Reading the most popular novels in your genre is the single best thing you can do to improve your writing.
I don’t care if the novel sucks. This exercise is to show you what your audience is interested in. Educate yourself in how the most popular authors write: their pacing, style, characters, conflict, transitions, twists, foreshadowing, the hook, the climax, and all the other ones I’m not going to take the time to mention.
Each book is a free manual to you saying, “This is what your demographic enjoys.”
You will have one of two reactions to this.
- That’s great. I’ll read and educate myself.
- I don’t care what’s popular, my novel is going to be different and I don’t want to have any similarities to that book.
For those in group #1, pat yourself on the back.
For those in group #2, you’re naive.
You can learn a lot from any book whether it’s good or a bad. If you don’t read the best-sellers in your genre, how can you possibly know if your novel is unique? Maybe their premise is different, but one of their secondary characters might be a carbon copy of yours.
Now it looks like you copied the best-seller. And your demographic will likely notice. Reading will help you be different. And it will help you to adopt the genre’s accepted norms.
If for nothing else, reading also educates you on the genre’s cliches.
In 1995, a kick-ass female protagonist beating up a bar full of biker dudes was edgy and different. Today, it’s so cliche I want to barf. A few years ago, I didn’t know that the phrase “dilapidated house” was cliche. Then I read three things in a row with the same description.
I’ve avoided it ever since.
It’s far from comprehensive, but here are 5 extremely popular books in 5 popular genres. It’s a good place to start if you haven’t read them yet.
Science Fiction & Fantasy:
Dead Ice – Laurell K. Hamilton
The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi
The Darkling Child: The Defenders of Shannara – Terry Brooks
Nemesis Games – James S. A. Corey
The Long Utopia – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Teen and Young Adult
An Ember in the Ashes – Sabaa Tahir
Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard
The Game of Love and Death – Martha Brockenbrough
The Walls Around Us – Nova Ren Suma
A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J. Maas
Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
Finders Keepers – Stephen King
The English Spy – Daniel Silva
Radiant Angel – Nelson DeMille
The Cartel – Don Winslow
Wicked Charms – Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood – Diana Gabaldon
If I Stay – Gayle Forman
The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness
Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness
Literature & Fiction
A Dark Lure – Loreth Anne White
The Perfect Son – Barbara Claypole White
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
The Martian – Andy Weir
All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
I’ve been reading a book a week lately. That will likely slow to a book every two weeks, but it’s good to push yourself.
Minimize other sources of entertainment like Netflix so your entertainment becomes reliant on books. In the long run it will help your writing, and you’ll likely feel more fulfilled.
Question(s) of the day: How often do you read? How do you try to be different than the genre you write in?