Historical Fiction – four top book blogs

Always the analyst looking for an angle, I decided to examine the top blogs participants submitted in my recent survey. Of course, I first had to crawl through the recommendations again, create a spreadsheet and count them. My numbers might be off by one or two, however, the main players are clear.

The top two – Reading the Past and Passages to the Past – are neck and neck at 58 and 56 mentions. The next two – Historical Novel Society and Historical Tapestry – earned 30 and 24 respectively.Β CONGRATULATIONS TO THE TOP FOUR !!

From there, the numbers drop to 12 or fewer mentions which I think is interesting in and of itself. And beyond that we have scads of small book review sites, some with a historical fiction orientation, some more eclectic, some focused on particular time periods, some concentrating of topics like historical naval fiction or historical romance.

Other than a focus on history, do the top four have attributes in common? I found points of overlap and points of differentiation.

  • generally uncluttered look and feel
  • current post is at the top, ready to read
  • photos of book covers to catch the eye
  • a phrase calling attention to purpose: “the home of historical fiction online” comes from HNS, “the place to be for everything historical fiction” is the byline for Passages to the Past, “news, views and reviews of historical fiction” is the focus of Reading the Past
  • subscribe button readily visible
  • regular book reviews
  • guest posts and author interviews
  • contests and giveaways
  • some sort of index to past reviews
  • links to historical fiction blogs and author blogs
  • opportunity for reader comments, although HNS seems to be an exception

But, there are differences.

HNS – Historical Novel Society – stands out for its awards, conferences, magazines and membership concept. In addition to book reviews, HNS offers feature articles and an online membership directory. You can also subscribe to a daily newsletter that summarizes all sorts of news in the domain of historical fiction. Members have access to market news, information about publishers and agents, a critique service and other possibilities.

Historical Tapestry is written by several self-proclaimed historical fiction fans who have come together to review books. In addition to reviews, each year they focus on an author offering insights and opinions on that author’s body of work. This year Daphne du Maurier is being featured. The site also offers a reading challenge for reader participation.

Passages to the Past offers Live Chat Nights with authors and virtual books tours. On the right sidebar, the blog lists upcoming releases while on the left, the blogger shows the book she is currently reading. The blogger, Amy, offers a comprehensive look at Jean Plaidy novels and a complete list of the Morland series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.

Reading the Past seems to be the most straightforward of the sites which may be what attracts so many readers. Sarah Johnson offers an index to interviews as well as an index to books reviewed and her two historical fiction guides are displayed. It is interesting to note that Ms. Johnson writes every review herself in order to ensure consistency.

Interestingly, these sites were almost never mentioned by UK readers and unfortunately, I have insufficient UK replies to this particular question to say much about that country’s preferences.

Beyond these top four were many other blogs and one or two reader forums. By my count, 142 blogs were mentioned as favourites by only one person. That’s an incredible number of people blogging about books.

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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41 Responses

  1. Thanks for this summary!

    I’m pleased to see that Reading the Past ranked so highly. Since a link to the HF survey was posted there, however, perhaps that has to be taken into account! πŸ™‚ I’m not surprised to see PTTP and HT up there, either, as I’m an avid reader of both. One of the pleasures of HF blogging is that all of us get to know each other.

    I don’t think I’m unique in writing all the reviews on my site myself. That’s the case with most bloggers, isn’t it? I offer guest posts on occasion, but that’s somewhat different.

    Nice to see the HNS was included so highly too. Curious to see that it was mentioned as a book blog because it isn’t meant to be one, not really, although it has an RSS feed for site updates. It’s more of an organization website, one with an online magazine. The site underwent a major transformation during the time the survey was in process (its “live” date was April 7th). Few reviews were online before, so it’d be interesting to see if its popularity would move up in the list if this question was ever revisited.

    1. Very good point about HNS, Sarah. I think I recall that in the actual responses some folks referred to the Society and others to the magazine. Clearly HNS is a place to browse for reviews but it operates differently from blogs like yours, PTTP and HT.

  2. You have become one of the blogs that I must check whenever you have a post. And I love your information on the numbers/statistics. This is an area that historical fiction writers need to know about. More Surveys!

  3. you have become a blog that I always read. Please keep up the posts on statistics/surveys. Great information!

  4. Awesome! I am honoured to be on a list that includes those blogs (as one of the people behind Historical Tapestry)!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Marg. I’d enjoy a chance to “interview” you folks at some point. I’ll also have to check out your personal blog, anyone with a name like that must have some fun pieces to read πŸ™‚

  5. Thanks for your work in compiling the survey – I can say I enjoy reading the reviews on all these blogs – Marg’s Adventures of an Intrepid Reader is also pretty special πŸ™‚ The lack of info on UK bloggers is interesting because there is such a huge HF market there.

    1. I don’t know how to get at the UK blogs since my survey numbers for them are not statistically significant. Lots of UK blogs mentioned, but no one that stands out. And in the overall survey, US respondents dominate in a big way which was natural given how I started with my contacts, with Sarah Johnson’s blog and with a few HF interest groups on Facebook, Goodreads and LinkedIn. Might have to do another survey!! But at the moment, I really want to get back to my writing. Many thanks for your interest.

  6. Yes, do get back to your writing. We writers have to fiercely protect our work time! My advice: let incoming phone calls go to voicemail and politely decline invitations to lunch.

  7. Thanks so much for this survey summary. It is so awesome that we were (HT) in the top 4 mentioned. All 4 are great and I am an avid reader of PTTP and RTP.

    1. Hi Teddy – I’ve checked out your blog and like the tone and information. A great balance. As I mentioned to Marg, I would like to “interview” you folks one of these days. Hope you are willing.

  8. We note with slight dismay as we glance over the historical novels discussed in these highly-rated blogs they that are almost exclusively confined to Western history (Sarah Johnson reviewed The Jewess of Kaifeng in 2006, which appears to be a rare exception). If this focus reflects the interest of readers of the genre, there would seem to be little to no interest in historicals set in the Far East, at least not since Shogun. So we continue to search for blogs that entertain a wider scope, expecting they will appeal to a narrower audience.

    1. Many thanks for your interest and comment. You may have noticed that many of my posts in the last few months relate to a survey I conducted of historical fiction readers. 805 people participated, the bulk of them from US, Canada and UK which may account for the interests expressed in periods such as Tudor England, medieval times and so on. Do you have a theory about readers’ and bloggers preference for western history? If you would like to contact me separately, we could discuss some of the other blogs and authors that participants mentioned.

      1. Yes, we would like very much to discuss all this with you. How should we contact you separately (our email is on our Gravatar; could not locate a separate contact for you).

    2. Actually, I am not sure that I agree with that assertion completely. At Historical Tapestry we try to highlight when we read something that is not set in the UK which is where a lot of popular HF is set. The last Chinese set book I read and reviewed at HT was earlier this year and my next historical fiction read is set in Iran. As a reader I am always on the lookout for really well written books that are about fascinating characters and times but it isn’t always easy to find those kind of books.

      1. Hello Marg,

        “Glad to hear that – which was the book set in China that you reviewed?” [Without the typos.]

        Thank you muchly for your separate email invitation to guest post at HT. As we have not received your response to our followup, we thought we’d drop you a note here just in case you’d missed us. We’d be very happy to oblige with guest posts. This would be our first “guesting,” so to speak, so be sure we manage to stay between

        “A diverse range of places and times [readers] can explore in relation to China” is
        a topic that Old China Books is well prepared for, as you might hope.

        What would be the best approach for you? How about a brief survey, followed by more detailed comment on individual selections, perhaps those in which readers express interest?

        A survey might cover (1) more recent novels related to China; (2) older novels about
        China; and (3) novels reflecting Chinese-American experience. I could prepare a
        thumbnail description of each book in the survey, which could touch on both
        English-language originals, and translations from the Chinese.

        Thanks again for this opportunity. But please let us know if you have reconsidered your offer.

        Best regards,
        James Lande
        Old China Books

  9. Of course I had heard of the internet phenomena, Webs, Facebooks, blogsites–but I have been time-travelling in 1849 to 1889 and writing stories about what I found. And so like Rip Van Winkle emerging from his long sleep in his cave, I see the 21st Century as a world too bright and too fast for my eyes. Yet I thank you for your words in the magic box, and I try to awaken to marvels of the new age.

  10. Your site is still popping up, putting forth your efforts to bring these blog sites to everyone’s attention. I was searching for someone to review my books and sadly none that you mention are accepting submissions. If you know of any domain that is, I would love to hear about it.

  11. Hi Mary I wonder if the numbers of HF blogs have changed since you wrote this column which Google took me to when I used “historical fiction” as the search word. Your post came up first!

    1. Hi Elaine … thanks for letting me know! I guess after 5 years of blogging about historical fiction, A Writer of History is having some sort of impact!! I would love to do another survey but at the moment, things are far too hectic. I seem to have too many commitments and objectives πŸ™‚ Hope your writing is going well.

  12. Thank you for this. My writing group are all working on historical fiction and as we are new as writers (though not readers) in this field we are only just getting to grips with how to share what we’re working on.I have a blog called The Artist’s Muse (same name as my novel about the impact of Egon Schiele’s model on his work) whereas another writer in the group, Katherine James, isn’t keen on going down the blog route for her novel set in 1920’s England.
    I see that ‘A Writer of History’ has been blogging for 5 years. Does it take a while to get established and accepted within the historical fiction blogging community? How do historical fiction bloggers make friends? Katherine and I are looking to take a more active part in the historical fiction world. As you can see, we’re not sure how best to do this.

    1. Hi – and thanks for visiting my blog! Congratulations on taking up the wonderful world of writing historical fiction. Hopefully you’ll find other posts of interest. I began blogging as a way to build an author platform. Someone (Jane Friedman who has an excellent writing blog) recommended creating a blog that would interest people who would ultimately become readers of my novels. Tough to do. While some of my posts interest general readers, I seem to have gravitated towards writing content that is of interest to writers!! C’est la vie!! When I first began, hardly anyone visited the blog. After five years, two posts a week, all focused on historical fiction – I have about 700 subscribers plus 200 or so hits a day. I’m also active on FaceBook and Twitter and a little bit on Goodreads.

      Check out what the latest opinions are on blogging. One thing for sure, it’s a way to practice the craft of writing. You need to blog regularly – and I mean regularly – to get any traction. And you need to pick a topic of interest to readers. Very few will be interested in your writing journey unless you have a unique approach of some sort. I’ve seen some historical fiction bloggers who concentrate on their time period and the research they’ve done and gather an audience that way. Have a look at Edwardian Promenade as an example.

      In terms of the historical fiction community, consider joining the Historical Novel Society (there’s a small membership fee) and join their FaceBook page as well. That allows you to connect with other authors and learn lots of stuff.

      Good luck with your writing. I hope you’ll return for another visit. Best – Mary

      1. Dear Mary, thanks for sharing. I really appreciate it as I’m just starting out as a writer. I’m an occasional blogger at the moment as I’m working on my second novel. I know they should go together but – for me – they don’t.
        Thanks for telling me about the Historical Novel Society.
        Good Luck with your writing too.
        Kerry xxx

  13. There are so many areas to consider as a writer, Thank you M.K.Tod, I appreciate the issues you shed light on, insightful areas for me to consider as I contemplate my own projects!
    I recently ran across a site that supports writers in their quest to get their work into the world, http://Peachill.com is a story-telling platform that supports both the writer and the avid reader. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of quality work I found here.

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