Have we fallen out of love with chick lit?

It was once the frothy genre that spelt big profits for publishers. But the latest sales figures read like a horror story

A stiletto and a cupcake on a pink jacket used to guarantee that your novel would fly off the shelf. But now publishers are asking if the "chick-lit" genre is exhausted after a spectacular slump in sales.

Sales of the most recent novels by commercial women's authors including Marian Keyes, Jodi Picoult, Veronica Henry, Catherine Alliott, Louise Mensch, MP (née Bagshawe), Dorothy Koomson, Harriet Evans, Jill Mansell and Lesley Pearse are all down by more than 20 per cent on their previous mass-market publications over comparative sales periods, The Bookseller has found.

Victims include Marian Keyes, whose latest novel The Brightest Star in the Sky has sold 260,000 copies since February, down 42 per cent on her previous book. Jodi Picoult's Harvesting the Heart is down almost 50 per cent on her previous novel, with 120,235 copies and Veronica Henry's The Birthday Party recorded a 71 per cent slump to 16,479 copies.

The Bookseller found that women's commercial fiction was underperforming compared to the rest of the book market with the top 20 commercial women's fiction authors down 10 per cent in like-for-like sales for their most recent mass-market title against the previous novel. Overall, the fiction market has fallen by 8 per cent.

The decline has been blamed on a squeeze on supermarket spending, with retailers drastically reducing the number of titles they order and a shift to digital books sales.

But literary experts believe that readers are rejecting the identically-jacketed "sex, shoes and shopping" tales pushed by publishers in favour of more complex, psychologically ambitious novels by women writers.

Kathy Lette, the author who claims to have invented the genre by penning "first person, funny, feminist fiction" 22 years ago, welcomed the apparent demise of "chick lit". She told The Independent: "Men who write first person, social satire, like Nick Hornby and David Nicholls and co, are compared to Chekov. While women authors get pink covers and condescension."

Ms Lette, who would like to rename the genre "clit lit", argued that "the market has been flooded with a lot of second-rate writing." She said: "Many 'chick lit' books are just Mills & Boon with Wonderbras, with the heroines waiting to be rescued by a knight in shining Armani. So, perhaps, in this economic downturn, a creative cull may ensure that only literary lionesses prevail."

Eithne Farry, literary editor of Marie Claire, blamed patronising marketing campaigns. She said: "Chick lit has become a derogatory term. I'm surprised when I see that a lot of books are sold in covers with shoes and cupcakes because often the subject matter of the book inside isn't frothy and frivolous."

Ms Farry believes Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, a dream-like story about competing 19th-century magicians and Daughter Of Smoke and Bone, the first in a hotly-tipped fantasy trilogy by Laini Taylor, will fill up space on women's shelves.

Sheila Crowley, a literary agent at Curtis Brown said: "The move to eBooks and the impact of austerity is having a massive impact on consumer behaviour."

Tastes are evolving. Ms Crowley said: "The culture of the Richard and Judy Book Club has encouraged the reader to be more aspirational and to 'read up'. That's benefited writers like Jojo Moyes and Santa Montefiore."

The backlash against "chick lit" resulted in the author Polly Courtney publicly dropping her publisher, HarperCollins, in protest at the "condescending and fluffy" sleeves they had chosen for her books. "The implication with chick lit is that it's about a girl wanting to meet the man of her dreams," Ms Courtney said. Although acknowledging that her new novel, It's A Man's World, set in a lads' mag, was "page-turning commercial fiction," she said it should not be reduced to "chick lit" because it dealt with social issues.

Maeve Binchy challenged her inclusion in The Bookseller list of mass-market female authors whose sales have fallen. A spokeswoman for Ms Binchy said: "Maeve is by no means 'chick lit' and we don't think her sales are falling. Electronic books have, however, added another dimension."

The history of chick lit

Derided as novels defined by "sex, shoes and shopping", the term "chick lit" was first embraced in the late 1980s by US students seeking a literary equivalent to Hollywood's "chick flicks". The phrase entered popular consciousness with the publication of a 1995 anthology titled Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction.

Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary sparked a wave of novels exploring the conflict between the independence enjoyed by young, professional "singletons" and the emotional security offered by a partner. Fay Weldon led the backlash, complaining that her novels were being sold in misleading "chick-lit" jackets and dismissing most similar books as "instantly forgettable".

Marian Keyes

Irish novelist whose 1995 book Watermelon, about a dumped wife who finds love again, is a key chick lit text. Keyes has sold 22 million copies of darkly comic stories which often trade on her own experiences. Sales down: 42 per cent

Jodi Picoult

American writer who has sold 14 million copies of emotional novels which often deal in struggles to overcome illness. She sidesteps a lack of critical endorsement by touring the world to meet her fans. Sales down: 50 per cent

Veronica Henry

Author and Heartbeat television scriptwriter has twice been listed for the Romantic Novelists' Association prize. Novels such as Marriage And Other Games praised for being "easy to read" and great for the beach. Sales down: 71 per cent

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine