Yesterday I went to a panel at Skylight Books called “Beyond Chick-Lit” featuring several writers who, as David Kipen put it on KCRW, “have never written a book with a pink cover”: Meghan Daum, Janet Fitch, Kate Gale, Leslie Schwartz, Susan Straight and one of my favorites, Nina Revoyr. Actually, the paperback version of Susan’s novel Highwire Moon does depict a girl’s semi-bare, toned abs, a weird choice (not Susan’s, I’m sure) considering that the 15-year-old protagonist is pregnant throughout most of the book.
Usually I skip any panel related to publishing and marketing. The news is inevitably depressing. As long as you know better than to decorate your manuscript with stickers, a certain amount of ignorance is bliss. I also cringe when people stand up and plug their own writing projects in the guise of questions. I too have delusions of discovery, but I am so clever and subtle that hardly anyone even knows I write.
But yesterday’s topic seemed important, and since I’m a few months away (knock on wood) from finishing a novel about such marketable subject matter as lesbians and mining towns, I thought I might pick up a few tips.
The fucked-up phenomenon in question was two-fold: 1) Fiction by women gets slapped with covers featuring martini glasses, high-heeled shoes and long skinny legs, and marketed as “chick lit,” while fiction by men is “literature.” 2) Some women are not mis-marketed because they’re writing books about skinny-legged women in heels who drink martinis and win the golden hearts of rakish men.
So who’s the villain? Publishers who still think of female writers as “lady authoresses” (or something), or women who are Not Helping The Cause? Should we be pissed off because men don’t read books by women, or happy that women book-buyers can support a whole industry by themselves? Even if a good chunk of that industry sucks.
It all makes my head spin, honestly. The big turnout was encouraging, and the writers were cool, even if the lesson was what it always is for artists: Corporations will not help you, you have to hustle your own work, don’t underestimate your readers’ intelligence (even when corporations do), and make sure to send publicity postcards to everyone on your sister’s wedding invitation list.
It’s enough to make a girl want a martini.