True confession time: I (probably) have not read your book (yet).1
Like most—hopefully all writers—I’m a big reader. I have loved books since I was a little kid, and that love for fiction compelled me to attempt writing my own. But one of the sad realities of being an author is that I can’t read as much as I want to, and not nearly as much as I should.
I say “should” because even though reading is fun and relaxing, for a long time I’ve also felt some anxiety around them. I firmly believe that to be a good writer you need to read a lot. You need to read anything and everything. And given my druthers (a phrase I’m sure I picked up from a book at a young age!), I would be reading as many books as I can. As a YA/science fiction writer, I also think I should be keeping up on what’s being published right now, participating in conversations about current books, recommending them to others.
As I become friends with other authors and/or like them from panels and their blogs and online interactions, of course I want to read their work! I especially want to help support debut authors, because those first book sales are so, so important. But, well, there are so many of you and so many books coming out every year. Every week.
Some recent estimates of the number of books being published in the United States are in the range of 300,000-400,000. What. In a busy publishing week, like last week, there are typically at least four YA books published by people I know in some capacity, and many more intriguing books that I add to my increasingly unwieldy t0-be-read list. Just keeping up with the “happy book birthday” Tweets is taking more effort than it used to! (The depressing flipside of this for authors is “Ahhh! How will my book be noticed among the 30 that are coming out on the same day? Woe is me.”)
I’m falling behind, missing out on most of the major books that people have been talking about, and I feel embarrassed. Just one example: The Martian was recommended to me repeatedly a long time ago, and it was on my list but I still haven’t read it; now the movie’s coming out, and I wish I’d gotten to it sooner. There are plenty of classics and books considered canon that I certainly should have read by now, but I’m even more ashamed about the books by good friends that I haven’t actually made time for yet. The guilt mounts when I know they’ve read my books because they’ve told me so or reviewed them. This isn’t a quid-pro-quo game, but I do want to reciprocate more when I can. Reviews are so, so important too!
There are plenty of good reasons why I haven’t been able to read everything… I waste too much time on the internet, which I’m trying to cut back on. Family life has required more of my time, what with a baby and all. Work always takes up a huge chunk of time. I’ve had some pretty tight deadlines on my books, too, and I need to do a lot of research for them to boot. I love watching movies and TV, which I make even less time for but still, that’s time I could be reading… And what about video games? I miss those!
Another “problem” is that with so many books to choose from, when I do have time to read, it’s hard to pick which to open next so I just grab the shiny new thing, and older books just get pushed further down on my list. Lately, it seems like I prioritize ARCs, because I want to read them before the real book gets published, and library books, because those come with deadlines.
Sometimes a friend or another author will apologize for not having read one of my books yet, and I wave them off.2 Who am I to judge? But this only reinforces my idea that there’s some expectation that you read your friends’ books. Should I be apologizing too? Am I lying by omission? I’m more likely to simply not mention it if I haven’t read their book, but then I wonder, maybe they think I read it and didn’t like it? There’s also the hope that your friends are buying your books, and that’s where I do a little better. Chances are, I may not have read your book, but I did buy it, and that must count for something, right? Then again, with so many books coming out every week, I can’t buy or store everything, so I at least try to signal boost as much as I can.
Does anyone else feel pressured to keep up with new books? Books by people you know? If you haven’t read your friend’s latest book, do you tell them or not?