Read 1000 books before you start to write and submit.
Picture book authors, mystery writers, and middle grade fiction writers have all heard similar advice. Sometimes the number changes. Read 500 books or 5000. Read four books a month.
So how many should you read? I don’t know. I know excellent writers who never read more than 2 books a month. Me? I read about 200 books a year, including picture books and graphic novels.
I suspect the number of books needed is going to vary somewhat from person to person. All I know is that by reading so much, I’ve internalized a lot about what makes for an amazing book. I discovered this when I started writing fiction during the pandemic.
I’m not going to say that my work was so amazing that it required no rewrites because that wouldn’t be true. But I will say that my first chapter came together fairly quickly. I needed an ominous tone and, because of my reading and, admittedly also my movie viewing habits, I knew how to set an ominous scene.
I hadn’t learned everything that I needed to know simply be reading. Working on my craft has required reading how-tos, taking classes, and having my work critiqued. Still there is an awful lot that you can learn by reading, or listening to, vast quantities of books.
Picture Books and Poetry
Picture books and poetry are both meant to be read aloud. Reading piles of picture books and pads of poetry helps you develop a feel for the sounds of words and word play.
I may not read a lot but I do read some and horror is a great way to develop a sense for how to build tension and also how to create an ominous tone. You can find horror that isn’t all about blood, guts and gore.
Mysteries help you learn how to weave together complex plots full of dead ends, red herrings, and characters who aren’t what they seem to be. Cozies are an especially good lesson in creating quirky characters.
Middle Grade Fiction
Middle graders can be oh so serious but they also love to laugh. Reading middle grade books can help you see how you can work humor into even the most serious story.
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Speculative fiction as a whole is a great way to learn to build bridges for your reader. How do you make a story work that is incredibly unlike the “real world” accessible to readers from the here and now? Read speculative fiction to learn how.
What about you? How does your favorite reading inform your writing? Consider this the next time you are paging through your favorite book.