This week I have a chat with Gordon Doherty about the complexities of writing historical fiction, and why fans of the genre can be a little more demanding about the accuracies of the novel than others. We also chat about how Gordon successfully branched out into translations (through a publisher) and audiobooks. Show notes at rspcast.com/gordon.
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Strategos – Gordon’s latest series.
Legionary Audiobook – The book I narrated for Gordon.
Natural Reader – Have your manuscript read back to you! Perfect for spotting errors.
Gordon’s first book was a 120,000 historical fiction piece, certainly a complicated place to get started. He said that he had been reading so much about the period that he already had a place in his mind, and he eventually realized it was time to write something in that world. Still, it took him years to write the first book, but by the time it was ready self-publishing was really a realistic option. As well as having the world in his head, he has built piles of documentation that he can go to, not just for information, but as a way to get mentally back into the world.
Wikipedia is a great source, although he does note that it is important to make sure that the facts are accurate. Although he does note that even the original sources that Wikipedia uses can be biased, just like any historical document. When writing Gordon always tries to remember that each historical person has their own biases and history isn’t always accurate.
With historical fiction the readers can be a little more “communicative” about specific issues in the books relating to research. This leads to spending more time researching that with a lot of other genres. Gordon says “accuracy is important … but don’t spend an entire chapter describing a loom.”
Gordon also takes trips to the places he is writing about, he says that the online research can provide a great level of detail and information, but going there allows him to add a more immersive feel to his books. He will go through the draft of the book after he has taken a trip and add to its atmosphere with his real experience of the place. Obviously there are some places he can’t or didn’t want to visit (Syria), so for those he just relies on online research.
Gordon uses the Kindles text to speech function to have it read the manuscript back to him so he can spot errors, while he admits this is a boring process, he finds it leaves him with a very clean manuscript. I’ve previously mentioned the app NaturalReader.
After that it will go to his beta readers and they will spot the remaining mistakes. He did work with an editor for a time, but he was still finding mistakes in his manuscript and wasn’t sure that they were adding much to the overall process of writing the book. Having read one of his books, I can say that they are remarkably clean.
Gordon did his own over at the start and was pleased with it. But a reader got in touch saying that they very nearly didn’t buy the book because of the cover. It was at that point that he realized that perhaps his cover was not as great as he thought it might be! The cover was a “game changer” and once he had it completed and put on his books his sales just started increasing.
Translations and Audiobooks
Gordon has had audiobooks and translations of his books created. He says these are great extra ways to get the word out and bring in some extra money. For audiobooks he has worked with me (and directly with ACX for his second series). Translations also came out of the blue with a publisher approaching him to have it translated into Italian.
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