If you've read any of my newsletters, you'll recognize this tip. I almost always include it. "If you want to write in a genre, read books published within the last five years." Five years may sound specific, perhaps limiting (although trust me, in your genre, thousands of books per year release), so why have I set up such stringent guidelines?
Well, first of all, it's not me. Industry standards dictate this rule. But I'll uncover why the five years, and why you probably shouldn't read anything older than that—at least, not for research purposes.
First, Why Read in Your Genre
I cannot tell you the number of authors who tell me, "Oh, I don't read in the genre I write." They claim they either don't want to taint their writing voice, or worse, that they don't like the other books in their genre.
To explain why this doesn't make sense, I'll use an example from one of my favorite TV shows: Shark Tank.
Imagine going into the Tank and pitching a product to major investors. Now suppose Mr. Wonderful asks you, the owner of your company, "What's the competition for your product?" And you say
either, "Oh, I don't pay attention to the competition because I don't want it to taint my entrepreneurial voice." Or you say, "Oh, I hate the products in this particular area, so I don't pay attention," that will get you a quick ticket out of the tank, since every investor will say no in that moment.
The same translates to books. We need to know our genre to write in it. So why the five years?
Second, Why Read Books Published within the Last Five Years
Trends change. What got published in 2015 will NOT get published in 2021. So I find it best to explain by example.
I write YA, sometimes varying in subgenre, but usually I write YA Contemporary. Let's take a look at how YA Contemporary has changed in the last ten years.
YA Contemporary in 2011-2015: A pretty hopeless tone, experimental/purple prose, sad or bittersweet endings, more telling than showing, etc.
YA Contemporary in 2016-2021: More straight-forward prose, a more hopeful/funny tone, happier endings, far more showing than telling, deep POV, etc.
See the world of difference in one subgenre of a specific age group? The same applies across the board. What publishers took on in 2015 will differ for what they will take on now.
If we want to survive in publishing now, we have to know what sells at this very moment.
But I Don't like Modern Books
I used to feel the same way. I once called myself a Classics-Only Snob. But I outgrew that when I learned that if I write like Austen or Hemingway that I would get myself a swift rejection.
I've also found that I've grown to like books published within the last five years far more once I immersed myself into reading more of that.
We all have comfort zones when it comes to reading. But if we want to survive in this business, we can't take any short cuts. And the "long way" includes reading timely books.