Women’s Fiction: What’s That?

Listen kitten, I'm a feminist.So here’s a question I have repeatedly faced in trying to sell my book(s), first from agents and, now that I have one, through my agent: “Is your book ‘women’s fiction’?”  I am of course convinced that my novel has, if not universal, at least cross-gender appeal so my gut reaction has always been “no”.  This reaction is typically followed with, “And what exactly is women’s fiction?” 

Answers varied.  Sometimes a lot.  But now I know: women’s fiction is all fiction where the protagonist is female. 

 This realization was not a happy one.  Sure I knew there was a reason why Harry was the hero of Hogwarts and not Hermione and, of course, we all knew why JK decided to go by JK in the first place, but I hadn’t realized the situation was quite so dire.  I mean, my husband reads fiction with protagonists other than Jack Reacher, Detective Rebus and Inspector Banks.  OK sure, he hadn’t got through A Complicated Kindness but that (or so he claimed) was due to a lack of plot rather than the story being centred around a heroine rather than a hero.  Is he the exception?

I do take some comfort that the female protagonist definition is at least better than some of the other possibilities: “romance but not as short as a Harlequin with possibly (but necessarily) better writing but better book covers for sure” and “any book about relationships be it between a couple, friends, or family (with a possible carve out for dogs but not cats)”.

So by the female protagonist definition of women’s fiction, Tumbling After and The Janus Affair qualify.  The Janus Affair even more so – it  has not one but two central female characters and if this weren’t enough, any remaining doubt is done away with by the fact that it is written in the first person.  Think, Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone, or either of Joseph Boyden’s novels, but without the good sense of making some of the narrators men.

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