Dear Fellow Author,
If you’re thinking of asking for reviews from friends and acquaintances you respect and trust, and who know a few things about writing and storytelling, here are ten points you might consider:
1. If friends give you an enthusiastic "yes, of course I'll review your book," best they know the length of your book. If possible, set a soft time goal that's both comfortable for author and reviewer. .
2. Sometimes the best thing a would-be reviewer can do is be straight with the author. An upfront "I wish it were otherwise, but I can't help you" is far better than an endless protraction of good intentions,
3, Take the time to explain to someone that writing is your passion, perhaps even a career, and you would greatly appreciate their feedback. It's okay to mention another obvious thing: What writer or artist doesn't need some kudos or validation, especially in a profession where one can labor largely alone and in silence for a year or two. Once published, you find yourself in survival-of-the-fittest waters, as two or three million other authors are scrambling for reviews just like you.
4. Ask the friend you're soliciting if he or she can possibly read just ten pages. If they like the story, you hope they continue, If not, it’s all okay.
5. If the moment feels right, remind your friend a book is your investment in yourself and your talents. You want to. be taken seriously, without being considered pushy or begging.
6. Tell friends they don't need impeccable writing or grammar skills to complete a review, Two or three sentences should make you happy, as long as they're honest words.
7. You might offer your friends a topic or two that other reviews haven't
covered. Suggest they share their opinions about your main character, for example, or how your surprise ending worked or didn’t work for them.
8. If you do receive a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever, thank them. He or she took time out of their busy lives for you.
9. Be reluctant to ask anyone in your immediate family to review your book. Unless your relationship is exceeding strong and open, it can backfire.
10. I know writers who make the mistake of 'nudging" potential reviewers who haven’t had time to digest the book. Your friends usually don't need a reminder. There could be many reasons for a delay, and they may not have anything to do with your book.
I sat at a typewriter behind a closed bedroom door for a lot of my adolescence. I can’t even remember what I wrote—probably some poetry and fantasies—but I do remember why. I wanted to create a world that I controlled and that made me feel good. I became amazed and confused by the weird person coming to life on the written page. I worried what would my parents think. In reality, I was so ordinary and bland that I couldn’t stand my personality any more than I thought I could change it—but my imagination insisted that I try.
Forty years later, I still have the need to explore any and all things roaming through my heart, mind, and soul. Exploring gets me up in the morning. I’ve come to love my random ideas about character and plot. They don’t always come to fruition, although they sometimes reappear years later in a different guise with fresh impact. Where do ideas originally spring from? A dream or a memory, sometimes. Comments overheard at a funeral. Reading an expression on a stranger’s face. Novels become unique alloys of conscious and unconscious feelings. I think that’s true for a lot of writers.
I’ve rarely missed a day of writing (even if it’s just rewriting one or two sentences in a manuscript). I cling to habit and persistence like someone lost at sea with only a life preserver to hang onto. My imagination/Muse would never forgive me if I gave up on her. I wouldn’t forgive myself, either. I wake in the night sometimes and work on a particular story-telling challenge, unable to go back to sleep until I write down my thoughts. They may be gibberish in the morning but, hey, they got me through the night and into the next writing day . I’ve convinced myself a good explorer knows the inevitability and value in getting lost. Freaking out is when things really get interesting.
Travel to an exotic country through a novel that’s better than a guide book.
Like most of my friends as well as the entire planet, the easiest way for not volunteering or committing to do something is to say, “really sorry, but my time is not my own.” This usually calms feelings of disappointment, and for me it’s always the truth.
As a society, we generally find it hard to say “no.” Yet we’re already stretched thin by work, personal responsibilities, putting out fires, and taking care of mind and body. Common sense about survival fails to come to our rescue.
There have always been 24 hours in a day, yet it doesn’t feel that way anymore. Can we outsmart time in some clever way to better prioritize our needs? What stands in our way? Which came first, the slow, steady erosion of our attention span, or the burden we increasingly put on ourselves to do more, see more, read more, and be in the moment more? Invariably, the “how” is eclipsed by “now what?”
My own goal is not just to quit adding to the pile of activities I call “life,” but to whittle the pile down to its most important elements. For me, that includes some reading and writing time every day.
For my reading friends, many prefer embracing specific genres and novelists that they have always found “satisfying.” They escape into the familiar, into a world and characters whose predictability they’ve almost been guaranteed by the author’s previous works. They like predictability. They fall in love with a character. A good story is like a jingle or something your mother told you that you can’t keep out of your head.
Most important, the escapism and “down time” provided by reading are needed by many of us as much as sleeping and eating.
Audio books have been a boon to time-starved muti-taskers whose minds seemingly occupy several universes at the same moment. For anyone whose attention span is more fragile, here’s another time-saver to try.
Forgetting the name of the author for a moment, try reading a short novel (around 55,000 words) that might have all the entertainment value, emotion and depth of a traditional 85,000 word book. As a rough comparison, that’s the difference between reading 200 pages or 300…. between taking 8 hours to finish a book or 12.
May not sound like much, but those extra four hours could be spent catching up on sleep, texting, or picking up another book. Seriously. We economize everything else—why not reading, too?
From someone who has been writing and publishing for a while, short novels, like short stories or poetry, are challenging to write. Whether it’s your prose, plot, characters or theme you’re constantly struggling with, there’s little margin for error. Put simply, you have only so many words to work with, and none can be wasted.
Michael R. French’s just-published adult novel, Ghost With Two Hearts, is available online and in select bookstores. Its length is about 54,000 words.
AVAILABLE NOW ON AMAZON!!!
I’ve been publishing books for a long time, into the grisly old age of my late seventies, My last four novels, crossing the threshold of challenging storytelling, I could never have imagined while writing books in my thirties or forties.
I care for, sometimes love, book jackets. I am drawn to their imaginative art work—a dynamic mirror of some kind of collective storytelling consciousness. But what about all those large-font sentences flying over the front and back covers, insisting that I might really like this book? Over the decades, I honestly lose track of what is written, and which famous people wrote them. They often seem interchangeable, and sometimes a string of cliches. Even the most accurate accolades merge into sensory overload.
I’ve gone blurbless for my new novel, Ghost With Two Hearts. It’s about a troubled, young American coder seeking out ancient Japanese spirits for guidance, with too much at stake even for him to understand at first.
How do I convey all this on a book jacket? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to experiment. For Ghost, I chose two images, created by two different artists, one for the front cover and one for the back cover. I added a 100 word excerpt from the novel at the bottom of the back cover which tells a reader a lot more, I hope, than would the most well-intended blurbs, especially if they carry on into a book’s interior.
Save your reading time for the story you just spent your money on, I would like to tell people. Whether you like the story or not, you can always write a review.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, when I began working on this novel, I read that a private zoo in Brussels had closed to the public indefinitely. It quickly became a ghost town of animals and zoo keepers. The orangutans, accustomed to throngs of admiring humans, lapsed into depression. As an experiment, concerned staff made an opening in the fence of the adjoining enclosure, inspiring a dozen river otters to swim into the primates’ living area. After threatening the small intruders with sticks and aggressive charges, the orangutans settled down and became happy show-offs again. The otters were a fascinated audience that returned every day.
This unusual pairing of species inspired lots of YouTube videos. I was riveted by them. I couldn’t have written Ghost With Two Hearts without the orangutans and otters empowering my imagination.
On the rare occasion someone asks me how I get my ideas for a novel, I politely say, “It’s hard to explain. Everyone’s different. It’s complicated.”
When I was a teenager I wrote about my emotions.
In college I pretended I was William Faulkner.
Drafted In the army in the Vietnam era, I read books like Catch-22 and The Naked and the Dead. I didn’t write anything of my own, but I met people I never imagined existed. I never forgot them. Eventually them became characters in my stories.
In my late twenties, returning with my wife and children from a Club Med trip, I published my first novel. It was called Club Caribe.
In my thirties, living in Manhattan, shopping at Bloomingdales a lot, I renamed the store Abingdon’s and it became my second novel and a best seller. It was pure genre.
In my forties, working an intense day-job, I had years of writer’s block but managed to publish some page-turners, echoing my interests in sports, politics, horse racing, and my time in the army. I also wrote five or six novels that never found a publisher.
In my fifties, more young adult fiction, adaptations, biographies, and self-help books got published. My writer’s voice, unfortunately, was inconsistent.
In my sixties, leaving my day-job, I stumbled on a new voice. It was complicated, messy, and sometimes unbearable. My story telling became more confident, and dug deeper into character and theme. My writing style focused on brevity to make complex shifts in plot and character, which were increasingly three-dimensional. I no longer wrote genre fiction because my life—everyone's life—is not formulaic.
Today, I don’t care so much about sales. I do like when intelligent readers comment on my work. Being compared to other writers is, well, ridiculous. I respect everyone’s journey, because each one is its own novel.
My wife and I recently returned from a pandemic-delayed trip to Komodo Island National Marine Park, and other distant Indonesian islands. Besides pristine serenity, we longed to find places that were untouched by plastic debris. A couple of beaches gave us that joy; their unscarred beauty was magic. Yet many beaches were impacted by empty bags of chips, water bottles, styrofoam, baby diapers, tangled fishing lines… These islands were often uninhabited and rarely visited: no villages, no park rangers, no big cruise ships.
We had come here on a relatively small ship with 12 other Western snorkelers and divers. Our guide told us the trash had been washed ashore from who knows where. It didn’t matter to us where things came from—that made the environment a political issue. We just wanted to make our own gesture of doing the right thing. And to put us in a new mindset wherever we traveled next. On one beach, in only twenty minutes, we combed the soft coral sands and picked up as much trash as we could, depositing it in our boat’s trash bin. There was plenty we had to leave behind.
We had made a small dent that we guessed would soon be carpeted over with more plastic. Though we were in plain sight, no one in our group joined us. One couple did say, “thank you.” I grew up in a time when teenagers left a Dairy Queen and giddily tossed their wrappers out of the car, onto the street. It took years before a new consciousness emerged.
We began to speculate. What if more travelers took it upon themselves to do a quick clean up of a portion of a beach, or for that matter a street, or a vacant lot that had become a random dumping ground? Specific to travel, what if more hotels, travel agencies, and advocacy groups, beyond calling themselves “environmentalists” or “eco-friendly,” encouraged clients to spend twenty minutes to make their own dent in the war on plastics? It could become the next cool thing. Small gestures can have a cumulative effec
I didn't wig out when I learned there was someone else living in my rental house. She was Japanese and let me know she had lived here before. We were both shy about exchanging our stories."
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.