If you’re a reader or a writer online, chances are you know Natalia Sylvester, whose debut novel will be published in 2014 by New Harvest/Amazon Publishing. Natalia’s got the right idea (I think) when it comes to women’s fiction. It’s true we need a label for our work. The women’s fiction label enables us to not only find agents and editors and readers but like-minded writers, groups, critique partners. But the perception of women’s fiction in the press, in the marketplace, online, is something we can’t really control, unless as a group, we just continue to write good books.
Take Natalia’s challenge. Keep writing! And please welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Natalia Sylvester Says The Way To Support Women’s Fiction Is To Keep Writing It
I have a complex relationship with labels, names, and the things we call ourselves. When you’re in publishing, when you’re in the business of marketing books, labels are very important. Categorizing our novels helps give us direction about how to market them, how to make sure the right readers find them.
This is all great in theory, but the truth is that books are a lot like people: they’re complex, three-dimensional things, kind of like the characters we write. The labels we give them don’t define them; they define only a part of them, and hopefully once you get to know them you’ll find they’re so much more.
But there’s something special about calling a book women’s fiction, because like the characters in our novels and the people who often inspire them, women’s fiction is a multi-faceted, ever-changing thing. What defines women’s fiction, to me, is that it’s not easily defined. It’s not as simple as saying it’s fiction written by a woman (which it can be) or fiction told from a woman’s point of view (which it often, but not always, is) or fiction that’ll appeal to women (yes, but not exclusively).
This is a label that challenges each and every one of us, both as writers and readers. It’s not so much defined by what a story’s about as it is by a story’s approach. To me, women’s fiction can be about anything and anyone, but it’s written with a sensitivity for how change in our outward lives can create change in our inner lives.
I love what the term represents, but am often disappointed by how it’s interpreted and treated. The idea of a man not picking up a book they’d probably love, just for the simple reason that it seems marketed to women, implies that a woman’s experience is not as universal as a man’s. And what about readers (both male and female) who pass up women’s fiction because they’re looking for “bigger, more serious” books? Since when has the word “women” been synonymous with small and frivolous?
The answers are not as simple as pointing out biases in publishing or in labels; they’re seeped somewhere deep in our culture and how much value we place on women’s stories as a whole. Sometimes I wonder if women’s fiction had a different name, one completely unattached to gender, would it appeal to more readers? And if it did, if it needed that kind of makeover, why would the original name not be good enough?
The conversation is constantly unraveling and evolving. Thankfully, the voices are getting louder lately, discussing not just women’s fiction as a genre, but women authors, regardless of what they write. There are those who keep an eye on how women in literature are represented, and call it out when we’re not getting the equality we deserve. Others tell their shocking, but brave stories about experiences as a woman in publishing. Some remind us it’s okay to not take it all too seriously, and explore these truths open-mindedly through comedy. And of course, there are blogs like this one, which bring women’s fiction writers together as a community.
When I get overwhelmed thinking of what I can do for women’s fiction, I always come back to the same answer: keep writing. Encourage other writers to do the same. Support one another’s voices and embrace the diversity that exists among them. Mentor other writers without judgment over what they choose to write about. Start a writer’s group or book club. Invite both men and women. Challenge others to read outside of their comfort zone and discuss what women’s fiction means to them.
While we’re at it, I say we redefine our idea of a serious writer. A serious writer is one who takes their craft seriously (there’s no other prerequisite).
Natalia Sylvester is a Peruvian-born Miamian now living in Austin, Texas. Her debut novel, Chasing the Sun, about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife’s kidnapping in 1990s Peru, is forthcoming from New Harvest/Amazon Publishing in Spring 2014. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter: @NataliaSylv.