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 book 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 eight categories of books (and articles) we should be thinking about when determining our reading list. 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:
- 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.
- Read like a writer. Gone are the days of reading strictly for pleasure. You should be dissecting books. Read for plot structure, syntax, voice, tone, etc. Read to increase your vocabulary, to see how an author creates humor, and more.
- Learn how to put non-helpful books down. If a book isn’t working for you, release the guilt of not finishing it and label it DNF for Did Not Finish. Your time is valuable.
Raimey’s 9 categories of books (and articles) all authors should be reading from:
- Your genre: aim for more recently published novels, because they’ll be more representative of what readers and agents are looking for now.
- 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. For middle grade or YA fantasy writers, Harry Potter has earned its space among older classics.
- #OwnVoices: in order to write characters of color, characters who are differently abled, characters from the LGBTQ+ community, read authors of color, authors who are differently abled, authors from the LGBTQ+ community. This is only one step in what should be a multi-pronged approach to writing diversity into your fiction, so make sure you Google advice from writers in these communities.
- Literary agent faves: this is all about strategy. Agents often share their client lists and favorite books in their bios. When you begin narrowing to 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.
- Craft books and articles: this can get expensive fast if you collect writing craft books as quickly as I do. Consider buying some of these treasures used, but do a quick online search before purchasing to make sure you’re looking at the latest edition. Some older editions will work, but that’s your decision to make.
- 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 at you in book reviews.)
- 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/from an author’s perspective. I’ve been really lucky in this regard; I write crime fiction and have been able to find several useful forensic guides written for authors by authors, and trust me, the pages turn faster than any textbook I’ve ever been assigned.
- 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 decades without being able to recall the word for that decorative thingy often found at the top of poles (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 spec fic writers, there are some great books on worldbuilding, of which I have read none.
- 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 judicious when reading.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.
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.