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).