I suppose I'm not the only author who sometimes asks herself, "Is anybody out there really going to read this?" But I was pleased to read M.K. Tod's 2013 Historical Fiction Reader Survey to find out that in fact there is a strong audience, and it is growing in the under-30 age group.
Tod's survey (funded by the Historical Novel Society) reached nearly 2,500 participants, mostly female, during 2013 and her results were published in January this year. While it is not exactly a scientific survey and Tod notes the probability of bias because the survey was distributed through historical fiction blogs and websites, it still provides useful information.
The highlights for me were that historical fiction is now mainstream, and most readers are aware when a book is independently published but it does not it does not stop them from making a purchase. The strongest driving factor for the purchase is a GOOD STORY. (This one's my favorite.)
And, the top three reasons respondents read historical fiction? (1) To bring the past to life, (2) Because there are great stories, and (3) To understand and learn without having to read non-fiction. That's right! The authors read all that stuff for you and weave the details together into something that is true, entertaining and educational!
At a recent book festival, a gentleman approached me and felt the need to tell me why he would not purchase my book. He said he believed historical fiction distorted the facts, and he did not know which parts were true, and which parts were fiction. I tried to tell him that usually you can tell that the events are real, and most of the details, but the characters are often from the author's imagination as a device to help tell the story from a certain perspective. The author's notes and acknowledgements also tend to explain what is true and what is fabricated. Many books, like mine, include a list of readings (if not a complete bibliography) and sources for historical accuracy.
He was not particularly open to what I was offering, but we can't win them all. I am sure he continued through the book festival to find a hot new crime thriller.
Another big takeaway from Tod's survey is about the importance of social media. Readers favor online sources for book recommendations. Seventy-eight percent said they use blogs, websites and other social media. I guess there is little justification for holding out on that one. My good friend Andrea Patten, a non-fiction author, says she uses Facebook religiously, but it is Twitter that attracts the most new readers. (Sigh!)
If you are an author of historical fiction I encourage you to read Tod's report. I found the results inspiring!