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February 11, 2020

Do You Read Recently Published Books?

Antique plate-style camera with text: Old vs. New: The Lessons of Recent Books

I’ve done a good job of curating my Twitter lists, so I often come across insightful and educational threads. And then there are the tweets that just make me shake my head. *smile*

Late last week, I saw a conversation on Twitter that prompted a head shake and an audible “What?” Not that the people I follow had said anything wrong. In this case, my shock was with the replies.

The conversation centered on whether writers should read current books in their genre. I’ve often talked about how writers should also be readers, so I figured the answer was a “duh.” However, others pushed back—to the point of attacking the tweeter—for suggesting such a thing.

So let’s follow up with the conversation and see what we can learn…

Why Should Writers Be Readers?

As I said above, to my mind, the advice that writers should also be readers would be common sense. But for those who might not have considered the question before, I’m going to touch on some of the reasons why that’s good advice.

None of that even goes into how if someone doesn’t like (much less love) reading, why would they want to write a book? I don’t understand why anyone would want to spend so much time on creating an art form they don’t enjoy for themselves.

What’s Controversial about the Advice?

Sure, it can be difficult to fit in time to read. Or maybe we lack the funds or access to a library to acquire books to read. But what could possibly make the advice itself so controversial as to lead to attacks and name-calling?

Author Sarah Nicolas tweeted:

(Click on the thread to see examples of the crazy replies they received.)

Okay, so their suggestion was that we read one recent book, and that’s the aspect many took exception to. Should that idea be controversial?

Why Should Writers Read at least One Recent Book?

The replies often assumed that all recent books are garbage. Thus they felt the advice to read them automatically meant that we’re supposed to write similar “garbage” and were offended.

Is the advice to read a recent book in our genre common sense? Or controversial? Click To TweetEven without getting into those types of value judgments or questions of outdated styles, there are reasons to read recent books in our genre. We can learn from them no matter the choices we want to make for our story.

What can a recent book teach us that an older book can’t? (And remember, Sarah wasn’t saying to read only recent books—just to make sure to read at least one published in the last 5 years.)

  • Reading recent books in our genre helps us learn what cover styles will appeal to our potential readers (and let them know what kind of book we’ve written). Even if we want to write in an older style, we might still want to stay up to date on cover styles so readers will be able to recognize our story’s genre.
  • Reading recent books teaches us about different approaches of point-of-view, as books have leaned toward a deeper POV over the years. Even if we want to write in a more distant style, we might be able to adapt some elements of deep POV to increase immersion or emotion, such as using a flexible POV that’s usually shallow but dips deeper during emotional turning points.
  • Reading recent books ensures that ideas we think are new or fresh in our genre aren’t already so overused as to be a cliche. Even if we want to avoid modern stories because we think they’re trite and not weighty enough, if we’re not familiar with current works, our innovative idea might be so overused as to create the “trite” we so wanted to avoid, and we’d never even know it.
  • Reading recent books can teach us about the current market and what’s popular. Even if we decide to ignore those lessons, we might be able to tweak our marketing to appeal to those readers, increasing our audience, or know what makes our writing truly unique. Market research doesn’t mean the same thing as “writing to market.”
  • Reading recent books gives us ideas about what books we could list as comparable titles in a query if we’re taking the traditional publishing path. Even if we’ve made choices more popular in older books, agents want to see comps from the past 2 years or so. Listing older books just tells them we don’t know the market (and at least one agent suggests that writers read 100 recent books in their genre!)

Gather Information to Make Intentional Choices

If we never read current books, how could we know whether they’re actually “garbage” or not? That idea echoes the opinion of too many who assume the entire romance genre is worthless: How could they possibly understand the breadth of the genre when they don’t read it?

What can we learn from reading recent books in our genre? Click To TweetGood writing means that every aspect of our story and writing craft is intentional. To make intentional choices, we need information to know what our options are, as well as what we like and dislike. (We might discover we like more about recent books than we thought.)

Maybe the old styles of writing are a great fit for our story, but maybe one new technique would make a certain aspect even better. We wouldn’t know unless we learn about our options. We need to read recent books to learn about our choices for styles, language use, voice, character development, emotional resonances, etc.

In any field, if we want to be good at our job, we have to keep up with new developments. We consider it part of our job training. If writing is a career for us in any way, we should treat it the same and keep an eye out for new ideas. *smile*

How much do you read between your writing projects? How much do you read in your genre? How much do you read that’s recent? Do you think the advice to read recent books is controversial or common sense? What reasons do you have for that perspective?

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Augusta

This came across my Twitter feed the other day and it boggled me–even if you think recent books are trash, there’s value in reading them to figure out what aspects of the books appeal to readers. (Although if you tarnish all recent books with the same brush, I have my doubts about your judgement…)

Fran Hunne

One can even learn from a trash book – taking things, that are bad and trying to avoid those.

Pauline Baird Jones

I’m just…wow. But at the same time, I’ve met writers who don’t read. Maybe I’m surprised they admit it. lol Excellent blog as always! Thank you for the time you put into these posts.

Kassandra Lamb
Kassandra Lamb

Wow, it seems there is no such thing as a NON-controversial topic on Twitter. As always, you bring the tone of reason to the situation. Thanks, Jami.

Karen Carr
Karen Carr

I read in my genre and in others all the time. I still have my kindle unlimited and I also buy books from my favorite authors. I am trying to figure out what makes me like the books I like. Sometimes, it is not a simple answer. it doesn’t help that I also read and enjoy books I have no desire to write. To say that there is only trash out there is forgetting something. You only know it is trash if you started reading the book. Why did you pick it up? Was it the cover? The blurb? The first few pages (I am a huge fan of downloading samples before I decide if I want to read a new author). Then figure out where the author went wrong after that. If you are basing it as trash on a poor cover, you really can’t say the book is trash, just that it has a bad cover. Same with the blurb. I have one author I buy every one of her books. I love her voice. But I also notice I get to a point where I think that the book went on too long. I get over that and love the ending. I am still trying to figure out what makes me say that in my head for almost every book. I think it has to do with too many threads that need to be tied off before the end. And that sometimes, I think the book could…  — Read More »

Claremary Sweeney

I am a writer of local mysteries which are becoming popular as I publish my fifth in the series. I read quite a few modern mystery authors along with the tried and true and have learned so much from all of them I’ve even given a presentation on what I’ve learned from them and how it has helped my books improve with each new installment. I love this genre and hope to continue writing, reading, and learning for many years to come.

Nicole W

My Goodreads challenge for this year is 30 books and I’m hoping to exceed it.

That thread had me shaking my head too. I think it’s only common sense to read current books in my genres; since I actually enjoy my genres, this isn’t a hardship.

Plus, just about every agent I’ve ever submitted to wants me to list comparable titles that have been out no more than five years and shouldn’t be the massive blockbuster novels everyone knows. It makes sense to have a working knowledge of what’s out there.

Nicole

I’m super shocked that this is even a discussion? How can anyone assume that being a writer means that you don’t read? I mean, I’m still shaking my head at this.

I like Twitter – and sometimes like to just sit back and observe the “crazy.” You know? You mentioned that you like it for “educational threads” – can you make a few suggestions?

Clare O'Beara

Reading books is essential. Reading recently published ones especially so.

Dawn

Interesting pushback. I liked the advice and can’t imagine any writer being against it.

Lindsey Russell
Lindsey Russell

Blimey – my mind boggled at the idea books published in the past five years are ‘recent’ – for me a recent book is one published in the past year 🙂
Of course writers should read, not just recent books but older ones. However such advice from unpublished and self-published writers carries no weight due to their lack of recognition in the publishing world. But this can’t be said of Stephen King whether you like his books or not is irrelevant – he is a very successful author and he also urges writers to read, read, read,

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