Older women are easily the biggest consumers of fiction. So why is it so hard for an internationally best-selling author to get novels about them published?
That’s the conundrum that Kathy Lette says she has faced. The author, who helped invent “chick lit”, has used an interview with i to reveal the hard time she has had getting publishers to accept fiction about menopausal women who are enjoying life.
“I’m struggling to get publishers interested in books that celebrate older women in a positive way,” she says. “They’re saying, ‘I do not know if there’s a market for this.’
“If you’re not the hot, young new thing, they’re reluctant to think that you have an audience out there. But, of course, it’s older women who buy books. ”
Research backs her argument up. YouGov found that 27 per cent of UK women read a book every day, compared to just 13 per cent of men. The 2020 polls also found that the older you get, the more likely you are to read frequently.
Lette says she is a case in point because at 63, she can not find the kind of novel she wants to read.
“Most women my age are depicted in novels as being lonely, depressed – like in Anita Brookner novels,” she tells i. “It’s typical that they want away with loneliness, die of despair and then get eaten by their cats.”
The author, whose books have sold 573,275 physical copies in the UK since 1998 – £ 3.5m worth of sales – believes literature is failing to keep up with the phenomenon of older women today.
“A lot of my female author friends are finding it difficult to get publishers in Britain because, of course, the people running publishing houses are all young and they have not gone through the menopause and they do not understand this huge phenomenon,” she says.
“Now that we’ve got the rocket fuel of HRT, we’re aging disgracefully. We are swinging off a chandelier with a toy boy between our teeth. And yet I never see those characters depicted, even on the screen. So my aim is to kick-start this new genre. ”
Lette, whose books have been turned into TV series, films and operas, says she has been inspired by women finally putting themselves first rather than their families and is calling her new genre “I-Don’t-Give-a-Shit Lit” .
So far it boasts her latest novels Till Death, or a Little Light Maiming, Do Us Part and HRT: Husband Replacement Therapy, which is set on a “cougar cruise” and celebrates female friendship. Both are best sellers in Australia. But Lette is “flabbergasted” that she has not yet managed to get them published in the UK.
“The feedback British publishers are giving my agent is that they love the books, laugh all the way through etc, but do not think there’s a market for such ballsy older female protagonists in this country. I wish these young publishers would ask their mothers. ”
If she manages to persuade publishers to recognize that there is a market for books about such women, then it will repeat her ’80s success when her novels Puberty Blues and Girls’ Night Out helped kick-start what is now known as chick lit. But Lette fears ageism may hinder her latest campaign.
“A man my age is deemed to be a silver fox, whereas I’m told that I’m a hag, a bag, a crone… and I’m put out to sexual pasture,” she says.
“I know so many women who’d like to write about the upside of getting older, it’s definitely not doom and gloom. It’s the best time of your life. First menopause, no periods, no pregnancy scares. You’ve cut the psychological umbilical cord with your kids. ”
She says her latest books are about “women just going forth and being fabulous”.
“And that’s just what I want to say to women: have a great second life and do not feel guilty about it. You’ve been tethered to the kitchen hearth by your heartstrings and your apron strings for decades. You are allowed for once to put yourself first. ”