Girls and Crime Fiction


Monday morning on my ride into work, I heard the below story on NPR talking about mystery and crime fiction written by women and the current trend of comparing new works of fiction to previous ones published by other authors, particularly those that have achieved a high level of success.

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/467392750/467621701

This story captured my interest as both a writer and a reader. As a person on the fringe, I understand how the publishing industry works. The tactics referenced in the above video do happen and make me think about subliminal messaging.  They are very similar in nature to the quotable endorsements that you sometimes see on the back of the books. Oh! J.K. Rowling gives this novel her seal of approval and I love Harry Potter, so I bet I’ll love this book…things of that nature.

Publishers are taking these tactics a step further with the addition of the word “Girl” into the title. The game of hte publishing industry has been amplified in recent years due to the proliferation of self publishing and the e-Book. The print book is far from dead, but the industry is changing and everyone is anxiously trying to find their footing.

Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Luckiest Girl Alive and more carry the trend of using the word “Girl” in the title (obviously). Like similar author endorsements, this is just another way to signal a similarity between these stories and publishers try to latch onto readers of the best-selling Gone Girl for their own advantages. While this tactic makes sense, I would find it limiting as an author. Titles have to really speak to me when I write and I would feel held back if someone tried to tell me that I should name it something because of a trend. (Then again, I’d probably be so thrilled to have a publishing contract, I might sell out and let them decide…can you blame me?)

Supposedly, crime fiction is statistically more commonly written by men and women are the most voracious readers of the genre. Most people read because they enjoy reading and stick with an author based on how they enjoy their work. I don’t really pay attention to the gender of authors I read, but maybe I’m a minority.

For me personally, these stats are interesting to consider when you go back in time because the authors in the realm of crime fiction (the Gothic) certainly weren’t mostly men in the past. You do have your occasional male author such as William Godwin and the genre’s progenitor, Horace Walpole. Generally speaking though, Gothic literature was a genre written mostly by women; and sometimes men who took on the genre were ridiculed in certain circles in the late 18th and into the 19th centuries because it became a genre characterized and associated with women.

The NPR story got me to thinking about my own little work of crime fiction, The Green Lady (which you should be able to finally read this summer!). Though I studied Gothic literature extensively in graduate school, writing the genre is a whole different story. I won’t lie. It’s freaking hard. That being said, I have learned a  valuable lesson as a writer in this realm. You have to be really good at planning things out so the story works out just so and reveals the mystery at the right pace and right time.

The Green Lady, shares some attributes with Gone Girl and the other stories in this corner. The narrator isn’t necessarily reliable and you have to decide for yourself whether what each person says is truth. But that’s part of the fun.

Also, I don’t have “Girl” in the title. But I do have “Lady.” I’m not willing to bow to the trend, personally. My current title is simply a working title anyway. My original title for the short story I wrote that precedes The Green Lady was The Beveled Glass which I think sounds more like a Sherlock Holmes title anyway and I wanted to make it the title of the novel. But I was worried that the title would alienate too many potential readers who aren’t familiar with the tools of absinthe. If you have feedback on my title, I’m open to hearing your perspective!

Crime fiction is a genre read by and written by women as well as men. Publishers will always try to utilize tactics to hook a reader into buying their most recent publication and they also encourage their authors to write in a certain way/realm in order to better appeal to those readers and to make money. It’s a well known fact that the publishing world is unlikely to publish something brand new that hasn’t been done before. It’s too high of a risk. Though, when it happens, and it’s a hit, usually a huge train of similar books quickly follows. The film industry works in the same way. That being said, somebody had to publish The Hunger Games and it had to become a hit before the huge train of imitators followed, each hoping to get their own piece of the pie.

What other trends do you see happening in mainstream literature right now?

P.S. I propose that NPR start a segment where they explore the realm of self publishing and speak to authors from that world. I volunteer as tribute…

 Feature Image photo credit: writecrimefiction.com and Shutterstock

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