The popularity of historical fiction: Peter Straus

LECTURE

Speaker: Peter Straus (Rogers, Coleridge and White)

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction offers one method for judging the popularity of historical fiction.  For a long time historical fiction never saw the light of day when it came to this prize but recently it fills the lists.  Peter Straus asks what a Booker prize winner looks like as a way for judging popular traits in the genre.  Straus also looks at publishing promotion and advertising and luck of timing.

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2 thoughts on “The popularity of historical fiction: Peter Straus

  1. There were two items from Peter Straus’ talk that particularly intrigued me. First I was very interested in how Straus looked at luck and word of mouth as one of the greatest sales tools around. Second, how the e-book reader will affect word of mouth in the present and future. Like many I have followed C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake books with vivid interest but I will admit that I had no idea another one was to be published late last year. Heartstone now sits on my bookshelf amongst the other four volumes and it was always going to. But it ended up there much earlier than it would have otherwise because I saw someone else reading it on the train first – I paid the full price for Heartstone because I rushed out that lunchtime to buy it rather than suddenly discovering it several months later at a possibly discounted price.

    My first introduction to Shardlake was from a friend who suggested it was a good read and leant me a copy of Dissolution – another prime example of word of mouth. But all of that is impossible with the e-book reader. If my friend hadn’t leant me a copy of Dissolution I probably wouldn’t have brought that or the next four volumes. If I hadn’t seen someone else reading Heartstone on the train I probably would have got the book at a discounted price much later (and the publisher and author might have received less in return).

    I don’t currently own an e-reader but I’m curious – is it changing reading habits? Is it going to have an effect on how historical fiction is promoted and published?

  2. I think it is swings and roundabouts with books and e-readers. Early research seems to show that people with e-readers are doing an increased amount of book buying for their gadgets. Are they reading them? I don’t know. I do know that my sales have been very robust in e-book formats. I read both on my Kindle and in conventional form, but have to say that I’m a convert to the e-reader. I didn’t think I would be. And yes, I am buying and reading more books than I used to. People pick up on books by word of mouth from all over the place. If you have a Kindle, chances are you are au fait with the Internet and the communities online will help foster your ‘what to read next’ dilemma. I agree it’s a shame that you won’t be able to have a nosy at what other people are reading in public. I think e-readers have really boosted sales of erotic fiction for that very reason!
    With e-readers, there is the opportunity to write longer books and to add various extra ‘goodies’ to the package, such as character biographies, details of every day life, short stories, articles, you name it. We’re an interactive society, and it will be interesting to see how much the reading experience will be changed by successive generations of the new technology.

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