5 Must-Know Tips for Marketing Historical Fiction

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.

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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 MarketI 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 keywordsThough 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 possibleTo 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 Regret is 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

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available for pre-order on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Fussy Librarian – a new approach to book discovery

The Fussy LibrarianA friend told me about The Fussy Librarian – the same friend who told me about BookBub which was a great success! So I contacted them to find out more about what they are trying to do and the Head Librarian (aka Jeffrey Bruner) graciously agreed to answer some questions about their book reading site.

According to their home page: “The Fussy Librarian emails you with the ebooks matching your unique interests and content preferences.” Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Read on to find out more.

Can you provide a little background on the beginnings of The Fussy Librarian and the goals for this site.

I had been a journalist for 25 years and realized a few years ago that the industry was in decline when I kept seeing my colleagues get layed off. It became apparent I needed a Plan B. I had done some writing — two short novels, two produced plays, and several unproduced screenplays — so I was familiar with ebooks.

Two years ago, I decided to launch The Fussy Librarian. I kept my day job for a year while growing the company. I reinvested all of the revenue during that first year. In October 2014 I quit my job to run the website full time. Other than marrying my wife, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made!

What do you feel are the most significant changes in the ways people discover and talk about books?

Social media has done a good job of filling the void left by traditional media’s abandonment of arts coverage. Readers have always wanted to share good finds, whether it’s an independent author or someone published by Random House. Social media has just made it much easier to spread the word.

What demographics are you seeing on your site? Male/female split? Age percentages? Country variations?

We did a reader survey earlier this year and found that 85% were female and 75% were age 45 or older. A majority are between the ages of 45 and 64.

Are some genres more popular on The Fussy Librarian than others? And if so, can you offer a perspective on why.

Romance — in all of its varieties — is very popular as are mysteries, especially cozy mysteries. Historical fiction also does surprisingly well.

How are publishers responding to sites like The Fussy Librarian?

Publishers love us and we work with many of the biggest ones. They know email marketing is highly targeted and affordable. Many of them have started digital-only imprints with titles selling for $2.99 or $3.99. It’s going to be a while before they bring down the ebook prices of their biggest names, but you’ll see that eventually as contracts come up for renewal.

What should authors do differently as the landscape for book discovery and book discussions changes?

Be flexible and keep experimenting to see what works for you. Authors need to be marketers, too — it’s no longer an option. You’ve got to do it if you want to succeed.

What new features are you planning for The Fussy Librarian?

We added real-time scheduling for authors this summer, so they can re-run promotions and get the date they want. We also added multi-genre promotions, so you can reach readers in three different genres at the same time for a small additional fee.

Our newest feature is a free Kindle book widget that can be installed on any website that accepts Javascript. It automatically updates each day, so it’s matter of pasting code once and you’re done. And if you’re an Amazon Associates member, we can set it up so you get commissions on that pair a shoes someone buys after downloading a free book. We think it’s a great way to boost free book downloads and help website owners make some extra money at the same time.

Many thanks, Jeffrey.

It seems to me whether you’re a reader or an author, you should investigate The Fussy Librarian!

Update Oct 2016: You might also be interested in two recent posts on book discovery: The Evolving World of Book Reviews parts one and two.

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 was 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 www.mktod.com.

Authors need to plan

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.24.03 AMAs an author you invest in your business with money, time, effort, and connections. Now imagine approaching a bank or other investors (literary agents and publishers could be considered investors) to ask for financing. Smart investors will want to know you have a plan before taking a risk – a business plan. Indeed, those who advise on business planning often say, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

In the past, writers were asked for book proposals, more often for non-fiction but increasingly also for fiction. These proposals usually cover one book. In contrast, a business plan covers the breadth of your writing business and hence must be more comprehensive.

Let’s borrow from the domain and language of small business to explore the contents of such a plan tailored for writers. Your plan will cover your writing focus, qualifications and skills required, the market for what you produce, an understanding of your competition, how you will market and sell, financial matters, and some thoughts about timing.

Writing Genre/Portfolio – when describing your portfolio think of the books you have written as well as those you plan to write. Describe their themes or focus. An example,

Fiction focus: 20th century historical fiction with a particular interest in WWI and in using stories to explore the affects of war on families and relationships. Non-fiction focus: articles based on reader surveys and historical fiction insights. Blog focus: reading and writing historical fiction.

Some writers offer ancillary products or services such as speeches, workshops, blogs, lectures and you should consider whether your writing business will encompass offerings such as these. Describe the current status of your portfolio (eg: novel complete, outline drafted, first two of a series available). Describe the value you offer your readers and any unique or proprietary attributes (eg: based on first-ever survey of hikers climbing Mount Kilimanjaro).

You might wonder why this is important. You might also say that you have no idea of your future writing direction. There is value in challenging yourself to consider the longer term not just the immediate. If, as experts like Mike Shatzkin and Jane Friedman suggest, communities of interest are the way of the future and social media is a critical mechanism for reaching your community(ies), then you should think of who you write for and what you write with those concepts in mind. For example, a non-fiction author who specializes in spirituality might have a difficult time being credible with a book about horse racing. At the very least, it would require different marketing. A fiction writer known for 16th century romances might disappoint or even lose his/her readers with a sci-fi novel.

People & Qualifications – in this section you consider skills, strengths and experience of the writer(s) and others involved in your writing business. Describe why you are qualified to write in your particular focus area. Include relevant technical, academic, research, life or business skills. If you plan to enlist others in your business, describe their desired skills and potential roles. For example, to reach your community in the realm of social media you may need to hire technical support in order to be effective. Or, to write about 17th century royal families you might contract with a researcher of fact-checker. To augment your writing with speeches or workshops, you might join a speakers bureau.

Market and Competition – every day, people come up with ideas for books, however, without a realistic assessment of demand, you might be writing for an audience of one. In this section of your business plan you describe the target market segments and factors affecting each segment. An author writing YA will have different demographics than someone writing police procedurals. Your novel set in ancient Rome might be of interest to romance readers (one segment) and young adults (a second segment). Your book on blogging for money could target existing bloggers (one segment) as well as small business entrepreneurs (a second segment).

Consider how your readers prefer to purchase, how they hear about the genre, what reviews they trust, whether any socio-economic or geographic factors are relevant. Think also of trends that impact your potential audience.

You should also assess your competition, their strengths and weaknesses, your points of differentiation. You might want to conduct a market survey (relatively easy to do using a blog or Facebook) to understand what motivates your reader’s buying decisions. Describe the ingredients that make your writing (and other products and services you offer) unique, whether you are well known in your field or have credentials and contacts to leverage.

Marketing and sales – based on your understanding of customers and competition, assess different marketing and promotion approaches including blogs or websites, conferences, trade shows, interviews, ezines for short stories or teaser articles. Find out what other authors in your domain are doing. Perhaps you write travel based fiction, you might want to build awareness by writing for a travel company.

Determine alliances or connections to pursue. For example, in a 2009 post (http://www.idealog.com/blog/aggregation-and-curation-two-concepts-that-explain-a-lot-about-digital-change ), Mike Shatzin talked about curators. If there are curators serving your target readers, you might want to develop a relationship with one or more of them, which means you will have to figure out how.

Be selective. You only have so much time to go around. Then, bring these elements together into your marketing and sales plans. The days when writers wrote and publishers did all the marketing and sales and long gone.

Operational matters – many writers fail to analyze their writing process looking for ways to improve how they write. Consider again your investors, even if you are the only investor. Finding ways to bring new works to market sooner offers a quicker return on your investment. Include the writing, agenting, editing and publishing parts of the process. Work with your agent or research for yourself the publishing mechanisms that make sense for your work (traditional, POD, e-retailers, self-publishing, serialization).

Beyond books, consider other income producing writing related activities you plan to undertake. How can you accomplish them effectively?

Timeline – this section of your business plan describes both near and long term milestones and identifies important dependencies. Essentially, your timeline outlines what you will do and when you will do it, enabling you to track progress and adjust when necessary.

Risks – investors will want to know that you have anticipated potential risks along with areas of weakness, and that you have thought about what to do if certain risks occur. For example, you are writing that book about Kilimanjaro and just before finishing the manuscript, another author releases a similar book. Or your novel about WWI is ready at the precise time that everyone else targeting the centennial of that event is publishing WWI novels. Now what? Consider scenarios like these in advance.

Financial budget – here you estimate expenses (eg: blog services, advertising, printing), resource requirements (eg: your book requires a survey, you need technical support or research services), and costs to complete your manuscript. If you can, estimate your target market size and potential revenue.

Summary – think of this section as the highlights of your plan, the critical points you will keep uppermost in your day-to-day efforts. You will probably include your writing goals, a few points on your strategy to accomplish these goals, your writing genre and existing works, target readers, competition in your niche, key ways you will market your brand, milestones you’ve set for yourself. You might also briefly mention financial needs and risks you foresee.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? I expect successful author entrepreneurs will spend a good deal of time building their business plan and will regularly review progress and update it. Even asking yourself the questions implied by each section will enhance your efforts.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING 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, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.