4 Types of Reading for Every Writer

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Late in 2020, I prepped to write a middle grade science fiction novel. Because I read a lot more fantasy than science fiction, I knew I needed to compile a reading list. I found very little for this age group so I asked book fans and writers. I found online lists composed by reviewers and librarians. I requested a dozen recent middle grade novels and War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. 

After I read the first contemporary novel, I examined the others. Every book was a boarding school story on another planet. Harry Potter goes to Mars, etc. Why oh why was the only unique recommendation War of the Worlds? And why didn’t science play a bigger part in these books? I also noticed that there was no diversity among the authors. 

I put creating a better list but on the back burner until I signed up for a DIY MFA starter kit from Gabriela Pereira. One assignment was to compile a reading list to study the type of book you are writing. Gabriela includes 4 types of books-- 

Comp Titles 

These are the titles your book will be up against in the market place. Many of them will be the same genre as your book. Others may be the same theme or setting. All will be recent. 

My comp titles: 

  • The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm. I found this title because I had seen a recent interview with Holm. This was my jumping off place. I looked it up on my library web catalog and then used the NoveList feature to find read-alikes. 
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon 
  • The Moon Platoon by Jeremy Kraatz 
  • Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee 
  • Sleepers by Darcy Pattison 

Contextual Books

These titles inform your writing. They may be research. They may offer breadth in the genre or topic. They don’t have to be recent. 

My contextual titles:

  • Space Case by Stuarts Gibbs 
  • The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow. I read this one when it came out and loved it. 
  • The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos 
  • Minrs by Kevin Sylvester. My grandad was a mining engineer. This was an easy sell. 
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Hint: If your book is compared to Firefly, I will pick it up. 

Contemporary Books 

Even if a book doesn’t directly compete with yours, you need to know what is being published in your genre. These books may not be contextual but again add breadth to your list. 

My contemporary titles: 

  • Randoms by David Lee 
  • #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil. Running man with a teenage girl protagonist. Yes! 
  • The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch 
  • Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza 
  • The Secret Lake by Karen Inglis 


These are the foundational titles, the ones that led to what we see today. Because I’m writing a book for young readers, I chose several early dystopian novels for tweens. 

My classics: 

  • War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. It was written in 1897. How much more foundational can you get? 
  • The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey 
  • City of Ember by Jeanne Du Prau 
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry 
  • Enders Game by Orson Scott Card 

Not only are the plots more diverse than my original list, so are the writers and the characters. This is a solid list but I couldn’t develop it until I started looking beyond comp titles and include contextual titles, classics and a broader scope of contemporary books. 

Like Cathy recently pointed out in her post, writers need to be readers. Are you reading from all four categories? 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 27 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 1, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 1, 2021). 


Jeanine DeHoney said...

Great information to know Sue. I definitely have to add more titles to my reading list. Thanks for this post.

Margo Dill said...

I love love love this post. I've never really thought about grouping texts like this that we need to read for help with what we are writing. But I will be referring people to this post now. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I read just over 200 books last year between text and audio, novel through picture book. I don't need to read more, but I do need to read smarter.

Honestly, I thought I was doing pretty well reading new books. But I really understand why you need to read different types of books for different reasons.

Thank you both for the kind words!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--You always have such great ideas and such good advice. I have good intentions to follow your advice, and then I get distracted by a title. Ender's Game. What a great book.

By the way, I saw Orson Scott Card at a conference, and he's quite funny. He said that the Book of Mormon (the real book, not the musical) is chloroform in print (and he's Mormon!).

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Love Ender's Game although I've never heard Card speak. Lucky you! And thank you for the kind words.

Renee Roberson said...

What a great way to group your reading titles! This is such a comprehensive list. I've known about comp titles but I've always kind of lumped them together with contemporary books. I like how you dug around and found good comparative classic titles, too. Bravo! I"m trying to read more from different categories but this gives me even more ammunition. I think I'm going to try and compile a list like this of memoirs for my latest project idea.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Great lists, Sue, and yep, you know how I feel about reading! :-) Middle grade readers could use some great science fiction--I've read the classics you listed but I don't read much of the contemporary SF. But at an SCBWI conference workshop where an editor sat in to give critique, he LOVED the SF manuscript (there was only one among 2o of us!) and emphasized a need for something new in SF for MG readers so good luck! (And I will happily be a beta reader for you!)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I've been reading more memoir. I would love to see your list when you pull it together.

What encouraging words! I'm glad to hear that this is something editors see a need for. Thank you for volunteering to read. You are in spot #1 on my list.


Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top