How to Read as a Writer

Posted by on May 19, 2013 | 5 comments

Read books published in the last five years.

 I.e. Don’t read this.

What’s popular in fiction changes so fast—genre, pacing, narrative voice, amount of description, dialogue, what’s controversial and what isn’t etc.

Think of the books you read as a teen—rather different to today’s YA, right?

You’re writing for a modern readership, so keep the bulk of your reading up-to-date.

(This is one piece of advice I find easy. So many new books.)


Gone GirlRead bestsellers.

To quote Randy Ingermanson (who has a great free writing-tips newsletter you can sign up to here):

“…every novelist should be reading the current bestsellers. You should definitely be reading the bestsellers in your own category. You should also be reading the massive breakout bestsellers that are selling millions of copies per year, even if they aren’t in your category.”

What makes certain books bestsellers (other than a lot of hype and a generous marketing budget)? Maybe a book does something new in its genre, maybe it’s the breakout book for a new genre, maybe the themes/characters/romance/plot etc are just amazing. All good to think about as you read.


that-author-is-a-thousand-books-to-a-thousand-persons_lAs you read, analyse what works…

Both large scale (character arc, overall plot etc.) and small scale (individual paragraphs/scenes).

Pick apart the scenes that move you. How did the author succeed in making you frightened/romantically gooey/nervous/excited?

How much description was in that scene? How much dialogue? How long were the sentences? What was the pivotal point in the scene and where did it come in the chapter? (You get the idea.)

If you’re struggling, it helps to type out a few pages—you’ll be able to better feel how the author’s writing style differs from yours.


…and what doesn’t work.

Sometimes, you can learn as much from bad writing as from good.

If you feel yourself being pulled out of a story as you read, ask why.

Did the author use a metaphor that didn’t fit? Did they get a fact wrong? Did the hero do something out of character? If you’re losing interest, is it because the characters are one-dimensional, the plot too slow, etc.?

Take note, so you can avoid doing the same.


planet-stories-1951-nov_lRead within your own genre…or maybe don’t.

There’s conflicting advice out there on this one.

Read within your own genre so you can keep your writing relevant, whilst finding out (and avoiding) your genre’s cliches.

Or, don’t read within your genre so you don’t absorb those cliches in the first place.

Personally, I don’t worry too much about this one—I’m happy to read both inside and outside my genre.


When you’ve finished a book, check out other people’s reviews.

Log onto Goodreads. What patterns are there in why people liked/didn’t like a book? Do you agree with the majority opinion?


Did I miss any reading tips? Let me know in the comments!


Reading boy photo credit: Spencer Finnley / / CC BY-NC-ND
Planet Stories photo credit: pixeljones / / CC BY-SA


  1. Hi Kendra,
    I know you are writing a YA book, but what is your chosen genre?

    • Hey Soph! My book that’s coming out next year is Gothic romance. Will post more about it in the future. 🙂

      • Ooooh! I look forward to hearing more 🙂

  2. All really good points. Personally, I think you should read your genre – if someone said go and write some YA Claire, I wouldn’t have a clue where to start – it’s only by reading that you learn what’s selling, what’s working and what isn’t.


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