January Book Lessons

So, I made part of my goals/rules for 2016 to read more this year. I want to be more in line with what is being put on right now in the markets that I write and sell. I also want to improve as an author and often times that can come from reading craft books.

This blog isn't a review site and never has been. You can find tons of those out there that do a much better  job than me. However, I thought it would be interesting to breakdown what I read and share something I learned from reading it. It is also a bit of accountability for me to post one of these each month.

So here are the books I read this month and something I learned from each of them.

Take off your pants by Libbie Hawker

What I learned: When I plan my books, I move from one plot point to the next and then add in the character's emotional reaction to those plot points. But Hawker suggests actually doing this in reverse, starting with a characters goal and flaw and working towards a place where they can only achieve their goal by overcoming their flaw. I thought this was an interesting idea and I've been using it to help me flesh out the next book in the Acceptance series. I like how Hawker explains the triangle of tension that needs to be in each scene. Basically, the character gets wedged into a situation and the the scene spits her back out into the next wedge. Hawker explains this much better than me. I also got a nice reminder to focus my scenes on a character goal which helped to jog my brain a bit.

Unravel Me by Tahereh Maf

What I learned: Good advice is to write the kind of book that you want to read. This book was a good reminder of that for me. The writing is beautiful and Mafi handles internalization like a master. But I didn't love it, because I'm an action kind of girl and this story is more about the main character's emotional reaction to the world around her. As authors, we should know what we like and what draws us in, so we can make sure to have that in our own books. But reading someone with a completely different style is good, too. After reading this, I know that I need to explore more of Rebecca's emotional state while writing the last book in the Acceptance Series. While I don't want to go quite as far as Mafi does, I can see where exploring those emotions can add to the reader experience.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

What I learned: You know how there are books that make you salivate because the author is just amazingly talented? This was one of those books for me. Specifically when it came to world building. Aveyard managed to create a complete social and political system set up in a new world landscape AND a complex magic system, all without stopping to explain any of it. I will absolutely read this one again, just to really study the way she crafts her world so seamlessly into the story. And I'm anxiously looking forward to the release of the next book in this series in February. This should be required reading for anyone who wants to improve their world-building.

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin

What I learned: So this book came out in 2006 from a well-established author in the genre. This book taught me just how fickle the publishing world is. While the book is beautifully written, I can say with some confidence that this same book pitched today by a debut author would not be picked up for publication. This book is a reminder of two things for me. First, reader aesthetics change all the time and even ten years can feel like a century in the publishing world. Second, established authors who have sold well in the past, can get away with more than debut authors. This isn't a criticism, it just is what it is. Before you can bend all the rules and eschew today's conventions you have to prove that you can be successful, following a more established formula. A good lesson for all of us to keep in mind.

 Evolution Series (books 1-5) by Kelly Carrero

What I learned: This series started off fantastic and I was burning through a book a day. But then I realized that I was reading these a little too fast. That's when I checked the page count (something I don't normally look at for ebooks) and realized that each book is only about half as long as a typical YA novel. At first, I didn't mind (the books were good), but as the series continued, I realized that each book no longer contained a single story line. They stopped at arbitrary cliff-hangers and then picked up again in the next book. And that's when I stopped reading. There are more books to this series, but I won't be reading them. Because I felt cheated by the author. I don't mind a shorter book, but it started to feel like the author was intentionally chopping up her books in order to get more sales. I'm all for ideas to help authors sell more books, but this was a hard lesson that your ideas have to benefit the reader, not the author.

So that's it for this month. I feel pretty good about my start to reading more. I'm currently reading Scarlet by Marissa Meyer and The Anatomy of Story by John Truby, so I'll have those in next months lessons. I'm always on the hunt for good books. If you've got a great YA or Craft book suggestion, let me know in the comments!