It has to be hetero normative, no one would call a novel about two lesbians chick lit. If you care about fashion and you mention that in your writing, you'll get a cover with shoes on it. Lady, you could have written a thesis on Coco Chanel, no one cares, if your heroine is seen with a high end designer bag, just resign yourself to the shoes on the cover.
Here's a fun fact: I have read pretty much every single significant Indian author to come out in the last five years. Here's another fun fact: it's almost one hundred percent likely that they have not read me. Not just me--I mean, I'm totally biased about my own books and think they're pretty good, but other "chick lit" authors as well. They've done well, you guys! They've sold and sold and sold and yet, there's no recognition by the Club. I'm also not making a case for bad writing, there's shitloads of bad writing, and that is dreadful, but some of the women authors I have read have been GOOD. They've resonated. They've made me laugh. They've made me not want to stop reading.
This is an old battle. You write for prizes and for membership to the Club or you write to be read. In India, there really aren't any woman writers who have done as well as Chetan Bhagat. Because why? Because I'LL TELL YOU WHY: Chetan Bhagat isn't getting slapped with a 'just for boys' label. No, he gets to be unisex, his covers are gender neutral and women writers, with a certain price point who don't write about death and despair and so on, get the whole HI-NO-BOYS-ALLOWED covers, which means you're slotted along with other covers in the same shade of fuchsia/pink/bright blue and your male readers have no chance of getting access to you.
A generation ago, in order to be taken seriously as a woman writer, you had to dress down. The dowdier the better. If you were pretty or fashionable, people assumed you sucked at what you did. Doing book tours, I consider my wardrobe. Because I'm being marketed as a certain kind of author, I have to play along, and I kinda enjoy dressing nice. I like nice clothes! I like money! I'm sorry! This shouldn't take away from the fact that a) I love writing and b) I have never, ever, not once compromised on what I want to say on the printed page. Shouldn't this make SOME sort of difference?
"Don't tell my mother you write about sex," said a friend to me the other day when I went to her house. I almost looked behind me. Who was she talking to? Not me, surely. She didn't think that's what I did, did she? "Writes about sex". Wow. I bet you wouldn't introduce Tarun Tejpal that way, and his descriptions are far more graphic than mine. Sex is part of what I write about, yes, because the stories I tell, the women I write about, are having it. And it's important. I'm not dismissing it. But in that way, I also write about women, I write about love. I write about friendship, I write about family and so on, but no one's in a hurry to push me into those slots. 'Sex writer' is the easiest, most salacious label, but saying, "oh, you asked for it" is like saying "you have sex and so you should be raped." Just because I don't treat sex like this big old dirty elephant turd in the cat litter box that no one wants to acknowledge doesn't mean that I am suddenly eM the Sex Writer. Or "sex blogger" as a friend introduced me at a party. "No, I'm not," I said, "I don't have ANY graphic descriptions of sex." "Don't be shy of your past!" she said, merrily. Sex bloggers exist, you guys, and they'd think I was so tame. But maybe I am only being defensive of it because I secretly have come to believe these labels.
So, yes. "Chick lit". What's it going to take to get people to stop calling women writers who write about relationships that? Do we all have to grow a penis? (OH MY GOD, SHE SAID PENIS SHE'S A SEX BLOGGER) I think, the first step is for us, women who write to be read, who write about relationships, to disagree with that label. You may say it doesn't matter. It's just a publishing thing. But it does. With each person calling you a "chick lit author", you're allowing them to basically pat you on the head, tell you what a pretty girl you are and now, run away, the grown ups are talking. Say it with me, "I write about relationships. I don't agree with the label 'chick lit'. I think it's derogatory. I'm sorry you now no longer have an easy way to classify my writing in your head. Maybe you should try reading it?" If nothing else, we'll make more sales, which is always a good thing, right?