What’s your favorite genre? For some it’s romance, others it’s fantasy, sci-fi or maybe a mystery/thriller. For those that know me well I enjoy reading a variety of genres, so it’s hard to pick one genre over another when I enjoy different books spanning across the many genres of fiction. However if you were to ask me what genre is your favorite to write- in my answer would be a bit more concise. I’ve had a keen interest in history particularly the Roman era. My knowledge and fascination with the period is what inspired my first story which gave birth to a series spanning 4 books total. What I didn’t know when I started out writing historical fiction is how the genre is perceived by the populace at large and the expectations placed on those by the avid and casual fans of the genre.
#1: Historical Fiction is not popular
I must clarify this point because there are books that fall within this umbrella that have experienced a great measure of success and even notoriety. While there is definitely an audience for it, it has a much smaller audience than per say romance or thrillers and that’s to be expected. Unless a reader is an avid fan of historical fiction, the genre is often ignored by mainstream readers. I came to this painful realization when I first published my book to the public on the fiction-sharing site called Fictionpress. The #1 common consensus of those not fans of historical fiction is that it’s boring. True some historical fiction books bore me. It’s no wonder than that it’s tricky to attract new readers who typically don’t seek out historical fiction books. This is the dilemma you’re faced with especially if you’re ready to publish your book for sale. Because you have a smaller market it’s imperative that the book you publish is not only well-written but marketable.
Even within historical fiction it has its own subgenres which attracts its own niche of readers. Historical romance and historical fantasy are probably the biggest and most marketable of the subgenres. Alternate history or alternative history is another subgenre and is the most appropriate subgenre for my series. However alternative fiction makes up a smaller market within historical fiction. Not only do you have to factor the subgenre but also the target audience your book is aimed at. Is it aimed for children, middle grade, YA, or adult? The answer to that question can determine how marketable your book will be which in turn translates into higher sales rankings. Most historical fiction books I’ve run across are geared towards a more mature audience which doesn’t work in my favor considering Before the Legend is geared towards middle grade readers.
2#: High Expectations
Another point to consider is the high expectations that come with historical fiction. Most people expect a well-written book. That’s a given. But for historical fiction books it goes a step further. Readers will expect it to be mostly historically accurate if not 100% accurate to the time period it’s written in. From my observation, fans of the genre come with higher expectations than other genres. True, other genres require some research. If you’re writing a science fiction book that centers in space you’ll want to do your homework on space travel to make the plot more plausible. While that principle of research is also true in historical fiction, there’s the expectation that the book should fully immerse the reader in the era. Everything from their adornment, living conditions, the way they talk, etiquette, means of travel, morality, etc. should be accurate to the time period. It’s all about the details. Any deviation or inaccuracies will not go over well with any reader but especially those who are avid fans of HF. They are not as forgiving!
Because details are of high importance research is essential. Even if it’s alternative or touches on the realm of historical fiction readers will expect it to still be reflective of the time period. And honestly that’s a fair expectation. But living up to those expectations can be very challenging at times. Personally one of the hardest for me was the dialogue. I’ve had readers say my dialogue was too modern. On the flip side others complained it was too formal and stilted. Considering my character is living in Roman times and is of noble blood the choice to not use contractions seemed to make the most sense. However that didn’t bode well with some readers. I was confused and frustrated when it came time to edit because I felt I was given contradictory feedback from both sides.
#3: Getting Noticed
All of these factors you’ll want to take into account especially if you’re seriously thinking about publishing your HF book. If you’re going down the traditional publishing route you face even more hurdles to publishing the book. Typically you’ll have to select a literary agent who will act as the middle-man between you and the publishing company. Although I personally haven’t taken the traditional publishing route, it would be advantageous to do your homework on the agent and the publishing company they work for by delving into what types of genres they typically read and publish. Someone who has little or no interest in HF may not fully understand or appreciate your work for what it’s worth. After all the agent will often determine whether the book is marketable or not. If they don’t like it, it will end up in the reject pile. On the other hand you can increase your chances of acceptance if the publishing company is open to or even favors historical fiction.
Of course you can bypass the middleman and opt to self-publish. But that’s only half the battle. With nobody representing you, marketing and advertising will fall primarily on your shoulders. This touches on the 1st challenge I mentioned which is the smaller market you have to work with. Even if you decide your book is ready and that there is a big enough market for the book to be profitable, you still have to find your target audience and attract them. Some important questions to ask when deciding how to get more exposure for your book are…
What regions or countries will my HF book fare better in?
What reviewers will accept my works?
What bookstores or sites will feature my book?
The answers to those questions are important because you want to know which markets will be more profitable. As a writer you want reviews especially those who appreciate HF so potential readers can decide whether to take a chance on your work. As a writer you want to expand into new markets including your local bookstore to get your books in front of new eyes.
I’ll admit that writing and publishing historical fiction series is not easy. You’re bound to get critics. I even had one person suggest I quit writing in this genre. Even more challenging is the marketing. While this post is not intended to discourage anyone from publishing HF, I believe understanding the reality of the market will help you adapt your approach to your next writing project. Granted if you choose to write for the fun of it, don’t let the popularity, high expectations, or visibility get in the way from writing what you want to write. If anything writing more for your personal enjoyment can be liberating from the stress of worrying about sales. But even if you do decide to publish your next HF book for sale, my advice is to do your homework beforehand. Find out what works and what doesn’t work for your book and the genre at large. And above all stay true to what your passionate about.