Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why You Should Read Current Books

I recently spent some time sorting through a mountain of my old MG and YA books. I read most of them between the ages of seven and fourteen (before I decided I was too cool to read kids' books and started in on the Stephen King lexicon).

As I was going through these books, I kept telling my husband how much I loved this series, or how I read this book ten times and got scared every time. I even opened my favorites and read the first chapter or two.
Nancy Drew + Hardy Boys collection
My beloved Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys books. A tiny fraction of my collection. Did I mention I have a LOT of books?
Here's the funny thing. I can guarantee that many (maybe even most) of the books I loved wouldn't sell today. Here are the "mistakes" I saw over and over again:
  • Starting out slowly. I'm talking glacial. Page after page, sometimes multiple chapters of exposition and backstory. How many times have we aspiring writers been told that we have to hook the reader in the first few pages--heck, even the first paragraph and sentence? 
slow sign
  • Unrealistic dialogue and interior monologue. And not just because the teenage protagonists are from a different time period. Teenagers in the eighties and nineties would have guffawed at some of these conversations, trust me.
80's girl

  • Lots and lots of scene description. This one actually makes me a little sad. I enjoy books with vivid settings, especially when they take place somewhere I've never been (which is one reason I liked the Nancy Drew and especially Hardy Boys books). It's armchair travel--cheap and fun. But the modern publishing world prefers to let the reader fill in most of the gaps. (Former-agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford had a fascinating post about this on his blog a few weeks ago.) 
What to take from this? Well, I read an astonishing number of books when I was younger, but there was a period of time when I didn't read current YA. When I wrote my first book a few years ago, I didn't know the modern conventions. And it showed--the book is now trunked, with good reason. Once I started reading YA and MG books off the current bestseller lists, I suddenly started getting more requests to read my manuscripts.

So read current books! Get titles that are on the bestseller lists, or from the new fiction section at your bookstore or library. And don't worry, you can still pull your old favorites off the shelves every once in a while--I won't tell.

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