The website of the historical fiction writer.

What Sells Historical Fiction?

Whilst I’m trying to choose a suitable theme for this blog, perhaps you’d like to find out about what happened last week at the Historical Novel Society Conference. I wrote a few thoughts after the drinks reception on Friday before I fell asleep so the next few posts will talk about what happened on the Saturday and Sunday.

After some much-needed tea and pastries (very nice they were too) the day opened with a panel discussion between booksellers, agents, authors and representatives from the publishing industry to discuss what sells historical fiction.

Obviously a good first page is essential (which is true of any writing) but when it comes to historical periods and genres pretty much everything has been covered. The last ten years have seen the bookshops swamped with historical novels mainly about Romans, Tudors and Nazis and one reason for this is people are familiar with these being major topics at school. This is why you see very few American Civil War novels on British bookshop shelves but an abundance of Romans and vice-versa in the United States. So, if you’re a British author who has written an epic series set during the Roman Empire you may find it a struggle but that’s not to say it will be impossible to get published. If you have a niche that will be even better and great characters always sell wherever and whenever they come from.

Another interesting topic of discussion was the design of the book and the question of author influence on the cover/jacket design was considered. The answer was that new authors have next to no say in the book design but key images will be considered. The process of book publication is a joint enterprise and everyone has their own job in it: writer, designer, publicity, editor, etc. There was an interesting observation where books aimed at the male readership featured armour, battle scenes and ships on the front while books aimed more at women featured people. Possibly an important thing to consider if an author decides to publish the book themselves and would have a completely free choice on the cover art.

Reviews and electronic publishing were also mentioned. Publishers are beginning to take an interest in books published on sites such as Kindle and Smashwords, particularly if they are successful. Reviews are also important but there are very few in the newspapers. Historical fiction sadly does not get the attention it deserves, however given the number of subgenres (romantic, military, alternative and steampunk to name but a few) and the increase in popularity that comes with film adaptations this could soon change.

Drop on by tomorrow to read about Philippa Gregory’s opening address:

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