Susan Grossey

Surveying the reader-scape

One of the great pleasures of being an indie author (indie being independent – so self-published, published through a small publishing house, etc.) is the community you join of other indie authors.  I have recently signed up with ALLi – the Alliance of Independent Authors – and am very much enjoying reading their guidance, advice, discussions and debates.  I am also hoping that my own profile will appear on their website one day, so I will keep you posted.

One very well-respected indie author whose work I follow closely is MK Tod.  Her introduction to historical fiction – like mine – was a teenage obsession with Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer, and she now writes books with a WWI setting.  However, she has also made a study of people’s reading habits – albeit mainly people with a love of historical fiction, as they are the ones who find her blog and therefore her “reader surveys”.  She has just published the results of her fourth such survey, containing the thoughts of 2,418 respondents from around the world, and it is well worth reading.

From my perspective – as a keen writer and rather unsuccessful seller of historical fiction – there were a couple of questions whose responses I was most eagerly awaiting.  The first was “In historical fiction, which time periods do you enjoy?”.  And I am relieved to see that mine (nineteenth century) is the second most popular (after twentieth century).  Nineteenth century settings are particularly popular with women, and with those aged over thirty – which perhaps explains the requests I have received for “more Martha” in the Sam books!  And the second was “Reflecting on your fiction reading, how relatively important are the following factors?” – including plot, characters, authenticity and so on.  As Ms Tod herself deduces from the responses, “feeling immersed in the novel’s world” is the most critical factor for readers, followed by “authenticity” and “superb writing” – and as readers age, “superb writing” becomes increasingly important.  This is a great relief to me, as I spend so much time – granted, I love doing it, but still, it takes effort – on making my setting, language and characters as authentic as possible, and encouraging readers to follow Sam into the heart of London in the 1820s.

As someone hoping one day to make a living from writing, I was also interested to read about people’s book-buying habits and preferences.  And this survey – which, again, has an historical fiction bent – tells me this about my target audience:

  • They get their books mainly through Internet purchase or borrowed from a library
  • 75% of them “frequently or exclusively” use print books
  • Their most trusted source of recommendations is friends, followed by well-known book review sites or blogs
  • They enjoy reading articles about an author’s work, and following authors on Facebook and Twitter
  • They don’t use social media as much as I had thought, and the feature they most value on social media (when they do engage) is book reviews.

Traditionally published authors have entire marketing departments at their disposal, to track and react to this sort of information.  For those of us working alone – the indies – MK Tod has provided an invaluable service, and my own thanks go out to her.  This will certainly inform my future marketing plans.


  1. Graham Thomas Avatar
    Graham Thomas

    Dear Susan

    I do think you’re being very hard on yourself, using the description of a “rather unsuccessful seller of historical fiction”.

    You have created a fabulous and superbly described Regency period world, and populated it with some wonderful characters. You’ve then taken the brave decision to share this creation with others and, based on my own experience and the reader reviews on Amazon etc, there are lots of people who are very grateful that you did.

    In my book (pardon the pun), that’s a long way from being unsuccessful!

    Best wishes


    1. ihatemoneylaundering Avatar

      Thank you, Graham – you sound just like my husband! I really do need to be more Pollyanna-ish about this, as you’re right: selling any books these days, in a crowded marketplace and against stiff competition from all other media, is a triumph! I think I will award myself an extra Jaffa Cake at elevenses today. But seriously, I am very grateful for your kind words.

      Best wishes from Susan

  2. Roy McCarthy Avatar
    Roy McCarthy

    I guess it’s no surprise that historical fiction is read mostly by the older reader. And they, in turn, prefer print books. (My present WIP is, I think, firmly for the YA market.)

    I wonder why we do it sometimes. Someone will spend a fiver on a pint of beer (London prices) and then go and hum and hah over a £1 book in a charity shop. Then lend it to someone. We picked the wrong hobby.

    1. ihatemoneylaundering Avatar

      My pet hate, Roy, is that people will spend as much on a fancy coffee as they could on a book – for ten minutes’ enjoyment as opposed to at least ten hours. And a magazine these days costs as much as a book. Harrumph!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s