Writer’s Craft #63 – Risking Girl Cooties by Writing for Women

Since Pauline Jones is a girl, she is okay with girl cooties in her reading material. She began her writing career penning romantic suspense (fictional murder doesn’t get you strip searched!) but she had a secret longing to ramp up the spills, chills and daring do.

By chance she wrote a science fiction romance, realized she’d been mixing fiction into her science since high school (oops, sorry science teachers!), and thought, why not go where she hasn’t gone before? After that, it was easy to stir in some steampunk.

The Key was the first in her Project Enterprise series, which will conclude with #6, Kicking Ashe. To find out more about her and her books visit: www.paulinebjones.com

When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t think about whether it was for men or women. I wanted to write a book that people would read, a book I’d like to read. Twelve novels later, I still write books I’d like to read and I have male and female fans. Of course, since I’m a woman, it is easy for me to write for women.

Women make up fifty-one percent of the population and, no matter who does the research, it is clear that women read more books than men. With fiction books, the gap gets wider.

Author Ian McEwan once wrote that “when women stop reading the novel is dead.”

I also like to read romance, so my books tend to have a romance sub-plot of some kind. In addition to being what I like to read/write, it makes good business sense. I’ve taken some heat for writing romance, but if you feel inclined to look down your nose at the genre, take a gander at these statistics:

Popularity of Romance Fiction
(source: Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2011)
Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.368 billion for 2011.
74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008. (source: RWA Reader Survey)
Market Share of Romance Fiction
(source: Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2011)
Romance fiction was the largest share of the U.S. consumer market in 2010 at 13.4 percent.

Romance sales dominate every other fiction genre. If you want to look at more statistics check here (though you have to be a member to see the full survey): http://www.rwa.org/cs/readership_stats

While many women read guy books and lots of different genres, it is obvious that girl-centric books are popular, so it makes good business sense to consider women’s sensibilities and preferences.

Of course if your only motivation is money, you probably won’t succeed. Women readers know immediately if they are being patronized, looked down on, or condescended to (because it happens to them in their real lives, too).

Under estimate the female reader, particularly the romance reader, at your peril.

Here are some tips on how to appeal to women:

  • Read the genre you want to break into. Recognize that not all women’s fiction is the same, just like not all men’s genres are the same. Each genre requires an understanding of reader expectations. Most romances have a happy ending, just like most mysteries have a murder.
  • Talk to the women in your life about their reading preferences. If you like them, you will probably like something that they read.
  • Respect the reader and the genre you want to write and show that respect while researching and crafting your novel.
  • Tell the best story you can. Don’t just string a bunch of cliches together, or assume it’s “easy to write that stuff.”
  • Keep in mind that forty-two percent of romance readers have an advanced degree.
  • If you fear feelings, don’t expect to break into romance writing. (But you don’t have to wallow in them either. Really.)
  • If you don’t enjoy what you’re writing, the reader won’t either, so have fun or don’t go there.

Need more insight? Check out this USA Today article on the romance novel: http://yourlife.usatoday.com/sex-relationships/story/2012-02-13/Readers-hearts-remain-true-to-romance-novels/53083074/1

What are your expectations/misconceptions about women’s fiction? About the romance genre?


2 thoughts on “Writer’s Craft #63 – Risking Girl Cooties by Writing for Women

  1. I write for women — but not romance. It’s for the women who want to read action-adventure novels about women involved in the action. Unfortunately, what usually happens is there will be a woman protagonist, but with a guy involved in some way, and he ends up with a lot of the good action while she takes the backseat. I’m not saying she has to be a superwoman, but just involved and using what she has and being smart. Nor am I saying that any male characters need to be less so.

    The women are always excited to hear about a story like this. Some men have been rather negative to it. Um, guys, my great-great-grandfather died on the prairie trail, and my great-great-grandmother had to go across the country with two kids and a wagon and horses. We have women soldiers, women police officers, women fire fighters — but in a book we still end up with an action scene that consists of the female protagonist falling down the stairs to get her out of the scene while the male sidekick gets the action. Surely we can do better.

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