How reader surveys influenced my writing

Preferred-Story-TypesIn 2012 I wrote a post for Historical Tapestry on personal learnings from the first reader survey. Now, four years later and with three books published and three surveys behind me, it’s time to step back and reflect again.

So what am I doing differently in the areas of writing historical fiction? What you will see below are survey insights followed by actions I have taken. A second post will look at marketing and publicity.

Women read historical fiction at higher rates than men but 20th century stories are of greater interest to men than women. Women are quite clear about disliking violence:

  • Adjust the tone and balance of my stories to appeal to women.
  • Reduced the number of war scenes in Unravelled and Lies Told in Silence.
  • Reshaped the plot for Time and Regret.
  • Chose nineteenth century for my fourth novel.

Top three preferred historical fiction story types are (1) strong female characters, (2) adventure, and (3) a series with ongoing characters:

  • A fourth novel is underway that extends the stories of two female characters who appear in Lies Told in Silence; not quite a series but it extends the franchise of my first two novels.
  • Continue to write about strong female characters.

The top 20 or so favourite authors have been remarkably consistent across three surveys:

  • Read all of these authors. Analyze and learn from their styles.

Top three reasons to read HF are: to bring the past to life, appreciating how people lived and coped in very different times; because it’s a great story; to understand and learn about historical periods without reading non-fiction. A complementary finding is that favourite historical fiction must immerse readers in time and place while being superbly written:

  • Research more deeply for my novels so I can evoke the historical periods more effectively.
  • Create more time-appropriate dialogue.
  • Broaden the elements used in my novels to bring the past to life.

Readers love fictional characters within a backdrop of great historical events:

  • I had conceived a story based on the life of a relatively famous woman but have abandoned it in favour of a story set in 1870 Paris, a time of great turmoil and conflict.

A final thought—wise people suggest that authors should write what appeals to them rather than attempting to write for the market. In my case, I’ve tweaked what I write with an eye to the market, which I believe is different from writing for the market.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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2 Responses

  1. I think we authors are wise to continually fine tune our approach. Your “tweaks” seem perfectly appropriate to me – and wise – Mary.

    To the point about strong female characters – this may be true across genres. A friend told me she was in a bookstore with her teenage daughter and the daughter read the cover copy of a genre novel and put it back because the female characters didn’t appear strong enough.

  2. Fascinating peek into your writing adjustments, Mary. Although I’m pretty locked into my time period, setting, and main characters, I have to admit to also studying and thinking about your surveys as I work through my HF saga series WIP. And there’s some irony with one of your story type findings: “strong female characters.” One of my contract editors (a woman) complained that a female character was TOO strong! She needed more vulnerability/complexity. So I adjusted.

    A suggestion: One of your survey questions asks: “Within HF, what type of Characters and Settings appeal to you?” Maybe the options could be expanded to include something about “… backdrop of great historical events and/or settings”? Your “story set in 1870 Paris” seems to be exactly that: a combination of Setting (Paris) and Events (1870). And then there’s another option: a mix of Historical and Fictional characters. But I’m getting off subject now, aren’t I? Thanks again for the revealing post.

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