publish.me: The Best Writers Are Avid Readers
Every year I set a personal goal of reading 120 books outside of my regular agency reading. Within those 120 books, I aim to read some books my publishing colleagues have worked on. It’s a goal to stay sharp professionally and also a chance to have some non-work reading time for myself. While I’m currently behind on my annual goal (it has been a busy year), reading books for fun is something I absolutely enjoy.
The larger goal is to keep my agent eyes fresh—to hit the figurative reset button after reading so many manuscripts at the agency. It’s the equivalent of a palate cleanser, except that I dine on words.
For anyone who takes their writing seriously, it’s essential that one reads just as much as they write. Ignoring other books will not be to any author’s advantage. A solid reading habit reflects a willingness to learn and study other published writers. This is a chance to see how these stories are told—what worked and what didn’t—and hopefully find some inspiration between the pages.
For your own book’s category, it’s imperative you’ve read that category widely and deeply. As an agent, I hesitate if a potential client says that they’ve written a book in a specific category but have never read any of that category’s books. How is a person supposed to write for an audience they aren’t familiar with? Reading other works within your intended category is crucial and, in my opinion, the best (and most fun) part of the research process. It will help familiarize any writer with future comparables (books of similar nature in scope, narrative style, and/or topic) for their book; and, upon publication, future reviews by those same published authors.
The next step is to read outside of your writing categories. If you usually write fiction, it’s a good idea to read some nonfiction as well as fiction. You’d be surprised at the number of ideas for novels that correlate to something that happened in real life (and I’m not talking about memoirs). We’re talking about moments in history, politics, family, pets, funny and sad topics, and more. I can always tell a writer is well read if they are clearly referring to some seriously interesting content that would not be found in a Wikipedia entry. I truly believe that some of the best stories come from reading nonfiction (essays, books, etc.)—and vice versa. The storytelling will always be stronger if the writer is acquainted with a wide variety of narrative styles.
For “fun,” I’m currently reading a work of narrative nonfiction, a memoir, and four novels in different genres (YA, literary fiction, middle grade, and commercial fiction). They are a nice break from the agency reading and have added a pep to my agent step in the day-to-day duties at Red Sofa Literary. This will be a lifelong habit, and a good one.
If you haven’t tried this experiment, try it out. Your storytelling will benefit in the end.
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner and literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. Red Sofa Literary is a celebration of the quirky, eclectic ideas in our publishing community. Dawn’s previous experience reflects a broad knowledge of the book business, with over a decade of experience as a bookseller in the independent, chain, and specialty stores, an editor for a YA publisher, and an associate literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. Dawn earned a BS in Human Ecology and a MS in Library & Information Sciences from an ALA-accredited institution. She is also one of the founders of the MN Publishing Tweet Up, which brings writers and publishers together over a monthly happy hour. Red Sofa Literary was voted as one of the Best 101 Websites by Writer’s Digest in 2012 and 2013.