented and disappointed authors whose books aren’t selling, meaning they now have a bad track record to overcome, and questions to their agent and editor like, “What should we do next?”
There’s no easy answer. Part of the problem is that chick lit in so many ways resembles its highbrow cousin “commercial women’s fiction”, an ambiguous genre that can skew remarkably similar to chick lit. So, how should we direct authors who feel lost and confused by what they thought was a category their publishers were excited for them to keep publishing in? How do you define the subtle differences between commercial women’s fiction and chick lit (“I’ll know it when I see it” isn’t an answer most authors want to hear from their agent or editor)? What I try to tell my clients is that they need to conceive of an idea that they are excited to write, first and foremost. It’s not just about coming up with a concept that’s going to fit the next trend (although if they have something really high concept, that’s not such a bad thing) or that they’ll be able to finish quickly, but rather one that speaks deeply to the author and inspires them to write a story that they love.
The best advice I’d offer for now if you are an aspiring writer looking for an agent and publisher is to refrain from pitching your book as chick lit. The words have become taboo, and while the same essential story might be bought or sold and just marketed, promoted, and packaged differently, without the chick lit tagline, authors, agents, and their publishers will all be better off, at least until the trend returns again.