In 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)
The survey asked readers to list favourite sources for book recommendations. Four top sites emerged from their responses. Historical Tapestry is one of those sites and I am delighted that Marg, Teddy, Kelly, Ana and Alex agreed to be interviewed. Marg kindly colour-coded their responses.
Happily, this week is their blogiversary week. Make sure you drop by for a visit.
Why did you start blogging? Did your group come together to create the blog or did you add folks as time progressed?
Marg: I had a period of seven years where I didn’t read much at all. Once I did return to reading with a vengeance, the next thing was that I wanted to find people to talk to about the books I was reading. I started hanging out on the Oprah books boards where I met Kelly and Teddy and some other bloggers and then I started hanging out on other forums as well. I can’t remember how I found my first book blogs but after watching those blogs I started to think I could do that. Then I read a book that I just HAD to talk about and my book review blog was born.
Teddy: I use to keep a spiral notebook with notes about all the books I read. I always had such a hard time referring back to any specific book because there was no order. I was in a book club in Yahoo groups and a couple of the members started their own book blogs. I started reading them and realized that a book blog would be a much more organized way to keep track of books that I read. I never dreamed that people would actually read and follow my blog, much less, that publishers would start sending me books to review. Seriously, who knew? Then one day I was invited to join Historical Tapestry, wow what an honor that was!
Kelly: I never even really paid a lot of attention to blogs until I decided to have one of my own. I had an old Livejournal account where I sort of rambled, but that was about it and hardly anyone ever followed it. I knew that I liked talking about books, though, which lead me to online areas and then that lead to meeting Marg. She started her blog in November of 2005 and I followed suit in December. It was initially just a fancier place to ramble, just about books this time, but it grew to be much more than that.
Ana: I have always written the titles of the books I read. When I started discovering the internet, one of my first interests was joining book groups and book forums. I started reading everyone else’s blogs and one of my friends challenged me to start one. A few years later I met Marg at one of the books groups, she invited me to join Historical Tapestry and the rest, as they say, is history!
Marg: In terms of how Historical Tapestry began, I had been chatting with Kelly on MSN Messenger (remember that?) and I said to her I am thinking I would like to do a historical fiction group blog and she said I have been thinking about something similar. I knew Ana from a historical romance focused Yahoo group and initially there were a couple of other people that Kelly and I knew from the Oprah boards. They didn’t stay too long so then we asked Teddy to join us and Alex initially was involved because she did all our fabulous graphics and did a couple of guest posts and then joined permanently.
Kelly: Man, we used to chat on MSN all the time! Now there are so many other ways to chat… Anyway, I remember our initial conversations about starting Historical Tapestry. I even remember the discussion about a name and our search for our first background. (Thankfully we have Alex now, so our backgrounds look much nicer!) It is too bad that our other early members don’t even blog at their own blogs anymore, but I like the group we have now. I did know Teddy a bit, but I only met Ana and Alex through this blog.
Alex: I’m the latest addition to our group. If my memory is correct, I already knew Marg because we were both in an HF discussion group. Teddy and Kelly I only knew through this blog, but Ana is a good friend of mine for several years now. We used to blog about period dramas (another passion!).
Why do you review historical fiction?
Kelly: I read historical fiction because history is my ‘thing’. I am a huge history buff. I have always been one, too. It was my favourite subject all through school and I took all the variations that were offered. I actually used to read more non-fiction than historical-fiction, but after I graduated from university I was a bit burned out on academic work. And now, my reading interests are just so eclectic it is hard to find time for everything. There are some subjects I still prefer non-fiction to fiction, but for me it is all about experiencing these time periods in a readable way with characters and situations you can get lost in. It just seems to help make history more real when spend time with the characters that lived it. I am not sure if that makes sense, but non-fiction is more aloof than fiction.
Alex: Like everyone in our group, I’ve been interested in history for as long as I can remember. It was really my passion and I even decided to follow this interested and study archaeology and history at university. When I think about it, I enjoy many genres (HF, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, non-fiction…), but each time I need a comfort read, most of the time I choose an HF book.
Ana: I read a variety of genres but historical fiction is my first and biggest passion. Like my blog colleagues I have always been interested in history and reading is one way of making the past come alive.
What trends have you seen in HF novels in the past? What new trends are emerging?
Alex: The most recent HF trend that comes to my mind is the Tudor period. I don’t think I ever saw as many books about those times as these past 10 years or so. Right now I’m noticing an interest in Spanish Inquisition, but maybe this is just wishful thinking.
Ana: Yes, I agree that the Tudors were a big trend. I do hope we get to see some other themes soon though.
Kelly: A more recent trend was the large amounts of books related to the Titanic to coincide with the anniversary of the Titanic sinking. One that I find emerging is WWI books with the upcoming anniversary of the start of that war in 1914. I think that those books will become popular in the next little while. I don’t think anything competes with the Tudor obsession, though.
Is historical fiction growing in popularity? If so, why.
Kelly: That’s a really good question. I have been pondering it since I originally read it. I have found that more blogs seems to talk about historical fiction, but it could also be that I am paying more attention to it. There does seem to be books that are transcending their genre and being read more mainstream. It seemed like for years historical fiction was either something you liked or something you found boring. There was no in-between. Now I find that people who swore off historical fiction entirely, and blatantly admit that in their posts, are sneaking one or two in and then slowly historical fiction is becoming a genre they enjoy. Maybe this is just something I hope is happening?
Who are your readers? What do you know about them? Do you collect specific data about them?
Alex: We do know that most of our readers are from North America, but we don’t really look for any detailed information about them. We have several countries represented in our group (Canada, Australia, Portugal and France) and we know that we have readers from all those nationalities too.
Ana: Other than that we also know their favourite features on our blog: Reviews and The Why I Love Guest Posts
What features does your blog include? What features are most popular? Are you planning to add any features?
Marg: We do have a few features that we use on a regular basis. Personally, my favourite is the WhyILove feature where authors tell us something they love about their characters, or their story/book. I really enjoy seeing what authors are passionate about in their own books and some of the posts we have had have been completely fascinating. Another regular feature is the BooksofaLifetime where we ask our guests to talk about the books and authors that have influenced them as readers and writers. In addition, there are Spotlights on particular series/authors, CoverStory posts about the book covers for specific titles which might just be different editions or covers from different countries.
We have also been known to run weeks focusing on particular authors. For example, we have had SusannaKearsley, ElizabethChadwick and MichelleMoran as our focus over the years. On a larger scale we are currently in the midst of ourfourthseason, where we spend a month talking about particular author – in this case Daphne du Maurier.
Ana: I think Marg pretty much said it all about the features we currently have. I think we probably have to do a new poll to find out what appeals more to our readers but the Challenge is definitely a favourite.
Do you think of the blog as having a brand? If so, what is it?
Marg: I don’t think that we have consciously developed a brand as such, but thanks to Alex’s fantastic graphics I think we definitely have a cohesive feel to our blog, and we have tried to keep that feel going to the other sites that we use as well.
Do you conduct reviews on a paid basis for any other publications?
Ana: No, I only review for the fun of it. I do receive books from authors for review but that’s about it.
Kelly: Same here.
Marg: Nope. Do it all just for the love of it here too.
Why do you think so many people blog about historical fiction or participate in blogs about historical fiction? What are the implications for writers, agents and publishers?
Ana: I think blogs are an easy and fast way to share information about book releases, likes and dislikes. With so many blogs around today you can choose the one(s) that better fits your reading tastes and interact with people who share the same tastes on a daily basis. I think authors and publishers already see that they can use it as a big promotion tool.
What do you see writers doing differently to market their books and build their platforms? What about publishers?
Marg: There is a definite increase in the number of authors who are looking to online sites like blogs etc to publicise their books, whether it be through guest posting, getting reviews etc and social media like Facebook and Twitter. Anything that helps find your audience is a good thing!
What advice do you have for writers?
Marg: Whilst I wouldn’t dare give advice in relation to actual writing, I would say one thing and that is that at the very least you should have some web presence. Some authors manage to blog, be on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and so much more. I am not suggesting that all authors need to do that, but at the very least there should be a website where readers can go to find out more about the books you have out.
If you are going to do any of the other stuff like blogging then it is important to be consistent. For example, if your blog hasn’t been updated for more than a year and there is no post saying anything as to why, then it just looks bad and it would be better to have no reference to the blog on your website.
Other than that, write on! There are plenty of avid readers out there who are looking for interesting books, with interesting settings and characters!