Writing Historical Fiction
Historical fiction differs from present-day fiction because it requires you, as author, to learn almost everything about an era during which you most likely did not live. To simply develop characters and have them perform the simplest actions, you must immerse yourself in the lifestyle of a given time period.
Pick a Topic
Before writing your book, find out what period of history really interests you. You’ll be spending countless hours researching to create your story, so be sure you’re passionate about the era you’re writing about. Also, figure out what point you’re trying to make with your writing and what you’re hoping to reveal to readers. The answers to these questions will keep you on track.
Remember the Details
In historical fiction, the use of detail is imperative. You can’t just say your character is on the street; you must tell the reader how busy the street is, what the people look like there, and what they’re doing. Since your readers probably haven’t lived in this period, they can’t envision the story’s setting without adequate description.
Find the Facts
It’s helpful to find experts on the historical topics that you’re writing about. Universities are an excellent place to find scholars on specific eras. An expert can be more helpful than an article or book, because the expert can answer questions specific to your story. Also, if retail catalogues were around during the time you’re writing about, they can be helpful because they list items used in a time period and explain the economy through specific prices.
Keep it Light
While historical details are important to your story, be careful not to bog your readers down with facts that are irrelevant to the story. After all of your research, it may be easy to overwrite. After a draft is written, simply remove excess information from the story. Your readers don’t have to know everything about the time period, just enough to understand your tale.
Also, be careful not to bombard your reader with back story. This will just bore your reader. Back story should not be given unless it’s absolutely necessary. Oftentimes, important details will come out in your novel without you going into your character’s history.
Be extremely careful not to judge or apologize for your characters. Since we live in the twenty-first century, it’s easy to be disgusted by certain prejudices. You have to be able to see the story through their eyes, during their time period. Apologizing for your characters or making them all think ahead of their time will date your story and make it less realistic.
Remember when you embark on your historical fiction writing that the process can take a very long time. Since so much research has to be done for the story to be accurate and believable, historical fiction can take years to write. Stay focused and enjoy the ride.
Marketing Historical Fiction
The best marketing tool is word of mouth. With historical fiction, creating a buzz in the scholarly community or people specifically interested in your topic or era can make your novel very successful.
Create Marketing Materials
One of the most important elements of your marketing campaign will be your author Web site. The Web site does not have to be extravagant, but should contain information potential customers need to learn about your book, hear what others are saying about the novel, and purchase it. Your Web site is an excellent place to post reviews, information about upcoming author events, and offer visitors free content (such as interesting historical facts about the period of your novel).
Author business cards or book-specific bookmarks (including your ISBN, Web site address, and other important book information) are also excellent ways of reaching your market. Local bookstores will probably be willing to place your bookmarks or business cards close to the register for patrons to pick up. Also, contact book fairs or conventions about getting your promotional items placed in gift bags. These materials act as a reminder of your book to potential readers.
Make a list of privately owned bookstores in your area. Owners usually love to get to know writers and can be your greatest ally when it comes to selling your book. If the store holds book signings or other author-based events, be sure to become a familiar face during them.
Building relationships with bookstore chains can be more difficult. Self-published authors should contact the Small Press Department at the chain to find out how to get the book considered for placement in the store. You will most likely be asked to send your book and a detailed marketing plan, so be prepared before you call.
Most areas have book groups that are open to hearing from authors about new books to read. Contact groups to suggest that your book be added as one of the selections and then try to attend the discussion of your book. Creating a list of questions to guide the conversation can be especially helpful to you.
Cultivating relationships with history professors at universities that teach and research the topic your historical fiction is focused on is also a great way to get publicity. Professors may mention your book to their students who are most likely interested in your topic.
Make all trips that you take marketing opportunities. Bring some business cards or bookmarks when you visit friends or family members elsewhere. This gives your book more exposure than it would get in a local market.
Remember to network. Hang out where other writers do and build strong relationships. These alliances can help you market your book. Other writers may have thought of things that you wouldn’t have on your own, and vice versa. Stick with your fellow writers to make your book successful.
Start building a list of magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and Web sites that might review your book. Reviews keep buzz about your book from dying down and offer third-party validation. Don’t forget to include publications that deal with the subject matter of your book (for example, a magazine for Civil War-era history buffs may be great if you’ve written a Civil War novel). Even if the publications don’t offer reviews regularly, they will probably consider writing one for a book that is closely linked to their subject matter. Ask authors of the reviews to write a tag line for you to use in your promotional items.
Many publications may also consider writing a feature instead of a review. This is also helpful in getting your name and book title out to the public. Remember, many authors request reviews and features. Be prepared to offer the reviewer reasons why your book is interesting and why you are worth reviewing or featuring.