2013 Historical Fiction Survey by M. K. Tod

Readers share their opinions on reading Historical fiction

If you read or write historical fiction, the 2013 historical fiction survey report offers insights on a wide range of topics including reading habits, historical fiction preferences, pricing perspectives, factors affecting book selection, and mechanisms for discussing books. Readers also gave feedback on the attributes of favourite historical fiction, opinions on effective book reviews, and what they look for from reading blogs and websites. The survey reached 2440 individuals from around the world.


HISTORICAL FICTION IS MAINSTREAM: Less than 2% of participants said they rarely or never read historical fiction.

GENDER MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Women and men differ significantly in their views of historical fiction and their reading habits and preferences.

AGE MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Those under 30 responded differently to several questions. In addition, in some cases a response increased or decreased with age.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS HAVING A HUGE IMPACT: Social media and online sites play a very significant role for those choosing, purchasing, and talking about historical fiction.

BOOK BLOGS ARE VERY POPULAR: 1,473 participants listed one, two or three favourite blogs.

GEOGRAPHY: Responses to some questions such as the use of online tools for recommendations and purchasing, and preferred setting for historical fiction varied by geography.

PRICING: Sadly, readers are pushing for low prices. For example, 60% want e-books at $5.99 or less and 66% want paperbacks at $10.99 or less.

ONLINE BOOK CLUBS ARE GAINING POPULARITY: 21% belong to online clubs while 15% belong to clubs meeting in a physical location

VOLUME OF BOOKS READ MAKES A DIFFERENCE: For example, high volume readers have different expectations for book reviews, a higher interest in tracking their books, and higher usage of online tools and social media to augment their reading experience.

CHOOSING BOOKS: When choosing books readers select by subject then author and then trusted recommendation. Two thirds of respondents said publisher imprint is not important; one quarter said price is extremely important. The online world dominates recommendations as readers look to blogs, websites, online retailers, Facebook, Goodreads and other sources in huge numbers. Low volume readers rely on friends for their recommendations. Less than 15% selected newspapers as one of their top 3 sources of recommendations.

ACQUISITION & READING FORMAT: 73% of participants selected online purchasing as the method they used either frequently or exclusively; interestingly Canada is not as online as geographies like the US and UK. In terms of reading format the survey showed that e-book penetration is highest in the US; it also showed that men and those under 30s are more tied to print books than women and over 30s.

TALKING ABOUT BOOKS: The more you read or the younger you are, the more likely you are to use online tools for discussing books. While over 30% of participants belong to book clubs, more readers belong to online book clubs than clubs meeting in a physical location. Popular features of online book sites are book reviews, search features and alerts about new releases.

HISTORICAL FICTION: The survey also sheds light on why readers choose historical fiction, citing ‘to bring the past to life’, ‘because it’s a great story’ and ‘to understand and learn without reading non-fiction’ as their top three reasons. When asked what factors underpin a favorite historical fiction book or author, readers responded with ‘superb writing’ and the feeling of being ‘immersed in time and place’. They seek characters both heroic and human and a story that is authentic and educational. A significant percent of readers prefer stories about fictional characters set within a backdrop of great historical events, perhaps suggesting a desire to see ourselves in that time and place.

FAVOURITE HISTORICAL FICTION AUTHORS: The top ten historical fiction authors mentioned by survey participants are Diana Gabaldon, Sharon Kay Penman, Philippa Gregory, Elizabeth Chadwick, Bernard Cornwell, Ken Follett, Hilary Mantel, Dorothy Dunnett, Patrick O’Brian and Edward Rutherford. Not surprisingly, separating men from women creates two quite different lists! You can see the complete list of top 40 authors here and the list broken down by gender here.


For each survey question, the full report offers charts to visualize responses along with highlights and a section called ‘digging beyond the averages’ that explores connections amongst various factors. Click here for the full report.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is available in paperback from Amazon (US, Canada and elsewhere), and in e-book formats from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and on iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


1 Comment so far

  1. charliebritten

    Very interesting, Jen. I will study it in detail… when I’m not at work.

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