Whenever I get the chance to talk to aspiring authors, I tend to chat about what we've read, what they've enjoyed, what they felt shouldn't have been published, it's a great way to start connecting.
Every now and then I come across a frightening response, 'oh no, I don't read very much/at all' or 'I haven't read anything by published authors since school'.
This happens to me more than you might imagine. In social situations, or chatting to a cab driver, or indeed in any place where someone casually asks about what line of work you're in, I explain what I do as being a professional reader. I either get told 'that's my ideal job! I wish I could do that', or I get a list of excuses as to why the person I'm talking to isn't 'A Reader'.
I have no problem with people who don't read. There are a lot of them out there who simply choose not to find it entertaining. If pushed, I do tend to admit that I feel they've just not found the right sort of book for them yet. As a confirmed addict, I am sure everyone can get pleasure out of my personal addiction, but I am relatively laid back, and don't tend to try and convert non-believers.
Except for those who are writing themselves. You have no excuse! If you want to write, and get your work read, you need to know about the process of reading, about the excitement and fascination a reader can get out of a book, you need to learn about that connection.
What stops an author from reading is two-fold. One, the fear that they will be paralysed, they'll feel the other authors are all better than them, and their fragile self-confidence can't take it. The second, and most common fear, is that a published author's style will somehow leak into their own work, making it less pure, and they may even unconsciously plagiarise what they've read.
Rest assured that an editor will judge your work on its own merits. Yes, they are interested in how it fits in in the marketplace, but you won't be expected, as a first time novelist, to come out of the starting blocks as Iris Murdoch or James Joyce.
As for picking up someone else's style, this is a lot harder to do than it seems. Reading well-written prose is an education for your subconscious on how to put words together.
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