Something you should know about me: I am not a big fan of categorization.
Of course I am made up of all sorts of sortable facts. You can put me in the female subgroup and the writers subgroup and the cat owners subgroup and the old time banjo players subgroup and the people who hate the taste of cucumbers so much they can’t eat lettuce that has been leaning against a cucumber subgroup, but I don’t think any of those things sum me up in any particular way. Sort me as you will, but I will continue to think of myself as just Louise, human being.
The same principle goes for the stories that I write. When I wrote THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING, I didn’t set out to create a story that would appeal to any particular person other than myself. Really, I just wanted to figure out if I could ever give up living in a city and move to a rural area, which has always been a pretty serious dream of mine. I want goats. And a donkey. And a couple of sheep. And a million dogs. And a field of zinnias. But I love plays and independent bookstores and revival movie theatres and strong coffee and delicious foods from foreign lands. You get the picture. But there comes a time in your novels life when, like it or not, your book gets categorized. I have to admit it felt a little strange when this happened.
Here are THE CITY BAKER’S top five categories on Amazon:
At first, I was outraged—there is no men’s fiction! Inequality!
And I balked at the category romance, because when I think of romance (respectfully–NO READING SHAME) I think of a particular kind of story where the real heart of the book–what drives the characters–is romantic love, and while there are relationships of all sorts in THE CITY BAKER, I think what drives the story is Livvy’s desire to belong to the world in a broader way.
Then I looked around at the books that were in the same categories. Here were books that I loved. Here were authors that I admired. Here were books that I devoured in one sitting. Books that I had pressed on friends. Books that I raved about online.
And then I did a little dance at the sub-category Romantic Comedy, because I love it when people think i’m funny.
But why the title women’s fiction? Wouldn’t men also enjoy stories about what it is like to be a human? Aren’t men interested in family and relationships? They make up a large part of them! Which leads me to the question, do men read women’s fiction? I hope so. I feel bad for the men that don’t—they are missing out on some seriously great stories.
The truth is I am a woman, and at least 60% of my TBR list falls solidly under the umbrella of women’s fiction (and another 30% would be categorized women’s fiction if they were written for adults and not teens.) And when I looked at the pile of books that are taking over my study, I wasn’t surprised to see that about 95% of them are written by women. So far in my reading life, it has been women authors who have written the stories that have drawn me in.
So I continue to have strong and conflicted feelings about the term women’s fiction.*
But here is the thing—when it comes down to it, we are all just readers. Readers who are drawn to the stories we are drawn to—about lost mountain climbers or kidnapped children or man-eating horses or bakers who flee to Vermont. And categories are just tools for booksellers to use to guide the right book into the right reader’s hands.
Because that is dream. Readers. Readers who love your book. Readers who love your book the way you have loved your favorite books. Readers (male or female!) who will love your book so much they will get a gel manicure in the pallet of your cover. Readers who will press your book into their girlfriends hands and say you have to read this.
So, if breaking down my book into subgroups helps get THE CITY BAKER into the hands of someone who loves it, I say categorize away!
Books > Literature & Fiction > United States > Vermont > Women’s Fiction >
Bakers > With Irish Wolfhounds anyone?
*There has been much discussion and debate about the term women’s fiction. Here is a sampling of essays to read if you would like to explore the topic further.
An interview with Jennifer Weiner on the term women’s fiction, and inequality of the review process.
Randy Susan Myers asks Can You Define Women’s Fiction?
Meg Wolitzer’s essay The Second Shelf, on the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women.