I met Stephanie Dray at a 2015 conference in Denver. She was participating in a hilarious late-night sex scene reading – a tradition at Historical Novel Society conferences. I have to get to know that woman, I thought, as I listened to her read from one of her novels and I proceeded to do just that. Stephanie’s specialty is fiction based on real women who’ve played pivotal roles in history.
America’s First Daughter is about Martha ‘Patsy’ Jefferson Randolph, daughter to Thomas Jefferson. I gave it 5 stars. My Dear Hamilton tells the story of Eliza Hamilton, Alexander’s wife who was instrumental in defining America’s founding principles. Another 5 star story in my opinion. She wrote both novels with Laura Kamoie – an amazing feat, if you ask me. Ribbons of Scarlet is a magnificent novel about the women who played key roles in the French Revolution. Stephanie wrote part one of the eight parts of this novel – a section focused on Sophie de Grouchy, an influential philosopher and an advocate of republicanism and women’s rights.
“My most recent work is set in three time periods–during the French Revolution, World War One, and World War Two–all united by the singular legacy of Lafayette and the women who safeguarded his castle during three of history’s darkest hours.
Again this felt like a natural jump because a republic was on the rise during the French Revolution, and deeply threatened in both world wars. I’m always fascinated by the way women are discounted in these great movements, even though they not only contribute to them–sometimes, as my co-authors and I tried to show in RIBBONS OF SCARLET, women even start these movements.”
The Women of Chateau Lafayette, the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy. I recommend you run right out now to buy it … or let your fingers do the walking to one of the retailers selling Stephanie’s latest novel.
Not long ago, I read Ricardo Fayet‘s book How to Market a Novel. Ricardo is a co-founder of Reedsy, an organization dedicated to changing the way books are published by giving authors and publishers access to talented professionals, powerful tools, and free educational content. How to Market a Novel is full of practical advice organized in such a way that you can dip into the material you need at a given point in time. For me, that time was writing a book description. I’m delighted to have Ricardo on the blog today to discuss marketing historical fiction. Over to you, Ricardo.
Marketing a book is rarely easy, especially when you’re publishing in a small niche — and for historical fiction authors who write about a particular time and place, that’s precisely their situation. The good news is, with the right tips under your belt, you can deftly navigate the challenges of marketing historical fiction, and even have fun doing it!
In my new book, How to Market A Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market, I map out the essentials of book marketing and how any author can apply them to their own publishing strategy. Today, I’d like to go into detail about marketing historical fiction specifically, based on what I (and other authors) have found to be most fruitful in the genre. So if you’re getting ready to promote your book, listen up: here are five must-know tips for marketing historical fiction.
1. Know your target market
“Thou shalt know your target market” is the first of four marketing fundamentals given at the beginning of my book, and the most important. Everything else stems from this — if you don’t know who your book is for,you cannot market it effectively.
Ideally, you’ll have identified your target market before you even begin writing, but it’s never too late to narrow it down. If you haven’t yet thought about this, a good place to start is with other books: which would you use as comp titles to describe your own? With historical fiction, you’ll already have a built-in answer in the form of books set in the same time period. But you’ll want to think carefully about other elements as well: subgenre, geographical setting, and narrative style, to name a few.
Titles that share some or all of these components with your novel will also share your target audience, or at least segments of it. With these titles in hand, you can browse Amazon to see how such books attract readers, as well as exactly who those readers are. From there, you can develop “reader avatars” (profiles including demographics, interests, etc.) to represent your largest segments of readers, and keep these avatars in mind as you continue.
2. Refine your keywords
Speaking of Amazon, one of the best ways to directly reach your target market is by optimizing the keywords attached to your book. Anyone who’s self-published a book on Amazon will be familiar with the process: when you fill in your book’s information on Amazon, you can choose up to 7 associated keywords that readers will search to find it.
This is where it’s useful to think of Amazon not just as a retailer, but as a powerful search engine. If you can strike a balance between good search volume and relatively few results — keywords that are “low-hanging fruit” — then Amazon will practically market your book for you! Keyword strategy is extra-crucial for those writing historical fiction, as there are more subgenres and niches than in other genres. The last thing you want is for your book to be classified incorrectly (which leads to algorithmic de-prioritization and poor sales).
So how can you get your Amazon keywords right? There’s a whole chapter about this in my book, but the highlights are:
Think intuitively to develop your keywords. Though you can use keyword tools like Publisher Rocket to unearth unexpected search terms, the best keywords for your book are typically those you can easily imagine readers searching. Ask yourself: If you were looking for a book like the one you wrote, how would you try to find it?
Make your keywords as detailed as possible. To hit more relevant search terms, use longer, more detailed keywords that include multiple “phrase matches”, rather than shorter “exact match” keywords. So if you’ve written a Regency romance, one of your keywords might be “Regency romance Scottish hero English heroine London”. This will help your book index for multiple terms, not just “Regency romance”.
Don’t tap into keywords that don’t apply.In your desire to attract more readers, you may be tempted to slip in keywords that don’t actually fit your book — for example, “Arthurian fantasy” if you’ve written a medieval-era story without any fantasy elements in it. Do not do this! It will only get your book into the wrong results and recommendations, which is disastrous for your long-term sales.
3. Emphasize the hook
Another tip that applies to all authors, but especially those writing historical fiction, is to emphasize your hook in any and all promotional materials. For most historical fiction novels, this will be the specific circumstances and dynamics of the character(s). Millions of people lived through this era, after all, but only these characters can tell this story.
For instance, Time and Regretis not just a novel about World War I, but about a family full of complex secrets, brought to life by a modern-day narrator who discovers her grandfather’s war diaries in the midst of a difficult divorce. This is exactly the kind of human thread that compels readers, and you’ll see it time and time again in the most successful historical fiction books: the sisters’ rivalry in The Other Boleyn Girl, Carton’s sacrifice for Lucie in A Tale of Two Cities, and so on. The historical context to these relationships is obviously important, but it’s the people who make the stories worth reading — and it’s your own characters, and the unique situations they find themselves in, that should foster your hook.
You can also try connecting your premise to another well-known story in order to boost its appeal. Pay attention to which period pieces people are talking about; if you can draw a parallel between your book and, say, Bridgerton or The Crown, it could do wonders for your sales. And remember, you can always edit your keywords and book description to take advantage of topical connections while they’re hot, then change them when they no longer seem to be working.
4. Get a good cover and use it for ads
As with a nice hook, a strong cover design is something every author can use to market their book, but historical fiction authors in particular. With so many subgenres and time periods to choose from, your target reader needs to get a sense of your work’s contents right away — and to paraphrase the old saying, a cover is worth 50,000+ words. If you haven’t yet commissioned a professional book cover, make sure to do so before you start marketing.
Not sure which elements should appear on this cover? Once again, try looking at books similar to yours. Think about how you can slot your novel into its subgenre based on appearance alone, without capitulating to clichés. For example, if you’ve written a historical romance, you may want to avoid the tropey “bodice ripper” cover of a scantily clad, improbably intertwined couple — but you can still convey (historically accurate) heat with a close-up of a gloved hand resting on a hip, or a cravated hero whispering in the heroine’s ear.
Then once you have the perfect cover, you can leverage it through ads. Though some authors may be reluctant to spend money on advertisements, they’re incredibly effective in terms of getting the word out and reaching the right readers — especially if you hire a marketer to tweak your ad images and copy, like this author did to the tune of over 100% sales growth.
That said, ads are a much more learnable skill than cover design. If you don’t have room in your budget to get both done professionally, spring for the designer and start looking into author ads yourself. (Pssst — you can learn all about Amazon, BookBub, and Facebook ads for authors in Part 8 of my book.)
5. Cross-promote with other historical fiction authors
Finally, one of the best ways to market a historical fiction novel, especially as an indie author, is to cross-promote with other authors who share or overlap with your target audience. You can trade shoutouts on social media, plug your new books to your respective mailing lists, or even guest post on each others’ blogs.
This is a great strategy because not only does it let more relevant readers know about your book(s), it also forges long-lasting connections with those in the historical fiction community. This means you can continue swapping tips with fellow authors and hyping each other up even after your book launch — and indeed, when it comes time to promote your next book, you’ll already have a built-in network to help you.
Yes, it may be time-consuming to build these relationships and keep creating promotional content, but that’s the core of the book marketing game: you get out of it what you put into it. If that sounds overwhelming, remember this process isn’t solely about selling one book! The more you do, the more lessons you’ll learn and connections you’ll make that will serve you long after your next book comes out. In what I hope is a fitting final thought, your history here is really what makes you — don’t forget that as you embark on this thrilling journey.
Ricardo Fayet is a Reedsy co-founder by day, book marketing consultant and author by night. He’s also an avid SFF reader with a particular passion for high fantasy. You can pick up his new book (for free!) right here.
Many thanks, Ricardo. I’m delighted you stopped by to share your tips.
DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY
As you can imagine, writing a novel set in 1870 Paris requires lots of research. Historical events are critical, fashion is important, issues of the day, culture, social norms and so on. But what about the homes where Parisians lived?
Ian and I had a research trip to Paris that involved 3 weeks in an AirBnb apartment designed to provide an experience that was closer to living in the city, rather than staying in a hotel. Three weeks of walking the streets gave me a different appreciation for how Parisians live.
Of particular interest were the hotel particuliers – grand homes – we visited: Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée Jacquemart-Andre, Musée Carnavalet, and Musée Nissim de Camondo. I wanted to understand how my two main characters, both from well-to-do Parisian families, might have lived including the layout of such homes, the décor, the furnishings, the paintings and other accoutrements of their lives.
The splendour and luxury of these grand homes were astonishing, and although they inspired relatively brief descriptions, they gave me images to carry in my head as I wrote.
At one point in the writing process, I became obsessed with understanding the layout of Camille’s and Mariele’s homes. A search brought forth some floor plans which helped me add further details.
Gardens, kitchens, breakfast rooms, wardrobes, beds, desks, chairs and more created a world in which I and my characters lived quite comfortably together while I wrote their story.
DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY