What is women’s fiction? Women’s fiction is a specialized writing genre. Although there are many similarities between women’s fiction and other genres, women’s fiction stands on its own. Some consider “women’s fiction” to refer to any fiction targeting women; however, the term is often used within the publishing industry to refer to a specific and distinct genre.

Women’s fiction as a genre is distinct from romance, chick lit, literary fiction, mainstream fiction, etc.-though, as with most genres, there is often some crossover and blending. Some might say women’s fiction is an emerging genre that’s been around-unnamed-for a very long time. Women’s fiction can be published as trade paper (larger paperback size), mass market (smaller paperback size), or hardcover. Women’s fiction is published by many publishing houses, and because women are generally held to be the most frequent purchasers of books, it can be very profitable. Sometimes, the only difference between a women’s fiction novel and, say, a contemporary romance is the way the publisher chooses to market it. Romance is often published as mass market and shelved in the romance section. Women’s fiction may be shelved in general fiction. Some may argue that women’s fiction is an artificial designation of genre. But certain elements do show up again and again:

Voice. Women’s fiction writers tend to have a thoughtful, insightful voice. Authors reflect deeply on their lives and experiences, and they translate those experiences to the page. Women’s fiction can be first person or third person. The prose can be transparent or more stylized, depending on the author. Generally, women’s fiction tends to have a more genre-esque or mainstream tone, as opposed to a highly literary or experimental syle.

Issues. Women’s fiction often tackles those issues that are important to its readership. Family, birth, death, sex, money, love, careers, men, motherhood, aging, and other issues of women’s lives are all welcome topics. Controversial topics, like abortion and religion, are also frequently addressed. More often than not, difficult issues are dealt with straightforwardly, and with sensitivity and care.

Characters. Women’s fiction features strong female protagonists who are often at a crossroads in their lives. Heroines have meaningful and often complex relationships with other characters in the story. Family, friends, lovers, and colleagues all feature meaningfully in a heroine’s choices. Female characters live in intricate social structures, just like women in real life.

Setting. Women’s fiction can be set anywhere-urban or rural, it makes no difference, though by my count there seems to be a slight favoring of contemporary rural or suburban settings. The cultural setting of the book is often as important as the geography. Sometimes heroines come up against cultural values of what it means to be female; other times, they delight in those values.

Love. Though not necessary, there is often a love interest in women’s fiction. Romantic relationships can follow the traditional arc of genre romance novels, or they can push the envelope. They can have graphic sex or love scenes that are off the page. Heroines might fall for the guy they meet at a bar, or they might rediscover a long-dormant passion for a husband or an ex. While love is important, it is often not the main interest of the book. A love story in women’s fiction is frequently a byproduct of some larger issues. Romances do not need to have traditionally happy endings (marriage or implied permanent union). It’s more important that the relationships are resolved in a satisfying way for the heroine and reader.

Lisa Dale has been published in many national literary magazines and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best New American Voices. She also writes romance/women’s fiction novels for a major New York publishing house. Her first two novels, SIMPLE WISHES and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, are available for purchase and/or pre-order.

Seminars and lectures (including a FREE! audio download) are available on her website, http://www.LisaDaleBooks.com. Her blog, http://www.LisaDaleBlog.com, dissects, scrutinizes, and tinkers with “how books work.” PRIZES are given away monthly on her LOVE TO READERS page. Come talk books and say hi!