Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Novel Settings--Familar vs. Exotic--Which Do You Prefer?

Happy Wednesday, everyone,

Naomi Rawlings here, and I’m wishing you all a warm and lovely spring day from Michigan’s rather cold and windy Upper Peninsula. (And yes, I saw a few snowflakes touch the ground while writing this post.)

The month of April is especially exciting for me this year, as my first-ever published novel, Sanctuary for a Lady, releases. And did you know I’m not the only one with a debut novel this month? Author Jessica Nelson, had her first novel, Love on the Range, release as well. (Congratulations, Jessica!)

So as any eager new author would do, I raced to Walmart last week and found my book on the shelf (right beside Jessica’s). As I stood back admiring my novel in an actual store, available for anyone to buy, I noticed that my setting was a little different from the books beside it. All three other books releasing from Love Inspired Historical this month are set in the 1800s, and all three other books are attached to the United States in some way. Two of the stories are set in the American West, and the third involves a sea journey from Ireland to America. Then there’s my book, lonely little Sanctuary for a Lady, set in France during the late 1700s and without a single mention of America throughout the entire novel.

Did you know my publisher considers this setting a bit of a risk? That Love Inspired Historical has never before published a novel set during the French Revolution? So my publisher is rather curious to see if Sanctuary for a Lady will sell as well as Love on the Range and Brides of the West and The Wedding Journey.

Novels set in the United States generally tend to sell better than novels set other countries. Please understand there are exceptions to this rule, and a book set in a foreign country can sell just as many copies as a book set in the United States. Novels set in England are rather popular as well, but in general, foreign set books sell fewer copies.

I’m not the only Love Inspired Historical author dipping into the pool of European fiction, however. Last month Eva Maria Hamilton had her debut novel, Highland Hearts, release. Highland Hearts is set in the 1700s like my novel, and it takes place completely in Scotland. Our publisher has asked both Eva and I to consider writing sequels to our novels. Eva’s will be set in Scotland again, and I’ve just started working on a second novel set during the French Revolution. And while Eva and I and others are writing, our publisher is watching to see whether these novels sell a good number of books, or whether Love Inspired Historical will want to publish novels set primarily in the United States and England in the future.

So I’m curious about you. What type of historical novels do you prefer? Do you like stories set in foreign or exotic places and unfamiliar times? Or do you like stories set that take place on American soil and within the past century and a half? If you had to pick between a book set in Europe or a book set in the United States, which would you chose, and why?


  1. This is an interesting question. I love the american books especially set in the west. but have enjoyed other overseas locations. I enjoyed Carla Capshaw's ones set in rome. To be honest I am not keen on regency. But yours does sound good to me as I am interested in the French revolution. Ones in england that are not about the upper classes I am interested in and do want to read Eva's. Have LIH done many outside the states besides Carlas, the regencies and I know there is one set in Africa. Oh I have read a couple set in Canada and loved them. To me its more about the book than the location. I would actually love to see a few navel historicals. (Im a hornblower fan)

  2. Thanks for the shout-out! :-) I'm so glad to be sitting on the shelf with you. I think it's great LI is branching out into other settings. I personally don't care where or when a book is set as long as it's interesting. :-) Great post!

    Those covers rock, don't they?

  3. I enjoy the American settings, but...that's a foreign setting to me. LOL Although my family is from England, I do tend to favor New World historicals and I think Jenny figured out why for me...I like to read about ordinary folk, and regencies tend to be about the upper classes. I enjoyed Eva's book and Mary Moore's both set across the sea, though. Variety is always refreshing. :)

  4. You know, I enjoy books about regular people as well. I think my favorite regencies are ones where a Regency Lady or Gentleman has to choose between his class or the underclass person he loves.

    Though a true Regency enthusiast will tell you that I'm forcing my "American Mindset" on the Regency Genres and highborn men and women wouldn't have married outside their class for anything back then.

  5. Jessica, I think it's interesting that setting is such a small factor to you. I think you're one of the first people to tell me a book set in the American West (which is what you write) would hold just as much appeal as a Regency.

    Sandra, too cute about the US being a foreign setting for you. My brain knows Canada is a foreign country, but I really don't think of it that way, because CA seems so similar to the US. Then again, maybe that comes from me growing up near the Canadian border and taking day trips into CA all the time. :-)

  6. Jenny, you bring up a really good point in Carla's books. I've only read one of hers, but I LOVED it. But see, even my love of Carla's work I think goes back to my preference for more exotic settings in novels.

  7. I read Madam Tussaud by Michelle Moran last year. It was all about the French Revolution, told through the wax maker's eyes. Very interesting. I'm not usually into French settings, but Moran is my favorite author who writes about Egypt and I was willing to cross over with her. I saw your book at my Walmart on Sunday. It did stand out. I was drawn to the cape the hero is wearing.

  8. Thanks Pamela! Glad you liked the cape. :-)

    You know, I still haven't read Madame Tussaud. Seems like the book would be rather bloody, and not that romantic.

    I should probably state that I'll read a romance set just about anywhere, if it looks good. If the book's not a romance . . . well, good luck with getting me to pick it up!

    I've joined a book club recently and am trying to expand my book choices by reading whatever their pick of the month is. But it might not last to long, because romance will always suck me faster and harder than any other type of book.

  9. Hi Naomi:

    I was blown away by the start of your book! You were just on the Seeker site and spoke about kisses. That was interesting enough for me to download the book right away.

    I thought the book was set in New England and that the people on the cover were Pilgrims.

    When I found out the story takes place in France a few years after the French Revolution, I thought: ‘that’s what we should have been talking about!!!’

    This is one of the most romantic and exciting times in western history. What woman does not want to see Paris? (French lovers. French perfume. The Provencal poets.)

    I have not been so happy with LI since they started publishing Cara Capshaw’s Roman Empire stories!

    If people would read your first few pages, I know they would have to buy the book. You write with the intensity of a man – that is, you are not afraid to be bloody and brutal. You also pay heed to historical facts. The writing is very rich and makes good use of the senses. Your voice is very distinctive. I can see why LI wants a sequel.

    I think you have a great future in store.

    I wish the cover made it clearer about when and where the story takes place. You may need to do that in your blog appearances. I’d try to get your first two pages posted when possible. You write with fire! I wish you were a new issue and I could buy stock in your career. : )


  10. I think the best thing about reading any book is learning new things in a very fresh way rather than sitting down and reading through a text book. So I like different places and time periods but that includes everything as long as the writing keeps me interested :)

    So happy for both you Naomi and Jessica! I find it so fun to see your books on the shelves along with my other writer friends :) Hope you each have a great month and if Vince's post is any indication I think you will ;)

  11. I'm very happy they took a chance on France (doesn't feel very foreign to me) and I hope they continue with even more like Egypt, Russia, Rome. I'd love to see a 19th C story set in Italy, as it seems so many wealthy Brits traveled there and around the continent.

    Congratulations Naomi. I just finished this last night and loved it. I love the depth of the conflict (use of class structure during the Revolution) and the hearts of the h/h. Wonderful

  12. Wow Vince! You think I right like a MAN????? That's the first time I've heard that one. My husband read the opening of my novel, then set it down and said, "You should have had her try to make a fire in the woods with two sticks, not run from soldiers. The fire thing would have at least been interesting." :-)

    Anyway, I'm honored you enjoy my writing. And call me crazy, but I'm still a sucker for those Roman Empire stories. :-)

  13. Oh Vince, I should have explained about the cover. Two things: The clothes worn by the underclass were pretty much the same in the 1700s. Clothes made at home or locally. Little dye used. Wide brimmed hats for farms. Dresses women could lace by themselves without help of a maid, etc. I've had several people comment that they looked like pilgrims. So if I write another French story, we might need to tweak somethings.

    Second, there was a concentrated effort to make the book NOT seem overly French. No French words in the title, no overly French image on the cover. It was thought that any blatant French imagery might detract rather than draw readers.

    And since I'm not a marketing expert, I simply shrug and do as I'm told. I have no idea if the book will do better with "pilgrims" rather than something French on the cover.

  14. Thanks Eva! I must admit, it's pretty fun to have a debut mate with me. Now I just need to get back to reading that debut mate's book!

  15. Deb, I'd love to see something set in Egypt for sure. Italy you could maybe do, with British or American characters. I actually want to see a story set in Bible times. Like Old Testament? I actually have an OT series idea in the back of my mind. My agent says "No way. You'll be doing well enough if you can attract readers to your French stories. You are NOT going to then jump to an OT series."

    Sigh . . . Guess that's life as a writer, huh?

  16. I think what works for Steeple Hill is different than what works for the rest of the Christian market.
    I think you should pursue your OT idea Naomi, in full length form and shop it to someone like Tyndale or Zondervan. They've published OT stories before, with success.
    I write LI and LIS, and am bound by the guidelines that say you can have exotic settings but American characters. I've loved some of the jungle and far east locations other authors have used.

    As a Brit living in the US, I can say that Americans have a distinct national pride that means they will gravitate toward American characters more than foreign ones. Americans have a cultural mindset that is different from other countries and it's easier for them to relate to.

    Personally I think there are WAY too many wild west novels and WAY too many victorian England stories.

    Good for you going for the French revolution. I'll have to pop down to walmart and get your book!

    Natalia Gortova

  17. Natalia, it's not so much that I couldn't write my OT stories, but that creating a reader-base off my French Settings will be hard enough as it is. Creating a reader base that will follow me from a French Rev novel to an OT one? Nearly impossible. It's not that I'd never write those OT stories, it's that it would more than likely be detrimental to my career if I did so right now. So I'm excited to work on a sequel to Sanctuary for a Lady and see what happens. And it will take a while to know how that first French Rev novel sells.

    You know, it's easy to SAY there are too many westerns or too many Regencies or too many whatever, but the reason the market is so flooded with them, is because they do sell. I've heard that most CBA publishers take a 30-40% hit in sales when they publish a European setting. And that bodes poorly for not just the publisher, but the author, who will then have a harder time selling her next novel with low sales figures from a previous book.

    It's a complicated system that doesn't offer simple answers. But for now, I'm very grateful to have my French Revolution story on the shelves. So glad the novel sounds interesting to you!

  18. It is a toughie. I'll give you that.

    I think that's why I've pretty much decided to publish under two different names in different markets with completely different stories.
    Harder - but I'll get to write what I want that way.

  19. YAY, Naomi and Jessica!!! Congrats on your debuts! I was out of town and away from my computer when you were on Seekerville. Sorry I couldn't give a shout out!

    I love historicals set in France. Love the country and the language and the history. :)

    Also love UK settings and the good ole USA!

    Waving to Vince! Naomi writes like a man? Really? Heading to Walmart to get my own copy...

    Will also pick up Jessica's book. :)

  20. I don't care where the story is set as long as I love the characters and their story.

  21. I love historicals set outside the US because I learn so much while I'm enjoying a great story. Did you have to do a great deal of research on this?

  22. I started reading historical romance set in North America, primarily the West. But I have never been a person who is locked into one location, setting or trope.

    You, Jessic and Eva Marie have all produced books with a fresh take on a bit of history I knew vaguely. So give me something to learn and I will read it no matter the country.

    Congrats to all of you and kudos to LIH for putting these books out there!

    Peace, Julie

  23. It's so interesting to hear all the different takes and opinions. I understand why some like close to home authors, and others like the more foreign settings. I suppose it all goes back to your personal preferences. This has been a really fun discussion today!

  24. Natalia, I wish you well with your two different pen names! So much is required of authors with an online presence these days, that I don't know that I would be able to keep up with TWO pen names. One is plenty for me!

  25. Waving at you Debbie, and so sorry I missed you on Seekerville. And just for the record, I'm really not sure that I write like a man. But it did make me laugh!

  26. Hi, Jessica. Danica Favorite "liked" the link to your blog here on Craftie Ladies, so I popped on over. I like a good story, no matter what the setting - well, no, I don't like Oriental or Asian settings for some reason. I like English and European, but mainly because of some great stories I've read - The Guernsey Literary and Sweet Potato Pie Society, anything by Jacqueline Winspear. I just read The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, set in ancient Israel - the story of Masada from the eyes of 4 women. I haven't read anything in France, but as long as it's not post WWII, I'd be
    happy to try it!

  27. Sounds like you're really open to any and all books Dana. That's great! The Dovekeepers sounds really interesting. I'll have too look that one up, except if everyone dies in the end, maybe I don't want to. :-( I'm a sucker for those happy endings.

  28. It takes a very special set-up to get me to read the typical 19th century America offering. I'll read stuff set in Colorado because I love the mountains there, but that's about it. I don't like prairie romances and there are only two authors who can get me to read stuff set in Texas.

    If you set a prairie romance in front of me, next to one in the same year set on the Eastern seaboard, I'll pick the Eastern seaboard every time. But if you set any American setting next to a European setting, I'll pick the European one every time. (unless it's a Regency, I don't particularly care for those)

    I'm writing about the plantation South right now, but my dream is to work my way into Russia as a setting and happily stay there for the rest of my life.

  29. I can now understand a bit more why its hard for Aussies to get there books into america. While we have great writers alot of americans only want to read about there own country.

    Here we dont have alot of choice its American settings or nothing or it was for a long time. We now are getting more aussie books out there.

    I think I like the western ones cos I have always loved westerns but its the rugged area and the taming of the area. Its also the open space and beauty and there is often a sense of community as people have to pull together to help each other.
    I think part of wanting to read about ordinary folk as Sandra calls them is that in reality I would have been more likely to be one of the poorer people working hard to make a go of things than ever being in the upper class.

    I said I dont like regency's but its the class system. I am not mad on some set in America where its the upper class either. I love the war stories also. I love to learn history.

  30. LOL Jenny! I feel like everything's clear as mud after the conversation today, but I'm glad it helped you understand some. I think an Australian setting would probably do better in the ABA market than in the CBA. The CBA publishers aren't ignorant of marketing and foreign settings. Quite the opposite. They're very conscious of it. But if one of their authors sets a book in Australia and sells only half the copies of her US set books, it means bye-bye Australian settings.

    So we'll have to see how books like Eva's and mine and that one set in Africa sell. Hopefully they'll hold there own, and if they do, you'll probably see more and more settings. Maybe even Australia. :-)

    To me, this makes the popularity of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stories even more stunning. I'd wager right now is the only time this century you'll see a book set in Sweden be so popular. And it is a bit unfair for other English speaking countries to have so much of the market determined by American readers. But then, other English speaking countries must not have as large of a readership as the United States as well.

    The whole topic is rather interesting and circles round and round. Hope this explained things for you a little better though!

  31. I really hope the Russia thing works out for you, Rachel!

  32. Naomi, I'm halfway through your book right now, and I love it.

    I wish HLI would continue to take risks with settings and time periods. I've seen them experiment with quite a number of different ones.

    I personally like anything from the French Revolution time period on up through World War II, and most any country could be intriguing.

  33. So glad you're enjoying the book, Cathy! And as for LIH taking on more settings, time will tell. :-)

  34. Naomi, what you said about american readership is true. There is a reason Americans have a bigger readership than say Australia. you have a population of around 313,343,000
    Australia has a population of 22,875,200, UK 62,262,000, Canada 34,765,500. If you add Australia, the UK, and Canada we are still only about a third of the states population. Which is why you have a bigger say. The interesting thing is in land mass Canada is bigger and Australia is not that much smaller but our population is so much less.

    I think one thing that would make a foreign setting more appealing for some Americans is having one of the hero's an American, for example with the one in Africa they are missionaries there. This is why Robin Jones Gunn's Sisterchick books were so good and popular you see the heroines are Americans visiting another place so its still got the american feel to it. (I liked it myself because when they were in Australia it was from an American's point of view and she didn't try to be aussie in the book).

  35. I'm really surprised that the Canadian population is so low. I Expected the UK and Australia to be lower than us, but Canada seems like it should have more people! :-)

    And Jenny, you are on to something when you say that publishers are more likely to take on a novel with American characters in a foreign setting than they are foreign characters. Thanks for that insight!

  36. It's been an interesting discussion all around today. Thanks everyone who participated!

  37. I really like the banner you have up!

    As for settings, I love a variety!

  38. Excuse the banner comment. That was for Sandra's post! LOL

    But the setting comment was today. :)

  39. I like American books, but that being said, if I like the author, I'm gonna buy the book no matter where her characters decide to live. ;)

  40. I've been in the states all my life and hope to one day go to another country. I enjoy reading where the setting is in a different country. It gives me a chance to imagine what it would be like to be there:) If I had to choose between US & other country, I'd choose another country. However, I'm not against stories that take place in US...I just like a variety:) Hope this helps some.

  41. I've been in the states all my life and hope to one day go to another country. I enjoy reading where the setting is in a different country. It gives me a chance to imagine what it would be like to be there:) If I had to choose between US & other country, I'd choose another country. However, I'm not against stories that take place in US...I just like a variety:) Hope this helps some.