Thursday, February 27, 2014

Understanding Book Club Fiction

We often hear agents and editors speak of being eager to find some great "book club fiction" and every time one of us makes a statement like that, we get a room full of "deer in the headlight looks." Instead of asking specifically, many authors just take guesses as to what we are looking for. In many cases, authors will simply insert that idea into their query letters in the hopes that the project will move through the submission process further.

It probably won't.

When we talk about book club fiction, and for me specifically, when I talk about book club women's fiction (which is what I am going to focus on today), we are talking about a type of story that does a bit more than your ordinary story. These stories do more than simply entertain (although they should) and they do more than just have great characters, settings, and plots (although they should). And it is that added "umph" that we are looking for.

Understanding book clubs is the first place we start. Now I know good and well there are many book clubs out there that have become nothing more than a social gathering. We bring the wine. We bring the dinner or snacks. And sometime, during that evening, we spend time mentioning the book that, most likely, 35%-50% in the group never read. We see the same thing in many Bible study groups as well. With these groups, the book is nothing more than a common "starting" point for the group so that they can get on with discussions that they really want to have. This is not the type of group the book club fiction belongs at.

Book clubs that really deal with they type of book we are talking about dive into the story. These are very similar to great literature classes in college when we dive into the conflicts, the themes and so forth. These stories promote conversation. They force the readers to ask questions. And, unlike that prior group, the conversation WILL ALWAYS return back to the books for support and evidence. To do this, the stories require a depth of true theme and purpose.

Now, when we move over to the issue of book club women's fiction, we are still looking for the same thing, but these stories are there to give us an insight into the female psyche. These are not simply stories with women as the protagonist (although they often are). These are stories that force us to make comparisons to our own lives and actions. We learn how to handle our own troubles and difficulties by sharing in the experiences of the characters we spent time before the book club reading about.

These are not fast reads either. This is not to say they are long or they are overly complicated. The speed issue stems from the amount of time you spend when reading, thinking about the book. These are the books that, as your read, you find yourself stepping away from the page and the words, shutting your eyes and trying to work through the issues and the conflicts the character is facing. You find yourself asking "Would I really do that?" or "Is that what I am facing right now?"

In essence, book club fiction/women's fiction is a counseling session for the soul all revolving around those central themes the author has crafted.

I think it is easy for writers to say "this is a story of finding our inner purpose on a road trip," or some similar theme we through in the query letter, but a true story forces us to take that ride.

And that... is what I am looking for in women's fiction.

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