Me Versus Reading Priorities

Piles of abandoned historical papers.Ralf

Photo credit: Ralf Steinberger via Flickr

I recently wrote a post about how I use the Goodreads reading challenge to set goals for how many books I read per year (click here to read).  My current goal is 50 (yes, I increased it since the last post).  Fifty sounds like a lot of books that I get to read: why set priorities? Because I have 125 books in my TBR shelves, and approximately a bazillion on my wish list, not to mention several bookcases filled with books I’d love to re-read.  Last year I found myself ordering new books – OOH SHINY! – even though I had plenty of wonderful, exciting books already on my shelves.  Clearly it’s time to focus.

I’ve done a bang-up job in the last three years with my goal to Read More.  But I’ve been thinking lately about how to Read Smarter — in particular, reading in ways that will improve my writing and my career as a writer.  Naturally, I started giving more thought to prioritizing what to read.  This led me to read Gabriela Pereira’s book, DIY MFA. (I’ll post a review on Goodreads when I finish it; come friend me if you’re interested.)  One of the three pillars of her program is “read with purpose,” where she talks about prioritizing your reading list, and her advice is quite similar to my plan.

I love it when the expert’s advice is what I’m already doing —  high five!

I was also inspired by Sammi Cox’s recent post on her reading challenge goals (click here to read), which were very specific. Mine are less specific, but still help narrow down and remind me what’s most important to me.

Without further ado, here are my reading priorities for 2019:

1) Comp Books

Comp books are those in my own subgenre, and preferably recent successes. They’re the ones I need to know so that I can tell an agent, “My book is like Famous Comp Book 1 meets Famous Comp Book 2, only even better!”  It turns out that “comp” is short for competitive.  All this time I thought it meant comparable or comparison books. I think I’ll keep thinking of them that way; comparison sounds so much nicer.  Unfortunately, I can’t find many books that are similar to what I write.  So that either means that writing non-epic secondary world fantasy is poised to be the next big thing, or that nah, nobody wants those books. Or that I’ve somehow totally missed all those other books like mine (this is where you should shower me with suggestions, please!).

2) Fantasy Classics

Because there are amazing books out there that people are still talking about decades later, and I should read them too (or in some cases, re-read them). Not only for the pleasure of discovering a worthy classic, but because it’s a great learning experience to, er, read at the feet of the masters. Also, because I’m sick of not understanding everyone else’s references.

2A) Finish What I Started

I especially want to finish some of the epic fantasy series that I have the first however-many books of but never finished. Most of these are fantasy classics, or near enough, so they fit into that priority.

3) The Latest Greatest in SFF

To keep up on the current stuff that everyone’s talking about, that’s up for a Hugo, Nebula, etc.  And who knows, maybe I’ll find my comps there!

4) Diverse Directions

Heterosexual white American men write some pretty good books, but by this point, I’ve read an awful lot of them. Especially as someone who writes in a secondary fantasy world, I’d like to expand my exposure to include more writers and characters from varied backgrounds and perspectives and attitudes and ideas.

5) Writing Craft and Resource

At any given point, I’m usually reading two or three books: one of them fiction and one or two books on writing craft or resource material.  The priority this year is to get more focused.  I feel like I’m not getting much out of the general “how to write” or “how to plot” books anymore.  They go over so much of the same ground I’ve already covered. So I want to concentrate on books that delve into one particular area in more depth.  I also want to keep myself on track with the resource books.  I tend to go a little nuts there, just grabbing any book about history or culture that might possibly be relevant to something in Eneana at some point, if I looked at it sideways and squinted. Since this year I have some specific world building goals to meet, I’m going to try to rein in those impulses.

6 ) Short story collections and magazines

If I’m going to be serious about getting my short stories published, I need to get more serious about reading what’s out there, both classics and the latest thing, and what’s working.



That’s it.  I actually had several more things on the list, but I cut them out.  They are things I probably will end up reading, but really, they’re not top priority: they go into the “extras” pile.

That’s a lot of priorities, isn’t it?  But there are so many things not on that list.  Old favorites that I’d love to re-read, for instance, not to mention classic science fiction, cozy mysteries, historical romance, non-genre fiction, literary classics, most nonfiction…  the list goes on.  I will almost certainly read (and probably buy) a few books that are not on this list, and that’s fine. But hopefully this helps me focus in and “read with purpose” more effectively this year.  At the very least, I have a pretty good idea what I’m going to be reading for the next month, and that’s better than I could have said this time last year.

What about you?  What are you planning to read this year?  I’d love to hear about your reading goals and priorities!


30 thoughts on “Me Versus Reading Priorities

  1. I am impressed at how organised you are. And I know you’ll answer that it’s with good reason. I’m more of a jump-in type reader. Yet when I consider what I read, I have to say the categories are much like yours.
    I’d like to suggest some non-epic secondary world novels, but … I have a vague memory (it stems from when I had CFS, and memories only lazily formed) of reading a collection of shorts by G.R.R. Martin that answer that criteria. But I don’t remember the title. It was the first of his books that I read. You might try looking more under the Sci-Fi heading, as I find many there aren’t what we’d call Sci-Fi.
    I wish you well with your reading. Myself, I don’t think I’m going to reach target, not if this month is anything to go by.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean — you can’t really believe the ‘sci-fi’ label anymore. Still, much of what I read either counts as SF or speculative, not really fantasy. Which is, of course, why I need to get more organized. I’ll see if I can find any shorts by GRRM. If you think of anything else, let me know.

      So far I’m on target to read four books in January, and that’s while being crazy at work and also handling a big beta read, so I’m optimistic that I’ll hit my new 50 books goal. We’ll see. A couple of the books I have in mind are pretty long…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I shall bear your request and requirment uppermost in my mind.
        Further thought on the subject, I have read a fair amount of non-epic secondary world fantasy, though they do tend to be series. For instance, there’s Victoria Schwab’s *A Darker Shade of Magic* (which runs into three books and isn’t really secondary, but an alternate version of London). Then there are the books by Scot Lynch, that begin with *The Lies of Locke Lamorre* (love that title),
        The reason I’m not making much progress towards my target is, wow, the first two books of the year, not easy reading. And I’ve been following up a long-running interest via YouTube videos when I’d otherwise be reading.
        Oh well, I shall keep you in mind


      • Well, uppermost in your mind was more than I was hoping for. “On the back burner”, perhaps. I do appreciate your suggestions. I already had “Lies of Locke Lamorra” on my wish list; it looks great (and I agree that it’s a great title). I hadn’t looked into “A Darker Shade of Magic” yet, and that looks great too: thanks for the recommendations! They both look quite adventuresome, which I like to read, but isn’t quite what I write.

        I had my own phases last year of not making much progress on my reading goals due to long or difficult books, or to other distractions. YouTube is so very good at distracting me from my to-do list!


  2. As Crispina says, you’re so organised! I just jump in, ask people to buy what I fancy, read what I fancy (mainly stuff that could be classed as speculative fiction – The Cloud Atlas, one of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey). It might have been Terry Pratchett who advised aspiring writers not to read too much of their own genre, in case you lose your own originality (not that I think for a moment you’re in danger of that!)
    I don’t read much in the way of secondary world novels, but did read an English writer called Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. It’s classed as Grimdark I think – morally ambiguous characters, quite a lot of violence, but with sprinklings of humour too. There was a crippled character that was fascinating – once a dashing cavalry man, he was tortured and is now shunned by polite society but worked his way up to inquisitor. A complex man.
    Good luck on your reading adventures, Joy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lynn! I usually just jump in with whatever’s in front of me, too. This is a new idea for me, trying to be more thoughtful about my choices, focusing more as a writer. I’m certainly in no danger of reading too much in my own genre: in fact, that’s why I have to prioritize to read IN my genre. I loved Cloud Atlas; I’ll check out the others, too. Thanks for the suggestions — and good luck finding fun new books to read!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Excited to read Cloud Atlas now. I read David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks last year and adored it. Sounds like you have the balance right with your own genre – enough so you can name check and reference but reading widely is such a good idea, gives you more things to draw on and feed back into your work, makes it more interesting

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm — this is why I’m so glad I started writing all my book notes in one place. I went back and looked at my notes on Cloud Atlas and, although I rated it 5/5 on Goodreads and I *remember* loving it, my notes were much more ambivalent, showing I was frustrated by certain elements. I had a similar reaction to Mitchell’s “Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” which I read directly afterward (although part of that was that I kept expecting it to turn speculative and it was “only” historical fiction after all). So I’m hesitant about “Bone Clocks” even though it’s on my wish list. It’s definitely not in my top priorities, though, so I have an excuse for putting it off. Still need to read more of those fantasy classics and latest-greatests so that I can properly name drop!


  3. On my list is the last Paolini “The Fork, the Witch, and the worm”. I’m obsessed with stories about Angela, in this book written by his sister.

    All the best to you


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Laureen, and thanks for stopping by! I haven’t read Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, but I keep eying it in my wish list. I’m feeling a little done with “chosen one” stories at the moment and I’ve never been big into dragons (because everyone else loves them, so I have to be contrary about it, lol), but wow, those covers are so mesmerizing. The descriptions sound a lot like Dragonriders of Pern — does it read like an homage, or is that just a superficial similarity?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, you are right. As you read, some of the details remind you of other stories (such as the Elves, the Dwarfs are reminiscent of LOTR). However, we like it. The overall composition remains to us (me and my family) as something special, whole in memory. The figures are individual despite some similarities with others.
        We have not read the Dragonriders of Pern yet, but it is on our list for this year.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I like books that do their own take on elves and dwarves and dragons and whatnot — sometimes, for old time’s sake. And then I appreciate even more the stories that make up new monsters and magical beings. It’s all good!


  4. I love what you have listed here. It shows what is important to you. For myself, besides reading “more,” I push to rotate through various genres. Science fiction which is my first love, then most everything else. (Fiction, literature, historical, biographical, …)

    Now like many readers I want to revisit older books that just spark so many memories. I’ve found that this would be accomplished by one of two things. If I’m reading new work in an older “universe” I may re-read the older books to come back up to speed before I tackle the newer work.

    The other driver is just a rule I thought of enforcing upon myself. I may do that this year. Make every, let’s say, 4th or 5th book I read be something from my past. Usually when I’ve re-read earlier works it was just a one-off sparked by a hankering, or finding my young (teen) nephew was reading the same. But I’d like these steps back, to be something a bit more scheduled. So, we’ll see how I do on that…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the great comment, Louis. I’ve been thinking about that same issue: how to incorporate re-reading older favorites while still learning about new (to me) books. I recently catalogued all my books and I was really struck by how many I remember fondly but, well, vaguely, because it had been so long (and because my memory is so poor). Now I have many shelves’ worth of books I’d love to read again. The above list originally included “Old favorites”, but I decided not to include it this time. I already included the priority of finishing old series, and that will require re-reading a lot of first and second books in those series to begin with. Let’s see how much “progress” I make this year and maybe next year I’ll adopt your technique.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Whoa… that is reading with a purpose.
    I just read whatever. Actually, I encourage the bloggers I follow, so now am reading John W. Howell’s “Circumstances of Childhood” and before that read a couple FF-writers, Michael Wynn and Iain Kelly… who’s next? Probably Claire Fuller’s “Bitter Orange”. Other than that, it’s totally go with the flow for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, just reading “whatever” has been my strategy for a long time too, so I get it! This is a new thing I’m trying, we’ll see how it works. Funny that you and Louis have suggested the two things that were next on the list that I took off. He suggested old favorites, and you suggest what I was calling “situational surprises” — that is, books I hadn’t planned to read, but I bought them to help support a friend, or from a fellow writer giving a local reading, or to read a speaker’s book before meeting them at a conference. I’m sure I’ll still buy and read more of those this year — the list isn’t forbidding what’s not on the list, just encouraging toward those things I want more of.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, what happened to my reply? Dang it! Well, just imagine that it was incredibly clever and witty, because I can’t remember it now. Maybe something about: “Yeah, and I’m so good with plans!” But much wittier: use your imagination. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great list. I like the idea of reading smarter – usually I just read anything and I think that is how I end up with so many books left sitting unread.

    I thought “comp” also meant “comparable” – that puts a slightly different spin on it, so thank you for sharing this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mostly the idea of reading smarter is to help me speed up my decision-making. When it’s time to pick a new book from the TBR shelf, there are SO many options, it can be hard to choose. So in theory this will help me prioritize which one to grab and start next (since presumably *all* of those books are ones I want to read). It’s already helped a couple times when I’ve gotten sucked into the Amazon-cruising-for-books vortex of procrastination. I already have a *ton* of books on my wish list, and am supposed to be reading down my TBR shelves before buying more books, and yet here I am looking for more books to put on my wish list? Well, they had *better* meet my top criteria. (Or, you know…. just look really good. lol)

      I think we’re not alone in thinking it means “comparable” — so let’s keep using it that way and see if it catches on farther. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been looking online for lists of top 20 fantasy series of the 20th century, top 50 fantasy books to read before you die, etc., and seeing which ones I’ve already read or not. They’re not all classics in the sense of old (well, besides Tolkien, of course). My own favorite is Le Guin’s Earthsea. I would also strongly recommend Robin Hobb’s Elderlings books, which I haven’t finished yet but plan to go back and reread the first 9 and start catching up (you can read each trilogy by itself, but they do link up with each other).


  7. Wowzers! See, I have a hard time reading in the genre I write, which sucks when it comes to knowing things like the Comp books. but be damned if I don’t get sick of reading about teen elves gettin’ it on…


    • Oh wouldn’t that be wonderful, more time to read books! Although all the people I know (and know of) who earn a decent amount through writing end up spending so much time writing and editing and marketing etc. that I’m not sure they have any more time to read than I do. Ah well, I will appreciate the reading time I have and be happy. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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