Friday, July 19, 2013

Are You Reading Your Genre?

Are You Reading Your Genre?
By Brad R. Cook

It seems like every time I pitch at a conference, I get hit with the infamous agent gotcha question. For those who haven’t pitched, here’s the way it goes, you've practiced your pitch over and over until you know everything you’re going to talk about. As the two of you discuss the book, a question comes from the agent for which you don’t have a beautifully crafted response. The palms sweat, the mind races back-and-forth, as time slowly ticks by in deafening silence.  

Every agent must go to a seminar on how to ask the nerve numbing gotcha questions, because they are better than HR Reps.  

My favorite question from this last round of pitches – What else had I read in this genre, and how did my book compare to those books? Another agent asked me what novels did my book compare to and why?

First, I told myself to breathe and tried not to show my anxiety level rising.

I know some of you are thinking – those aren’t that bad – and sure if we were sitting in a coffee house letting the day slip away, I would love to get into this discussion. But I had five minutes and already used two. My mind sped through hundreds of titles and their plots, comparing each one to mine. I wish I could say I came up with some crazy comparison but in truth I grabbed the first thing that made sense and luckily came up with a descent answer. I had an ace up my sleeve though – I’d read my genre.

We all read what we want, what we love, and most writers I know read their friends books, but are you reading your genre? One can call it research, or scouting the competition, but reading your genre is really more about staying current in your profession. Doctors keep up with the latest in medicine, lawyers keep track of every change to the law, and architects keep up on the latest building innovations. As writers reading your genre not only keeps us up to date on the industry, but also on the latest trends, what publishers have bought and what agents have sold.

I also believe in reading the history of your genre. You have to know where your genre’s been to know where it can go. So, if you want to write science fiction or are writing sci-fi, start off with Jules Verne, check out Clarke, Asimov, and Adams, maybe even a couple of the Star Wars novels, then move up to Card, Gaiman, or even T.W. Fendley’s Zero Time. To name just a few…

What genre are you writing and what books do recommend in that genre? Let us know in the comments section.

I’ll start,
Genre – Steampunk
Check out 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, or Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Never stop reading, never stop writing, and be part of your genre.

Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit , follow me on Twitter @bradrcook , or my tumblr page Thoughts from Midnight


  1. writer@fayeadams.comJuly 20, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    You are so right, Brad. "Read what you write," has always been my first advice to any would be writer. Reading great books will keep you aware and updated on developments and trends in your genre. But there is an added bonus for me. Reading inspires me to write, motivates me to put pen to paper. I read every poetry book I can get my hands on. Garrison Keillor publishes "Great Poems," a collection of poetry read on the Writers Almanac, and I also recommend Ted Kooser, especially his book, "Delights and Shadows."

  2. Your essay is quite a wakeup call. My only question is, should I read my genre before or after I read my how-to books?