NEFF: Word has it that chick-lit is getting tougher and tougher to sell. What factors do you believe account for this condition?
BENT: The head fiction buyer for Barnes and Noble has officially declared chick lit to be “dead.” Basically, it just got completely over-published. This happens with every popular genre—it starts to work, and then the publishers just flood the marketplace with substandard material, and readers rebel. But eventually it cycles back on itself—we haven’t seen the end of chick lit, but it will certainly go away for a while.
NEFF: Would you say the genre is dying altogether? Might one of the chick-lit subgenres, e.g., chick-lit mystery, become increasingly popular? Any evidence of this taking place?
BENT: I think if there’s any future for chick lit it will be in paranormal chick lit or multicultural chick lit or in mom lit or hen lit.
NEFF: The right voice is so important to chick-lit. Do you see the voice itself ever becoming unpopular, i.e., overdone?
BENT: I got tired a long time ago of the whiny heroine. And now publishers are asking authors to rewrite books that were in the first person to change them to the third person, because the first person is “too chick lit” and chick lit doesn’t sell.
NEFF: Given an unpublished manuscript with a "chick-lit voice" and a female protagonist, at what point does the story transcend the bounds of chick-lit and become something else? What elements must it eschew to avoid being classified as chick-lit?
BENT: If an unpublished ms has a chick lit voice and a female protagonist, what else is it besides chick lit? Having said that, you can write a novel with a female protagonist that is NOT chick lit, that is romantic comedy (see my client’s upcoming book, STUPID AND CONTAGIOUS by Caprice Crane for a great example of this) because it is told from a third person voice and includes both protagonists’ perspectives, or you can write literary fiction with a female protagonist.
NEFF: What are the most popular genres right now in women's fiction?
BENT: Romance is still, and will always be very popular. Historical fiction is working. And fiction that straddles the line between commercial and literary—has a great voice but a commercial plot or sensibility.
NEFF: What do you see as the future of women's fiction, say five, ten years from now?
BENT: I have NO IDEA, sorry. All I can do is watch the market and see what happens. I will predict that romance will still be popular. I can also say that we all may be reading books in different formats, as the mass market business is a mess right now, and increasingly fiction that was published in hardcover is now being published in trade paperback originals. Also, I think downloading books will start to play a more significant role.
About the Interviewer
Michael Neff is the Director of WDS and Algonkian Workshops. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org