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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.