Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The answer is complicated when asking if aspiring writers should read other people's books.

It's October, and that means (aside from Halloween) that the Insecure Writer's Support Group has yet another question to answer up on its blogfest link. So I'm participating :). If you too would like to sign up for the IWSG, please go HERE, and then at some point, thank Mr. Alex J. Cavanaugh for starting the whole thing. The October 2nd question is as follows:

It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?

Ho boy...the IWSG went there, did they? Folks, I don't think people have any business writing when they don't read other people's books. But I realize that there are those who do this and use the above excuse (I happen to work with one) and I gotta say, it seems incredibly narcissistic. However, grandiose narcissism is really on the rise in this country so I guess...when in Rome? If you don't mind my thinking of you as a toxic narcissist, then write away.

The book industry owes nothing to anyone, and neither does capitalism. We have billionaire Kardashians who make all their money selling lipstick and who are famous for being famous. We have people with incredible educations who can barely make a living, and we have young people who were born pretty that become famous and rich for just looking good. So to be fair in answering this question, you don't have to do anything. You too deserve to be a celebrity; the world just doesn't know about you yet. "You are not the boss of me!" is a very fitting rebuttal to anyone who might suggest you actually read before writing a book. It's very "American." I have a toxic grandiose narcissist friend who regularly applies to be CEO of companies or sends his resume into jobs at colleges to be Dean of such and such. He only has a high school diploma, that's it. He hasn't gotten hired by any of them, but in his mind he thinks that this is the right kind of job for him. Anything less than six figures is a waste of his time. I could care less about what he does, because his business with me is related to Dungeons & Dragons. Whatever else he's got going on in his life is none of my business, and I happily embrace that.

The thing is, capitalism doesn't reward the smart any more than it rewards the reckless and stupid. That's just a fact. So a person who has never read a book can get lucky and (complete with spelling errors and terrible plot) get enough people to buy copies of their schlock to make a ton of money and count themselves as successful. Denying that this exists and does happen is just being naïve. Denying that the unskilled and the unworthy aren't regularly rewarded is a complete lie. In my own personal experience, I've seen it happens often enough that it seems commonplace (it's just never happened to me). Luck exists, and it shines its light in the oddest places, and you can beat yourself up over the hundreds of reasons your brain comes up with to answer the question: why can't I reproduce so and so's success?

When it comes to writing, I don't think that there's a formula for success. I don't think that any one person actually knows what makes something go viral, or what makes a person's book resonate with a large audience. If they did, it would be marketable and reproduceable and packaged. Seeing that it's not, then there's a hard truth to face: no matter how much time and effort you put into something there's a chance you will never see any reward of any kind. However, I do think that reading other people's books could provide you with at least some things that might help you. And that advice comes with a caveat: if you hate reading and you "must" read, don't waste your time by reading the writing of people who aren't producing the kind of success you crave. In other words, if money is what you want, then read books that are written by authors making a ton of money off their books. Don't waste your valuable intellectual time by delving into the latest fantasy porn book written by a self-published author that makes $8 a month in book sales. That's just a complete waste of time, even if you may feel deeply or superficially satisfied with such a story. That being said, here are things that reading gives to you that become tools for you as a writer:

1) You learn what's popular and who's buying. I'll give you a hint on this one: men of all ages aren't really readers anymore. People like me are very rare (I've read 36 books this year). Most readers are women, and women crave very different things than men. If you want your best chance at selling books, you're going to want to market your books to women to have the best chance at achieving your goal. For every dollar spent on a book by a man, there's probably a hundred dollars spent on books by women. So reading books written by women for women will give you an idea of what women like.

2) You'll find out if your idea has already been done before. I had a friend that wanted to start a business (and was looking for investors) to deliver furnace filters to homes every month. I googled furnace filter delivery businesses for him and showed him four in the Salt Lake area that are already doing this and then politely refused to invest in his idea. He never went anywhere with it...balloon popped as it were.

3) You will discover that every single human out there has a story they want someone to listen to or read. I think that's an important realization. And being a consumer instead of a content creator has its own reward. Since I bought a house, I've purchased beautiful book shelves, and I've been buying lovely hardcover book editions of favorite authors. My being a consumer has brought me pleasure, and made me realize that there's a lot of work and artistic love that goes into creating these things and that it was all done with me in mind. All I had to do was shell out some money. I didn't have to arrange for publishers to print said masterpieces, or to coordinate with copy editors, or to make arrangements with cover artists...someone else did all of that for me. 

So to finish this long blog post, I am one person, and I can tell if someone doesn't read books and is instead a "content creator" and "narcissist" wanting to direct others to their writing. The "I don't read, but I have something I've written for you to read" doesn't go far with me. I'm not interested in what that person has to say, and I'll politely decline and move onto things that pique my interest. But I am one person. Even if you sold me a book, you'd probably pocket $2.00. That's chump change. Go out and make your millions, be a success, etc. I honestly wish you well. Just don't count on a sale from me.

I gotta say, this was one interesting question from the IWSG.


  1. And you covered it very well. Have people become successful that don't read? Absolutely. But those odds are so slim, why would anyone gamble on them?
    A toxic narcissist - I think you nailed that description.

  2. Of course if you don't read and want to put out a book you can always use a ghostwriter, like say the current occupant of the White House. But unless you are a celebrity it's better to know a bit about how books work before trying to write one. Most people wouldn't just try to do open heart surgery without doing more than playing a few games of Operation first, right?

    But on the other side of the coin there can be too much studying and slavish devotion to how one author or a small group of authors do something. There are so many paths to success and failure in the publishing business that there should never be said there's a "right way" and a "wrong way" to do things.

  3. Well said, Michael. It does irk me sometimes when a "celebrity" writes a book and gets published when he/she has never written a book before.

  4. "I don't think people have any business writing when they don't read other people's books."

    I couldn't agree more.

  5. It's like wanting to be a songwriter but never listening to the radio. One would hope that a writer would like reading, but some people... Interesting answer.

  6. The idea that not reading makes your ideas original is so ludicrous that I don't have words for it. Maybe if you don't read, don't watch movies, don't watch TV, don't so many other things that deliver stories to us in some form or another, THEN you MIGHT have an idea that wasn't influenced by something that went before.


Advertisement 1