2/23/09

To Read or Not to Read

I have an author friend who refuses to read any book in the genre she's writing in—ever! She says she doesn't want to be influenced by the writing of others. That she's afraid she'll be rejected if she sounds too much like someone else. That she wants to be a "fresh, new voice" in her genre. To me, this is just ridiculous (and we've had more than one heated discussion about this). What do you think?

I agree with you. I've heard this argument many times but it just doesn't hold true.

Like any other business, to be successful, you have to understand your competition. You have to know what they're doing and why you're different. I love submissions that say, "Readers who liked [books A, B and C] will probably like mine because [whatever reason that it's similar]. However, my book differs from those in that [your unique slant on things]." I immediately know where to put that book on the shelf, how to sell it, and who the audience is. It makes my job lots easier.

As for the concern that she'll be influenced by someone else's style. . . not if she reads widely enough. I could see someone putting their reading on hold for a few months while they're actively writing, maybe, but in general, I think this is a mistake.

What about you writers out there? What do you think?

9 comments:

Danyelle Ferguson said...

I read as much as I possibly can - in all genres. I love to see how other authors make their characters come alive and create interesting twists in their plot lines. Sometimes I find something that makes me sit up and say "WOW! I love that!" and I'll jot down a reference to that book & page/chapter. It's usually something I admire (adding suspense or mystery - or keeping the reader for guessing the ending) and want to work on learning how to add to my own writing. I love learning from others and, aside from attending conferences, reading is the best way for me to learn from "the masters".

Annette Lyon said...

I know of writers who make this same argument--and when I've read their work, it's dry, flat, lifeless, and sloppy.

I think you need to read a lot--in your own genre and others. A friend once described fiction as a language and said that to be fluent in it, you have to immerse yourself in it regularly.

I think that's an apt metaphor. You can't write well if you don't read a lot--including in your chosen genre.

Jennie said...

I've been told by a number of writers that they don't have time to read because they're too busy writing, they don't read in their own genre for the reasons mentioned,or they find some other excuse for not reading. Their work is boring, unrealistic, and flat. To write successfully, I think a writer has to constantly update his/her skills by reading both the best of past writers and the innovations of the new. No matter which field a person works in, it pays to keep skills polished and up-to-date. Writers do that through reading.

Josi said...

I am currently writing in a genre that I've never completed reading an entire novel in. I picked up some culinary mysteries and found them boring, too gourmet and the characters were just annoying. However, the genre is a sub-genre of a larger genre and I have read many of those and studied the structures of mystery novels. I think the risk you run if you don't read in your genre is that you won't understand the genre expectations, which puts you in danger of not meeting them. Especially for new writers, you must fulfill your reader's expectations if you want to find an audience. So, while I think reading is important, and understanding your genre is important, sometimes NOT reading that genre won't necessarily hurt you. That said, a new writer needs to know what they are competing against, and what a fresh/new voice in that genre would even sound like. AND a confident writer will have their own style, they won't absorb someone else's unless they are trying to copy it.

Th. said...

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If you don't read the genre, you end up retreading things that may seem fresh to you but were tired decades ago.

Traci Hunter Abramson said...

Reading in your genre is kind of like doing the required homework in school. It's hard to make the mark if you don't understand the material fully.

Typically when I'm writing, I re-read books so that the only plot I'm fully engaged in is my own. With that said, when I'm not actively writing a novel, I do read widely, both in my genre and in related ones.

Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury said...

If I didn't love to read the genre I'm writing in, how could I get excited enough about the stories I'm writing to make the reader excited? I would hate not to be able to read the kinds of books I love to read and write.

Rebecca Talley said...

When I was working on a chapter book, I not only read those books, I dissected them to learn the structure, the language, the plotting (which isn't much in chapter books), and the overall feel. I kept a log of each book in a notebook so I could refer to it.

When I read novels I keep track of what I think works and what doesn't--characterization, dialogue, description, word usage. I read in my genre and others.

Alison Palmer said...

Reading in your genre, and every other for that matter, is very important. You simply can't compete if you don't know what the rules are.
That being said: I write for a very small niche in nonfiction. When I am actively writing for that audience I will not pick up a book by my competition. That's because it's way too easy to take someone else's ideas instead of coming up with your own. It's just too risky. If I'm not actively writing I will still read things by my competition. I appreciate their work and creativity.