One of the most popular pieces of writing advice that published authors, editors, agents, and basically anyone involved in the field gives to aspiring authors is to read a lot. Read the classics. Read the new releases. Read the bestsellers and the books being turned into movies. Read the obscure fiction written by your next-door neighbor. And your little sister.
There is a lot you can learn from reading a lot of books. Most of it is subconscious. That can't-put-it-into-words "good" that everyone is striving to achieve. Sometimes you learn what is being overdone. Or what is popular and could always use a new spin. And, hopefully, reading tons of books helps you figure out why you write and what you want to write.
One of the aspects of your book that can be best determined by reading other books is your genre. It's usually best to know what genre you are writing before you start editing your book, if not before you write it at all.
How does reading help you define your genre? First, you read a book that is similar to what you want to write. Then you read the stuff that's almost the type of book you want to write, but not quite. To fully understand the expectations of your genre, you also need to read some things that are definitely not the type of book you want to write. While you're doing all this reading, make sure to read books published in the last five years, as things do change quickly.
But just reading the books won't make you an expert. You also have to be looking for information about your genre. You may want to take notes or write reviews about what you did and don't like. You may find it useful to list out characters, themes, scenes, or other elements of the book to compare them.
What do they all have in common? What differences do you see?
And, most importantly, what things do you like?
Knowing what you personally like about the genre is a great guide to what your readers are going to like about your book. Once you know that, it will be much easier for you to write a book that is still enjoyable to create but also can be clearly branded by either yourself (if you self-pub) or your marketing team (if you go traditional) so readers will pick up the book and find exactly what they’re looking for.
My next genre post will go over how to deal with the bits of your genre you want to rebel against.