What the Editors are Saying

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 03 2009

It’s a new year and with that comes new news from editors . . .

One editor (and she’s not alone) would love to see strong, poignant, commercial women’s fiction, not chick lit.

A nonfiction editor is actively looking for lifestyle books—inspirational, parenting, healthy living, etc. While this particular publisher (like most) has a pretty full parenting list, all publishers seem to be actively seeking new, high-profile titles that are problem specific (ADHD, Autism, etc).

In discussions with one editor about the economy (just before we broke for the holidays), she told me that they are seeing a 25% drop in sales from the previous year. Ouch!

Another nonfiction author is actively looking for management, leadership, and HR titles.


27 responses to “What the Editors are Saying”

  1. Jessica, I’ve heard various definitions regarding “chick lit” vs. “commercial women’s fiction.” I categorize my writing as women’s fiction/humor. Without sounding too stupid, could you please clarify?

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Do you mean more Fried Green Tomatoes vs Sex in the City?

    Either way not what I write, but I’ll definitely pass the information along.

  3. That’s not very good news for those of us who write fiction other than women’s fiction.

  4. Avatar jfaust says:


    Chick lit used to be defined by a certain tone and I think over time, chick lit became very simplified. The same story over and over. I would be hesitant to take on any chick lit title now no matter what it was called. However, humorous or light women’s fiction or women’s fiction/humor definitely has appeal. I think of it as a fun, light women’s fiction story with a little more depth then what chick lit became known for.

    Commercial women’s fiction can vary across the spectrum. It could be light and humorous or heavier and more serious. It could be something like Fried Green Tomatoes or even Sex in the City. I think both would be of interest still, although I suspect more people would be interested in the Fried Green Tomatoes story (a little more depth).


  5. Avatar jnantz says:

    Nothing along the lines for mysteries and thrillers, eh? Oh well. I’ll just keep writing until then….

    verification word: ogriasm
    [smirks, shakes head quietly]

  6. Jessica, Got it. Thanks so much for clarifying and not making me feel like a jack-you-know-what. Plus, I’m clear I’m categorizing my novel correctly – as you said: “a fun, light women’s fiction story with a little more depth…” That hits the proverbial nail on the head. Much appreciated.;-)

  7. Thanks for the insight. It’s good to see that strong, poignant stories about women also have appeal to some editors instead of just the basic “What do you mean, balance my checkbook?/I totally need to more room for my shoes!/Should I call him or email him or text him?” stories.

  8. As someone who is a paid reviewer for a large publication (and under a confidentiality agreement), may I add my voice to that first editor’s? I’d love to read some deeply moving women’s fiction that doesn’t fall into cliches.

    Last year, I was assigned nine novels in a row that were all “my life is a mess because my mother was crazy” –and, frankly, most of them were annoying, because all the character did was sit around and whine. There was no reason to connect to these characters.

    The plethora of books I’m sent this year to review (so far) deal with the theme of children during war time — they hit the two extremes. They’re either beautiful and moving or they don’t make any sense and are poorly written.

    I’d like to see a wider range of experiences and characters who actually take action in their lives, rather than everything being done TO them. I also think that women’s fiction can hold a lot of humor in it without being chick lit.

    I’m longing for well-rounded characters with complex lives (not simply over-scheduled ones), and not one eccentricity bumped to the max turning the protag into a caricature instead of a character.

    Every time I’m sent an ARC, I want to fall in love with it. It’s so disappointing when I don’t.

    The above is some of what I’m longing to read and review.

  9. Avatar Anonymous says:

    What exactly does “commercial fiction” mean? I know that sounds stupid, but I’ve never been able to find a definition. I have the same question regarding “mainstream”.

  10. Avatar CoreyBlake says:

    Thank you so much for this posting. I’ve been writing long enough to know the answer to this question, yet it still confounds me. I just finalized a fantasy novel steeped in Arthurian legend with a protagonist who is a sword wielding high priestess. Not only does she have to raise Arthur from the dead and heal a dying Merlin to save Camelot from holy war; she is also trying to respectfully navigate a rocky marriage and raise her children with integrity. Are agents and publishers only going to be willing to categorize this as fantasy because there elements of time travel, sorcery and swords? Or can I call this women’s fiction without looking like an amateur who simply doesn’t understand the market?

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Anon 9:36,
    I think commercial fiction is the sort that can be made into a movie. As for mainstream, I’ve heard that it’s essentially unmarketable because the demand for it is so low (and I believe it encompasses stories about families that don’t fit into any genre).

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Umm..Corey, I’m pretty sure your book would be fantasy. There’s a lot more to categorizing something as women’s fiction than just having the protag be a women. I believe women’s fiction typically has a more contemporary setting, or real life setting rather. It can be a historical, but typically the books deal with real life situations and how women can grow stronger through trials. I have never read a women’s fiction book with any type of paranormal/fantasy element to it, though that’s not to say they aren’t out there.

    But I think it’s more along the lines of what anon 8:22 mentioned, Fried Green Tomatoes and I’ll even throw a few into the pot myself..Driving Miss Daisy, The Ya-ya Sisterhood…and even in YA, Sisterhood of the traveling pants.

    That’s my take on women’s fiction, but anyone can feel free to disagree with me here.

  13. Avatar Dara says:

    Thanks for the post.

    I don’t write any of what those editors are looking for–I write historical fiction, which probably has a small market and audience anyway. Perhaps things will shift by the time my book is ready to submit to agents. If not, oh well–I’ll keep writing my historical fiction and hope that someday it’ll be published 🙂

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’ve know seven writers who have obtained an agent in the last six months. All seven of them write Young Adult – six of them YA fantasy.

    I write women’s fiction. While I’ve had lots of fulls requested, the consensus seems to be, “This is something I’d normally take on, but publishing houses just aren’t taking on new authors in this right now.” I’ve gotten this exact email from at least four agents.


  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Ouch is right anonymous! My novel fits in the women’s lit category but with a literary bent. The protagonist goes through tough times but comes out shining in the end. I was happy to see Jessica’s blog because my novel fits the bill. More helpful advice! I love this blog!!! 🙂

  16. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    I just finished the advanced reader copy of, Very Valentine, by Adriana Trigiani. It will be released this month.

    The heroine is in her thirties and single with dreams and aspirations for the family business. The family is Italian and the business a custom shoe shop in Greenwich Village where the heroine and her grandmother make wedding shoes. The writing is sensual with richness of setting, (NYC, Tuscany, Isle of Capri) food, (Italian) and texture (the leathers and fabrics for the shoes) and all seen through the eyes of an artist.

    I’d love more books like this one. It’s contemporary but has that old-world appeal with family and tradition. I’d venture to say it is a blend of women’s fiction, chick lit, and romance.

  17. Would urban fantasy count as women’s fiction? or am I being hopeful?

  18. Avatar jfaust says:

    Just a reminder everyone. This is feedback from only five editors. There are a lot of editors out there and a lot of publishers out there who I didn’t talk to in this round. Don’t suddenly try to make your book something it’s not simply because of this post. I talk to editors daily and, frankly, they are looking for almost everything.


  19. Avatar Anonymous says:


    I am so glad you added that. I have seen so many authors try to modify their books to fit criteria for one entity’s approval.

  20. Avatar Steve Stubbs says:

    Your blog is just fabulous. Easily the most informative on the internet. Thanks for writing it.

    Since “strong, poignant, commercial women’s fiction, not chick lit” sounds like the kind of work people send you, I thought it might be well to point out that phrase is rather abstract. If you care to expand on that in a future posting, possibly with examples of what you mean or some more concrete description, it would be most welcome. One person might read that and think of Danielle Steele and another might think of Anne Rice.

  21. Avatar jfaust says:


    You’re right, my description is very abstract and, frankly, I would be happy with both examples you gave. I think the best description I can give authors of women’s fiction is what are you reading and who do you compare your book too?


  22. Avatar Anonymous says:

    “One person might read that and think of Danielle Steele and another might think of Anne Rice.”

    Ugh! Some of us may be in denial. :-/

  23. What a bombshell about Aphrodisia… I love their line so I’ll be sorry to see it cut at all! If you can share any more regarding Kensington, I’d really appreciate it.

    Thanks, Francesca

  24. Avatar Anonymous says:

    OMG, people. Just write what you write and stop trying to classify it as something else. If it’s fantasy, own it. If it’s urban fantasy, own it. Don’t cross genres and hope that an agent or editor isn’t going to pick up on it.

    Women’s fiction is along the lines of Jodi Picoult, Luanne Rice, Kristin Hannah, etc. Just because it has a female protagonist doesn’t make it women’s fiction. Romance is not women’s fiction, but women’s fiction may have an undercurrent of romance. Chick lit is usually from a first person POV and revolves around a 20 or 30-something professional woman’s quest for Mr. Right. The more serious, issue-driven stuff is where the market is going.

    Do your research, know what you’re writing (what you’re REALLY writing), who your competition is, and submit your work to agents and editors who express an interest in your area. Don’t try to massage your manuscript to fit what they want, because they’ll ultimately see it for what it is and reject it.


  25. Avatar Amie Stuart says:

    Women’s fic…I think Lolly Winston or Allison Winn Scotch–serious, but not “go slit your wrists when you’re done” reading…if that helps

  26. Avatar Camilla Jesuit says:

    What’s wrong with chicklit novels? They are ok the thing is that it has a certain market unlike commercial fiction for women.

    book report

  27. Avatar Inkpot says:

    Thanks for this. It is good to know what editors are looking for.