I have tons of advice for writers, but if I only had one piece of advice to give, one that I think could make the most impact, it would be this: Whatever genre you write in, make sure you are an expert in that genre. What do I mean by this? I mean that you’ve read tons of books in the genre that you write in. Not just ten or twenty books, but one hundred or two hundred plus books. This advice applies no matter if you are a true crime writer, a picture book writer, a memoirist or a middle grade novel writer–whatever kind of writer you are! I think knowing your genre is important because it helps you become a better writer of that particular genre because you’ve seen how it’s been done really well (or conversely, really badly or just okay). You not only know what bar you have to reach with your own writing, you also become familiar with trends and archetypes of the genre. In children’s literature, it helps clue you in on things like tone and vocabulary and themes that are appropriate for the age group you are writing for.
Some writers worry that reading other books while they are writing will overly influence their own writing. Personally, I think it’s okay to be inspired or influenced by other writers and stories–there’s plenty of evidence of that happening in all art forms.
I think it’s particularly important that you read as many books in your genre as possible that have been published in the last two years. This is important because I think it helps give you a sense of what publishers and readers for looking for right now and the state of the current market. So often, I receive queries (particularly for picture books) that seem to be from another time. The kind of book that might have worked in the fifties or the nineties, but isn’t representative of what the current marketplace is for a picture book or a middle grade or young adult novel. The picture book of our youth is different from the picture book of today. The middle grade novel of our youth is different from the middle grade novel of today. The young adult novel of our youth is different from the young adult novel of today. Of course, write what’s in your heart, but if you keep in mind considerations of the current marketplace you are better positioned for success.
So get reading!