Historical fiction author Ann Rinaldi puts a warning label on each of her books—literally. On the back covers of her novels, you’ll find a block of text that reads, “WARNING: This is a historical novel. Read at your own risk. The writer feels it necessary to alert you to the fact that you might enjoy it.”
Seeing that warning on the back of Ms. Rinaldi’s latest release made me think about the way teens perceive historical fiction. I know many teens who refuse to so much as look at historical novels because they find their history classes at school boring. They see history as a bunch of dry facts to be crammed into their brains for the next test, and never stop to consider that history is actually about stories—many of which are very interesting.
Because so many teens have an aversion to historical fiction, those of us who write it are, in a way, aiming for a slightly different market than other YA authors. Of course it would be wonderful if a teen who never liked history picked up your book and fell in love with it. But if your novel is going to stay in print, people have to buy it, and the people who are going to buy a YA historical novel are mostly members of that specific group of teens who like history.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—I’ve found that many historical fiction lovers are voracious readers who buy tons of books and are loyal to authors they like—but it does mean the average teen consumer is less likely to pick up your novel.
Do you think historical fiction can be a hard sell to the average teenager?
Does it bother you that many teens don’t like history, or are you just happy for the ones that do?
Melissa Luttmann is the YA Editorial Assistant for Wonders and Marvels. You can read more about her here: Editorial Staff.