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
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
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.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower