Why it’s important to read in the genre you write in

by Kat Wells

One thing that astounds me most as both reader and writer is the number of people who try to write a book in a genre or category that they have never read. The most common that I’ve come across is children’s fiction, whether that be picture books, chapbooks, middle grade or YA.

Now, I write mostly middle grade and YA books, and the main reason for that is because I love to read middle grade and YA. The books I loved during my childhood are still some of my favourites, and whenever I re-read them, I feel not only the sense of joy and wonder of my childhood self, but also the pure enjoyment of reading them now.

One of my favourites, The Legendeer series by Alan Gibbons, is still so engaging that every time I pick it up, I get lost in it. The story is cool and I relate to the characters. Because by reading these books, and new books for this age group (I’ve just read Tin by Pádraig Kenny and am now emerged in M. G Leonard’s Beetle Boy) I’ve never lost that inner child that people always talk about.

Why is keeping my inner child important? Well, apart from having a crazy imagination, I have a good sense of what kids are into reading-wise, and it also helps maintain my respect for my readers – if a writer has no respect for their readers or isn’t aware of what’s currently around, it will show in their work. Big time.

I recently read a manuscript for a children’s book by an author who confessed to not having read any children’s books in the past 40 years, and one of the most noticeable things about their work was that they were writing their characters from an adult’s point of view – they were almost talking down to their characters!

Reading books that have recently been published also helps keep fresh my knowledge of what language is currently being used and what ideas and tropes are around. That’s not to say I aim to follow those tropes. Due to the nature of the publishing industry and how long it takes to get a book from manuscript to product, the tropes we see coming out now have already passed. But it does give me an idea of what is currently selling, what type of protagonists are popular, and where my manuscripts would sit on the shelf.

When it comes to the querying process, and the agent or publisher you’re querying asks for comparison titles published in the last five years, keeping up to date means you should be pretty well covered.

So those are the reasons why I can never stress enough that in order to write well in a category or genre, you have to have a love for it. If not, it will show in your writing. And let’s be fair, if you don’t have a love for it, why are you writing it in the first place?


Kat has been writing since she was a child, as a result of often connecting more with characters she’d read about than her peers. It was only natural that her own ideas would shout to be written down, and that urge to tell stories still booms in her mind to this day. She is now the author of the Half-Wizard Thordric trilogy, of which the first two books, Unofficial Detective and Accidental Archaeologist, are published with Creativia Publishing. 

Kat has a blog Treeshallow Musings and an author website. You can also stalk her over at Twitter and Facebook.

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27 thoughts

  1. I’ll raise my hand and say yes I’ve done this. I am dyslexic and reading doesn’t come easy for me but I love to write and remember what I’ve endeavored to read. Since college I have been a working and writing kind of fool who has no time for anything else. This post really helps because I am a psychotherapist who knows and loves memoir and I am trying to figure that out. I try to merge, but have been encouraged to make a merged book into an academic one, because it simply doesn’t work. It’s the second draft, but I started essentially from scratch. It’s on the back burner now as I try to figure myself out. Your article helps and I’m not afraid to say it

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  2. Let’s face it people who don’t like YA are writing it because it’s easy money these days. Are we going to pretend that all best selling YA books are great? Because they aren’t. There are some horribly written YA books that have made millions and gotten movie deals because they were rip-offs of other stories or even downright fan fiction. People write these things despite not reading them to make money, to make a name for themselves, and no, they don’t always have to be well written because as long as they hit the right nerve in a teen reading it, it doesn’t typically matter how good it is. I’ve considered trying to write a YA book just because of this, I just am also aware there’s no way I could get away with it because I can’t write to that audience, that doesn’t mean others won’t attempt it for fame and fortune. Clearly, if you don’t like a genre or whatever you most likely won’t be good at writing it but look at Twilight, for instance. Bell is a terribly written one-dimensional character. Easy to write because she has no personality traits at all. She exists so any teenager who reads that can pretend to be Bella. It’s simple, formulaic writing that is not at all challenging it just hit on the right formula of rich guy/vampire/love triangle. That’s it. Obviously, not all YA books are like this but come on now, are we going to sit here and pretend that some of the most popular YA novels right now are the best-written stories anyone has ever heard? Hunger Games is a blatant rip off of a much better book called Battle Royale. It’s great if you love YA and read whatever is considered to be the good YA stuff these days, but don’t act like there’s no reason anyone would want to attempt to write it if they don’t read it. Money. That’s the factor.

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  3. Good points, and probably generally true, but conversely, there is always the potential for the birth of a masterpiece. In the right hands, of course. A good writer could reinvigorate or reinvent a stale genre without feeling the subconscious obligation to fulfill some set of established criteria.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Love this, as a uni student I have found myself reading less and less because my mind just feels too full, but picking up a YA novel on a recent break reminded me how much I enjoy the genre and though I will probably forsake reading anything (other than uni stuff) for a while again now, I will say I miss terribly my old book a day habit. For now I shall desperately wish my imagination and originality would rear their heads again, after the bombardment of information stops, and storm the castle so that I can write something special for people like me.

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    1. Yes, I agree, as a fellow college/uni student myself. I wish I had the time (and energy) to read for fun more, and not just the classic literature I’ve been trying to get into these days, but modern books too. My only hangup is that I haven’t found (or rather, haven’t really looked for) titles that I’d want to read.

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  5. Kat touches on a highly important point. If you’re not versed in your chosen genre, you run the risk of repeating what everybody else said already! And that’s a disservice to the whole genre: that way it just keeps plodding through its own cliché thickets. So, thanks for the reminder! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. My favorite excuse for this is when writers say they don’t read in their genre so they’re not influenced by other authors…Like, awe, damn it, my writing is similar to a best selling author? Who in their right mind would want that?

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  7. Thanks for this Milly. Kat Wells makes an important point in an entertaining piece of writing. Perhaps its time for me to back to reading more in genres I really enjoy. But then, I wonder how one can write well if stuck in one place, whatever it is.

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  8. Blue: In some creative writing courses I took, I met several people who declared they weren’t readers, just writers. It always confused me because how were they supposed to know what readers expected from the genre they ended up writing in? So confusing.

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    1. I don’t even understand how people can become writers without having an insane love for reading! I was an obsessive reader as a kid. When I was about 7, my sisters made up this song that went like this: ‘I shot the Milly, but I did not shoot the book she read”.

      Well, look at me now girls! hahaha

      But in all seriousness, for me, it was reading that eventually lead me to start writing (I didn’t get completely immersed until about 11 or 12 though).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. “And let’s be fair, if you don’t have a love for it, why are you writing it in the first place?” So true. Especially considering how much work goes into writing any story, even a story you’re madly in love with.

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  10. This makes such an important point! I’ve seen so many people who supposedly love writing, and yet have no patience to read similar works already on the shelves. Whilst that might work for some who, perhaps, become too easily influenced by other styles, it’s so much more helpful to read what others are writing too and learn from it!

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