To read books similar to yours, or not to read. That is the question.
I’ve heard many writers say that they don’t like to read books that are similar to their own, because they don’t want to be influenced by that author. As in, they don’t want to end up with another book that looks/sounds/feels just like someone else’s work. To which I say, yes, you don’t want to write a book that’s too similar to what’s already out there. And, yes, reading a book similar to yours could (consciously or unconsciously) influence your style and story.
BUT. Yes, of course there’s a ‘but.’ :) The same thing can still happen even if you haven’t read books similar to yours. How? Quite simply, it’s possible for two separate people to come up with two similar ideas, and then write two similar stories. For example, Fallen by Lauren Kate and Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick are very similar, yet they were written and sold independently. They even had release dates within months of each other. How’s that for bizarre coincidence? :)
What if you write a book that’s similar to something that’s already been published? If you don’t read books in your genre/subject matter/age group, etc, then you won’t know about this book. And then, when you’re querying, you might come across as uninformed, which could also translate into unprofessional (maybe, not definitely).
So, now we have a dilemma: read and possibly be influenced by other authors, or don’t read and possibly come across as naïve or uninformed. What’s the solution?
There is a solution, but it’s not an easy one because it requires a lot of time and effort on the writer’s part—read widely, broadly, across the spectrum, anything and everything you can get your hands on.
How does that help?
Well, look at it this way. If you read one book that’s very similar to your own, then, yes, it could easily influence your writing. Especially if you liked that book. But if you read, say, ten books that are similar to your own, then it will be harder for just one style to jump out and dominantly influence you. Instead, you’ll have several influences all mingling together, and the end result will definitely not be a clone of one of those books. Plus, once you start querying, you’ll have a large array of books or authors whose fans might also enjoy your book. Presenting this information will show the agent or editor that you are involved in the book community, which means you’d step up to the plate with your own book when it’s time.
Of course, if you want the other books’ influence to be watered down enough so they don’t make such an impact on you, that means you have to read a lot of books. A lot. Some people don’t have time to read so much, plus write at the same time. I’ve seen writers read extensively before starting their own books, and then set reading aside until it’s done. I’ve also seen writers find a way to balance both. I, personally, have more time to read than to write because my kids are home with me often. So I end up reading a lot while I’m working on a project. But if I had more writing time than reading time, I’d probably go the other way.
What do you do? Do you read while you’re working on a project? Or do you set it aside until you’re done?