According to the Wikipedia entry for novelist Cris Mazza, the term “chick lit” was coined by Mazza and Jeffrey DeShell in an anthology of “postfeminist fiction” published in 1995:
While originally meant to be ironic, the term was co-opted to define a very different sort of work.
Bridget Jones’s Diary is seen as the definitive “chick lit” novel. British writer Helen Fielding created the character of a fictitious journalist called Bridget Jones. She wrote Jones’s “diary” as a humor column in The Independent in 1995: The column chronicled
the life of Bridget Jones as a thirtysomething single woman in London as she tries to make sense of life and love with the help of a surrogate “urban family” of friends in the 1990s. The column lampooned the obsession of women with women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan and wider social trends in Britain at the time. –Wikipedia, “Bridget Jones.”
“Chick lit,” with its cute sound and connotations of vapid female consumerism (some call it “shoe lit”) quickly caught on with reviewers, who began applying it to anything written by women for women, frothy or not.
The word from the experts (agents and publishers) is that as a genre, chick lit is dead. Writers are warned not to label their work “chick lit, even if the protagonist is a “single thirtysomething woman trying to make it in the corporate world.”
The head fiction buyer for Barnes and Noble has officially declared chick lit to be “dead.” –Jenny Bent, agent.
Yes, chick lit is dead. I would advise anyone who has a desire to write in the category formerly known as chick lit to wipe that terminology from your dictionary. –Jessica at Bookends Literary Agency blog
Jessica goes on to point out, however, that the-genre-formerly-known-as-chick-lit is still around, but more acceptable terms for it are “funny women’s fiction,” or “light women’s fiction.”
Both Jessica and Jenny Bent associate a specific authorial voice with chick lit:
Bent: I got tired a long time ago of the whiny heroine. And now publishers are asking authors to rewrite books that were in the first person to change them to the third person, because the first person is “too chick lit” and chick lit doesn’t sell.
Jessica: Chick lit tends to be a little snarky and sarcastic, while women’s fiction doesn’t. If you are writing chick lit, be careful of that voice as much as you can. Even a book not labeled as chick lit can quickly get rejected if editors feel the voice is too chick lit.
Readers and reviewers have not been willing to part with the term and you’ll find plenty of articles with the headline, “Chick lit is NOT dead.” You’ll also find chick lit book clubs and lists of “the best in chick lit.” Authors who write chick lit are also understandably reluctant to give up the term, although they probably know better than to put the label on their submissions.
Reviewers need to be especially cautious when it comes to labeling a novel “chick lit.” As with so many words and expressions used to categorize women and women’s interests, the term chick lit is fraught with negative associations. For starters, “chick” as a term for “woman” belongs to the same category as “broad” and “dame.” The term chick lit has spawned the term hen lit to refer to fiction whose main female characters are women over fifty. The word hen as applied to women does not carry pleasant connotations.
As a definable sub-genre of women’s fiction, chick lit does exist, even if unofficially. And it has its fans. Just don’t make the mistake of some reviewers who tend to dismiss all women’s fiction as inconsequential “chick lit.”
Here are some “chick lit” titles.
Sex and the City (1997), Candace Bushnell
The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing (2000), Melissa Bank
See Jane Write (2001), Melissa Senate
Watermelon (2002), Marian Keyes
Good in Bed (2002), Jennifer Weiner
The Devil Wears Prada (2003), Lauren Weisberger
Real Life & Liars (2009), Kristina Riggle