Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writing Advice Wednesday: Read.

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?


G.M. said...

True. Authors have to read the best sellers in their genre to understand why readers like some books. If you want readers to buy your book, you have to comprehend what make readers buy a book, enjoy reading it and tell their friends to also buy it. Because of limitations of time, I make a point to read the summary of the storyline of books in the news. Then I also read the first pages to understand the style of writing. Understanding style of writing, especially how words can create emotions is very important, at least for me. I want to understand how best selling authors created a main character who is likeable that readers really about it about her or him. (I'm looking forward for your post about this point). Your four benefits of reading other writers make a lot of sense.

Adele Carsson said...

I would add "Read because you love reading."

When crafting anything from nothing, the only quality that will separate you from any other well-intentioned, aspiring author is sheer grit. Love it enough, and you'll find the willpower to keep going even after you've erase 5000 God-awful words for the 5000th time and are staring down a long, dark, narrow tunnel at a mere pinprick of light the represents THE END.

And that love of your craft means not just a love of writing, but a love of the Written Word as a religion, and you will need to love reading for the sake of what you believe in.

And...if you do it in public, it makes you look smart.

R. A. Sawyer said...

Thanks for the advice.

Genre reading has changed my writing, and it's good to be reminded why it's important.