Choose History that Sells
You can significantly narrow your historical search just by knowing the market. For inspirational historical romance, there are only a few times and places that sell well. The easiest stories to sell are set in America between 1800 and 1900. Books set in the later 1800s in the Midwest are probably still at the top of the list, although publishers have been branching out in the last few years. Small town and rural settings are more popular than city settings. Generally, if you can put a bonnet on your heroine, that’s a good thing from a sales perspective.
Still marketable, although not quite as hot, is anywhere from 1700 until about 1930 in America. Also Regency, Edwardian, and perhaps Victorian novels set in England. Occasionally you’ll find a CBA story set somewhere like France or Russia or maybe even England in the 1500s, but that’s rare, and those settings are certainly not advisable places for new authors to start. More exotic settings than Europe are nearly impossible to sell. Biblical novels have seen a resurgence in popularity recently, although these are typically historical rather than historical romance.
Now I don’t say any of this to put you in a box. You don’t have to aim for the center of the market. But going into the situation informed will certainly help. My agent asked me to write a historical romance set anywhere in America during the 1800s. That wasn’t too hard for me to work with. Personally, I’m not a prairie girl. I don’t enjoy reading those books, so it would be silly for me to try to write one. Instead, I like elegant settings full of romance and mystique. I live in Virginia, love the old South, and enjoy Regency fashions. So that gave me a start in my search. My guess is somewhere within that general category of history that sells, you can find a setting that fits your interests.
Choose History that Fits
Once you narrow down your search, you can begin to work on your plot. As you think through the main characters and events for your story, that will help you to narrow your search even more to a spot that really works. In my case, I had the idea for a title, Love in Three-Quarter Time. I wanted the story to be about the waltz coming to America, so that helped me pin down my year. It also determined my setting of an upper-class plantation home. As I concluded that my heroine would be a former belle of the ball who had lost her fortune and now must teach dance, I realized that I’d have to move her close to the frontier because sought after dance masters were male. One of my favorite locations in Virginia is near Winchester, but as I studied the history I discovered I was probably venturing too far north for plantations at that time. And as the story continued unfolding in my head, I realized I needed the setting to be a reasonable distance from Richmond. So I settled on Charlottesville.
Once you’ve settled on a specific year and location, you can have fun searching out that time and place for entertaining and interesting historical details. Historical romance fans love little historical facts tucked into their books. In my case I discovered lots of interesting history surrounding the “scandalous waltz,” the nearby Monticello, and the beautiful plantation homes. Because I did choose a more rural setting, I had to learn a little about planting seasons and rotations, although that was more for my own understanding. I learned about a fascinating mixed-race group of Native Americans and runaway slaves known as the “Black Indians” that lived nearby. And of course, I had tons of fun studying those beautiful Regency gowns. You don’t want to overwhelm your reader with history. However, you need to know the background so you can set the story firmly in history and really picture it in your own mind. You want to supply your reader with new and interesting information about the time without getting bogged down in the details. Remember, story always comes first. And if it is a romance, the romance should be more prevalent than the history as well.
And Consider History that Challenges
Personally, I would also encourage you to find history that challenges. The idea of historical times being “the good old days” really isn’t true. History is rife with injustice and abuse. At anytime you can find poverty, inequality, oppression, drugs, alcohol, violence, etc… I mean, even Little House on the Prairie looks at social issues of that day. Now this point needs some clarification. The cozier the book, the less challenging it should be. The shorter the book, the less you’ll have time to go deep. Romance should be lighter than straight historical. However, for a long historical romance, there is definitely time for a peek at the real issues facing people in your chosen time period. I think examining those challenging issues makes your characters seem more real, more human, and allows us to relate to them. These issues allow us to walk away from the book enriched because of the experience. Romance fans are famous for wanting an escape, but it’s my opinion that the best romance books offer emotional depth and takeaway value as well.
So those are a few ideas to get you started on your historical romance novel. I’m sure some of the other ladies here will have tips for you as well. Feel free to share your thoughts on historical romance and ask any questions as well.
More About Dina Sleiman:
Dina writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion with Whitefire Publishing, won an honorable mention in the 2012 Selah Awards. Her latest novel, Love in Three-Quarter Time, is the launch title for the new Zondervan First imprint. Dina is a contributing author at Inkwell Inspirations, Colonial Quills, iflourishonline.com, a part-time acquistions editor for WhiteFire Publishing, and she is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/.
In the style of Deeanne Gist, Dina Sleiman explores the world of 1817 Virginia in her novel Love in Three-Quarter Time. When the belle of the ball falls into genteel poverty, the fiery Constance Cavendish must teach the dances she once loved in order to help her family survive. The opportunity of a lifetime might await her in the frontier town of Charlottesville, but the position will require her to instruct the sisters of the plantation owner who jilted her when she needed him most. As Robert Montgomery and Constance make discoveries about one another, will their renewed faith in God help them to face their past and the guilt that threatens to destroy them in time to waltz to a fresh start? Only $3.99. Visit http://zondervan.com/9780310334156, or to learn more about Dina visit http://dinasleiman.com.
Leave a comment about your favorite historical era to read about or just a comment to be entered to win an e-copy of Love in Three-Quarter Time or a paperback copy of Dance of the Dandelion.