Exploring ‘The Best Seller’ and the Modern Femoir

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Published on

September 22, 2016



Time to read: 3 minutes
The modern femoir - Hook Research

In a connected world our individuality is what marks us out from the crowd. The witty tweet, the Instagram picture capturing something unique, the status update that says ‘I’m me’. However, how individual are we actually? How unique is the world we live in? What can those of us in market research learn about these topics from the modern femoir?

The Femoir in a ‘Predictable’ World

The latest evidence indicating that the world and its inhabitants are not as random as they may be seem comes from The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers. In their book, they claim that bestsellers are eminently predictable (at least 80-90% of the time). Their book revolves around a computer programme that has developed a code that can assess the DNA of a book (i.e the themes, characters, settings and language within). Some of their tips: fewer topics equals higher engagement, intimacy not sex sells, and that opening sentences should contain the sturm und drang of a 300 page book in 20 words.

What is interesting is their view of girls in print. The ‘dark feminine’ is pinpointed as a staple of modern bestsellers: girls with tattoos, girls on trains, and girls who’ve gone. Whatever the leitmotiv, these women symbolise a very particular strain of western femininity – classically female with ass-kicking attached.

This dualism is perhaps the reason that the very modern phenomenon of the femoir has taken off (this term came to prominence in a long article by the journalist Kaitlin Fontana). For those of you not in the know – these are books from female comedians where they transition from stage persona to mega-brand.

A galaxy of stars from Tina Fey, and Sarah Silverman to Amy Poehler has written one. The most recent addition is Amy Schumer who invokes Lisbeth Salander in her title ‘The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo’.

The modern femoir - Hook Research

The Trouble with Tropes

For Fontana, these books prove the theory that every female comedian (at least in print) is a series of eminently comparable tropes. As she put it ‘[these books are] excellent marketing for female comedians, and a chance for them to build careers on a par with male comedians (leading to your Home Improvements, your Everybody Loves Raymonds, your Louies, et al), [but they are] also a highly formulaic, and incredibly limiting genre.’

Here seem to be the steps:

  • I am not perfect and prone to weakness … but I am inspirational
  • I am definitely a feminist – in some instances the qualifications for acceptance into this club seem pretty low
  • Those risqué things I used to say were definitely not anti [insert name of offended group]
  • I’m not trying to make people like me so I’ll say what I want … but actually I’m really likeable
  • I will talk about my vagina like it’s a likeable although occasionally mischievous pet

There’s a problem here. When these women are on stage they are truly different, special and engaging – but the books don’t stack up to this. By doing things by numbers the edges are ground off their individuality and these alpha women cannot recreate the magic they offer when on the screen. Is this the constraints of the genre? Is this stage not translating to page? I don’t know – maybe you can help us come to some conclusions.

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