I’m sure you’ve heard people say “oh well I think the best way to become a great writer, is to read books!” and I am wholeheartedly someone who believes this. I’ve seen agents on Twitter in query hashtags talking about their thoughts for queries, and often you read “Person who obviously has never read X-Genre is pitching a X-Genre book, PASS!” so I think it’s evident that this is good general advice.
Take this from me, as someone who was smacked in the face with the reality of the fact that it is really hard to write a genre or age that you’ve never read a book in. How are you supposed to know the formatting? The tropes? The maturity levels? I made the fun mistake of writing a book in the summer of 2015. While I was outlining and writing it, I didn’t know if it would be YA or Adult. I just…wrote it. By the time I finished, I realized it was too mature for a YA book (half of the protagonists are in their 40’s + some other stuff!) so that meant it was an Adult book. As a YA junkie I had read maybe like 4 or 5 Adult fantasy or sci-fi books in my lifetime. Upon realization of this, and rereading my manuscript, I realized how much it SHOWED. While characters may have been age appropriately characterized, the writing style and plots used were very YA inspired, so it really didn’t work together.
I don’t plan on giving up on this book, but I definitely need to read like 100 more Adult fantasy and sci-fi books before I’d feel comfortable tackling that again and creating a book that will actually work for the target audience.
Aside from the age of the audience reading, I feel like as a writer, reading any type of book is great. Read across genres as much as you can–even if you don’t like a genre, pick up a book in one that sounds intriguing and give it a try!–and just absorb everything! What did you like about it, what did you dislike? Read books you know you’ll love! Read books you think you’ll hate but end up loving! Read books you pluck off the shelf on a whim and end up disliking it! Because you know what? When you step back and look at the things that made you like or dislike a book, you’ll start to get a good picture of the ways you can write well and the things you want to avoid as a writer. It’s the kind of research and information that you can’t get from reading a blog essay. No one can do this for you, it’s all up to you and your beautiful writing brain and the books you read.
I feel as if writing goes hand in hand with reading. I’m typically not inspired to read unless I’m also actively writing, and vise versa. And I feel like every time I pick up a new book, I’m going to learn something new about what I want to incorporate into my personal writing. It’s invaluable experience and information that only you can figure out for yourself.
So, go forth my fellow writers, and read all that you can get your hands on! Libraries are great for doing this experiment, since you can grab books of ages and genres you’ve never read or think you’ll dislike, take them home and return them if they’re too bad for your tastes or keep them for a while and it’s all free! (Yes, I’m boosting libraries in my blog, sue me, but they’re amazing places and you don’t have to own a bazillion books to be a reader or a writer!)