It seems obvious. If you’re a writer, you have to read!
I know most of you are readers. But I’m regularly surprised at how many writers confess to not reading widely in the genre they’re writing. Or any genre, for that matter.
Read in the genre you want to write
At one conference, I met with a lady who was writing a suspense novel. I asked who her favorite suspense authors were and she got that deer-in-the-headlights look, and hemmed and hawed. I felt bad for her because it was like she’d finally been found out! I gently suggested she take a break from writing and spend some time sitting on the front porch with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of books. What could be wrong with that?
Of course, I wonder why anyone would even want to write a particular genre if they don’t read it. I mean, is there a fashion designer who doesn’t like clothes? Would you be a lawyer if you didn’t care about the law?
But more importantly, if you are not well-read, you will not be a good writer. If you haven’t read widely in a particular genre, you won’t have a strong understanding of that genre.
Quantity + Quality
I recommend you not only read as much as you can, but also pay attention to the quality of the books you read. You’ll naturally soak in the styles of writing that you’re reading. You’ll subconsciously learn about story structure and good dialogue and sentence construction and countless other aspects of writing. If you read nothing but bodice-ripper romances, don’t expect to sit down and write a literary masterpiece. (Note: I have nothing against bodice-ripper romances.) If you’re reading a steady diet of self-published books that haven’t been through the rigorous editorial scrutiny of a publisher, you might not be helping yourself.
Mix it up
It’s a good idea to read outside of your natural preferences sometimes, too. Give yourself some variety, open yourself up to different styles, genres, topics. You’ll learn something and maybe even find a new interest. That’s why I like book clubs, since they usually encourage us to read books others have suggested, rather than our own choices. Many reading groups, book-related podcasts, and websites like Goodreads have “Challenges” you can join, in which you’re trying to read all kinds of books that wouldn’t necessarily be your regular go-to. This keeps your reading fresh!
Don’t mistake this post to mean I want you to write like other writers, or consciously emulate them (although that’s not always a bad idea when you’re a new writer). I just want you to enjoy yourself while always becoming a stronger writer. And I want you to be an informed consumer of the product you are trying to sell.
And for those of you who are already readers, what have you been reading lately?
Photo by Lenin Estrada on Unsplash
Great post and advice for authors about reading. As an acquisitions editor, I’ve had authors have the deer-in-the-headlights look when I ask them about reading in the genre. It does not make you want to read their submissions.
I read mostly nonfiction but once a year I have a “guilty pleasure” and it is coming next week from novelist Daniel Silva. I’ve read all of his books, read his newsletter, actually met him years ago at a book signing, yes I’m a fan. I ordered his signed copy of THE ORDER from Barnes & Noble several months ago (same price as the regular book but a way he gets more pre-orders). I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of this novel to begin reading.
author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed
I discovered Daniel Silva’s books in October. I’ve basically binged since then. Can’t wait for this next one. 🙂
I’ve been devouring Rachel Hauck books lately.
How do agents feeL if they ask about your favorite books and you name books that are 10-15 years old or older (bit not classics) ?Two are my favorite series to this day were published in 2005-2008. I read current books but they don’t live up to what I loved about those two series.
I couldn’t agree more. You have to read to write. And the more broadly the better. I always pick up something. I’ve also learned the value of audiobooks. It helps me here things I miss when reading. Both have advantages 🙂
Am I a reader?
Well, gosh, Let’s see. Barb’s bedroom is the only part of the house we can economically cool, so I’ve blocked the door open a bit that I can sit in a bit of airflow, and peruse a table of offsets for the hydroplane I am building for her (it’s a Class E, should be good to 110 mph on the water).
The dunny is a few steps away. With pancreatic cancer, that’s vital.
When I get too tired to chart hull and sponson frames, I have a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia at hand, to help me rest…and if conciousness goes, it’s a good place to be. Aslan and the Pevensies are good company in the space between life and death.
Guess I am a reader.
You read, you live the dream, even as it slides out of reach.
We’re kindred spirits, Andrew. I too reread The Chronicles of Narnia–the paperback covers are hanging by threads (or packing tape!).
I could not think of a better kindred spirit to have, Shirlee, and can think of no better shared cause.
Janet Ann Collins
I write fiction for kids because that’s what I love to read. With the Corvid limits to going places and libraries closed I’ve read several hundred middle grade books from my own shelves.
Great advice. I’m interested in publishing articles and blog posts online in the Christian sphere. I’m planning to spend the next few months soaking up faith-based online magazines and blogs before submitting.
I just devoured all nine books in the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal. Brilliant writing, and I found I preferred hearing it on Audible to reading after the first few books. The narrator is fabulous and became the voice of Maggie. Not all books do that for me. The only other one that comes to mind is What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon, a time slip novel about Ireland that is now one of my top ten favorite books ever. Another book I am re-reading soon is a top ten forever favorite The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Also a time slip with the Jacobite revolution factored in (not even close to my favorite historical time period), the protagonist is a writer which is always fun.
My Genre Focus Disorder requires me to read in multiple genres. I always have two or three books going at once. Right now I’m dipping back in time. I’m reading “Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin, because I wanted to get unfiltered what it was he said. Together, the wife and I are reading “Pride and Prejudice”, because neither of us had ever read it, watched the movie lately, and were confused by the story. I’m also about to get back to the works of Josephus, for research, not for pleasure.
I recently discovered Kelly Irvin’s books: Tell Her No LIes, and Closer Than She Knows. Beyond the compelling storylines, I loved her use of deep point of view and the confrontation between our gritty world and the Christian worldview.
Good advice, Rachelle. I read a variety of non-fiction Bible-based book. The first time I read something by Warren Wiersbe, I felt like I was reading my own writing but didn’t know why. It wasn’t that my writing style mirrored his. I eventually realized it was the thought process–apparently, my mind works like his. Reading something from him is like going home.
I’ve always been a big reader, but when I started writing children’s books and middle grade fiction I read a lot of it…still do. I also read historical fiction and cozy mysteries because I write historicals and would love to try a cozy mystery one day.
Right now I am reading Hunting Teddy Roosevelt by James Ross.
Hope you have a great week.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I stopped reading but kept writing for a couple of years. We had 3 small sons and I would fall exhausted on the couch each night and watch a show with my husband and then go to bed. It was a writing book that reminded me to return to my love of reading. It took sacrifices. I stopped watching TV in the evening with my husband. There simply wasn’t time to do both. But we still have a date night where we watch a show together once a week. But returning to reading reminded me why I loved to write and that there is nothing else in the world that relaxes me more than a good book. They feed my heart and my soul. I gain variety by exchanging books with a friend. We try to pick our very favorite book of the year in the genre that the other one hates! It is very fun and I always find something to love about her choice, even while complaining about it. Last year, she sent me A Gentleman in Moscow and I sent her Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians! It is such a fun tradition!!!