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Last spring’s historical fiction survey asked readers to specify preferred time periods. The column below on the far right titled ‘Survey %’ shows how readers responded. You can see quite clearly that the 13th to 16th centuries were favoured by more than 50% of participants.

But what are publishers publishing?

Time Period Count Percent Survey %
Prehistory 0 0 4.1
3000 BC to 1000 AD 18 6.32 20.2
2nd to 5th Century 1 0.35 5.7
6th to 12th Century 17 5.96 31.6
13th to 16th Century 39 13.68 52.3
17th Century 11 3.86 22.4
18th Century 16 5.61 36.5
19th Century 63 22.11 45.5
20th Century 120 42.11 25.7

Sarah Johnson whose blog Reading the Past is a favourite of many historical fiction enthusiasts is also Book Review Editor for the Historical Novel Society. Recently she released a list of historical fiction to be published in 2013. In the table above, the percent column shows forthcoming books by time period in terms of percent while the count column is my exercise in counting the number of books by time period. (Note: I have tried to eliminate duplicates and attribute the correct time period in all cases, but I’m certain to have missed a few.)

Clearly publishers are choosing the 20th century. Forty-two percent of forthcoming novels are situated in the first half of the twentieth century and there’s a substantial gap between that and the 19th century which is the second most popular time period chosen by publishers. I should add that the HNS list does not include many novels that might be categorized as historical romance.

Because I’m writing about WWI and WWII, I have some further stats on 20th century fiction. Please note that some novels span more than one of these periods and I have excluded them from the percentages.

  • 12.5% are pre-WWI
  • 5% are WWI
  • 26.6% are in between the world wars
  • 34% are WWII
  • 9% are post WWII

I’m curious. Are these percentages significant or an anomaly? Will readers be disappointed or are they ready to embrace new time periods? What draws writers and publishers to the 20s, 30s and WWII?