Why Writers Need to Be Readers

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When I tell people that I read 184 books last year, it never fails to get a reaction.  “That’s so much!”  “I could never read that much.”  When these people are my fellow writers, I always want to ask them one question.

How much do you read?

The reality is that if you are a writer, you should also be a reader for three very important reasons.

1.  You need to know what is being published today.

A childhood favorite, but not what is
being published today.
Many of our favorite books are old favorites.  If you are a children’s writer, you probably read many of your favorite books when you were a child. Mine include The Secret Garden, everything by Marguerite Henry and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan.  Do you notice something?  Those books are all old.  

If your favorites are more than just a few years old, and you want to sell your writing, you need to learn what publishers are buying now in terms of both style and subject.  This means that you have to read.

2.  You need to know your competition.

Whatever it is that you want to write, whether it is nonfiction picture books or adult romance novels, you need to know your competition.  Read the authors your work will compete with and save yourself from submitting something that is too close to either Kelly Milner Hall’s Aliens book or Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series.  

You can’t tell an editor that your book is original if you don’t know what other people are writing.  Read what your competitors have published in the last 3 years.

3.  You need to perfect your craft.

Obviously, if you want to be a writer, you need to write.  

Another way to work on your craft is to read.  Do this to see how other writers introduce characters, kick up the tension and pull readers into previously unknown settings.  Read picture books to see how writers can tell stories, develop characters and surprise the reader in 500 words or less.  Read nonfiction to see how writers enable modern readers to identify with various historical figures while keeping these figures 100% real and accurate.

Unless you read, you cannot write and submit with authority.  They question you need to ask yourself isn’t if you have time to read but how you can afford not to read.


In addition to writing her own nonfiction, SueBE is teaching the upcoming WOW! course Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.


Sioux Roslawski said...


You are preaching to the choir, Sue. I love to read. I find not only do I soak up writing techniques like a sponge, but it is also a welcome break when I need to step away from my writing for a half-hour or so.

Thanks for the post. Hopefully some writers who are not voracious readers will accept your prodding.

Anonymous said...

I don't know many writers who aren't avid readers. I incorporate it into my schedule every day. I try to read a combination of books-- writing-craft books, fiction, non-fiction. But most importantly, I try to remember reading is a joy and pleasure and not make every book serve a professional purpose. Yes, I'm a writer, but I'm a reader too!

Audrey said...

Thanks for sharing this good advice. I need to familiarize myself with the popular children's books that are currently being published. I think that I will be spending time in the local library real soon!

Margo Dill said...

The biggest excuse I've heard writers say (and not many but some)--I can't read anything because I steal it. Well, my response to that is, "You know there are no original stories, right?" Gets them every time. I love reading. Right now, I read about 20 books a day :)--okay, okay, so most of them have 500 words or less and are full of photos. :) Luckily, and I mean this sincerely, my two year old LOVES books.

Sally Ferguson said...

I find myself caught in the "shoulds." I feel like I have to write a book review everytime I read a book, just to make it productive. Then that slows down the process of moving on to more books.
I always say, "So many books, so little time!"

Anonymous said...

When I am working on a picture book, I tend not to read picture books. The same with a middle grade or young adult project. If I do, I just have trouble moving from their story world to my own.

You should see my to-read piles. Way too little time indeed!

Marcia Peterson said...

I always have a stack of books and magazines on the bedside table. Seems like all of my library holds come in at the same time, and I've got this embarrassment of riches to choose from. A good problem to have!

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