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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?