One of my favorite tools for researching the historical fiction market is Amazon.com. Yes, I realize that many authors find some of their business practices questionable…but of all the sites selling books on the Internet, Amazon has by far the largest selection. If you know how to handle its search functions, you can get an excellent idea about what books publishers are putting out. Amazon’s advanced search allows you to sort books by publication date, reader age, publisher, and more, and when you look specifically at historical fiction books, you can organize them by what part of the world they cover. That tool is especially useful when you want to know whether the publisher you’re interested publishes any novels set outside the United States.
What I find especially handy about Amazon, though, is its “Look Inside” function, which allows you to view the covers, first pages, and back matter of most recently published books. Of course it’s preferable to read entire books, but if you’re just beginning to research publishers (or if you’re trying to decide whether to buy a book!), this tool is quite useful. By examining the tone of the first few pages and seeing what back matter, if any, the book has, you can often find a given publisher’s approach to historical fiction. Is it very close to nonfiction, or more of a just-tell-a-good-story approach? The same goes for nonfiction: does the publisher handle only reference type books, or are they more narrative in nature?
Whether you actually buy books from Amazon, of course, is a personal choice, but I’d highly recommend getting to know the site for research purposes. You might be surprised at the wealth of information you discover.
Regardless of where you purchase your books, do you ever use Amazon for research? Do you find it handy to be able to look inside books online to get an idea of a publisher’s style?
Melissa Luttmann is Associate Editor for Young Adult History/Historical Fiction at Wonders & Marvels.