Monday, February 9, 2009

To Buy or Not to Buy

Market research time!

I've added a poll to the top of the sidebar. I'm curious to know what motivates you to buy historical fiction from a previously unpublished author. More particularly, I'm interested in how much the presence or absence of recognizable historical figures, what some editors call "marquee names" (ie. Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Martha Washington), has on your decision to buy a novel. 

Would you buy a novel based on your interest in some aspect of the setting--the country, the era, an event--whether or not the characters are historical or fictional? Will you only buy a novel if it features a marquee name you are familiar with and want to learn more about (by extension, books featuring completely fictional characters don't interest you)? Will you buy a novel regardless of the fictional state of the characters if the plot summary sounds intriguing? Or do other factors--title, cover art, author blurbs--carry the heaviest weight in your decision to purchase a new author's book?

I'm sure you'll object that each of these factors play a role, but for the sake of argument, you are only allowed to choose one. Imagine you are holding the novel of a new historical fiction author in your hands at the bookstore--which factor will matter most in your decision to buy?

I'll gather results for ten days and then summarize... Thanks for your input!


Susan Higginbotham said...

Interesting question! I don't require a "marquee name," but I do prefer historical fiction featuring real historical figures, though not necessarily well-known ones. So for me it's mainly the era that dictates my buying habits, and the presence of real historical figures after that.

YA Librarian said...

I dont mind if the characters are made up or real. I just want a good story. I'll buy books from authors I don't know, and to be honest sometimes its not always a good thing to keep buying books from the same authors. I sometimes think those authors expect us to buy their books and their writing slips a bit.

Lana said...

I buy my historical fiction because of my interest in the setting (place, era, or event) - but usually I focus on the presence of a 'marquee name' of sorts. It can either be a historical figure or an event (the Great Fire, Culloden, Thermopylae, etc.). But to get me excited about a new historical novel by a new author there has to be a hook that's just familiar enough!

Michelle Moran said...

Marquee names are almost always the reason I buy an HF book. Once in a while the voice or setting is so unique that I buy it anyway (Girl With a Pearl Earring, Memoirs of a Geisha). But most of the time, I'm interested in people who actually lived and breathed.

Sarah Johnson said...

My usual motto for HF by new authors is "different is good." Given the choice between a well-trod historical period and one about which I've read little, I'll go for the latter. Ditto for historical figures. I very much enjoy reading biographical fiction, but if the period (let's just say, Tudor England :) is very familiar, I'd rather read a novel seen from the viewpoint of a character who hasn't been depicted a dozen times previously. So bring on that historical mystery set in 17th-century Peru. I'll be in line to read it!

Jessica Brockmole said...

This was a difficult question to answer, as so many factors go in to my decision. I'll admit, things like cover art and title can get me to pick up the book to begin with (did some browsing of the library shelves yesterday in this fashion). But when it comes to purchasing something by a new author, I'm going to have to go with the setting and time. I love books about both real figures and fictional characters, although lately I'm tending more towards the latter, so the presence of "marquee" characters in a novel wouldn't really be a factor for me. Unless, as Sarah said, it's a "marquee" character who brings a fresh POV.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I can answer the poll usefully but let me think through my thought process.

The first thing I notice with a historical (true of any book, but I'm thinking through HF now) is the cover. The cover discloses the setting. I'll pick it up if it looks exotic, unusual, beautiful, different, especially if it promises a setting I'm either very familiar with (premodern Europe) or totally unfamiliar with (India, China etc). If there is a woman on the cover with a beautiful gown dated some time between 1500 and 1900, I won't pick it up.

Blurbs count. The hook on the back cover/inside dust jacket counts more. If I like that, I'l read the first few lines. If the plot seems interesting and original and the writing is good, I'll buy it.

A historical main character doesn't make me avoid a book, though if a book seems just like a fictionalized biography, I won't read it. A little known, or unknown to me historical character is interesting to me as long as the book is more than biography. I find books about historical characters work best when the POV character is not historical or is at least not the most well-known of the characters in the book.

So all those factors play a role, but because cover comes first, perhaps I should tick that one.

I'm learning a lot from everyone else's answers

Anonymous said...

double comment...
Hey Julianne, have you thought about creating a thread in the AW Historical Novels forum linking bak to your post here and asking people to come take your poll? You'd boost your numbers, and you might get a broader range of HF fans.

Julianne Douglas said...

I did that last night, Lucy, and there's a good discussion going on. Here's the link .

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I actually meant --- post it in Absolute Write. I know lots of the people there who read the HF forum, don't write HF so I thought you might get some other views. I suspect novelists are more open to unknown characters while ordinary readers prefer known names who can hook their interest. Sadly.

Julianne Douglas said...

Oops, sorry, wrong forum. I just put up a new thread on AW, so maybe we'll get some more input. Thanks for the suggestion.

Sarah Johnson said...

I think you're right, Lucy. I know my own preferences aren't the norm. There's a reason why publishers are reissuing so many classic historical novels about Tudor and other royal women.

san_remo_ave said...

I followed the trail of breadcrumbs from AW and voted in your poll.... For me it's the promise of a great story. I don't have a strong preference of setting or a 'marquee' character draw.

I do often seek other reader's comments about a story if I'm not familiar with the author --relying on what they say about the book, not the rating they give it.

Anonymous said...

I read books, all books, for engaging stories and characters. If the premise sounds intriguing and original, I'll want to read the book, be it about a real or fictional person. I don't care that much for authenticity, but the internal logic and integrity of the story, together with a unique voice, will make me accept the book and keep reading.


Anonymous said...

The unknown/unpublished author's name never bothered me. I would only go for a specific era and a marquee name, even if mentioned in passing.
Good luck with your book.

donroc said...

Over the decades, I have selected HF to read for all the reasons you list, Julianne, but more recently it has been in the following sequence.

First, I look at the front cover/title, back side, and jacket flaps. If it is about a lesser known or unknown to me historical character, I become more interested. If the character is fictional, then the era and locale take on more importance. I no longer choose HF solely by author name or reviews because I would be negating myself as an "unknown" author not reviewed yet by national publications.

Next, I read the first paragraph. I also base my selections upon some of the individuals I encounter on the HF sites.

I do avoid reading HF in the same area as mine while I have a WIP.

Ros said...

I buy historical fiction based on:

1. Era. There are certain historical eras I am much more interested in than others.

2. Location. If the novel is set in a place that I know, or a country I'd love to visit I'm much more likely to buy it.

3. Social setting. I like novels that give me a chance to escape from the drudgery of real life, so I'm unlikely to buy a story that, for example, focusses on the gritty reality of being an underservant, or a peasant, or a foot soldier and so on. I like pretty dresses and beautiful gardens and nice houses. This is a huge thing for me. It is the main reason why I don't read SF or F novels, for example, and a huge reason why I do like to read historicals.

4. Romance. Generally I prefer historical novels that feature at least some kind of romantic plot, though this does not have to be the main plotline by any means.

5. Story. Actually, this is by far the most important thing. If I'm interested in the story, I'll read the book, no matter what. I'll just enjoy it more if some of the other features I mentioned are there.

6. Characters. There have to be characters that I care about, otherwise I won't keep reading. It doesn't matter to me if your main character is fictional, or an obscure real person, or Marie-Antoinette - you still have to write that person in a way that makes me feel as though I know and understand them and am concerned for them. If I had to pick, I prefer novels where the famous historical figures are on the sidelines. A brief encounter with, say, the Duke of Wellington at a ball, is quite fun. I don't specially want to read a whole novel about him.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Era and particularly location score high with me. I like to learn about some real historical person that I had not known previously, but that comes in a close 2nd. If you are familiar with my blog, A Traveler's Library, you will understand why location and accuracy in portraying an era and place are so important to me. I love books that inform and inspire my travel.

Anonymous said...

Actually if it is a setting/period/character I am very familiar with, I will be LESS likely to read a historical novel because I know I will pick up on any inaccuracies and be disappointed. This is of course reversed for non-fiction, and untrue if the historical novelist is a recognized scholar.

So for HF I tend to prefer settings and characters I am totally unfamiliar with.

But like everyone else, I am a sucker for a great plot.

Danja said...

I will buy a book if the cover looks intriguing, the action happens before 20th century in Europe, Asia or Africa, and the story looks very interesting. I also try to weed out romance novels disguised as historical fiction. I don't really pay attention to whether the novel is the first for a writer.

Jackie Hodson said...

Hi Julianne
You got me!!
A new HF writer's book?
I thought I'd say character but...I voted for intriguing plot.
Maybe the answers we give you depend on how much HF we've already read. Yes? No?
And how much 'outside' research we've done on the subject?
I love being made to think and rethink.
Thank you :o)