Writing for Men… and Women.

Today I got curious about the prevalance of the term “lad-lit” and decided to do a Google News search on the term and see what came up.

Not much. Articles were sparse… but… I did find a three-year-old Newsweek article that caught my eye about… you guessed it, Nick Hornby. Titled, “King of Lad Lit Nick Hornby On Writing Strong Women” I was curious because, in writing my first novel, the yet-to-be-published Not Famous, writing female characters was an interesting challenge for me, and thought this article might provide some interesting insight that I could either relate to, or learn from.

What first struck me about the article was how it addressed Hornby and his ability to appeal to women readers.

Hornby laughs when I tell him that three generations of women in my family love his books. “If you write fiction and the fiction isn’t about people killing people, if you don’t get women, you’ve got no one,” he says. “Which is funny ’cause I was supposed to be the guys’ writer.”

Indeed! “Lad-lit” is arguably men’s fiction right? It may be written about and by men, but we live in a world with men and women on it. If you only appeal to one, you are, in fact, limiting your potential audience. This is, of course, one of the main faults I find in how “chick lit” is marketed.

Let’s compare the definitions of “chick lit” and “lad lit” according to Wikipedia:

chick lit:  genre fiction, which “consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists”. The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways.

lad lit:  a fictional genre of male-authored novels about young men and their emotional and personal lives, often characterized by a confessional and humorous writing style.

This definitions are basically similar… But what also caught my eye was the definition that popped up when I Googled “chick lit” via dictionary.com

chick lit:  literature that appeals especially to women, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme..

Hmm.. What does dictionary.com say about lad-lit?

lad-lit: fiction about young men and their emotional and personal lives

Notice the difference? Chick lit is, according to dictionary.com, books about women for women to read. Lad lit is not similarly defined as being limited to a male audience.

Is this limiting the audience to women a setback for the genre? I don’t think so. The best I can tell from a few minutes of Googling is that it remains a popular and profitable genre. Despite this, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner has often complained that women writers are not taken as seriously as male writers.

I don’t really agree with that assessment, but if there’s any reason for such disparity, I think it comes back to the definitions I previously cited, and how that affects how these two genres are marketed. Chick lit (or Women’s fiction) is packaged and marketed for women. When I think of Chick lit, I think of books with illustrated, feminine pastel-colored covers that scream “this is a book for women, no men allowed.” Lad lit has it’s fair share of covers that suggest the book is for male readers, but when I look at the covers for, Mike Gayle’s books, for example, I see generally gender neutral covers that can appeal to male and female readers despite stories clearly written about men or from the male perspective. Nick Hornby’s books have had various covers over the years, but the ones currently showing on his official website seem quite neutral to me. Jonathan Tropper, same thing. Maybe being a man has biased my perceptions, but I still feel if male authors are getting a better mix of readership of the two sexes, then marketing is the real reason behind that.

But I digress, back to the Hornby interview. Why do his books appeal to women, too?

The books that got him pegged as [a guy’s writer]—High Fidelity and About a Boy—were both successfully adapted for film and appealed to female readers perhaps because of their guy-ness. When I first read High Fidelity (1995), the story of a hapless record store owner who sets out to unravel the mystery of why women keep dumping him, I thought, This should not fall into the hands of women.

“And of course they all ended up reading it for exactly that reason,” he says. Still, his best-known books are about men, or boy-men, having to grow up.

High Fidelity and About a Boy are perhaps popular with women because they show men struggling to be better, and they reassure them that beneath the sports talk and record cataloging, there’s a compassionate person in there.

I’m not sure how this relates to the title of writing about strong women, but that is something I’d like to discuss more in-depth in a future blog post, because writing women characters was  indeed challenging for me. Lad-lit is often about flawed men… But, of course, women have their flaws, too. Both men and women characters should have room to grow over the course of a novel, and I’d like to think I succeeded in doing so with Not Famous (of course, we’ll find out when I publish it). My characters are all very different and their stories and growth over the novel are unique. I’d like to think that, more than anything, would attract all kinds of readers, regardless of them being men or women.

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