Readers Guidelines for the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction

The purpose of the prize is to acknowledge those novels that are a combination of excellent fiction and excellent American history. Keeping in mind that few books are perfect, the following are general guidelines to help you decide if a particular novel is a possible candidate for the prize.


  1. The dominant story line must take place prior to 1950. Split-time novels are eligible but only when the majority of the story takes place prior to 1950.This can be a difficult call. When in doubt, contact the members of the selection committee.

    Novels set in any part of the United States are eligible as are novels set in the English, French, or Spanish colonial era of any part of the present United States.

  2. Novels set outside of the United States or its colonial past are eligible if the larger portion of the story is set within the United States. An example is an immigrant story that begins in a foreign country.
  3. Novels set entirely outside of the United States or its colonial past are eligible if American values and characters are the major theme of the book. Examples include novels that involve the American military abroad or disaffected American expatriates abroad.
  4. Self-published and subsidized novels are not eligible.
  5. Romance, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, horror, inspiration, and children’s literature are not eligible. However, literary novels that contain some elements of romance, mystery, or spirituality are eligible.
  6. Novels that assert the reality of supernatural events are not eligible. Novels that assert characters’ belief in the reality of supernatural events are eligible.


It’s important that candidates include a historical sense of the time period. Throughout the story, the reader should be aware of the era and the influences of the times. It’s also important to remember that readers will assume the novel is historically accurate and is “the truth.”

The following are general guidelines.

  1. Some novels depict life during a particular era. The characters are not historical figures but are ordinary people. If there is a strong sense of the era and/or historical events that surround the characters, the novel can qualify. An example might be a 1920’s family trying to save their farm when their crops fail or a multi-generational family whose experiences illuminate their eras in which they lived.
  2. Other novels include historical figures. It’s expected the author must imagine their dialogue and emotions. However, if the historical characters are doing things that don’t fit or contradict their known profiles, this can possibly disqualify the novel.
  3. Other novels revolve around historical events such as wars or natural disasters. Depictions of the events must be as accurate as possible. Candidates for the prize should not alter major historical facts.
  4. Novels should illuminate American history so that readers gain new insight about a time period, event, or historical figure.
  5. Novels that have a narrow coverage of a specific past event or person are not eligible unless the event or person are placed within a broader historical context.
  6. Details about inventions and descriptions of actual places should be as accurate as possible.
  7. Language and word choice should be appropriate for the time period.
  8. Prevailing cultural points of view for the time period should also be as accurate as possible.


It’s difficult to judge the quality of writing and this is often subjective. The following are general guidelines.

  1. The plot should flow and feel natural. Plots that are contrived, rely on too many coincidences, or stretch credibility should be eliminated.
  2. The characters are well developed. You have a sense of who they are and you understand their actions. You care about them and want to know what will happen next.
  3. The author has avoided the use of confusing sentences, the frequent use of adverbs and exclamation marks, and does not belabor points that have been made.
  4. The story doesn’t drift and is easy to follow. The dialogue rings true and the descriptive passages allow you to see the scene.
  5. While reading, you aren’t jarred or confused. You understand what is happening and where the scenes take place.
  6. The book is a pleasure to read.

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