Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Genre-Specific Sales, Part 6 of 8: Historical Fiction

Before I get started: I've talked before about hiring your own publicist, and as usual, Jessica over at BookEnds has written an excellent post on the subject. In short: a good publicist can work wonders when you do everything right, but they're by no means necessary and are often an extraneous expense. Make sure you know what you're getting into beforehand. As always, talk to your agent.

And now, Ye Olde Historicale Fictione—


Thanks to all of you for your comments on yesterday's post. As often as I'm guilty of it, I really do hate to be the bearer of bad news. Having dealt with literary fiction's soft sales as best I can—i.e. by reading some F. Scott and Papa Hemingway while drinking a Bombay Sapphire martini (dry, extra olives)—I'm ready to move on. Historical fiction: how is it selling?

As with literary fiction, clear-cut data on historical fiction are somewhat more difficult to come by simply because the boundaries of the genre are not as clearly defined as those of, say, sci-fi or fantasy. (For the purposes of this post, I'm shelving historical romances under "romance," to be discussed on Thursday. If you absolutely have to know, though, historical romance continues to sell well. More to come.) However, based on my own experience with the genre and some late-night BookScan investigation, it seems that historical fiction is alive and well. For instance, the New York Times Best-Seller List has consistently included historical fiction; for recent examples, see Kathryn Stockett's The Help, Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Philippa Gregory's The Other Queen. If you're writing historical fiction right now—particularly something steampunk or including vampires—you're probably okay. Then again, that's what's "in" now, not what will necessarily be "in" in two or more years when your current work-in-progress hits the shelves. So take my advice with a grain or two of salt.

Historical fiction had a strong showing in those novels shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize, but again, as we saw yesterday, literary prizes aren't the surest way of increasing sales. Suffice it to say that historical fiction is doing well across the board, both in terms of reviews and sales.

Once again, without making any guarantees, warranties, explicit or implicit contracts, &c, legal or otherwise, my advice is: if you're writing historical fiction, whether it ties in to the current "hot" categories/themes (e.g. fantasy, romance, vampires, steampunk, zombies, what have you) or is a straightforward historical novel about anyone from Abraham to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you're probably on course for decent sales (again, assuming you've written a stellar book). Keep it up!

Last, but not least: what kind of advance can you expect?

Once again, it's difficult to pin down the exact range that's considered "average" for historical romance novels today, but I'd hazard a guess that $5,000 - $7,500 is about right (potentially more for a really good cross-genre title—see above for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter—or for a multi-book deal).

In summary, then:

• Historical fiction continues to do well, so if you're writing in that genre: hooray!
• If you've got some serious crossover action going on (e.g. fantasy, romance), so much the better.
• Average advance: probably $5,000 - $7,500, but it's hard to tell. Some of the above novels had advances way above that and should not be considered "typical results" (to borrow from the fine print on TV diet advertisements).

19 comments:

  1. I know you were joking, but if I walked into a bookstore and saw "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", I'd have to pick it up and look at it, you know, just to see......

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  2. I don't think he's joking, storyqueen...

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  3. I've recently read The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rovers (I'm just really starting to delve in reading this genre) and she hooked me! I'm also finishing up Outlander interesting as well.
    *Off to write Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter SERIES...*

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  4. People, Abraham Lincoln WAS a vampire. That's why John Wilkes Booth shot him IN THE DARKENED THEATRE, he wouldn't have been out in the daytime.

    He also used a silver bullet, just in case Lincoln was also a were-anything.

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  5. LOL on the Abe jokes. You know, Clive Barker included Thomas Jefferson in his GALILEE (awesome novel!), though he was backstory but still had some paranormal attributes. :)

    I completed a steampunk urban fantasy recently and my agent just started subbing it so it's too soon to tell what will happen. However, we have had one pass so far from an editor who preferred it be a romance, but it's not. She asked for revisions to turn it into one, but I'm not interested.

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  6. Hi,
    Thanks so much for posting this information. I found myself biting my nails (or what's left of them) when I first started reading; I just knew you were going to say historical fiction sales were as dead as the people featured in the books. What a nice surprise to find this genre is selling well. Now all I have to do is make sure I write well...and it's on!

    Thanks again,
    Rita Lorraine
    www.RitaHubbard.com

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  7. Ah, that gives me hope for my WIP, a mainstream historical multi-parter :-)

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  8. Glad I'm writing historical fiction!

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  9. I feel like my manuscript, currently out there searching for representation, teeters on the edge between literary fiction and historical fiction. Based on your summaries over the past couple of days, I'd like to push it over into the historical camp! I'm also banking on the fact that it is set in India, and India is still, after several years, hot. (No pun intended.)

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  10. I'm glad to hear that historical fiction is up right now. I know I've been seeing a lot more of it on the shelves in the last few years and I hope it stays that way for at least a few more.

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  11. Thank you for the article! As an HF author, I appreciate the heartening news. My novel is called THE FUHRER VIRUS (a WWII spy/conspiracy/thriller). Check it out at www.eloquentbooks.com/TheFuhrerVirus.html, www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, and on Google review.

    Thanks!

    Paul Schultz

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  12. Good news for me! And can I just say, I am loving the Abe Lincoln discussion here. Rick Daley, that is a very interesting theory.

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  13. Yippee!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I, along with valuable input with my agent, am currently re-writing sections of my historical fiction, and chomping at the bit (yep, my historical is set in the time where horses, not cars, ruled the land) to get it out to publishers.
    What great news!
    Christi

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  14. I love writing historical fiction. And knowing its still up there on the list of favorite genres, I will continue on this path.

    Thanks
    MJ
    http://mjsmithbooks.weebly.com/index.html

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  15. Sweet! My current work is historical fantasy, so I guess that's a cross-over. Still, I'm very happy to see HF doing so well!

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  16. I love writing historical fiction! This is great news! Thanks! Now all I need to do is find myself an agent while I'm plodding through grad school *sigh*

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  17. Does anybody know of a historical fiction novel written during the nixon years?
    Thank-you
    Silver MLM

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