Historical Fiction Survey Musings

After an incredible eight weeks consumed with survey responses and results, I’m attempting to pause and think. The process reminds me of wading through reams of consulting analysis to find the few gems that would make a significant impact for a client. After twenty years in that profession, such synthesis was relatively straightforward but today I feel less confident, as though I’m trying to find my way through a faintly lit tunnel.

Here’s a diagram I created a few months ago:

Coloured boxes represent the main players in the book business whose primary roles are listed beneath each box. Forgive the simplicity but I hope it helps illustrate a few points. Each player faces challenges, I have chosen what I think are the main challenges. The question I’m musing on is whether the survey augments this diagram in any way.

  • When asked about favourite authors, 404 different authors were chosen by only one person; a further 99 authors were chosen by only two people. Not only are historical fiction authors faced with a highly competitive marketplace but the chances of becoming a top twenty or even top forty author are very, very slim.
  • In response to questions about favourite digital and non-digital sources for recommendations, survey respondents told us that they do NOT look to publishers for that information. Only 3% mention industry sources such as Publisher’s Weekly or Ingram Advance. Only three publishers are mentioned by name – Random House, e-Harlequin and Harper Collins – and these only once.
  • Traditional book reviewers like The Guardian and New York Times were mentioned, but I believe one of the most interesting statistics is readers’ overwhelming preference for small blog sites as a source for recommendations and a place to connect over books. Readers are pushing traditional reviewers out of the endorsement space.
  • In the retail space, the survey offered no surprises. Historical fiction readers, like all other readers, have moved online. The selection role of retailers is seriously threatened. And what about Amazon? Readers told us that although they buy online,  Amazon is not a favourite source of recommendations.
  • Readers have embraced social media as a way to share their love of books. Faced with abundance, they seek like-minded people to discover new books. Readers also look to author sites for recommendations. I believe authors should ask themselves what else readers expect of them.
  • Readers told us they intend to read more in the future than they do today. Those readers who discovered historical fiction early in life continue to select historical fiction as a significant percentage of their reading and in higher than average volumes.

I’ll leave you – and me – with a few questions: (1) are readers becoming more powerful? (2) is this a good time for historical fiction authors? (3) can new authors find markets for their books through the blog community? (4) what should historical fiction authors do differently?

4 thoughts on “Historical Fiction Survey Musings”

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing this analysis. The results and questions raised are really not so different than what I expected. The good news for historical fiction authors is that we may possibly reach a wider audience and drive numbers up by creating a great blog community. This is something I enjoy and think many others do as well.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Heather. I hope you also had a chance to read the post on Top Four Historical Fiction Blogs as well as the one on Connecting Readers and Writers which was posted at the Historical Novel Society (there’s a link on my post). Social reading seems to be the wave of the future.

  2. Fascinating analysis and I agree, for the most part, with your conclusions. Just one question…under challenges, you’ve listed ‘abundance’ in a few places. That word has different connotations for me. Could you explain how your intention for the word. Very interesting.

    1. I think of abundance in a similar way to ‘oversupply’. In the case of authors – we have an abundance of people writing books. In the case of readers, they have an abundance of books to choose from. I’ve just gone looking for an article I found several weeks ago on abundance (should have printed it out or at least kept the bookmark) .. it was written by Peter de Jager and contains an interesting quote “Any technology which creates abundance, poses problems for any process which existed to benefit from scarcity.” You could say that self-publishing technologies, including social media, create an abundance of opportunities for writers to share their writing. You might also say that these new technologies make it increasingly difficult for publishers, agents and traditional reviewers to maintain their control of scarcity – i.e.: the only good books are the ones acknowledged by the New York Times or The Guardian, the only good authors are those whom publishers agree to publish. Musing on changes in this arena makes me think that authors and readers can fundamentally change the world of books. Fifty Shades of Grey could be an example. What do you think?

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