Don't come for me IRS. I made sure it was totally necessary for the story.
I've seen exotic locations, nearby locations, museums, stores, and various other things pop up in books, and I know the authors have been to those places specifically for the research of the city or store. Online research can take you a long way, but I can't deny that something magical happens under a good writer's fingers when they've traveled to the exact spot they're writing about.
We also do a LOT of reading. Or as much as humanly possible. Writers all started out as readers. We craft our stories because someone inspired us to put days, months, and years into a book that only sometimes sees publication. We craft stories because there is something inside us that our fingers on a keyboard can say better than our mouths can. But we also read to find out how others have tackled certain topics. We read research books when we can't travel somewhere or desperately need historical data.
Reading fiction is also research. No. Seriously. This one isn't bullshit. Understanding the tropes and known universe of popular books helps us not piss people off. You can push paranormal lore boundaries quite a bit and make up a lot of your own world, but some things have to match up. If you came in saying vampires lived off of toenails instead of blood, I don't think you'd have a very receptive audience. Or you'd better be one hell of a spinmaster.
I read a lot of small pub and self pub when before I started writing. Mainly because I wasn't looking for the broody emotional dramas with more focus on internal than external conflict. I enjoyed books that were dialogue and external motivation heavy. I also wanted something that was light-hearted, funny, and didn't close the door during sex scenes. So most main stream was out for me at that time.
HOWEVER, now that I'm writing, I want to see what bigger houses are buying and if any of the style points match up and are something I might have in my far too large stash of written works. Because book production is pricey, y'all, and momma wants a sugar momma pub house.
There's one big problem though...and I know I'm not alone in this.
I can't read without editing in my head.
For real. Once you start getting slapped by an editor for whatever your personal quirks are, it's impossible to unsee them in every book you ever read from that moment on. I notice basic grammar and punctuation errors more, sure. But if an author over-uses "That" "Just" or writes an ellipses-heavy book, I feel like tucking it into my arm and hiding so the all-seeing editors don't yell at the printed pages.
Every editor I've had has taught me something about my writing and about my writing process. And that's exactly how it should be. I've learned so much about the craft by having someone rip it to shreds with love. Well...not all editors did this with love, but that doesn't mean I didn't learn something.
My point is, every book we read from now until forever is research. Not even because we want it to be, but because all those rounds of edits lap at the inside of our skulls whenever we look at the printed word. We analyze the pages in a different way.
I'm still slogging through contest entries, and I have to remind myself constantly that these are new writers. Because I want to fix EVERYTHING for them. But I'm trying to be particular in what I fix. Because no matter how much you prepare, the first time someone sends you a document with hundreds or thousands of notes, it sucks. (Seriously...I had one book with over 4000 revision notes. I cried into my beer with that one.)
I'm hoping I'm not being too harsh, but at the same time, I hope I'm preparing at least one new writer to make it through that first round of edits. I hope I'm the bad guy, so that they can look at a round of edit notes they are sent and push past the urge to rock in a corner a little quicker.
Reading is research, because we can notice popular patterns and styles. And because we need to think outside our own stories every once in a while.
But I also stand by the fact that if I write a coffee house romance, my trips to Starbucks can totally go on my research expense sheet.
Are you an author? What are some of your favorite items to expense? Are you just as unable to enjoy most pleasure reads as I am? Or are you a new writer who has made a mental note to never ask me for edits? ;) Let me know in the comments.