Developing your reading list: A strategy for authors (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop)

Developing your reading list A Strategy for authors

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I don’t know about you, but I feel like the adage, “Writers are Readers,” has been drilled deep into the recesses of my mind with one of these guys. →

But with so many options and only so many reading hours in the day, how do we as authors narrow to the most practical reading list?

There’s this great Writers Digest book by Gabriela Pereira: DIY MFA. It’s all about how authors can fashion their very own self-guided Masters of Fine Arts degree without stepping foot in a university. It’s what inspired this post.

The logical side of my brain needed a way to sort the options, and the result is my list of the eight categories of books (and articles) we should be thinking about when determining our reading list, which you’ll find below. Should you read more widely than this? You’re the boss. You decide what material will enhance your skills.

Before we get to the categories, remember three things:

  1. Try not to feel overwhelmed. A Masters of Fine Arts takes two to three years, so don’t feel like every free second needs to be spent reading. Pace yourself.
  2. Read like a writer. Gone are the days of reading strictly for pleasure. You should be dissecting books. Read for plot structure, syntax tricks, voice, tone, etc. Read to increase your vocabulary, to see how an author creates humor, and more.
  3. Learn how to put non-helpful books down. This tip is straight out of Gabriela’s DIY MFA book, which you can purchase here. She calls it DNF: Did Not Finish, and it’s about knowing when to put a book down and move on to another. If a book isn’t working for you, release the guilt of not finishing it and label it DNF. Your time is valuable.

Raimey’s 8 categories of books (and articles) all authors should be reading from:

  1. Your genre: Aim for more recently published novels, because they’ll be more representative of what readers and agents are looking for now. Don’t forget to read like a writer.
  2. Classics from your genre: Brontë, Woolf, Molière, we call them greats for a reason. How many times have the works of Jane Austen been re-imagined? Bridget Jones’s Diary is Pride and Prejudice, the movie Clueless is a modern retelling of Emma, and the list goes on. And when I say classics, I don’t necessarily mean centuries-old ones. I honestly don’t see how anyone could write a middle grade or YA fantasy without first indulging in Harry Potter, or a historical romance set during the American Civil War without getting to know Scarlett O’Hara. In my own case, I plotted a whodunit recently, and who better an instructor than Agatha Christie?
  3. Literary agent favs: This is all about strategy. Agents often share their client lists and favourite books on their websites. When you begin narrowing who you plan on querying, see if there is anything on their list that could be a comp for your own work either in voice or story. If there is—fantastic! Read it, then mention it briefly in your query letter, show them you’ve done your homework.
  4. Craft books and articles: Thirty-one. That’s how many craft books I have sitting on my shelves. No, I have not read them all. Yes, I often pick them up and read chapters from each, whatever is relevant to what my needs are at the time. I know what you’re thinking. That’s a small fortune’s worth. The truth is that although I did purchase about half of these books new, I am a big proponent of used bookstores. When purchasing used, do a quick search online to make sure you have the latest edition in your hands, and if it isn’t, evaluate whether you would be better served reading the latest version of a particular book, or if an old edition will due. If you’re currently reading this post in a used bookstore, and you’ve uncovered an old gem entitled, oh I don’t know, How to Rock a Plot Like Growing Pains, put it back and step away from the shelf. This is not the book for you.
  5. Articles on the fringes of your genre/topics: If you’re writing science fiction, let new research in science inspire you. If you’re writing contemporary YA, stay current in trends in youth culture (so the kids don’t throw hella shade on your book and call it cray.)
  6. Books to develop the same expertise as your characters: But instead of reaching for a textbook, see if anyone has written about the topic you need, but for a writer’s perspective. I’ve been really lucky in this regard. I write crime/psychological thrillers and have been able to find several useful books on the different forensic fields written for authors, and trust me, the pages turn faster than any textbook I’ve ever been assigned. I read these types of books for comprehension and terminology, but am cognizant, and you should be too, that the tip of the iceberg is often all that needs to be imparted in fiction. If we don’t understand anything of the mass that lies below the surface of the water, well, you know what happens.
  7. Articles and reference books for descriptions (character and setting): My sister’s the interior designer, the landscaper, the visual thinker in the family. I really have to work at it. If you’re like me and have gone three decades without being able to recall the word for that decorative thingy often found at the top of poles and buildings (a finial), then strive to learn it, or keep resources handy. Google is often enough, but I bet your local library has a few architectural and interior design dictionaries that aren’t terrible to browse through. Mine did. I’ve also created a Pinterest board containing pictorial object maps and word lists (anatomy of a flower, types of male pattern baldness, that kind of thing.) And for science fiction and fantasy writers (and dystopian, etc.), there are some great books on worldbuilding, of which I have read none.
  8. Articles and books on seeking representation, marketing and publishing for authors: With social media and technological advancements, the marketing and publishing fields are continually evolving. This is mind, be wary of reading dated material, whether it be in a book or on a blog. On the marketing side of things, ‘building your author platform,’ is huge, so start by keying that into a search engine and get reading.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop

Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading you want to do to become a better author? Do you have advice to add to the above? Shout at me in the comments.

68 thoughts on “Developing your reading list: A strategy for authors (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop)

  1. Hi Raimey. Awesome post! Would you mind me asking what your top crime reference book pick is? My next manuscript has a murder and I definitely need a few tips. Thank you for starting this blog hop. Thank you, Erika

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Erika! The one that I feel comfortable recommending publicly so far is The Criminal Mind, A Writer’s Guide to Forensic Psychology by Katherine Ramsland. I’m going to email you a list of the others I’m just digging into now. And you’re welcome for the hop! Can’t wait to dig into your post as well. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re not the only one I’m sure. Time zones complicate things, but I think we’ll be okay once we get used to it. I’ve noticed in other monthly blog hops that people in the Western Hemisphere tend to miss out on some of the participation, because they start later than their Eastern Hemisphere counterparts. Hopefully we won’t have that issue.

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    1. Tell me about it. I think I read 8 books in the first two months of this year, and then this most recent choice, well I’ve been struggling with it since March, but I just have to finish it, because I’m so invested, and it’s by a huge author who everyone loves, but who will remain nameless, but there’s just so much head hopping. About 30 pages left.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve found that some authors change their style from one series to the next and for some reason do a lot of head hopping (which drives me nuts). It’s a guide to how not to write a book, even if you have a huge fan base. Good luck with those last 30 pages…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really helpful post, especially the point about DNFing a book. I’m still having trouble with that because I want to put books on my “read” shelf, and I want to make sure I complete my Goodreads challenge for the year 😉 But I have found that I can start skimming if I’m not crazy about a book for whatever reason, get done with it pretty quickly, and still put it on the done list.

    I’m also balking at “gone are the days of reading strictly for pleasure.” I have to balance my desire to read for pleasure with the need to dissect books and all that. Because once the pleasure quotient dips below a certain level, burnout is waiting for me!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This excellent list has got me thinking about my own writer’s bookshelves….I have also had a wonderful time going way out of my genre of women’s fiction and delving into old-school science fiction (Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein) and into incredibly intense, powerful YA such as Sarah Maas and Adam Silvera. To expand my characters, I also read books way out of my bandwidth such as Tristan Gooley’s naturalist books and books about the enneagram. Let me add my thanks to Raimey for putting together this endeavor!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Enneagram and other personality resources can be great for character study. Totally agree. I feel like I’m playing catch up with reading right now, but I can’t wait until I feel I have read enough in my genre to go outside of it. 🙂 And you’re welcome!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Amazing tips Raimey! I definitely need to brush up on terminology for specific things (I had heard the word ‘finial’ but had no idea what it was!), and get my hands on a few writing manuals. The hop is going great so far, every post I’ve seen has been absolute gold!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great advice, Raimey. I have to say I have no problem abandoning books that aren’t working for me. And I can’t help but read for pleasure if the book IS working for me. One thing to add: Use the library to test whether a book is worth the money/time investment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I did this recently for a few forensics books before I purchased them: checked them out from the library, even though they weren’t the latest versions. Or check reviews, see if you can trial first chapters on any of the e-sites. Everyone listen to Pam too!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Since I wasn’t a reader before I started writing, I feel like I am forever playing catch up. I’ve tried to target my reading list to prevent feeling overwhelmed. Our categories pretty much align, so at least I am on the right track. Right now I am trying to read a bit more broadly, checking out other genres to help see different methods of craft (tone, voice, plot development, etc).

    I would recommend every writer invests some time learning effective worldbuilding, regardless of genre. Worldbuilding helps bring your setting to life and is important even when you aren’t creating a fantastical setting.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What a great list Raimey! Definitely picked up a few pointers here on adding new categories. Among the personal reminders, putting down books I find ridiculous is perhaps the toughest choice. And don’t you miss reading for just the fun of it? I really do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Know just what you mean. I HATE noticing plot arcs and the technical aspects of story now that I’ve learned them. I have to stop reading that book, figuring it wasn’t powerful enough to get me past the learning aspect. I do miss the happy anticipation of just diving in and getting lost!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m a bit ambivalent about this ability to read it like a litterateur. On the one hand, the reading experience becomes so profound; on the other hand, all the beauty that comes with the simplicity of the reading adventure is lost. It would be great to be able to switch this perception capability on and off at will.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. This is some great advice!

    I am sad because the only indie bookstore in my town is closing for good next week, but I am also frantically taking advantage of the hugely discounted history, travel, art, etc. books that will be good references for some of my future novels.

    I’m going back tomorrow to see what topics I’ve missed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s this great resource in my city called The Children’s Hospital Book Market, where thousands of people donate their used books, and then a local mall donates all their corridors for a weekend. All year long, a couple hundred volunteers sort and price the books, then on one of the mall weekends, I go nuts, get like 30 books for $100. It’s the best, and I wish every city had it. They raise $200K at each sale I think.

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    2. The book EUPHORIA by Lily King was the result of one such store closing. Roaming through the stripped bookstore, the ever-polite and courteous King was moved to buy a book. Seizing on a biography of Margaret Mead, she had the material in hand to launch her own story. Happy sleuthing to you!

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  9. Great post 🙂 As a YA fantasy writer, working on a story set in an original kingdom very similar to medieval times, I spend a good amount of time reading historical texts for research.
    I also think that YouTube is a great place to absorb new information. My favourite video was one that demonstrated how to light a fire with flint and steel!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thanks for this post! I’m trying to be a better reader in general and am still figuring out a genre. And I’ll definitely be checking out that DIY MFA book. I’m in the process of narrowing down grad school options, and I’ve been thinking about MFA’s and their merits. But! That’s not to say that the same kind of education can’t be self-taught. Much of the learning that happens in any program, after all, depends on what you’re willing to do and where you put your efforts, i.e., it becomes a self-taught program in the end.

    Thanks again for this! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Pereira’s MFA book is phenomenal — and so is her super-fun and resource-packed website. Check out the tool to generate story ideas. She is also very accessible, amazingly generous, and a terrific teacher. And I’m not a friend or promoter, just an impressed fan!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What great advice Raimey! Thank you for sharing them. My reading list is something that’s always been a bear, these will definitely help tame it a bit. And of course, thank you for the incredible blog hop! Such great hop ideas you have! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Good list of ideas for book resources for authors. Writers are definitely readers! Do you have a book you recommend on self-editing? My fav is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print but always looking for more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I don’t have one yet. I’ve just started to read blogs and the like on self-editing recently. I’m going to have to add yours to my list of future reading material. Thanks for the tip Kimberly!

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  13. Amy, thanks for organizing this blog hop. It’s awesome. I’m having a great time reading and tweeting everyone’s posts. You’re what to read advice is terrific. It’s us a different way to think about how we’re choosing books. I try to read one new book on the craft of writing every 3 months. That’s about all I can fit in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure! Yes, getting to the craft books can be difficult. Actually, starting them is easy; it’s finishing them that’s my challenge. I am always reading about craft online though, so I think that may be what holds me back a little. 🙂

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    1. I have a friend who reads the first couple of pages, a random page in the middle, and then the end of a book (yup, the end!) to see if it is worth her time. She has so little time to read that she figures she cannot waste a single minute on something that isn’t going to be gripping, entertaining, and a pleasure!

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  14. Great article! I’m a huge fan of DIY MFA (I met Gabriela way back at the end of 2010) and the reading aspect was always one of my favourite parts. I’ve definitely used her strategies to create my own reading lists, although I frequently get sidetracked because people like to loan me books.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A certain amount of this is groundwork reading, complimented by years and layers of obtained knowledge. If you’re just starting out, sure it’s overwhelming, but I think the key is to figure out a schedule that works for you. For instance, I have casual reading time, and educational reading time. They both fit into a single day–just part of the structure. The key is to develop healthy habits like that, which are so easy to break and so difficult to start up.

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  16. Great list. Reading in your genre is perhaps the most important thing — I’ve encountered people who refuse to do so because they want to keep their minds a “blank slate” and not accidentally “steal ideas” and I’m just like, where do I even start with that?

    Also, I’ve found reading too many books on the craft gets confusing. You’ll find contradicting advice (outline! don’t outline!) and so many ideas that your head will spin with them. For me, a handful of good writing books is really all I ever needed!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Oh gosh, I am CONSTANTLY overwhelmed by my reading list, between writing, critique partners, and an always interesting life, I’m always falling behind. I really love that list though–it’s a great sorta checklist (though I don’t think any book will fit all!) to really see if it’s worth it for me to sit down and spend the time with that book.

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  18. Hi! I love your list. I feel sad (and agree!) that the days of reading for pleasure are gone. Part of me wishes I could go back to those days. Now when I read in my genre I sometimes just get angry because the very things that my work is criticized for are in these wildly successful books. haha. Reading makes me mad now. Sometimes 🙂 And there are way too many books I feel I should read to keep up to date on trends. I need to make reading and writing a full time job!
    Thanks for stopping by my post. It actually reminded me that I read your post first and then never commented. haha. This is a great blog hop. Thanks for organizing!
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  19. The “writing” shelf on my bookshelf is getting increasingly strange, and heavy – folklore encyclopedias, writing guides, poli sci text books, Sartre, Sieyès, Hobbes, an old anatomy textbook … and my search history is even stranger.
    Most books that tell you How to Write have advice I largely disagree with, but you learn so much by finding out that you disagree with someone, so it’s still worthwhile to keep them around to remember why you don’t want to follow their advice!
    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  20. Great advice. I’ve finally been able to embrace the DNF philosophy. Initially, I would try to tell myself I was learning what not to do by analyzing why the book wasn’t working, but eventually it just becomes punishment. Such a relief to not drudge through bad books.

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  21. Hi Raimey!
    First of all, I’m honored you follow my blog & I’m looking forward to knowing you & reading your wonderful posts! Writing is cathartic, therapeutic, & has become an unwavering passion. I’m finally starting to find ways to better manage energy & time in order to blog on a regular basis.

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