How Much Do You Need to Read?

Read, read, and read some more.
Photo by cottonbro on

Before you try writing (picture books/YA fantasy/middle grade science fiction/whatever) you need to read. Some people will say read 50 books. Some will say 100. I’d be willing to bet that some say that the number should be much, much larger.

And in a sense, they are all right.

How can they all be right? You should always be reading and, over time, the numbers will add up.

Before you begin writing something new, you should read 50 to 100 books. You need to do this to learn the conventions. How do readers at this age approach story? What types of story problems work? What part do Mom and Dad and other adults play in the story? If you are writing picture books, you need to absorb word play and learn how page turns work. If you are writing fantasy, you need to see how magic works. For mystery, how are clues presented to the reader. With science fiction, how much science presents itself in the story?

There is so much that you need to learn! And part of the problem is that you can’t learn it all at once. Maybe now you are learning about character. Next year you may be studying setting. You need to keep reading so that you keep learning.

You also need to refresh your awareness. If I’ve been working on a book for teens, switching over to a picture book means reading a lot of picture books. I need to get the feel of what I am writing.

But publishing conventions change. This means that you can read old favorites, but also read new books. This is vital because writing conventions change. Picture books are often shorter now than they used to be but many young adult and middle grade novels are longer. Children’s books today often deal with more difficult situations than they did 30 years ago. Rhyming like Dr. Seuss? Please, don’t. He already did that. You need to rhyme well and make a style all your own if rhyme is your thing.

So, how many books should you read? Maybe the answer for the next few weeks should be, how many can you carry home?