Well, I’ve missed International Women’s Day by a couple weeks but as I sit down to write this post the topic that is uppermost in my mind is women – women characters in fiction, that is. Recently I’ve been considering what type of characters I want to write about next and whether they will appeal to readers. When I scan the shelves of my local bookshop I see that ‘chick lit’ novels greatly outnumber other genres. The covers of these books display young, trendy women in urban settings.
Since writers are advised to heed the results of their market research, does this mean that if I aspire to getting my work into bookshops that I need to write similar books to those already on their shelves? I hope not as I don’t really want to create ‘chick lit’ type characters. I would rather explore the world of women my own age who lead very different lives to the young set. I thought I might be out of step and the only writer who felt this way until I read an interview with Adele Park in Publishing Talk Magazine this month. She said in the article, “I’m not one of those authors who wants to write about 20 year olds, because I’m not 20, I’m 43.” I was encouraged by her comment as that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking (just add a decade to her ‘43’).
I was further encouraged to find (with the help of a fellow writer who drew it to my attention) a Mslexia article, Empty Nest Lit, posted online (Issue 49, May/June/July 2011) which talks about how older women are beginning to take centre stage in novels:
“Patrick Janson-Smith, publisher of the HarperCollins’ imprint Blue Door, is adamant that demographic change is driving the trend towards older female protagonists. ‘We have an ageing population,’ he says. ‘There is also a recognition among publishers that the people who buy print books – and Kindles – are older and want stories that reflect their experience.’
‘It is about time,’ says literary agent Clare Alexander, whose clients include Fanny Blake and Virginia Ironside. ‘In 2005 Emma Soames, then Editor of Saga, gave a talk at the Booksellers Association conference, and told publishers they were under-publishing for older women,’ she recalls. ‘There’s lots of research showing that Baby Boomers are heavy book buyers, but publishers have been slow to respond – mainly because most editors are not Baby Boomers.’ Simple economics has forced publishers to target older women: book spending has been in decline for the past three years, so they need to find new markets.”
I echo Clare Alexander’s comments: it is about time. I’m heartened to hear that there are readers who want to read about the kind of women I want to write about and that publishers are being urged to cater for them. I may write about younger characters sometimes but I won’t be afraid to write about older ones either. I’ll keep writing the kind of stories I want to tell, hopeful that there will be room for ‘babyboomer’ books and characters on bookshop shelves.