Hate reading: something most authors do, but rarely ever admit to.
Hate reading is the process of selecting a book in your genre and reading it strictly for “marketing research” purposes. In other words, this is not for enjoyment, but strictly to compare and contrast best-selling books to what you’re writing.
I know. You’re never supposed to think of fellow authors as competition. For every story there is a reader, and we just have to write good books, and the two will find each other eventually, right? That is true. Of course, it is. But it is also true that there an insidious complacency and mediocrity that sets in when you refuse to be competitive.
I know, this goes against everything you’ve read lately: COMPARISON IS THE THIEF IF JOY!
Yeah, well, that’s only partly true. Comparing yourself to other authors at different stages of their career is definitely the thief of joy–you can’t compare your beginning to someone else’s end. That makes no sense. But competition encourages us to constantly strive to better ourselves. Iron sharpens iron, right?
So here are a some ways that hate reading can sharpen your writerly skills:
1. You know what the market wants and what sells.
We all know it’s ridiculous to chase trends. Some may actually catch the tail end of one and find moderate success at that, but let’s be real. Most of us can’t write fast enough to jump on the stepbrother, billionaire, bad boy trend. The good news is, there is no need to try. If you read enough of those books, you realize it’s not about having billionaire or bad boy in your title. It’s about the sweet spot that the book hits with readers.
Stepbrother = forbidden relationship
Billionaire = rescue fantasy
Bad Boy = Anti-hero, rake; the bad boy is a popular hero choice.
If you read the popular titles, you will see what tropes readers are loving (spoiler alert: it’s always the same ones).
2. Your creative mind is exposed to the many and varied ways to tell a story.
Authors who don’t read fiction or don’t read very widely (meaning across different genres and subgenres) are pretty easy to spot. They tell the same story over and over about the same characters. Somewhere along the line this behavior became confused with style, but is it, really? Style and voice are subjective, I know, but if you are writing the same sort of story over and over again with the same tired ass characters, it might be time to hate read a subgenre that you’ve never dove into before. Even if you chose to never write that way, you may find something fresh and new in that book that you can maybe apply to your own writing.
3. You will gain a solid understanding of story structure.
…or maybe you finally read that one story that illustrates why story structure is important. There are lots of honest-to-God pantsers out there. I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the rest of you who have a hard time figuring out where a novel should begin, where conflicts occur in the timeline, and how to thoroughly execute that ending. If you find books on the craft of writing too preachy or feel like plotting takes too damn long, this is a shortcut to gaining that same knowledge.
4. You’ll know and understand genre expectations.
We all hate to think of our writing as formulaic, but if you’re a genre fiction writer, you have to face the fact that there is a formula to this shit. There are things that readers expect to happen. The girl gets the guy. The mystery gets solved. The hero wins the day. When you end your book without satisfying these basic expectations, readers get testy (to put it mildly). This doesn’t mean that you have to give the reader what they want, exactly how they want it all the time. There are always different things you can do to turn formulaic writing on its ear, BUT…you have to know the formula to begin with.
5. You’ll discover that the title BESTsELLER doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good book.
Listen, I’m sure that you’ve bought into the review hype surrounding a book more than once and, after reading it wondered, “what the entire fuck? Did I read a different book?” I still haven’t figured out how shitty books gain so much popularity, but it happens. For the most part, this knowledge has made it easier to accept that BESTSELLING AUTHOR doesn’t mean what it used to mean. That doesn’t mean that I won’t still strive to be a bestselling author, but I know that when I do it will be well earned!
I’m sure I’ve learned more from hate reads–ahem–market research. I’ll share more if they come to me later. Just keep these in mind when you find yourself wanting to wallbang that bestselling romance. There might be some kernels of knowledge in there.