What Writers Can Learn from Reading

Reading is a valuable hobby for the writer, as it provides numerous benefits:

  • Periodic reading of classics can help improve writing skills. Grammar, proper word choice, structure, and word flow tend to come a little more naturally. The current read may unconsciously influence the writer’s style a little, but the pros probably outweigh the cons. My dad (with a literature degree) knew someone who couldn’t pass an English test. After my dad recommended that he read some classics, instead of study guides, he actually passed the test next time. This may be an exceptional case, but there are many who advocate the benefits that reading classics has to offer.
  • Reading top sellers in the genre can be a valuable form of research. Think about how the book became popular – especially, if the author didn’t have a big name when the book was first published. Study the storyline, characterization, writing style, organization, and anything that might attract readers. Strive to find out what made the book successful. Don’t copy the same ideas; readers may not respond well to this. Rather, try to find general ideas that can be applied to your own writing, without doing exactly the same thing. For example, don’t create similar characters; instead, discover how the author made those characters so memorable, and learn how to apply it to make your own unique characters just as memorable. Consider what the book doesn’t do. This is important because some of the things that top sellers don’t do may have a tendency to deter sales. Each genre has some unspoken rules that can significantly affect sales and reviews.
  • A writer can see what the latest trends are, especially in the author’s genre. Following the trends may or may not be the best thing, but it’s important to be aware of what’s going on. The expectations of the target audience always merit consideration. If a new release is significantly different than most other new releases, for example, it might be desirable to make this clear in the blurb; maybe it will be a good thing, and maybe not, but readers are more likely not to be upset this way. If for no other reason, a fan might ask an author why he or she didn’t follow a popular trend. The author will look a little foolish if he or she is unaware of the trend.
  • Practice thinking from the reader’s perspective. An author writes a book from his or her own perspective. However, the reader’s perspective (more precisely, the general reaction from the target audience) is ultimately much more valuable to the book’s marketability than the writer’s perspective. Think about what’s important to you when you’re buying and reading books. Try to wear your reading shoes when you analyze your story, writing, characterization, style, formatting, cover, blurb, and even your marketing. The more you read, the more you can relate to this perspective, and the better your chances of looking at your own book critically. It’s no substitute for the valuable resource of external opinions, but it will prove valuable, since ultimately you have to make decisions about your book even if you do receive input or help.
  • See first-hand that even the most popular authors receive criticism. No book pleases every reader. Books with hundreds of reviews have some awful ones, even if the average star rating is very high. Seeing this for yourself may help you better learn to deal with criticism.
  • Become more familiar with the buying process. This can help you with your own marketing. How do you buy books? What keywords do you use in online searches? Do you browse thumbnails? Do covers play an important role when you shop? What effect does the blurb have on you? What kinds of covers appeal to you? Study the blurbs that sell books to you to learn what they did successfully. Do you check out the Look Inside? If so, what do you look for? What price range do you look for? Which reviews tend to influence you? Do you review books? What kinds of marketing tend to influence you? Explore the author’s marketing pages and try to learn some tricks of the trade. There is much that can be learned from the buying process.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Which Part of the Book Is Best?

Book Play Pic

COVER: I’m the best. Without me, they wouldn’t even check the book out.

STORY: Cover, you’re just the good looks. I’m the brains.

BLURB: Nobody will see your brains until I convince them to look inside.

PRICE: They won’t see how the story turns out until I show them what a great value the book is.

FORMATTING: My excellent design is what makes it such a great value.

CHARACTERIZATION: The memorable characters generate future sales through reviews, recommendations, and referrals. I draw out the reader’s emotions.

EDITING: Those would be bad reviews if not for me!

MARKETING: I created the buzz for this book, and I generated sales and reviews.

COPYRIGHT: You’re all wrong. I’m best.

BLURB: How the deuce are you best? Nobody even reads the stinkin’ copyright page.

Everyone but Copyright laughs.

COPYRIGHT: If not for my copyright statement, everyone would be getting this book for free. And if not for my fictional works disclaimer, we’d be getting our rear ends sued. That’s how!

STORY and CHARACTERIZATION: Get rid of us, and nobody would want the book for free. You wouldn’t be able to pay people to take the book.

CHARACTERIZATION: Besides, there isn’t anyone – living or not – fantastic enough to be confused with a character in this book.

EDITING: You weren’t so fantastic in the first draft.

COVER: I could have sold that first draft.

MARKETING: No, I could have sold it.

STORY: Only because the story is so amazing.

COVER: Who’s going to read the story if nobody checks out the book? Huh? Answer me that.

MARKETING: Not to worry. I have it covered.

COVER: Really? What if I were the ugliest cover anyone ever laid eyes on? Or what if I looked like a perfect cover for a completely different genre? Would you still sell me then? Huh?

STORY: Readers would rather have a great story than a great cover.

COVER: But they will judge how good the story will be based on how great I look. The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

BLURB: Even if the cover is amazing, they won’t check out the book until I capture their interest.

FORMATTING and EDITING: And they would shut the book quickly if not for us.

STORY: Or if I didn’t engage the reader right off the bat. Look, Cover and Blurb, you only have to engage the reader’s interest for a few seconds. I have to entertain the reader for several hours straight.

VOICE: I have you all beat.

PRICE: Who are you?

AUTHOR PAGE: I’m the about the author section.

Everybody but Author Page laughs.

STORY: Nobody even gets to the about the author section until the book is finished. How can you be the best?

AUTHOR PAGE: Because without the author, this book wouldn’t even exist in the first place.

FORMATTING: You’re not the author. You’re just a page about the author.

AUTHOR PAGE: I also generate future sales by sending fans to the blog, social media pages, and fan page.

MARKETING: You can thank yours truly for those pages.

COVER: Much of that marketing features a picture of me. My image makes the book marketable. I’m the brand.

CLIMAX: Excuse me.

BLURB: Yes…?

CLIMAX: I’m what every reader wants. They yearn for me. They read hundreds of pages just to get me. The closer they get, the more they want it. I give them everything their hearts desire. Any reader will tell you that I’m the best part of the book.

STORY: You!? You’re not even a whole page. They read me for several hours, and you just for a few seconds. Why, if not for me, they would never reach the climax.

ENDING: It’s not the climax they’re after. It’s the ending. They want happiness. They want all the loose ends to be tied. I make the readers happy. I make them come back for more in the sequel. I make them recommend the book to others.

COVER: Look! Someone’s coming.

BLURB: Places, everyone!

INTRODUCTION: It’s so nice to meet you.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)