This feels like a real "duh doy" thing to talk about, but it really matters: are you reading enough?
One of the most important and difficult parts of my job is to make sure I'm keeping up with books that are being published. I need to know not just which editors are looking for specific kinds of books (for romance, for example, I have a list of people who have told me they love cowboy books), but what people are buying, and what's selling. My regular "reading" for work includes trade publications like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, bestseller lists like The New York Times and USA Today, and the lists of recent book deals on Publishers Marketplace. (login required)
But I also have to make it a point to actually read the books that are selling particularly well, to make sure I have a good handle on the genres I represent. I also try to read anything "zeitgeisty," whether it's my cup of tea or not, because the American public tends to get really excited about just one or two books a year, and the subsequent sales of those books blow everything else out of the water. I believe that it's part of my job as an agent to have at minimum a passing familiarity with those popular books, if nothing else because if I tried to sell a children's book series set in a magical boarding school in Britain, I would embarrass the hell out of myself.
This goes for writers too. Whatever your feelings about Amazon, the site is full of great resources for writers, including an at-your-fingertips list of the books that are selling well in your genre, no matter how narrow. Amazon can quickly tell you what your competition is, and (roughly) how well it's doing, relative to all the other books available. Here is a link to the current Amazon bestsellers in the category "Women's Fiction."
Here's where I take a strong stance: if you're not familiar with at least 75% of the big sellers in your category, you are not reading enough-- and you are not doing your job as an author.
What are some of the benefits of reading other writers?
1) Reading other writers will help teach you the tropes of your genre. You can absorb a lot of information about what elements must be included in your story...and maybe what elements have become cliche' and should be avoided.
2) Reading other writers will give you a sense of others' writing style. Read too much of one author and your writing can start to sound like mimicry; read deeply and widely across the whole genre and you begin to develop your own voice.
3) Reading other writers will help you market your own work when it comes time to query agents and/or publishers. I can say from experience that when I get a query for historical romance that says the manuscript has "the wit of Julia Quinn and the sexiness of Stephanie Laurens," I sit up and pay attention. Doing your homework can really pay off.
4) Reading other writers supports the publishing industry: bookstores, libraries, publishers, and agents. If you want in on the publishing ecosystem, you have a vested interest in keeping the whole thing afloat. The best writers are fans first.
What are some other reasons to read?