Friday, 1 October 2010

Don't Read Dead Authors

It happens at least once a term.  The feedback is that a section is too wordy, too descriptive, and you're busily defending your work on the grounds that Dickens did it like that.  Trouble is, Dickens is a Dead Author.  He's not a good example for you to follow because he's not a new author getting his first book published now.  

Established authors are nearly as bad as dead ones.  If I pick up a new novel by Anne Tyler, Nick Hornby, Ian Rankin or Jilly Cooper, I've got a fair idea of what it's going to be about, where it's going to be set, what sort of people the main characters will be, and what the style of writing is going to be.  If the opening is a bit slow to get going, I'll stick with it because I know I enjoyed their previous books.  

The rules are different for the unpublished to the previously published.  That's just a fact. So you should read first time novelists, and as you're reading, you should be working out why were they chosen off the slush pile.  What are their special qualities?  I'm not suggesting that you should follow what they did (for lots of reasons but not least because the market will have moved on by the time you've finished writing your novel), but it will give you an idea of what the market is looking for and how much better you've got to be to get noticed.  



womagwriter said...

That's an interesting idea.

But then, isn't it also worth reading authors who've established a large fan-base, to discover what makes their readers want to keep coming back to them?

The bottom line is, to be a writer you must read widely and constantly!

Sarah Duncan said...

100% yes to you need to read lots. I'm not so sure about reading writers with a big fan-base in terms of learning how to do it yourself.

The fan-base is often established by their early books and then readers get into the habit of reading them, even if the quality isn't consistent, or if the writer changes style - Joanna Trollope comes to mind.

And I can think of other writers whose career is sky-rocketed by one particular book, but none of the others match up, but they get a lot of marketing so sell well.

I suppose what I'm saying is read everything and everyone, to develop you as a writer, but if you're looking to get published, also read with certain degree of market awareness. What got published 100, 50, even 10 years ago may not get published now and what an established author can get away with may not work for a new comer.