Selling Historical Fiction – Part II

A few days ago, I wrote about the HNS conference presentation on Selling Historical Fiction, which sparked interest and comments on various social media forums. Tony Riches encouraged me to add ‘bubbles’ representing Amazon (all 12 sites) and the other main online retailers that enable writers to reach an international audience. On Facebook Dianna Rostad, Sarah Johnson and Rachel Bodner chatted about the importance of cover design and sub-genre to attracting an audience.

I promised another diagram to explore the topic of connecting writers with readers in the self-publishing realm. Having spent twenty years in consulting, I find diagrams illuminating although I am aware that some see them as simplistic and that it is difficult to show all the subtleties of a situation in one single diagram. Consider this one a work in progress.

Selling HF to readers

One of the outcomes of my 2013 historical fiction survey was a very long list of online sources readers use to find book recommendations. Almost 700 of them, in fact. Investigating the list – a laborious process – has allowed me to categorize them according to broad purpose or functionality as shown in the ‘bubbles’ that facilitate connections between writers and readers. (I’ve excluded some sources such as publisher sites, newspaper sites and librarian services from the diagram because they are not typically available to indie authors.) Self-published authors who cannot exploit the agent-editor-publisher-retailer chain, must decide the best combination of influencers to approach to get news of their books out to the market.

Bombarded as we are with messages and imagery, individuals pause only briefly to  assess interest, which means the book’s cover and title must arrest the reader and convey something about its subject. Rachel Bodner offers her personal experience in a very interesting blog post.

It’s also worth reflecting on the answers readers gave when asked to comment on the importance of several factors in choosing a book. Here’s the breakdown:

Factors influencing book choiceAdding ‘very important’ and ‘extremely important’, subject matter comes out on top, followed by author, trusted recommendation and price.

A few reflections:

  • choose online sources to feature your book that suit its subject matter
  • a trusted author might be willing to lend their brand to your novel but you have to earn that privilege
  • as noted above, cover art must convey subject matter
  • book blurb and tag line also have to grab attention
  • you need a combination of online influencers to reach an audience of any size at all

I think I’ll look for correlations between factors that go into choosing a book and other responses such as preference for e-book or print, age, gender, and number of annual book consumption.

That’s it for now. Your thoughts, critique and suggestions are very welcome.


10 Ways Social Readers are Changing the Reading Landscape

Social ReadersDipping once more into data from the 2013 historical fiction survey, I’ve divided participants into general readers and ‘social readers’ defined as those who “use blogs, social media or other online sites for reading recommendations and discussion”. What, I wondered, is different about these readers?

Here’s the top 10:

  1. a higher proportion of social readers are under 40 and/or female
  2. social readers read more books on average
  3. they purchase online with higher frequency
  4. and are more likely to read e-books
  5. social readers are more likely to be aware that a book is by an indie author (although that doesn’t stop them from purchasing)
  6. more likely to read books featuring a ‘strong female character’
  7. a bit more interested in romance and/or sex
  8. find most recommendations for books from online sources
  9. are more interested than general readers in sound critique from a book review, and
  10. are more likely to belong to book club(s) both physical and online

So, dear readers, what do you think and how will this change the reading landscape and, as a consequence, the business of books?

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.