Jan 07 2010

Why Is It So Important for Authors to Read Widely?

Published by at 11:23 am under Writing Articles

1.  Because the editors and publisher’s assistants that pick manuscripts do. When you submit a novel manuscript or comic book script to a publisher, the person evaluating your submission has probably read hundreds of novels or comic books in your genre and rejected thousands more.  Being familiar with many works by a variety of authors makes it somewhat less likely that your writing will be unacceptably cliche.

2.  The more sources you have, the less likely your book will feel like a ripoff. If you’re writing a fantasy book and half of the fantasy authors you’ve read are named Tolkien or Rowling, it will show. Everybody’s familiar with famous authors, so it’s easy to detect their influence on a work. In contrast, if you’re familiar with a wide variety of obscurer authors, your subconscious will steer you away from easily-identifiable knockoffs.

3. You’ll be more familiar with trends in the field. If you were a superhero author that had only read a few superhero stories, your protagonist would probably have some notable similarities to Superman (such as being rarely morally conflicted, having a list of superpowers as long as your arm, etc). But Superman and similar heroes don’t sell notably well today. Being familiar with current trends in your field makes it less likely for an editor to say something like “I would have loved to work with this forty years ago, but the market isn’t there today.”

4. You’ll be more familiar with what worked for authors in a position similar to yours. For example, let’s say you’re a superhero author deciding how large your cast should be. If the only superhero stories you were familiar with were Justice League and X-Men, you might try a cast of 7+ characters.  But that would probably overwhelm your readers. It worked for Justice League because so many of the main characters are well-known that they hardly needed to be introduced to the audience. You don’t have that luxury. When you write your first work, all of the characters are completely unknown to your readers. For that reason, I’d recommend starting with a smaller cast (probably around 1-4 main heroes). If you’d like, you can introduce new ones as the series progresses.

5. Unless you’re familiar with the competition, you have no way of knowing what distinguishes your work. Publishers and agents may ask you to complete a “comparable works” section to your proposal describing why readers will select your work rather than the competition. Pop quiz time! Let’s pretend that you’re submitting your book or comic book right now. Complete the following sentence for three different competitors: “Readers will buy my story rather than [COMPETITOR] because of [REASON].” This needs to be second-nature for you because it will be painfully obvious whether you are familiar with your field or an amateur. For example, let’s say you were evaluating proposals for a book about how to write superhero stories. Which author sounds more competent?

  • Author A:  People will buy my superhero writing advice rather than The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics because mine is good.
  • Author B:  People will buy my superhero writing advice rather than The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics because even my table of contents is stylish. Instead of chapter titles like What are Comic Books? and A Full-Script Versus Plot-First, my chapters have titles like “It’s Time for You to Die,” He Explained: A Guide to Superpowered Dialogue and How to Write Titles that Will Turn Heads and Blow Minds.

Author A’s explanation is an opinion without any evidence.  In contrast, Author B provides some evidence that his book really is more stylish than the competition. Author B also sounds more like he has a better understanding of his readers and the competition.

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Why Is It So Important for Authors to Read Widely?”

  1. Contra Gloveon 07 Jan 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Yes, this is VERY important.

    This past Christmas, I was watching an anime boxset I got as a present. Superficially, it seemed to have many similarities to the story I was coming up with. After some thought, though, I determined that the two works (the one I was watching and my hypothetical one) aren’t copies.

    Still, read a lot and, if you have the time, watch some TV. It will help you a lot.

  2. Banana Slugon 07 Jan 2010 at 4:41 pm

    I’ve not read anything good in ages. I feel like nowadays, any book I find that’s vaguely interesting turns out to be offensive somehow. I don’t think a book exists on my age level that’s clean, and I hate that.

  3. Wingson 08 Jan 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Being an avid reader, I like to go to public libraries, return home with seventeen or so (the most I’ve borrowed at once was 21) books, and then read them all over the next few days.

    I finished everything interesting looking in my school’s library, so I’ve ended up closing my eyes and grabbing books at random. Although I have found some good stuff that way (One of them even restored part of my respect for vampires), the majority is still boring, cliche, or both.

    Either way, I need to go find a library and borrow any superhero novels they have, along with my usual allotment of fantasy and sci-fi, with a few books on video games for flavor. Whee…

    – Wings

  4. […] Superhero Nation discusses Why it’s so important for writers to read a lot. […]

  5. […] Superhero Nation discusses Why it’s so important for writers to read a lot. […]

  6. Sean Higginson 01 Dec 2010 at 8:41 am

    Ok, I very much see the importance of this, however, I’m a slow reader and I find that if I try to read more than my usual times, it cuts into my writing time. Any suggestions?

  7. B. Macon 01 Dec 2010 at 2:45 pm

    You’re working on a space opera, so how many space operas have you read? If fewer than (say) 20, I’d recommend making more time for reading. If you’re above 20, I’d recommend that you keep reading, but it’s not as urgent because you probably have a pretty good grasp of what distinguishes the best stories from the mediocre and awful.

    (Note to superhero authors: there are far fewer adult superhero novels out there, so finding 20 might be difficult. Just be well-read, particularly in your field, and don’t get hung up on whether you’ve met a wholly arbitrary number).

  8. Agnion 24 Sep 2012 at 8:02 am

    Has anybody read ‘Wayne of gotham’? How is it?

  9. B. McKenzieon 24 Sep 2012 at 10:21 am

    In my opinion, mostly forgettable. It was Tracy Hickman’s 51st book and I doubt he spent more than 1000 hours on it. More assembly-line than not, which I think is pretty typical for licensed novels like this.

  10. Skyon 03 May 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Has anyone read the Miles Wednesday Chronicles? I read those in elementary school and they were aMAZing but I’ve yet to reread them. If I could write something like that, and it got published it would be a miracle.

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