Insights, News

Insights: How I Review Books & What My Ratings Mean

With how much I am reading this year, I am sure some of you have seen me post reviews on Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads…as well as my own blog. Everyone has different criteria for how they rate books and how they perceive the ratings. ⁠

So some you upon seeing my reviews, may wonder how I PERSONALLY review books so the review is HONEST AND FAIR to the author. This is especially important with indie authors, who don’t have as many reviews, so I want to make sure my review is fair to them when a single review can impact ratings. 

I truly try to be fair, honest, and kind in my reviews. I don’t want to let one things sway me from an otherwise good book and give it 1 star because I didn’t agree with how an author handled something or didn’t like a trope. ⁠

So I review books based on 6 criteria. I even have a nifty little spreadsheet to help when I’m unsure what I’m going to rate the book…since I enjoy math like that.

⁠1) The Writing

Not every writer is properly trained. While the book should be cohesive and make sense, I don’t want someone’s writing to hinder my review unless I REALLY can’t read the story. But I also want to give credit to AMAZING writers as well. So 10% of my review is based on writing.⁠

2) The Plot⁠

Did the plot make sense? Did it flow? This makes up 20% of my review…because frankly, if the plot is all over the place, then how am I supposed to enjoy the story?⁠

3) The Characters⁠

Characters can definitely make or break a story. If the characters are entertaining and I connect with their plight, then I want to credit the author for that. This makes up 10% of my review.⁠

4) Tropes⁠

There are some tropes I love, some tropes I hate. Sometimes an author makes a trope I hate work. Sometimes they handle dark topics well, sometimes they don’t. But, if the overall story is good and I loved it, I don’t want my hatred for a trope to completely negate my review, so this makes up only 5% of my review. ⁠

5) The Ending⁠

Occasionally, I might not agree with a book’s ending. But, clearly, the author had a vision. So even if I hated the way a book ended, I don’t want it to completely ruin a review for a book I otherwise enjoyed. This makes up 5% of my review.⁠

6) Enjoyment⁠

Obviously this is the most subjective and guiding factor of my review. Did I enjoy a book? Then I want that to count even if there were flaws I couldn’t avoid. This makes up 50% of my review. ⁠

So…that being said…what do my ratings mean?

★★★★★⁠
This means I CANNOT put this book down. Chances are I couldn’t find anything I didn’t like, and the entire time the story enchanted me. These are books that I highly recommend to anyone who asks. ⁠

★★★★☆⁠
These books are still wonderful reads. But for whatever reason, they aren’t sticking the same way. Perhaps it was due to the writing style, a trope, or just personal taste that knocks it down slightly. Either way, a four-star rating means the book is highly recommended!⁠

★★★☆☆⁠
3-to-3.5 stars is my average rating. This is still a GOOD book. There might be some issues though: possibly the pacing is off, I don’t like the trope, something was wrong with the writing, or another array of issues. But that doesn’t mean the book is bad. It’s still either good or fun, and that’s all that matter!⁠

★★☆☆☆⁠
I haven’t given too many 2-star ratings. Usually it is more of a 2.5 or 2.75 or something. Typically, 2 stars means the book wasn’t for me. Usually I can find redeemable qualities (well written, entertaining enough, etc), but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. That being said, I can see while people will enjoy it. ⁠

★☆☆☆☆⁠
I have not given a 1-star review this year. These are reserved for DNFs (and I do try to finish every book) or a book that has NO redeemable qualities. ⁠These are books that have repugnant sexist/racism/prejudice/pedophilia/etc, as well as books that are just indecipherable. I have not come across any of these (yet) though.

A note…

I will never drop a rating after I rate the book. I don’t think that is fair to the author. I may increase it though if I reread it. ⁠

After reading all this, if you are an author looking for a review, feel free to check out my review policy. I have spots open starting January 2021 and would love to check out your work! 

Insights, News

Insights: Why It’s Okay to Write About Dark Topics…and why I Edited a Scene Post-Publication

I’ve debated this post for awhile, as well the decision I ended up making.

In our current culture, there many sensitive topics. Which is good. We need to have conversations about these topics. But, it does leave creators with uncertainty: is it okay to write about sexism? What about violence or assault? Do I have put warnings on my books?

I do think warnings, such as what we have in film and TV, would helpful, especially for those who are extremely uncomfortable about these topics for various reasons. But that’s not what this post is about today.

Today, I wanted to address one thing: it is OKAY to write about dark topics. It does not normalize them, but instead allows us to explore these topics in a way that is health for human nature. If we never discussed these topics, never depicted them, then how would we know? Fiction lets us explore, to reach into the deepest confines of our minds, and create something…no matter how disturbing.

Some people will prefer more pure and “fluffy” type of pieces. There are areas of writing just for that. But do not condemn those of us exploring these topics, especially if we are doing so out of criticism.

I like to explore sexism in my writing, but not because I am (inherently) sexist. As woman, this is an area I can write about, even if I haven’t experienced it to the degree. I chose dark fantasy because it allows us to explore these areas. My villains are notably sexist, they’re being called out for their actions, and main characters fight it. Assuming you are rooting for the main characters, then you should be wanting to fight sexism too. So this is ALRIGHT. This is the goal of fiction.

Where depicting sexism or other dark topics does not work is for two reasons: shock value or when it is not condemning the action. If a scene is there for no reason, then the writer is just trying to draw out emotions, and it might seem gratuitous. But, what I think is even worse than that, is when a writer seems to believe what they’re saying. A writer who shows a woman not going to war in a statement of “historical accuracy” because “women belonged at home”, might actually be fueling sexism. Fantasy and sci-fi give us a chance to explore these topics, but we also have the freedom to create something miraculous and unique. It comes down to the author’s views.

That being said, I decided to alter a scene in my book.

Isn’t that going against everything you just said? No.

The beauty of self-publishing is the ability to change your work for the better.

This scene, and some people might know what I am talking about, became misinterpreted. I had spent countless hours trying to make it work. Multiple beta readers and my editor went through it with me. I no intention for it to be used for shock value and it wasn’t supposed to be interpreted the way many have read it.

I’ve gone back and forth with changing it, since I have faith in the story I want to tell, but the amount of times people misinterpreted it left me with heavy bouts of anxiety. That is not the legacy I want to hold.

Being a self published author means I can recognize these mistakes and change them. So I messaged my editor, and together we spent time review the small scene. We altered a few words, giving a scene a more definitive meaning, without altering the outcome that my character faces. It wasn’t supposed to be for shock; it plays into her development in the next book.

But with the scene so close to the ending, I didn’t want to keep it that way.

I won’t go into details on what the scene is, as I am sure some of you can deduce what this scene is based on what I’ve been talking about. I am happy to be making the change though. It reduces some of my stress over it. I usually don’t even read my reviews, but just this reaction left a taste in my mouth…about myself. Rather than fight the reviews, or respond to them, I made the effort to change the scene.

It’s amazing what altering a couple words can do.

I hope this will garner better reactions from the audience. If anything, I know I have done what I can to remove something gratuitous and shocking.

If you have read The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice, or already have a copy but haven’t read it, and want to see the change I made, feel free to email me at esbarrison (@) gmail (.com). If you have proof of purchase, I am happy to send along an updated digital copy. I can also just send along the updated chapter.

Until next time,

E.S. Barrison

Insights

Indie Authors: A Community of Support

As a part of my launch event this past weekend, I interviewed and featured a handful of authors, all of whom represent different factions of the indie author community. One thing is universal among everyone I spoke with: we are a community. It is our job as indie authors to support one and other, because authors are not just authors…they’re readers too.

Indie authors get flack for not publishing traditionally. We all had our reasons though, and very rarely does it come down to our idea was rejected by agents. That’s not the case. We wanted to independently publish for a reason. Whether it was to get the story out there, having control of the process, or something else entirely.

I had the honor to meet a group of wonderful independent authors over the last week. You can meet them all below:

Eme’ Savage

Eme’ is the author of Echoes of the Gidat and Tetarul Parallel. We had a wonderful discussion about her novel and process, as well as self doubt and how that comes into play while writing.

Cody Blake Wilson

Cody is the author of The Awakening, the first in his series. We discussed his first novel as well as LGBTQ+ representation in media.

Rachel Garcia

Rachel is the author of Illthdar: The Guardians of Las, the first book in an anticipated 10 book series! We talked about how she handles her wide array of cast, as well as diversity in writing.

Rachel Shaw

Rachel Shaw is the author of Last Memoria. We spent time discussing her duology, as well as how biology and memory comes into play in her novel. In addition, we also discussed how to produce an audio book.

Lane Northcutt

Lane is the author of the upcoming novel, The Delivery Co. We had a fantastic conversation about his experience as both an actor and writer, as well as his process. Unfortunately, technology got the best of us, crashing post interview and deleting the video.

That being said, you can still read about our discussion HERE.

Lori Yerxa

Lori is the author of the non-fiction book, Pushing Through, which is about Rex Patrick, Paralympic Medalist. We discussed the differences in writing a non-fiction novel, and what she learned about herself along the way.

Sterling Blue

Sterling is the author of This Isn’t the Zombie Apocalypse. We discussed her novel, her creative process, and her current work on a graphic novel.

Kaitlyn Legaspi

Kaitlyn is the author of The Dark Irregular Trilogy. We spent time discuss her trilogy as well as her countless number of projects that she can handle all while in college!

Yet, with all these interviews, I didn’t just stop there. I featured a few other authors throughout my launch.

All of these authors combined gave away 10 books in total, reaching readers whom they might not have due to indie authors supporting one and other. And I am so glad to have spoken with all of them, since each of their stories sound unique and have made it to my “to-read” list.

Speaking with each of these authors has helped me find a new sense of community among indie authors. It’s why I am trying to start up a book club, and will continue to read and review books written by my peers.

So I implore you, please check out all these authors! They’re amazing!

And I will continue featuring and supporting them, and I hope you will as well!

E.S. Barrison

Insights, News, Tips

How I Write Book Reviews…and how there is no wrong way!

I’ve had people say to me “I need to get better at writing book reviews” or “I wish I knew how to write a book review” OR “I can’t review a book. I never know what to say.” All of these statements have left me with one general feeling: There is no wrong way to review a book.

Book reviews mean everything to authors. You don’t have to go in being a critic, or leaving some deep and intense review. It can be as simple as “I loved this book! It was phenomenal! 5-stars!” to “This book just wasn’t for me. You might like it though. 1-star.” Or, a book review can be comprehensive, going into how a reader feels about plot, characters, and prose. Either one, authors love. It helps readers too. How often have you picked up a book (or really any product) based on its reviews?

So I’ve decided to write this post based on the basics of what I do with a review. Sometimes I break this pattern, ranging from a 1 line review to a multi-page saga. Hopefully it will help someone figure out how to review that awesome book they’ve been wanting to scream about, or at least give someone the guts to write that one like “Eh, didn’t it like it” type of review.

E.S. Barrison’s Book Review Method

My method of book reviews follows a simple 4-idea pattern. That might sound daunting, but it comes naturally, as if expressing an opinion or talking about the topic.

First – I address in a line or two what the book is about, in some cases, what drew me to the book.
Second – I address what I like about the book.
Third – I address what I don’t like about the book. I try to make this equal or less in length to the second topic.
Fourth – I provide a summary, basically saying why or why not someone might want to pick this up.

These might seem extremely simple, but that’s all that go into a good book review. Let me provide an example below for a book we all know, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

1) Address what the book is about and what drew you to it.

Have you ever just wanted to eat, become wrapped in a cocoon and transform into something beautiful? The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle introduces us to a caterpillar who just wants that, by eating through an entire picnic. Surely that single idea is an inspiration to any of us, and certainly is a dream I aspire to accomplish.

2) Address what you like about it.

Carle’s artwork is beautiful, and this classic story leaves you enchanted each time you read through it, whether on your own or with someone else. It teaches a lesson that sometimes too much eating will leave you chubby and unable to move, but in the end you will become (spoilers!) a beautiful butterfly.

3) Address what you don’t like about it.

Of course, there is a flaw in Carle’s representation of the caterpillar as they cannot actually eat an entire picnic, nor do they look as adorable.

4) Summarize Your Review

That being said, the cartoonish nature of the story does not pull away from the adorable tale. Any child, or adult really, will love, enchanted by Carle’s poetic nature as well as his artwork. I intend to read this story to my kids in the distant future. 5 out of 5 stars!

As you can see, the review is simple enough but with enough detail that captures everything you do or don’t like about the book. This one was far more simplistic, and while I have many more examples of book reviews I have written it maintains the same structure.

But what if I don’t want to write a long book review? I just want to enjoy books!

That’s fine too! But please, especially for independent authors, consider rating the story or leaving a simple review that says “Amazing!” or alternatively, “I didn’t like this :(” While these reviews might not carry the same weight, it still tells the author that their stories are being read.

Okay, fine. But where can I review books?

The basic answer is: anywhere and everywhere. Post that you love a book on your blog, social media, or scream it in the middle of the street!

Or, I guess, alternatively, you can post on select websites like Goodreads, Bookbub, Amazon…just to name a few!

Reviews are what give authors exposure. Notably, only 20% of book purchasers review the book. Let’s make that number higher…for all the authors out there.

Have any questions? Want to recommend a book for ME to review? Email me at esbarrison@gmail.com.

E.S. Barrison

Insights, News

How to Help Your Favorite Indie Authors

Indie authors do not have the luxury of big publishing houses or a vast amount of resources to market their books. In most cases, being an indie author is one person trying to market and idea they’re passionate about. Each indie author chose the independent route for a reason (a topic I’ll address in another post), so if you love their story…there are ways for you to help!


So how can you help?

  1. Buy their book – This should be pretty self explanatory. Sales mean your indie author knows they have fans.
  2. Review their book – This is almost as important, if not MORE important, than purchasing the book. Reviews help the book get attention. Amazon will start showing the book in relevant searches after 10 reviews, and after 50 the book will be added to different independent book lists. Think about it from the consumer perspective – if you see more reviews on a product, you know more about it.
  3. Tell your friends! – If you like the book, tell your like minded friends. Recommendations go a long way!
  4. Recommend the book to your local library – Books do not get on shelves unless you request it get added! If you tell your local library about it, then it gets the book into hands of others.
  5. Make Fan Content – Art! Aesthetic boards! Playlists! Whatever you can think of – they help the author get attention (and most authors love seeing it too).

Now go out there, read your favorite books, and shout about them to everyone who comes your way.

Happy reading!

E.S. Barrison

Insights, News

My Thirteen-Year Long Path to Publishing

I would not recommend that anyone goes through my insane publication process. It’s stressful, time consuming, but I hope it will pay off.

It starts when I was thirteen.

Enter Ms. Black’s English Class: I’m an aspiring writer already, with some little story pocketed away. Do I remember what it was? Not really. But it was the first thing that really sparked my interest in writing.

One day in October, Ms. Black told the class that our job was to write a suspenseful horror story inspired by authors like Edgar Allen Poe, in the spirit of Halloween of course. So, I wracked my little thirteen-year old brain. Horror wasn’t necessarily a genre I wrote, but suspense was something I enjoyed.

The idea started simple: an old priest, knowing his death would be soon, sat in his church writing a letter in red ink. He heard a hysterical woman in the graveyard, so he abandoned his writing and hurried out to hear the commotion. The woman was screaming because a bell beside the grave, known as a safety coffin, was ringing, and there was not a breeze in the air. The priest tried to calm her, but to no avail.

This is where I was caught off guard though. The woman transformed in my story from a terrified young lady…to the fierce and stunning Goddess of Death, or Grim Reaper.

This is my notorious Woman in Black. She was the first character I developed for The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice, and frankly, she hasn’t changed much over the years.

Granted, the story has undergone multiple makeovers. Names of characters have changed. Personalities altered. But with a few central themes: conflict in an ancient council, a kind-hearted protagonist, and strong women of different personalities.

So let’s go back to the beginning. From the age thirteen to eighteen, I worked on this story. Initially it was called simply “Apprentice”, then “Discipulus”, which was the name it kept for a long time. It took place in the modern world, the main characters were highschoolers, and honestly I was probably way in over my head. But I still wrote an entire five book series (Discipulus, Medius, Venator, Proditor, and Dominus). It was an accomplishment! I was proud of myself!

I think I wrote over five drafts of Discipulus alone.

Then college came. I abandoned them for three years after my story was accused of being childish.

I’m glad I did.

I grew beyond what I initially wrote. After three years of learning more about myself, I knew where I had gone wrong.

So I scrapped everything.

Okay, okay, scrapped is the wrong word. I have the original files backed up, but after trying to keep the premise the same, I knew it just wouldn’t work.

I wish I could tell you how I came to the revelation. Yet, no matter how I wrack my brain, I can’t. I think it comes down to how the story never really left me. It was always there, waiting to be taken again.

Over the course of a few more years, I worked on rewriting my novel. I kept the name Discipulus for the time being, but knew the change would ultimately come.

I finished the revised draft one sometime in early 2018. Then by mid-year, I came up with the name…The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice.

I was so proud, and I thought the idea was fleshed out entirely by the time I looked for beta readers in late 2018. A few circumstances led me to believe that was not the case: an overly ambitious beta reading plan, a low response rate, and the few readers that did finish pointing out the flaws.

In early 2019, I reassessed, and rewrote over half the novel.

It was worth it.

Beta readers loved the story. Over 70% of those interested finished, and they raved and loved the book! So, at the end of 2019 I knew that this year, 2020, I would finally publish this story. I sent it to an editor, Charlie Knight, who helped make the story stronger, hired my cover artist, and got to work.

I’m two and a half months now from the book’s release. I can go on about why I chose to indie publish, but I think that’s a story for another day.

Needless to say, the point of this rambling is to say this: don’t give up. It’s a lot of work, no one is every going to say it’s easy, but if you stick with it and are willing to adjust due to criticism, you will soar.

Will this 13 year journey of mine pay off? I don’t know. But I am proud of what I have put together.

And isn’t that all that matters?

Until next time,

E.S. Barrison