• Jools Aguemont

Why do we call it "women's fiction"?

My current querying conundrum

As you may or may not know, I am currently editing a novel. It's set in 2015, the protagonist is a woman at the end of her twenties and it revolves around her leaving an abusive relationship, rediscovering music and finding friendship and love in unexpected places.

Now, I found myself in a conundrum. Because even though this story has thriller elements, it definitely isn't a thriller. Even though it has romance, it's not a romance, not even romantic suspense.

I ended up with the term "coming-of-age" which is definitely fitting well, because my focus is on the development of my protagonist and her growth. But I also ended up with "women's fiction", because, weirdly, if you go onto the MSWL page, "coming-of-age" isn't a genre that you can actively scan for. "Literary fiction" feels too over the top as a descriptor, because I think it's too easy a read to be called "literary" and "general" feels like a cop-out.

Now, I have been labelling it "women's fiction" in queries, but I'm far from happy with the term. Let's look at the description of the genre on Wikipedia:

Women's fiction is an umbrella term for women centered books that focus on women's life experience that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels or woman’s rights Books. It is distinct from Women's writing, which refers to literature written by (rather than promoted to) women. There exists no comparable label in English for works of fiction that are marketed to males.

This is the year 2020 and we are to assume that books have a gendered audience? Sorry but what?

As someone who gets extremely aggressive in toy shops, because there's a "boy's area" with lego and pirates and dragons and a "girl's area" which has doll's houses and pink stuff, I can hardly support the idea of "women's fiction".

Why would my book be less appealing to a man than to a woman just because it tells a woman's story? Why should a man not be interested in this? (There's also the angle, why a woman would be less interested in "male fiction", which are most Thrillers and Crime Fiction and some Literary Fiction and pretty much all adult Fantasy and Science Fiction unless the cover is pink and sparkly, but I am not even going to delve into that because then this will be much too long a post).

We live in a world which still holds on to old-fashioned, outdated ideas of what it means to be a woman, which still divides things into "for women" and "for men" instead of just letting everyone just find their own jam. Sorry, but this is not how I was raised and this is not how my brain works. Yes, I have two X chromosomes, I am totally fine with the pronouns "she" and "her", but I also don't give a toss if you use any others, because I don't feel it has any defining value to my persona.

Being who I am means both dancing ballet and building my gaming computer from scratch. It means owning more tools than my partner does. It means my wardrobe has jeans from the men's section as well as flowery dresses. It means I watch blockbusters and period drama with equal enjoyment. And none of that is in any way important to who I am and what gender I define myself as!

From my perspective, which is not that everyone is created equal but that your gender has zero influence on what your personal preferences in hobbies, literature or movies are, labelling my book "women's fiction" for querying purposes feels wrong. Yet I have no idea where else ot would fit (feel free to throw suggestions at me in the comment section or over at twitter or instagram because I am desperate).

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