Top 6 Reader Recommendations for Writers

What detracts from enjoyment of historical fictionHaving conducted two reader surveys with more than 3000 participants and ten reader interviews, I’ve identified six recommendations for writers of historical fiction that seem to surface again and again.

  1. Historical accuracy is crucial – half the readers interviewed said that historical accuracy is very important to their reading enjoyment. Moreover, when asked in the 2012 survey ‘what detracts from your enjoyment of historical fiction?’, 44% of readers responded with inaccuracies which included seeing modern sensibilities in a historic setting, anachronisms, dialogue that does not fit the period, poor research, moving major dates to suit a story line and so on.
  2. Make all aspects of your story authentic – since the top reason cited for reading historical fiction is ‘to bring the past to life, appreciating how people lived and coped in past times’, it’s not surprising that readers want an authentic story, the kind of story that makes them feel ‘immersed in place and time’.
  3. Avoid too much historical detail – in essence, make sure your facts are correct, but don’t weigh the story down with all the research you’ve done. Nothing bores readers more than feeling like they are reading sections on non-fiction inserted within the story. What one writer referred to as a ‘Wikipedia dump’.
  4. Keep your novels coming – readers who discover a new writer or those who wait longingly for the next story from tried and true favourite authors are anxious to dive into the next story.
  5. Ensure that your writing is superb – poor writing, unrealistic characters, slow pacing, overly sensational stories turn readers off. Polish, polish, polish every line of text.
  6. Avoid gratuitous sex and violence – cheesy sex scenes, explicit sex scenes, overly gory battles and scenes of violence are a particular turnoff for women.

Note: in the accompanying chart, the section in purple refers to other reasons cited by survey participants.

8 thoughts on “Top 6 Reader Recommendations for Writers”

  1. Agreed, but I do have an issue with what some people consider inaccuracies. Readers don’t necessarily have the historical facts that the writer does after researching an era – assuming the author is well-informed and meticulous in detail. I now add notes at the end of my novels explaining that any strange or seemingly anachronistic incidents really did happen or were based on fact.

    1. That’s an interesting point, Gabriele. One of the reader interviews mentioned how much they enjoyed reading the afterwords of novels for all the extra bits these notes provide. Another mentioned that some inaccuracies are OK as long as they are described in the author’s note.

  2. Thanks for the list, very interesting. To further comment on inaccuracies, I’ve seen reviews that blast the book/author publicly and quite rudely for getting historical facts wrong, when in fact it’s the reviewer who is wrong. The author can’t be expected to explain every minor historical fact and detail in an afterwards: that would end up as long as the book itself. Inaccuracies go both ways, but reviewers are not held accountable for their own, and ends up having to choose between correcting a reviewer or ignoring, and living with the fallout.

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