If you read my last column, you’ll know that when I started writing, I was pretty clueless. (Hoping this has changed.) I wrote that first book and didn’t realize I’d written a love story. But after joining Midwest Fiction Writers (MFW), I thought I just might be a romance writer. And at a meeting, I first heard the refrain—Read Your Genre.
I’d never read a romance. I was better than that, more intelligent than a woman who reads those books. I was a CFO who couldn’t be caught reading a bodice-ripper.
But during my next trip to B Dalton, I bought my favorite sci-fis and thrillers and then snuck down to the Romance section and tucked some books under my favorite Ben Bova and Michael Crichton.
Thank goodness. I don’t know which book I picked up first, To Whitney, My Love or a Nora Roberts, but I fell in love.
I saw the light. I converted.
I bought backlists. (B&N second-hand book stores back then.) Found authors through anthologies. And read and read and read. And assumed that all authors did the same. To my surprise, I’ve talked to writers who don’t make the time.
Last year, during Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ address at the Spring Fling conference, she chastised writers to read. To paraphrase: “How can you expect to be writers, if you don’t read what’s being purchased by editors?” She clarified that her comment wasn’t insinuating that we should become mimics, but that we need to understand what was being published. And further, if we wanted to be best-selling authors, we needed to read best-selling authors.
I should note that Connie Brockway mention at an MFW meeting that she couldn’t read when she was writing because of the confusion of voices, but as a mother of 5 kids, I’ve always been able to segment life from work.
In a Mary Buckham Pacing class, her comments on reading went deeper. Read the genre you want to be published it, but don’t look to books published more than five years ago. Newer books reflect what the editors are currently buying.
I’ve taken their advice one step further. I try and read debut novels in my genre. Then I ask: what caught the editor’s eye? What distinguished this book from other manuscripts I’ve read in contests? What allowed this author to break down the barriers to publication?
So my humble advice? Don’t feel guilty when you read. I don’t. I’m just doing research.