As an aspiring author, you probably always pictured yourself tucked away somewhere cozy for long stretches of intense writing and then kicking up your heels afterwards in an explosion of creative renewal. What you probably didn’t expect was the everyday routine of reading and writing.
Welcome to life as a working author. Writing professionally means keeping up with both the publishing industry and the craft of literature. Reading and writing are essential to developing both your craft and your business. Whether or not you also have a day job, reading books and writing books are now your bread and butter.
Many new writers tell me they were bookworms growing up, but they haven’t had time to read lately or they don’t much like the junk being put out today. Yikes—now there’s an author whose knowledge of books is already ten, twenty, even thirty or more years out of date.
If you don’t read, you don’t have any idea what’s going on in today’s literary and commercial fiction marketplaces. Maybe the premise of your story has been done to death in recent years. Your writing style may rely on techniques and conventions today’s readers consider stale. I’d venture a guess that your characters act more like you or the heroes of your literary youth than the kind of characters today’s readers find fascinating. And you won’t be aware of any of this unless you keep reading.
You may think of yourself as the creative type who leaves business matters to an agent or publisher. But authors need to know the industry and their medium. Books are your business now, and it’s up to you to keep up with what sells. Marketing trends, stylistic trends, artistic trends—these are the stuff of the industry you aspire to work in. What’s going on outside the genre you write in that could affect your current manuscript? You’ll never know what those trends are unless you keep reading.
But reading other books muddies your unique voice as a writer, you protest; you need to remain fresh, untouched by other authors’ voices. If only it were that simple. Reading another author won’t poison your own writing voice. If that were true, we’d all fill up our creative tanks reading the classics and then crank out Pulitzer Prize-winners. There’s something to learn from every single book. Learn what to emulate from good books, and learn what to avoid from the bad ones. But you’ll never get a chance to learn any of it unless you keep reading.
It’s not only shining literary gems and commercial bestsellers at the top of their game that will help you improve your craft. Seek out new releases from debut authors. Read their books, and study their marketing strategies. What have they done that’s captivated agents, reviewers, and readers? What has helped their books burst onto the publishing scene? You’ll never know unless you keep reading.
Through all of this reading, keep honing your own craft. Be ready to write some “practice novels.” No painter paints one painting and expects to receive a massive commission for the next decade or else they’ll pack up their paints and run home. Neither should you.
Maybe you’ll completely flub an entire book. That’s part of learning the craft, too. Learn to adapt; learn to revise. If it’s not time for this book, squirrel away the good parts and move on. Fiction writing is both an art and a craft, and there’s a lot to be learned over the course of eighty thousand words. A good book is a book that you’ve learned from.
The worst way to begin a potential career as an author is to write one book and then quit. An instant bestseller is a rare thing. So you didn’t connect with an agent. So you self-published your book and readers didn’t catch on. Is such a tenuous, one-shot effort really all you’ve got to give? Start the next book. Get better at your craft. Learn about the market.
You’re a writer. Writers read. And writers write. See you on the next turn of the page.
Ready to hire an editor? That editor could be me! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s talk about how my editing could help your book.