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)