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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I enrolled my historical novel in Amazon's Select program and used two free days Dec. 25 and 26. I publicized on the usual book sites, tweeted repeatedly about it, announced on my blog and social media sites, including this one. The results weren't bad (about 1300 free downloads), but not the tens of thousands I've read about, and there was no significant bump in sales. I did get three or four new reviews after that--I had 8 or 9 good ones at the time. The date choice may have been bad - I chose those to target people with new Kindles.

My question concerns audience: I know historical fiction is not a big seller like other genres, and I'm wondering if the audience for historical fiction is older and does not look for free and bargain books. (My novel is period fiction, not historical romance, which may have wider readership).

Do you have similar experiences, successes/failures or suggestions about marketing historical fiction?
 

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Somewhat. It is there but certainly not as easy as if you write romances, that's for sure.

 

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The audience is there and has no problem with free or bargain books. If you're like me with a very specific niche, it's that much harder to connect with readers or you do with one person at a time. If I ever learn really successful marketing tactics, I'll certainly pass them on, but so far it's been relying on one book to sell the next. Rinse and repeat.
 

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Non-romance, period historical fiction does seem to be a tougher journey than some of the other "hot" genres that have caught on especially well for indie/eBook. But you can still acquire some momentum through the right discount-based (not even necessarily free) promotions at the right time (ENT, Bookbub, Goodreads giveaways of paperback versions, etc.) and doing series, sequels, etc. Try to benchmark your books against other similar titles re: sales, promotion results, etc.
 

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I think you have a much easier time of it if you are writing in a historical niche that is underserved by traditional publishing but has a lot of eager readers or potential readers.  I write in ancient Egypt and although sales growth has not been rapid like in other genres, it has been very steady, almost predictable, which I gather is a very lucky thing!  I do no promotion and attribute it all to the fact that there just is not a lot of Egyptian historical fiction out there, especially not in the Dynastic/pre-Greek period.  There have been more indie titles in this niche over the past year but not all of them are getting good reviews from readers.  So being able to stand out as a writer with an excellent book to offer in a neglected niche is a big help.

I can imagine that if you're writing something that has a lot more support from the traditional industry (Tudors, European royalty, Civil War, etc.) you're going to have a harder time growing an audience simply because readers have so much more choice.

Historical fiction is really a tricky beast.

I wonder whether an updated cover might help you out (if you're talking about the book linked in your sig).  Maybe something more colorful will grab more readers.
 

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Historical fiction is a hard sell, if you're going the indie route.  I'm history buff, but so far I've only written one historical fiction title, and it's a short story "The Demon's Promise".  It's been out for a few months now, and has sold three copies in all.  It's set in Ancient India, with Greek, Indian and Buddhist underpinnings. You'd think that would intrigue readers, but nopes, not so far.
 

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It has not been a fast sell for me. I am building a readership S-L-O-W-L-Y.
 

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I would imagine it to be a tough nut to crack; the online market just seems more fit for speculative fiction, romance, erotica, etc.

Did you try your hand at agents/publishers? You have very strong, flowing prose.
 

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Alan Simon said:
Non-romance, period historical fiction does seem to be a tougher journey than some of the other "hot" genres that have caught on especially well for indie/eBook. But you can still acquire some momentum through the right discount-based (not even necessarily free) promotions at the right time (ENT, Bookbub, Goodreads giveaways of paperback versions, etc.) and doing series, sequels, etc. Try to benchmark your books against other similar titles re: sales, promotion results, etc.
Absolutely. It is possible; it just takes more work. Few of us who write historicals end up in the overall paid Top 100, but we can do quite well, nonetheless.
 

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I just had a look at your blurb and sample, Carol, and it looks a really good read!

It took a long time (many months) before I saw sales beyond a trickle. They slowly grew, almost entirely due to word-of-mouth. I've had hundreds of emails saying readers had recommended my books to their friends, and that sort of growth has become stronger and stronger. Four years after first self-pubbing, I've now had over 200,000 sales. Thank goodness for word-of-mouth!

Two things that have helped me a lot: I write in a series, and the first book is free. Readers who enjoy a book really like to have other books by that author available. They probably don't need to be in a series, but being in the same genre helps. I see that you're working on a sequel, which is great.

I've never been in Select. I sell several thousand a month on B&N, my biggest outlet after Amazon. Currently my most successful single outlet is Amazon UK.
 

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JRTomlin said:
Absolutely. It is possible; it just takes more work. Few of us who write historicals end up in the overall paid Top 100, but we can do quite well, nonetheless.
Yes, indeed. I've never come near the overall Top 100 on Amazon.com (though I've come close on UK and B&N), but steady sales at a lower level have been very rewarding.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Good thoughts from all - thanks for sharing (and thanks for that note about 'strong prose.') I did fish for agents for a while, but I became convinced that because I'm nobody and The Girl on the Mountain isn't sexy (despite one review to the contrary) or dystopian, it had little chance of being taken up. Additionally, I loved everything I read about indie publishing. I wanted to get out there and do it! Still do!

I've had a great time working with cover artist and editor and being in charge of my own marketing. The book's local reception has been gratifying, maybe because it covers a period little written about and one close to local experience--1899 logging in the West Virginia mountains. Even a waitress said "People are talking about your book." Friends and family in other states have gotten it into their book clubs. It's been out not quite four months, and as I write that I wonder why I'm whining. Guess I'm afraid sales will die (now less than one a day).

It's nice to hear your experiences, and I appreciate the guidance of many indie authors who've paved the way. Love this online publishing! I hope next year I'll have another book in my signature--yes, a sequel! Meanwhile, I'll get a critique of my cover.

Thanks bunches.
 

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My historical fiction is a family saga, which I believe has a loyal, if small, following. I was getting a steady, albeit small, growth in sales and decided that would be a good time to raise the price from 99c to $2.99. Unfortunately the sales then dropped off and have never recovered.
There is a blog for sagas called 'strictly sagas'. I have my book there, but it hasn't done much for sales (yet) :'(

http://strictlysagas.blogspot.com/
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I'm getting over it, but I worried a lot in the beginning about the reactions of friends, family, business associates, because I don't think it's possible to know whether your book is good or not, and I didn't want mine to stink. Thankfully, most have been genuinely supportive and are passing the word. The nicest part of publishing is the unexpected emails and letters, especially from former students and people I don't know. And I'm okay with the fact that it's not interesting to everyone.

It's good to hear your words like S L O W L Y. Congrats to all who are doing so well. You're inspiring!
 

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Wow, it is so nice to see that there are other HF writers here to talk to.

My experience is similar to what I've been reading.

I have one of the 'least pretty' book covers out there but sales seem to be pretty much as others. My free days got hundreds of downloads but no real bump in purchases. I made the 'wise' decision to raise my price from 99 cents to $2.99 just in time for the winter slump you might have experienced. However, though sales are a bit slower now, they are not that much slower.

When they had tags at amazon, I was misstagged and a regency romance. And, my 'customers that bought this also bought...' panel associated my book with cowboy westerns - not so.

My reviews were surprisingly good and none were solicited, traded for, or purchased by me. None seemed to bump sales.

My book is a good read. I'm not the only one who says so. If it fits any genre it would be either Civil War fiction, family saga, action/adventure, ever war story, as well as Historical Fiction. Like others here, my audience grows slowly, mostly by word of mouth. I still wish each of these genres still had a wider audience as they once had. After all, Michener, McMurtry, Cornwell, Whyte, Low, Heller, and many others write them.

Keep the faith, keep the pen/keyboard busy.
 

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My experience with The Sekhmet Bed was similar to Shayne's, although I haven't been doing it as long as she has so haven't hit her sales mark yet.  :)  But the trickle to begin with, followed by a slow but steady build to very regular sales.  I think maybe HF has very friendly, chatty reader groups (I know some of the historical fiction discussion groups on Goodreads are among the largest and most active on the site!) but they tend to be very insular, and to divide into "factions" of people who like certain eras, settings, or writing styles (more accessible vs. more flowery prose).  If your book strikes a chord with the right readers who are active and trusted in the HF communities, it will definitely start selling well.  It can just take some time to find those readers, so be patient and keep writing.  If your book is good, it will eventually find plenty of very happy readers.  ;D
 

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My experiences with freebies may be colored by the hey day of Select, but other than an inability in the last quarter of 2012 in getting mentions from POI or ENT, giveaways of my really niche civil war HF were in the 20,000K range (not all at once, doing about 6-8K range each time) but it depended on getting those mentions from the big sites.

They've become more particular now or are selling premium space in mentions so the days of not paying anyone are gone.

Sales remain steady, but finding forums where civil war buffs hang out has added some traffic (not all buffs of a time period read and or like HF but there are some) and using Facebook for an author page and targeted (paid) promotion will also help build a following.

ETA: to correct a typo
 

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I find this quite reassuring in a bizarre sort of way as many folks are saying the same sort of things as I've heard before. The problem is that HF is such a broad spectrum and it is difficult to compare some of the different sub-genres. As has been said, romance is quite popular. My HF book is very much an historical action novel. I trawled it past agents who were generally complimentary but unwilling to take a risk. Yet my experience from readers has been almost universally positive. I think HF is a difficult sell, but I would certainly go along with the comments about series of books. I think that seems to help.

 

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To be totally transparent, because I want to encourage other HF writers to keep going, I sell on average around 1000 copies per month of The Sekhmet Bed.  Some months it's more, some it's a little less, but that one title alone is earning me more than my day job earns.  I am not trying to number-brag; I hate that...it just seems like there are some discouraged people in this thread as well as a general feeling of "you won't make good money from HF/there aren't a lot of HF readers out there."  I kind of feel like those of us in the less-popular fiction niches are part of one big family, so I wanted to try to bring a little good cheer and hope to everybody if possible.  :)

It took over a year of word of mouth from happy readers to get to the point where my book sells at a steady rate and earns me a relatively predictable and significant monthly income.  So it is worth waiting for...be patient, be as objective as you can and ask yourself whether anything you're doing could be done better.  Cover?  (I'm actually bringing out a new cover design in a couple of weeks here, when I release the sequel, as well as changing very minor things within the book itself...a true "second edition," ha ha)  Product description?  Title?  Categories?  Price?  (When I first started selling my book, it sold okay at $5.99.  When I dropped it to $2.99 it instantly doubled its daily sales.)  Reaching your audience in effective ways? 

Like I said, HF readers are, I think, insular and rely heavily on word of mouth.  Capturing the imagination of one or two "big wheels" in the HF community, within the niche where your book fits, is the smartest thing you can do.  This book was represented by two literary agents for two years of submissions, but no publishers would touch it.  However, I always believed that HF readers would love it...especially fans of Egyptian fiction.  When I decided to self-pub I immediately approached a few big-time reviewers on Goodreads who were picky readers and wrote in-depth HF reviews...and who shared some of my opinions about other Egyptian HF.  I told them very directly that I just decided to go indie after my disappointment with two years of rejections, and that I respected their opinions on books.  I made it clear that I did not expect a GOOD review from them, but that I expected an HONEST review, and would gladly take whatever their true opinion of my book would be.  (But I felt 99% confident that they would genuinely enjoy the book.)  Both who agreed to review the book loved it, and when their reviews went up on Goodreads, that was a big help with my sales.  So taking a direct approach with some really excellent HF reviewers may also be a good way to tap into that elusive enthusiastic HF audience.
 

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ElHawk said:
My experience with The Sekhmet Bed was similar to Shayne's, although I haven't been doing it as long as she has so haven't hit her sales mark yet. :) But the trickle to begin with, followed by a slow but steady build to very regular sales. I think maybe HF has very friendly, chatty reader groups (I know some of the historical fiction discussion groups on Goodreads are among the largest and most active on the site!) but they tend to be very insular, and to divide into "factions" of people who like certain eras, settings, or writing styles (more accessible vs. more flowery prose). If your book strikes a chord with the right readers who are active and trusted in the HF communities, it will definitely start selling well. It can just take some time to find those readers, so be patient and keep writing. If your book is good, it will eventually find plenty of very happy readers. ;D
I know I got a fairly substantial bump in sales when my novels started being discussed on one of the Goodreads forums (which I had absolutely nothing to do with--it was word of mouth not promotion). IF someone there decides they like your work, it can be very helpful.

I sell in the range of 1000 novels a month of my historical novels, (a bit more sometimes others a bit less) so I can hardly complain about sales but it took some time to reach that level. Like I said, that will never put me on the NYT best seller list, but I consider it very worthwhile. I don't like to mention numbers very often, but I felt that my previous comments might have been misinterpreted. You can do very well with HF.
 
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