On average, they wrote about half a dozen unpublished manuscripts before they sold a novel.
(By the way, this is what I call the Myth of the First Novel. Because it’s hardly ever the first novel they wrote. Just the first one to get published. But that’s beside the point.)
Aside from cranking out thousands of pages of prose, there’s one thing they all do furiously:
They read every day.
If you want to get published, you need to be an avid reader. Here’s what you should read.
Read books about writing fiction.
Writing is a skill, and it can be learned. Nobody is born with “author” stamped on their birth certificate. Whatever you want to write, you can learn how.
Not sure where to begin? You’re already here on Fiction University, so you’re off to a good start.
Subscribe to a good writing magazine, such as Writer’s Digest, The Writer, or Writers’ Forum.
Then find some top-quality books you can study. Here are my personal recommendations of some of the best books for any aspiring novelist:
- The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) by Jack Bickham
- Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge
- Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham
- Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder (and the rest of the series, including Save the Cat Writes a Novel)
- The Fiction Factory by John Milton Edwards
- Writing Novels That Sell by Jack Bickham
There are plenty more. But that’s a good start. Stack those books up beside your reading chair, and you’ll give yourself a top-notch education in writing fiction.
Read both good and bad books.
Read everything you can get your hands on, both good and bad.
Obviously, reading good writing will inspire you to write better. But bad novels can be just as educational. Reading cheap, cheesy, overblown writing might just make you feel better about your own writing skills.
Plus, it’s a quick way to learn what not to do. That’s valuable, too.
Read inside your genre.
First: yes, you must pick a genre for each book you write. No, you don’t have to stick to the same genre for the rest of your life.
Read to see what other people are doing in your genre, and how they’re doing it. Pay attention to what works, and what doesn’t. See what’s popular and what isn’t. See what’s been done to death, and look for a way to do something fresh and new.
Don’t just stick to your favorite subjects. Take a walk through the library or bookstore and pick up anything that catches your eye. Read random magazines. Read a good newspaper, like the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. You never know what you’ll discover.
In the last 24 hours alone, I’ve read about:
- backpacking through a disaster area
- the law regarding cursed objects in medieval England
- how to convert a van into an RV
- using radar to map ancient Incan cities, and
- a guy chasing a car around LA because it had giant fiberglass chicken on the roof. I’m not making this up.
At least two of those things will end up in my next book. Maybe three. Overall, time spent reading is time well spent.
Soak up all the knowledge you can.
You never know when something you read today will come in handy for a story tomorrow. Every character, setting, and plot you write about has to come from somewhere.
Remember, your own personal experiences are only the starting point. Reading avidly multiplies that many times over.
The hidden bonuses of reading:
Studies have shown that both kids and adults who read fiction exhibit improved empathy and problem-solving skills.
Here’s another bonus: better sleep. The less time you spend watching a screen (especially at night), the quicker you’ll fall asleep. You’ll also enjoy a better quality of sleep. The trick is to read a paper book (or a Kindle Paperwhite), not a phone or tablet with a backlight.
So, if you can’t find anything good on Netflix tonight, just switch off the TV. Read a book. It will make you a better writer.
What are your favorite books about writing?