Jake Jesson has thrown in his contribution to this discussion over on his blog. For those who don't know Jake, he's known in writing circles in both Northern and Southern California as a bit of an enfant terrible (though I'm glad to say he recently reached legal drinking age). The main topic of conjecture has always been whether Mr. Jesson would end up writing prose, or whether he would be seduced away into the world of graphic novels.
Jake makes some good points about reading eclectically (now if we could only convince book critics to go and do likewise) and about starting with limited objectives.
He also apologizes for having the temerity to post on this topic when he is still among the ranks of the unpublished. I have to say that if there is any forum where you don't have to tug your forelock abount not having made it over the publication hump yet, it would have to a gathering of Macmillanites. I think most (and maybe all?) of us have been slugged in the nose by the publishing industry more than once. As anyone can tell by taking a walk through a bookstore, publication is no guarantee of merit, and lack of publication doesn't signify lack of merit.
Some of the best writers I know aren't yet published.