I’ve been reading a great deal recently about how chick-lit has gone into decline. Firstly, The Bookseller reported that there’d been a 10% fall in sales of chick-lit, and secondly, there have recently been quite a few prominent critiques of chick-lit as a genre (such as Polly Courtney’s decision to leave HarperCollins after they kept branding her books as chick-lit). Yet I’m not too sure that we’re actually witnessing a mass extinction here.

I recently discussed this issue with romantic fiction author Talli Roland at the launch of  21st Century Dodos (a rather fitting occasion, as Steve Stack’s book is all about cultural items which, like chick-lit, are supposedly under the threat of extinction). However, both of us were rather puzzled by the reports of chick-lit being in decline, as we have first hand evidence that it’s positively thriving on the Kindle. Admittedly, The Bookseller‘s report was no doubt hampered by Amazon’s legendary reluctance to discuss sales figures, yet it seemed quite clear to both Talli and I that chick-lit wasn’t declining, but thriving via the Kindle. So, we came to the conclusion that the drop in sales of women’s commercial fiction that The Bookseller reported on in September was most likely due to women readers switching from paper books to the Kindle in large numbers.

My evidence comes from Punked Books’ only commercial women’s title, Without Alice by D. J. Kirkby, sales of which have been considerably higher ever since Amazon.co.uk introduced the new £89 Kindle. Having written that, Without Alice‘s author, Denyse, ascribes the sudden rise of e-book sales to her giving away a free Kindle on her website.

You may have noticed that I restrained myself from calling Without Alice “chick-lit”, because it’s not the kind of book that I usually ascribe to this label. “Chick-lit” makes me think of light frothy books with luminous pink covers about young women in the media industry who have somewhat troubled relationships with bastard boyfriends (who are typically Hollywood producers). True enough, Stephen, the anti-hero of Without Alice, is a bit of a bastard also (and so D. J. Kirkby’s novel does follow a fairly well-established route in women’s fiction in which the reader discovers the reasons for his unsavoury nature). However, the novel is related in a highly realistic manner throughout, to the point where one blogger felt that she could not continue reading Without Alice due to some early scenes that featured complications in childbirth. (Most other reviewers have raved about the novel, as you can see via Without Alice‘s Amazon.co.uk reviews). However, Without Alice‘s cover (which features a handsome blonde man being embraced by a woman) probably does appeal to chick-lit readers, especially with regards to the cover’s pink background (this was a last minute addition, as the original cover, which featured the photo alone, just didn’t work, and so I had to frame the photo, utilising the model’s skin tone as the inspiration for the pink background).

So, I’m in agreement with Elizabeth Day and Tasmina Perry that “chick-lit” isn’t a very satisfactory term, and that it can be quite derogatory. I can also well understand authors such as Polly Courtney getting upset when their books are inappropriately branded as chick-lit due to their publishers’ blindly following publishing trends. However, I do think that there is still a huge market out there for escapist, frothy romantic fiction, and that this market is currently booming on the Kindle, as women can now far more happily lose themselves in these  stories since they’re no longer being made uncomfortable in public by having to read paper books with the luminous pink covers beloved of chick-lit publishers.

Kevin Mahoney
Punked Books Publisher and Founder

– p.s. I’m going to be attending Melville House’s celebration of the Not the Booker Prize on Thursday November 10th, since Punked Books’ English Slacker was shortlisted for this prize.

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