You know that feeling when you think you’re about to drink a soda and instead it’s a glass of tea? Both drinks are tasty, but if you’re in the mood for one and get the other, it can be disappointing. Well, that’s what can happen to a reader if they pick up a book thinking it’s one kind of story and it winds up being a different kind of story. Sometimes that’s what happens when the genres of “women’s fiction” and “romance” get tangled together. The reader is unsure what they’re tasting, and doesn’t quite know if they like it or not.
To be vulnerable with you two days before my newest book Anything but Graceful comes out, I’m going to share that it’s not getting the love from NetGalley reviewers I’d hoped for. NetGalley is a service where authors and publishers pay to make their advanced reader copies of upcoming books available for people to request to read for review. A lot of avid readers have found that signing up as ARC readers is a great way to get free books and discover new authors. For authors and publishers, it’s a good way to launch a book with a handful of reviews already posted. People request to review the book, and the author or publisher gets to accept or decline recipients. Naturally, we want to give it to as many people as possible to up the results, as many people will never leave a review.
I’ve only used this service once before, back in 2019 when my YA romance novel All the Love You Write was released. It was recommended to me because I always struggle to get organic reviews from friends or readers who purchase my books. Unfortunately, the worst reviews I got for All the Love You Write came from NetGalley. They didn’t like my male protagonist at all, and some said very harsh things about it. As an author, I have to let it go, but it does hurt to know that people didn’t “get” my story or love Mark the way I do.
I didn’t bother with this service for the release of the Songwriter Romance novellas in 2021 or my latest YA release, Dragon Surf. But I thought a full length, traditionally published, women’s fiction, second chance romance like Anything but Graceful might get a different response, so I decided to brave it again. It has gotten LOTS of requests.
It is getting some nice reviews, but nearly all the reviews seem confused that the book leans toward women’s fiction and not romance. While none of the reviews are saying anything unkind or overly critical, many are giving the book a lower star ranking because it’s not the book they expected. Tea instead of soda. I am confused by their confusion, because in every social media post I’ve done about the book I have said or written that it is a “women’s fiction, second chance romance” novel. It’s listed under women’s fiction and romance on the NetGalley site. And I think the blurb makes it pretty clear that this is a woman’s journey of self-discovery and resilience = women’s fiction. (Click here to read the blurb and see what you think.) *I will admit that the cover does have a banner with “a second chance romance novel” on it.
And that’s why I want to discuss the difference between “women’s fiction” and “romance” genres.
Because the marketing world likes to put things under specific labels to make them easier to find, books that are written by women, feature a woman as the main protagonist, deal with women-centered issues, and are read primarily by women are called “women’s fiction.” The same kind of book that is lighter in content or leans into humor might be called “chick lit”. (There are no “men’s fiction” or “dude’s lit” categories, but that is a subject for another time.) Women’s fiction does not have to feature romance. It can be about a woman’s psychological, spiritual, or physical journey. The relationships can be between friends or family. Women’s fiction novels aren’t required to have happy endings. Some recent women’s fiction titles I’ve enjoyed were Lessons in Chemistry, Someone Else’s Shoes, Hello Beautiful, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. A lot of these stories have love interests, but the stories center around the journey of the main female protagonist(s). WF is also either contemporary or historical fiction and considered literary fiction. You don’t see it matched with speculative genres like: scifi women’s fiction, thriller women’s fiction, or fantasy women’s fiction.
How does this differ from romance? Many ways. First of all, romance must have a satisfying happy ending: either “happy ever after” or “happy for now”. There are tropes that romance readers require such as “enemies to lovers”, “friends to lovers”, “fake marriage”, “hidden identity”, “second chances” and so on. There are a lot of them to choose from, some more popular than others. There must be an identifiable love interest, and the story needs to primarily be about that relationship. How do they meet? How do they fall for each other? What are the problems that might keep them apart? How do they surmount them? Often, a romance novel will have more than one point of view, going back and forth between both of the main characters. Some publishers have very specific genres, word counts, and spice levels for their romance novels, and the books must fit those parameters. Romance novels are often paired with speculative fiction genres like: fantasy romance, time travel romance, mystery romance, etc.
I always knew that Anything but Graceful leaned more into women’s fiction territory. It shows her journey from a timid college student overwhelmed by rejection growing and changing into a fifty-year-old woman finding a way to believe in herself and her talent. The love interest, Tyler, breaks her heart when they are 19 and shows up again in her life 30 years later. Can that relationship be rekindled, or is Grace unable to see that he might be different than he was as a teenager?
When I queried this book to agents and publishers, I did call it a women’s fiction novel with romance. It finally got accepted by Satin Romance Books. They liked that this was a story with a middle-aged protagonist, as there aren’t many of those in the romance book world. My editor, proofreader and I reworked a number of things, but no one asked me to increase the amount of romance in the book or change the ending. For a lot of the final act, Tyler is absent from the story while Grace goes through a journey of self-discovery and decides what she values and needs from life.
I won’t write any more about how it ends, because I do want you to read it. All I want to say is that Anything but Graceful is a “women’s fiction” novel, AND it is also a “second chance romance” novel. It is not one or the other. So, don’t be surprised. And if you do read it, please leave a review.
I’d love to hear from you. What are your opinions about these genres? Do you have any women’s fiction titles you’ve enjoyed and can recommend? I’m always looking for good books to read. Please leave a comment below.
D. G. Driver
Author D. G. Driver's
Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.