Monday, 11 January 2010

Recommendations and Word of Mouth Successes

One of the things all writers want is for their book to become a word of mouth success – not to be depedent on the vagaries of marketing and publicity but simply to have written a book so amazing that everybody is recommending it to their friends.

The internet, of course, means that there are other ways of generating a word of mouth success. Because I have a Google alert set up to tell me when anybody mentions my name online, I came across Fiction Forum on Amazon where people can share their favourites and their opinions with others and where people can ask questions about those of similar tastes. The page I was directed to was this one on 'time-slip' novels. Which, when I read the comments by Kesali and I Readalot, was a pleasant surprise.

Older, more traditional media are also getting in on the act. Mariella Frostrup hosts a Radio 4 programme called Open Book which has a section called The Reading Clinic. A couple of weeks ago a listener wrote in to say that he had very much enjoyed Ian Mortimer's A Time Traveller's Guide to the Middle Ages and would like to read fiction from the same period. Could Ms Frostrup's guests offer any advice?

Interestingly, from the point of view of somebody who has also read Mr Mortimer's excellent book (subtitled A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century) and who is writing a book very firmly based in the fourteenth century (ie me) there seemed to be little recommendable adult fiction set in the medieval period and written in English. Umberto Eco's novels were - of course – highly recommended (though it's astonishingly difficult to find the name/s of his highly talented translator/s) and I was introduced to the works of George Mackay Brown but, other than that, the novels the panel were keen on were mostly children's books by Kevin Crossley-Holland and German author Lilli Thal (whose work is translated by John Brownjon).

Looking at the list (follow the link above) I can't help wondering about the prejudices of the panellists. I mean, can you seriously make recommendations about current medieval fiction without even mentioning Karen Maitland's Company of Liars and Owl Killers?

Anyway, there are two ways of looking at the apparent dearth of medieval fiction from my point of view as the writer of a book set during in the Black Death.

One: Hooray! This is a niche that is crying out to be filled, bring it on!

Two: Bugger, there's no demand for fiction set in this period, I'm on to a loser.

Does anybody have any other recommendations or feelings about this market?

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After posting this, my lovely editor, Will, sent me a link to this article in the Telegraph. I think I know the answer - it's One above. Hooray!


Tim Stretton said...

There's ... erm, Ken Follett...

Of course at the moment I'm reading Sharon Kay Penman, who also seems to shift a lot of books. Cecelia Holland writes historical fiction set in many periods, including the middle ages, and is something of a slow-burning pleasure.

I think there's a real market gap for good quality fiction set in the period - and I reckon you're just the person to fill it, Alis!

Juxtabook said...

It is a gap and you're good - you'll fill it beautifully!

Alis said...

Thanks both of you, you do my ego no end of good!

Minnie said...

No mention of Dorothy Dunnett's highly literate, meticulously-researched House of Niccolo series (set in the late 15th century and covering a geographical terrain as wide as the scope of her fiction)?
Or of Diana Norman,writing as Ariana Franklin, on a Sicilian woman doctor (specialist in pathology, naturally) solving murder mysteries in Henry II's England? Helle Haase's wonderful 'In a Dark Wood Wandering' about poet and unwilling warrior, Charles de Valois. To mention three I love (there are loads of medieval whodunit writers apart from K Maitland, mostly rather patchy in quality). Then there's Tracey Chevalier's enormously popular fictional incursion into 15th century Flanders (which I, er, didn't love!).
Could go on ... Good luck with yours, anyway; will be sure to watch out for it.

Alis said...

Thanks, Minnie, for the recommendations and the good wishes!

Kerry Stanek said...

hello from sunny Melbourne!

I don't read/like historical fiction, but the review on Amazon was so fantastic I was intrigued. And guess what? I am 4/5ths through your book and LOVING it!

I will be recommending your book to my friends.

Alis said...

Hi Kerry - thanks so much for taking the trouble to comment. I'm really glad you're enjoying the book -hope the last 1/5th doesn't disappoint!

Frances Garrood said...

What about Prescott's The Man on a Donkey? I loved this book (although it's some time since I read it).

Alis said...

Hi Frances - not come across that one, I must look it up.

Minnie said...

'The Man on a Donkey' is outside your period, Alis: it is set in the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace. But what about Walter Scott? Plenty of mediaeval settings, there. Plus there's 'The White Company' and ... oh, Lord, am beginning to sound like the worst kind of anorak! Sorry!
Bon courage.