Writing advice is always subjective. It’ll depend on the person giving the advice and the experience they had. There are rules you should follow, but if you’re good enough you can get away with not following them. So people say write every day, some people say don’t push yourself. Some say you need to outline books before you write them while others say you need to let your characters lead your story. Honestly, any piece of advice needs to be held up against your current writing habits and whether or not you’re getting positive feedback.
Except for this: you must read in the genre you write in.
And not just books that were published years ago. You need to have a good handle at what books are being published now.
Part of this is for when you query. You need to be able to come up with comparative titles from within the past few years. This shows the agent or editor you’re querying that you understand what the market is for the genre you’re writing in and where your project fits into it. This also shows the agent or editor that you understand the genre that you’re writing in. You understand the voice needed to write young adult or middle grade. You understand what it takes to write literary fiction or the tropes accepted in romance.
The other part of the fact that you need to read in the genre you write in is that you actually need to understand your genre. I’ve seen many pieces where the author felt their book was one genre, but ended up belonging to a completely different genre. In my experience, not knowing how to write characters younger (or older) than ourselves is a big problem writers face.
“But I don’t have time to read!” – Anonymous writer
I’ve heard this excuse a lot. Not from any of my clients (because they are all amazing), but I’ve seen this on Twitter. I’ve heard this from writers who, like so many of us, don’t have sponsors and whose writing time is so incredibly limited. I get it. I really do. Making time to read is hard when you’re being pulled in a million different directions. You don’t want to let other people down and, yes, it’s possible that you feel actually writing is far more important than reading.
But it’s not.
Reading is part of the writing process. Not just reading your own work, or a critique partner’s. You need to read recently published books. You need to see what techniques authors are using, the way dialogue is handled, and even the way things like texting is handled. We’re living in a constantly changing world and the books we’re writing need to reflect that.
Of all of the things graduate school has taught me, learning how to read as a writer has been the most useful. As a writer, you need to study new books and best sellers. Read reviews and talk to people about what worked for them in that book or what didn’t. But don’t forget to read for fun, too. Read to be inspired, to relax, to support a friend’s new release.
We (editors) don’t tell you to read in your genre to be mean. We don’t tell you this because we don’t think you know what you’re doing. We want you to succeed AND save time on having to re-edit your manuscript over and over, and save money on having to hire more editors to help you with your project. We want to save you from rejections.
So put reading in to your writing schedule. Make notes. Understand what works in your genre and what doesn’t. Figure out voice.
You’ll be amazed at how much your writing changes.