Top Historical Fiction Authors – 2012 Survey Results

602 survey participants provided their favourite authors in a recent historical fiction survey. The top authors are:

Other highlights:

  • 404 different authors were chosen by only one person; a further 99 authors were chosen by only two people
  • several top 20 authors are deceased; Plaidy, Seton and Heyer are mainly favoured by those who are 40 and older
  • all authors except Colleen McCullough (Australia) and Geraldine Brooks (Australia and US), live in either UK or US
  • readers chose 28 female authors and 11 male authors
  • each geographic region reads its own to some extent, but selects the same ‘global’ authors in high proportions
  • men read female authors and women read male authors; the men reading female authors tend to choose those who include mystery, crime or war in their novels
  • 14 of 54 Cornwell mentions are men; 9 of 36 Follett mentions are men; these are the only two authors with more than 5 mentions amongst male respondents

What do the top authors have in common?

For the most part, these authors base their stories in long ago periods, writing about well-known historical figures either in a central of significant role. Most have written series or have concentrated on a particular time period so readers know what to expect and are familiar with their main characters.

According to a recently published book about best sellers (James W. Hall, Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers), the three critical ingredients are maverick heroes, high stakes and hot sex. It seems to me that many of these authors fit that formula.

Check Sarah Johnson’s blog, Reading the Past, for further comments on the top authors.

On a personal note … I now have some highly recommended new authors to read.

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25 Responses

    1. Congratulations, Susan. I have had an amazing time doing this survey. Given the huge number of favourite authors listed by participants, it is indeed an outstanding achievement to be so well placed on the list. I would truly appreciate any thoughts or suggestions you may have about other implications of the survey results.

    1. So true Eve. However, when designing the survey I was hesitant to put too many caveats around the subject of what is and what isn’t historical fiction. A flaw perhaps and I suppose I could have left them out of the list on those grounds. Interesting dilemma.

    1. Hi and thanks for visiting my blog. The first survey took place in April 2012. The second survey will release next month around October 16th. If you watch my blog I’ll announce it there and would be delighted to have your participation.

  1. Puh-leeze. Jane Austen on the list? One of the world’s great writers–but NOT exactly a writer of “historical fiction.” If a significant number of voters were so clueless about history and literature that they thought Jane was still alive and writing Regency novels somewhere, then this list can’t possibly be taken seriously.

  2. Pleased to see some familiar names like Ken Follett and Patrick O’Brian. I guess S.M. Stirling and particularly Jeff Shaara weren’t popular enough to make the list. I highly recommend them both.

  3. I am very surprised that historical accuracy isn’t one of the criteria. It is very important to my reading.

    1. Historical accuracy is almost the #1 criteria. I think the post you have looked at looks at top authors and some of their common traits. You might want to look at the main reports for 2012, 2013 and 2015 (listed in the drop down menu on the homepage under READER SURVEYS). There you will see many more details from the surveys. Many thanks for stopping by.

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