Is Reading in Your Genre Good or Bad for You?

An agent once asked me what kind of books I read. Slightly unsure what he was looking for, I hesitated a moment, then told him the truth. I like many genres, fiction and non-fiction. Then I rattled off a few titles I had finished recently including THE SNOWMAN by Joe Nesbo, LIFE by Keith Richards, and THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT by Robert Goolrich. None of these is exactly like what I write but it is a true appreciation of the kinds of books I read. I’m not sure if it was the answer he was looking for but it made me wonder a bit. Did he expect me to rattle off psychological mysteries only? How would an agent expect what I read to influence my writing?

Within the mystery genre, there are several sub-genres; hard-boiled, cozy, women-sleuth, police procedurals, and so on. I’ve read many of them but not any one exclusively. For example, I’ve read a few cozy mysteries and they were enjoyable but I have found I actually prefer something with slightly more edge, such as the novels by Joe Nesbo. I also really liked the Steig Larson series. Legal thrillers are also a favorite but in each of these cases, I don’t feel like they influence my writing. Cozies aren’t my style and I’m equally out of my element writing violently graphic scenes. So, how exactly does reading in my broader genre help me?

Although reading is what first influenced me to write, I occasionally have to write more and read less. In fact, there have been times when I have intentionally avoided reading mysteries or thrillers. Usually this is when I’m in a place in a manuscript where I don’t want to be distracted or influenced. While I do believe a writer can improve story pacing and general writing technique by reading a variety of authors, timing can be everything. When you read a really good book, you don’t want to put it down. You’re thinking about those characters even after you reach the end. I find it’s easier to write my own story if I’m not preoccupied with someone else’s.

Perhaps it’s different for each writer, but how do you feel about reading within your own genre while you’re in the midst of your work? Does it help? Does it distract you? What’s your story?

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4 comments

  1. I was reading a novel a week from general literary fiction and experimental fiction. Now, though, that I’m focusing on writing 5 hours a day, I’m only reading what is on the list for my book club. Then when I go to editing, I’ll read more again.

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  2. The funny thing is, while my favorite author is in my genre, I rarely read in my genre. I still read fantasy, but most of what is on my book shelf is international literature, mysteries, and classic literature. I feel like I’m an afront to my genre because I’m not absorbed in the fantasy realm.

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