Friday, March 27, 2009

HOW CAN YOU BE A WRITER IF YOU'RE NOT A READER?

~Sia McKye~

I read a number of blogs. One blog I regularly read is written by an agent. On this particular occasion there was an informal discussion going on between several agents and editors, chatting about a dichotomy between readers and writers. The gist of it was that there were a whole lot of writers out there that weren’t readers. People convinced that they had a “book or two in them,” but they weren't readers. Then there were the writers who felt you shouldn't read other’s work in your genre because it would interfere with your "voice".

To me, the question has always been how can you effectively write a book if you don't read them? Base it on TV? Your fascinating life? Because you're a professional writer on the job?

I write many things professionally, articles, seminars, notes, and lots of reports. I'm writing something every day and while I don't have the time to read six or more books a week anymore, I do read something everyday. I read for pleasure. I also read to keep an eye out for what is selling, what’s not, styles of writing, and premises used.

I write creatively and have completed two 90k contemporary romance manuscripts of a trilogy and I'm working on a paranormal trilogy. So, I'd say I had “a book or two in me”. I’ve told stories all my life. I come from a very creative family of oral storytellers and published authors.

My love of books came from reading voraciously throughout my life. As a child my parents and grandparents felt to be well read one must read classic literature first. I was also encouraged to branch out and explore various genres, not just one. Consequently, I regularly read various sub-genres of romance, paranormals, suspense and thrillers, and I love Sci-fi. You could say I'm a mood driven reader. I'm the same with music for much of the same reasons--my parents and grandparents.

There is a perception out there that you can't read another’s words when formulating your stories--something nonsensical about copying the voice or premise, yada yada. To me, that's BS. My voice is mine and doesn’t change just because I read someone’s work.

I often think about how coaches train their athletes. It isn't by ignoring the competition. To the contrary, they watch recorded games of the competition so they can be better. Actors know the style of other actors--they watch them. You don't think musicians aren't aware of those who produce the same style of music? Or artists aren't aware of whose style is similar?

As an author, to know what’s marketable you have to read it. Analyze it. That’s keeping your finger on the pulse of market.

I’m a marketing/promotion rep by profession, to sell my products and people; I have to be familiar with what’s out there. Is their product comparable? Better? Worse? How is it packaged? Any book I write is my product and to market it effectively I have to know what’s selling, what my target demographics are and why.

So, you want to be a author? Read. Particularly in your genre. Know what’s selling out there and why.


Sia McKye has spent over twenty years in marketing and promotion. She's written and published various articles on writing, marketing, and promotion. She's a Marketing Rep by profession and also writes fiction.

28 comments:

SueO said...

I read and reread books all the time. Mostly I enjoy classics like Jane Eyre or Hound of the Baskervilles. Sometimes it's SciFi/Fantasy by Terry Pratchett and Christopher Stasheff and Piers Anthony. Some of my favorite Romance is by Constance O'Day-Flannery.

Is it arrogant for me to say that sometimes I read crap that makes me shake my head because I know there are better works out there that don't get half the attention? Sometimes I can't read the "competition" because it simply irritates me as being trite garbage intended to make a quick dollar.

Then that makes me wonder if I'm the trite one and am simply jealous at the success of another.

And still I read. It's an obsession that can't be helped.

Magdalena Scott said...

Reading the work of other authors in my genre is one of the best parts of being a writer. I consider it homework...which, of course, means I get to stay up late to do it! ;)

Sun Singer said...

I've just started reading a new book by my one of my favorite authors, Sunetra Gupta, and right now, I can't think of anything better than the moments I have each day to open "So Good In Black" and step into another world. Reading is dreams and new worlds and time travel and forbidden fruit and the cosmos at my fingertips. How can one not read, especially a writer, I wonder. Nice post, Sia.

Malcolm

Carradee said...

I read a lot, and it's been a relief to find books that are comparable in genre to what I write. It actually helps--because, when I'm working out the plot, I can recognize "Hey, wait a minute--this is starting to sound like X. Does my setup REALLY imply this?"

An example comes from my current urban fantasy WIP. I originally wasn't going to have any romance, but then the vampire wormed his way into a major player and decided to like the heroine. And the heroine's kicking back hard enough that I think she's protesting too much and might've had a crush on him as a kid--BUT older vampire guy/teenage human girl has been done a lot, and even the girl having a crush on the guy on the kid has a Karen Chance flair a la Cassandra Palmer and Mircea. It's making me take a hard look at my WIP to see if I'm reverting to cliches or if that's actually what the story demands.

That's why I like reading other authors in my genre. Helps me find world and plot holes, too.

Besides, authors' voices only intrude on the writer's when the writer still lacks a distinct voice of his own.

~Sia McKye~ said...

While I may have read a lot of classics,I'm not at all elitist. I have nothing against reading romance or any other current fiction out there. It's fun and enjoyable.

I belong to a rather large social writing group, the Writin' Wombats and we were having a discussion about this. I love the way a friend of mine put it:

"...a lot of "lit stars" are either addicted to genre fiction or actually write it under pseudonyms. They may teach and lecture on Joyce and Faulkner, but they read Zane Grey and Agatha Christie "for fun"--and isn't that what it boils down to, that most genre fiction is fun? It might scare you (like a trip through the fun house), or make you solve a puzzle, or take you to a beautiful, exotic locale, or experience second-hand a great love affair. It isn't hitting you over the head with "man's struggle with--" (nature, god, human nature, history, class, himself, whatever). It's a pleaure, not a challenge, to read.

Is this why people look down on genre writing--because anything fun can't be good for you?"

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Certainly can't add anything to that post! You hit it on the money - how can one write if one doesn't read?

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sue, I read a couple stories by Constance O'Day-Flannery, that I really enjoyed, Time After Time, A Time for Love, Here and Now.

Trite? No, but I'm all for reading what bring you pleasure. My thoughts are: how will you recognize whether something is Tripe or Caviar, unless you read?

Recognizing Tripe, and knowing that it was published--doesn't make you jealous of another's success. Makes you shake your head amd makes you all the more determined not to do the same. But having said that, I'm reminded that one person's tripe is another's caviar, lolol! It's so subjective. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Malcolm, that's the joy of reading IMO, is the ability of the author to transport you to another world and time. To take you on an adventure.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Magdalena, I love homework, lololol! That kind of homework is the type I have no compunction about staying up late to do. :-D

~Sia McKye~ said...

Diane, Thanks for stopping by, :-)

For those of you who aren't familiar with Diane, she's all about attitude. Diane has a wonderfully informative set of articles at Spunk of a Stick, www.spunkonastick.net

Diana_Duncan said...

I can't imagine not reading. My gramma was a librarian and she used to take me to work with her when I was a wee babe. It's as essential to me as breathing. Since I've started writing, rare and wonderful are the authors who can truly "take me away" and I treasure them!

~Sia McKye~ said...

And don't you just love the smell of a library? I love books. My husband complains everytime we've ever moved in our married life about my carrying boxes of books with me. As far as I'm concerned, books are as important as the furniture.

Thanks for stopping by Di!

Helen Ginger said...

I read a variety of books. Geek Love was great. Loved The Time Traveler's Wife. Mostly I read mystery or thrillers. I have a stack of books on my TBR pile. Since I'm an editor, reading manuscripts takes up a lot of my "reading" time. But that's always fun, since I get to read a book before anyone else!
Helen
http://straightfromhel.blogspot.com

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh sure, Helen, just taunt us, lolol! But then you also get to read the dross so we don't have to...

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia, great post. I read whenever I can. It keeps you sharp, don't you think?

HOPELESSBELIEVER said...

Hey Sia! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, I'm so glad you liked it. I like yours too!! I love to read but seldom have the time to read as much as I would like. I'm also an artist, self taught and loving every minute of it! lol I also enjoy writing, I'm a much better writer than a speaker for sure! I do so agree with your post today; you must know what is out there , not to change your voice, or how you use it, but to see what others are interested in and keeping up with that particular world of art.
Well, hope you have a great weekend, and I would like to follow your blog if you don't mind. Please feel free to visit me anytime!! :) I love to make new friends, and I love to learn from others too! :)
take care,
Julian :)

Linda S. Socha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda S. Socha said...

Hello Sia
Much thanks for stopping by Psyche Connections and for your lovely caring post. I see also my friend Julian (Hopelessbeliever) here.
I can relate to this post and I would agree with the info shared. I look forward to visiting more. I starting reading before school and have been a bit compulsive about it since the beginning. I can still enjoy reading cereal boxes on occassion. I have learned to stop reading over peoples shoulders!

Please stop by and say hello any time. I enjoy exchaqnging blog following links if you have an interest?
Linda

~Sia McKye~ said...

Julian, I did enjoy your blog and I would be honored to have you following mine. There are quite a few good blogs out there and I think it important to mention them when we find them. The resources and information available in the archives on some of these blogs are phenomenal!

We're all busy, but I read about 45 of them a week and alas, I can't always get to every one of them posted but do try to check in once a week at least. I'll be stopping by again. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Linda, thanks for stopping by! I'm in the process of setting up a few new gadgets on mine here with blogs of note--just haven't had the time as yet.

Yes, links would be cool. Keep me posted on your friend. :-)

Ps, I confess to reading cereal boxes too, lol!

Margay said...

Sia, I whole-heartedly agree with your assessment. We wouldn't expect any other professional to jump right into a job without training first, so why should writing be any different? How can anyone possibly learn about what works and what doesn't if they don't read examples of both? Anyone who takes a writing course (which all writers should do at one point or another, in my opinion) will be given reading assignments as part of the course, so it stands to reason that anyone contemplating this career should do the same on their own. And reading the newspaper or magazines doesn't count unless that's the platform you want to write on because the structures are so different. I will admit that when I am in the midst of writing something, I tend to shy away from novels that have a theme similar to mine until after mine is written just as a sort of self-preservation. There are so many people who are quick to accuse of others of stealing their ideas and I want to honestly say that I didn't read the book before I wrote my own. But I will read it at some point to see how the other author interpreted the idea.
Another great post, Sia!
Margay

Conda V. Douglas said...

I believe most writers begin as avid readers--I know I did, starting in third grade when something "clicked" and from then on I preferred reading to TV! And I believe Stephen King was correct (and you too, Sia) when he said (I'm paraphrasing), "Anybody who calls himself a writer but doesn't read is a liar."

~Sia McKye~ said...

Margay said..."We wouldn't expect any other professional to jump right into a job without training first, so why should writing be any different?"

What you say is very true Margay. Even taking writing courses--which I think is wise--a writer still has to learn much in the applying and doing. It's an ever evolving process which is why keeping an eye on writing styles and what's selling and why is a benefit to any novelist.

Nice to see you here Margay. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Conda, I much prefer reading to TV or even movies. Not to say I don't watch either now and then, but if I didn't have a TV I can't say I would be sad. :-)

Good paraphrase. S.King has written quite a bit on the subject of writing too.

Margay said...

Thanks, Sia! I read this blog frequently and pop in when I feel I have something to contribute. I think I should add to my previous comment that, even when a writer publishes their work, they should continue to read and evolve as writers. In fact, I just found a post on another blog I read that gave two lists of colleges that offer free online writing courses. You can bet I'm going to be checking them out - for my daughter (whom I am now homeschooling) as well as myself.
Margay

~Sia McKye~ said...

Busy lady! Feel free to post the link here Margay.

Margay said...

I'd love to, Sia! There are two:

http://education-portal.com/articles/10_Universities_Offering_Free_Writing_Courses_Online.html

http://www.collegedegree.com/library/college-life/50-Open-courseware-writing-classes

What I find interesting is that in the first link, MIT is one of the colleges that offers writing courses. I always thought they were focused on science. But, I guess they would have to know how to write...

Margay

SueO said...

Hi, Sia! Didn't realize that you had responded directly to my comment. I thank you for taking the time. You're a busy lady, no doubt!

I guess I get irritated with the writer who uses the phrase "proffered hand" forty times in the course of a 50K story. Or the author who swallows a thesaurus and spews it across the page in a manner that makes you reach for the "Dictionary Of Common 16th Century Slang". I haven't submitted anywhere yet because I know that which I call My Manuscript is really a poor starting point, but I feel that my efforts to perfect my craft seem denigrated when The Proffered Hand reaches out to grab me in my worse nightmares.

My chin is up, however, and I continue to march forward. ;-)