It’s been said women want the same things men want, but in prettier colors. You can see this preference in action at any formal event in the Western world: men dress in dark suits, and women in a full spectrum of colors.
This phenomenon has a profound effect on book marketing.
Author Randy Susan Meyers (among many others) rightly point outs that the term women’s fiction unfairly segregates books by female authors: “Are there not many books written by men and marketed to all genders that include abuse, poverty, divorce, familial breakdown, and other social struggles? … If ‘women’s fiction’ is a marketing device, it’s confusing as thus. Label a novel ‘women’s fiction’ — is the message ‘not for men’?”
There’s no comparable label for men’s fiction, but from a marketing perspective, men’s fiction does exist. It’s just called fiction. Here’s what it looks like.
The colors on this cover are black, white, and brown. There’s no image to evoke emotion. Clearly, this book is being marketed to men. If it hadn’t won a Pulitzer Prize, and Oprah hadn’t selected it for her book club, women for the most part would never have noticed this novel on the bookstore shelves.
Contrast this with a women’s fiction cover from multi-RITA winner Barbara Samuel O’Neal.
I love this cover, for so many reasons—and yes, color is one of them. First, look at the title, the complementary shades of cheery orange and fuchsia. To that, for drama, they’ve added blue as a contrasting color, in text as well as the image. And that image! The yellow lab suggests loyalty and unconditional love. The woman’s stance, mid-stride, evokes determination and dynamism. Her clothing is casual and comfortable, and the whisk adds to the mood of quiet domesticity.
I want to live inside this book.
That, my friends, is how you market to women—who, in general, buy more books and read more voraciously than men do. Of course book publishers want to tap into this demographic. So the concept of women’s mainstream fiction was born.
The problem, of course, is that books aren’t just products—they’re art. And for whatever reason, the literati have decided that books in boring covers marketed to men have more literary value than books in beautiful covers marketed to women.
It was bad enough when women’s fiction was just a marketing term used inside the industry. Now, thanks to Amazon, it’s escaped into the marketplace—along with the commensurate prejudice that these books are only for female readers.
As Meyers points out in her article, men are often surprised at how much they enjoy books labeled with that women’s fiction moniker. We need a new name, like book club fiction. Because a savvy decision to market to hungry female readers shouldn’t come with the penalty of excluding the male readers who would love the book as well.
Do you think the term women’s fiction unfairly limits the appeal of books to female readers only? What do you think about changing the name of the genre to book club fiction?