I hate labels. I loathe those ‘If you liked blah, you’ll love bleugh’ comparisons on book covers, ostensibly a helpful recommendation for the reader’s literary pleasure, but in reality a cynical marketing ploy.
I distrust glitzy, pink and pastel book covers – apparently designed for magpie women who can’t resist picking up anything shiny – and am torn between amusement and annoyance at the current repackaging of the work of Jane Austen in these baby wool colours. I wonder at this strategy. Are they saying we won’t buy books in domestic settings by women authors without the frothy, light covers, or are they saying Pride and Prejudice is the original chick-lit….?
Chick lit. Dick lit. Slash lit. Lad lit. Lit lite. How I loathe these limiting and limited categories. Abbreviations and pigeon-holing will sadly always be amongst us, but as writers I think it best if we avoid their strait-jacketing tendencies with every atom of our bodies. Although it is important to be aware of our audience, and the genre (or aesthetic, or theatre style if writing for performance), we must take care that our awareness of these definitions doesn’t ultimately define us and the work we make.
A close friend is currently writing a genre novel and recently came unstuck. Her awareness of her selected audience and genre made her self-conscious and those of us who write know there are few things more debilitating and anti-creative than extreme self-consciousness. She began to question her style, she began to doubt her work, she began to try and compare her manuscript to an unspecified ideal that encapsulated the genre. She had driven herself into a genre cul-de-sac, criticising her innovations as they deviated from the content suggested by those shiny pink covers, cartoon high heels and swinging handbags.
It’s so easy to do, start comparing our work with what we think is wanted, or what we think we should do, or what we think the genre demands instead of writing the story we want to write. Recent topics in best selling ‘chick lit’ include domestic violence, bereavement, and assisted suicide….. Not quite so pink and shiny, once the content is gleaned, not the supposed light, saccharine substance….
Let’s write the stories we want, with the content we wish, and always strive to do the best we can, to subvert and innovate, and not let ideas of what a genre ‘should be’ define us.
Let’s not write a book by its cover,
(c) Kaite O’Reilly 12/3/12