Insights

Let’s Talk About: Reviewing Indie Books v. Traditional Books

There’s been some discourse on TikTok lately about whether or not a reader should review Indie Books on the same scale as Traditionally Published Books. This has opened up a can of questions: are indie book reviews artificially inflated? How can indie authors be respected in the industry? How can readers make sure they are consistent?

In my opinion, Indie Authors should be treated exactly the same as their Traditional Counterparts. If they’re not, then they won’t be looked at the same way as the rest of the publishing industry.

But, often times, Indie Authors aren’t treated the same. Some are attacked relentlessly for their editing, which might be just as good as their traditional counterparts. Meanwhile, you have the reverse side of things, where readers might opt to not rate a book OR rate the book higher than they would a traditional book even if they don’t like it so they don’t “hurt the author’s feelings”.

Indie Authors are often split on how to feel about this. Some believe that people should be kinder, since we don’t have the same resources as the traditionally published houses. But others – myself included – believe that you should rate these books with the same critical eye as you do a traditional book.

Personally, I believe by not treating Indie Authors like you do Traditionally Published Authors, you pigeon hole these Indie Authors into two categories (at least on Goodreads.com): Recipients of Unrealistic Negative Reviews and Recipients of Unrealistic Positive Reviews.

Generally, I believe most reviewers are honest. I like to believe in the best of people. But, some self-published authors become the victim (or beneficiaries) of malicious (or sometimes kind) intent.

As a reviewer, I know I have fallen into the latter category. Often times, I’ll read an indie book that only has a few reviews. So I re-evaluate, and end up rating the book higher than I might have otherwise rated a traditionally published book. Is this right of me? I’m not sure. But will it do any wrong? No.

But do overly kind reviews or overly negative reviews really help validate the Independent Publishing side of the industry? Probably not.

To be respected as indie authors, we should be treated the same as our traditional counterparts. Reviews should be consistent. No one should fall victim to needlessly harsh reviews or overtly kind reviews. Instead, readers and reviewers should remain consistent in their reviews no matter what type of book they are reading.

Yet, this isn’t always the case. While, as I mentioned before, for the most part reviewers stick with their rating system, there sometimes comes a point of artificial inflation and deflation in the reviews.

Let me explain.

First, I want to define how I interpret artificial inflation and deflation:

Artificial Inflation would be when either: 1) An author gets a bunch of friends or family who HAVE NOT read their book to leave positive reviews on their work, or 2) When an author has almost entirely positive reviews (once they hit, let’s say, 25 reviews) due to readers being “kinder”. Artificial Inflation of reviews, in my opinion, makes it appear as though books in the Indie Industry have a higher overall rating. This is partially due to the number of reviews, which in turn causes readers to pause before leaving a negative review. This, once again, can be seen as a positive or negative. More on that later.

Artificial Deflation would be when either: 1) A bunch of reviewers (or trolls) attack a single book because they don’t like the author, or they decide to pick on something in a book without reading it, 2) A reviewer is harsher on an indie book, taking issue with some grammatical errors or inconsistencies they wouldn’t note in a traditionally published book. Obviously the first issue here is much easier to identify.

Now, I generally believe that most people are honest in their reviews. I won’t comment on how Amazon’s reviews pan out though, since often this is very different and I don’t know enough about them. But on Goodreads, I’d like to think that most books with more than 25 reviews are representing what readers truly think.

But this isn’t always the case. Below are a few examples of artificial inflation and deflation:

Artificial Inflation Examples

  • Let’s start with my book! One review on my book is a 4-star review that simply says “This book wasn’t for me but a lot of other people like it.” While I appreciate a 4-star review, can I consider this a legitimate 4-star review? Not necessarily. Would this person have left a 4-star review if I was a traditionally published author? I’m not sure. Obviously I don’t know this person’s review policy – but in some aspects, I consider this an “artificial” positive review.
  • I was a part of an indie book club a few months ago. I had a discussion with some of the members, and a few of them said that unless they can rate a book by an indie author 3-stars or higher, they won’t rate it. Why? They didn’t want to impact the overall star rating since it will hurt the author’s feelings. But, they don’t hold the same discretion over traditionally published books. I think this is a great point in illustrating how reviews on indie books become artificially inflated – people withhold negative reviews. While this isn’t bad for an author, it does mean the reason someone dislikes a book won’t be available for other readers.
  • As a reviewer – I have found myself rating indie books higher than I would a traditional counterpart. While there are a few I have given low star ratings because I really didn’t enjoy them, there are others that I have given 3.5 to 4 stars, even though I might have given then 2 or 3 stars if written by anyone else. This is primarily because 1) I know the author or 2) they don’t have a lot of reviews in the first place.
  • Another good example I saw was on one book that I ultimately rated 3 stars. I was scrolling through reviews, and saw that someone left a review saying they DNF’d the book. But they still gave the book 3 stars. Perhaps that reader always gives 3 stars to books they can’t finish, but most readers often give 1 or 2 stars in that case. Would they have given 3 stars if it wasn’t an indie book? I’m not sure.
  • Speaking of knowing the author – this can also inflate reviews…when someone hasn’t READ the book. It is totally fine for friends and family to review your book, but hopefully they have read it before doing so. When you gather friends and family to leave reviews, but they haven’t actually read it, then this is not just artificially inflating a book…but scamming readers as well. Amazon has found a way to prevent this, often times removing reviews from people they believe have a personal connection with the author. Goodreads doesn’t do this though. This can fall almost on the same level of if you paid someone to review your book as well.
    • While I believe this example is far less likely, it does happen. The best example I have is a book my dad read – I don’t remember the name. But it had a hundred or so 4-5 star ratings, but no reviews. The balance was strange, especially for an indie book. My dad, personally, didn’t like the book – and he did not hold back.

While these are only a few examples of what I call “artificial inflation”, they are some of the best examples of what exist in the indie author community. Some people might not think of this as inflating ratings, but in a way…it does. But remember, it is only artificial inflation if the reader is acting differently because it is an indie book – NOT because that is their method of reviewing books. If that is their method, then they’re just inflating the rating…which isn’t bad. That just means the rating is improving.

But now, let’s talking about Artificial Deflation.

Artificial Deflation Examples

Overall, Artificial Deflation is much more malicious in nature. Let’s talk about it…

  • The best example I can think of is when a reader attacks a self-published book for not being edited enough and having typos, then failing to hold traditionally published books to the same standard. While some readers really do nitpick every book like this, if you only comment on the editing of self-publish books, then that is a double standard that artificially deflates the book.
    • Now, this is different than when you comment on a book that has an error on every page. There is an industry standard of what is acceptable – if a self-published book meets that industry standard, then why comment on it? Every book will have some typos!
  • Recently, I saw an author essentially get attacked on Goodreads. While this isn’t the norm, in my opinion, it does happen. This author received one or two legitimate negative reviews about their book, then within the course of a day or so, received an influx of more reviews similar in nature. While it is possible all these individuals read their book, it seems unlikely considering the number of reviews at the time. More likely than not, these individuals all knew each other and decided to “troll” this author. All of these reviewers had similar thoughts as well. This causes the reviews on the book to be deflated.

While Artificial Deflation is the more extreme example of this, often with much larger implications, I personally don’t think that it is the norm when it comes to reviewing. I personally believe that if someone chooses to alter their review preferences with indie books, they are kinder.

And this in turn causes indie books to have a higher rating on Goodreads overall – at least from my experience. Although some indie authors might disagree.

So let me tell you a bit more about my experience…

Let’s go back a year ago, June 2020, when I was preparing to publish The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice. Around that time, I started reviewing books more regularly, and I noticed that a lot of Indie Books had a star rating above 4.2 stars. So I thought that was the average.

Then I got a couple negative reviews, since I ventured into the world of ARC readers.

Suddenly I had a rating of about 3.8 stars.

I faced a sudden existential crisis. What if my book was terrible? What was I supposed to do?

Then I peered around Goodreads and discovered something – most books have a rating of 3.5 stars or higher.

For whatever reason, the indie books in my sphere of discovery had higher ratings. Were they artificially inflated? I don’t know. I know with some of them I was kinder in my rating than with other books. Were others? I still don’t know.

While generally I don’t think books begin to come into their “natural rating” until about 25 reviews (and it doesn’t really solidify until 100 reviews), it was still hard to wrap my head around the fact that my book fell below 4 stars. Some of these books did have over 25 reviews, without a single negative review! Why? Maybe they were that good. Maybe the writer hadn’t reached outside their own sphere of influence. Or maybe, just maybe, some readers were “kinder” because the book was published independently.

I don’t know. And I won’t speculate either.

What I do know is that because so many indie books, at least those I became familiar with, have a rating greater than 4 stars…it took me many months to be comfortable in my book’s rating. (Now, my book has 4 stars exactly. That could change at any moment…but I was very happy to see that on Goodreads!)

So what does this all mean?

Basically, the essence of this discussion is simple: rate indie books just like you would rate traditionally published books. The only way for self-published authors to be respected in the industry is to be treated similarly.

As an indie author, I would rather you leave an honest review than a positive but dishonest one.

But…I also understand why it can be harder to leave a more critical review of an indie book. I’ve fallen into the same trap.

Indie Authors, I think, seem more human than Traditionally Published Authors. We’re the ones doing our marketing, we’re the ones hyping our books, etc. So by negatively reviewing our books, some readers might feel like they’re attacking us. In that case, you have a couple options, at least on Goodreads.com:

  • Review Indie Books like any other! This is the preferred method, of course. As always though, be honest and kind.
  • Review Indie Books on a curve. This isn’t preferred, but understandable. When people do this, it is what leads to artificially inflated reviews.
  • Leave a review, but not a star rating. One reason why I like Goodreads v. Amazon is the ability to leave a review without any star ratings. I often do this for books I DNF since I don’t think it’s fair to an author to give a star rating – at least until I hit 50% read. If you omit a star rating, it doesn’t impact the book’s overall rating, but still gives you a chance to talk about what you liked/didn’t like.

Once again though, the key here is to keep your personal reviewing system consistent.

In Conclusion…

While there is no way to determine for sure if a book’s rating is being artificially inflated or deflated overall, since everyone’s review systems are subjective, if you stay consistent, then at least you know you are being honest to the author.

Indie Authors put just as much work into their novels as Traditionally Published Authors. To be treated differently only reaffirms the idea that we are beneath them. This is not the case. Many of us have spent thousands of dollars to get our book out into the world. Even those who didn’t spend that kind of money, they have put their heart-and-soul into their novel.

Treat us like you would any other author. Once we are seen as equals, only then can the industry change.

Insights

The Struggle of Comp Titles

For the longest time, I have struggled with finding a comparable title to my debut novel, The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice. I had pulled from many sources (Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Star Trek, and general fantasy as a whole. But I hadn’t quite found a comparable title.

A lot of fantasy as of late, especially in the New Adult genre, didn’t quite fit in with what my book is about. It seems like that direction it goes in is one of the two: high fantasy or fae fantasy, based on what is popular right now.

My book doesn’t fall into either of those categories.

And this became a frustration. While I’m happy that my book stands on its own, to attract readers, you need comparable titles.

That changed after I read Six of Crows.

I’m ready to delve into the rest of the Grishaverse (although, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about Shadow and Bone due to how “YA” it really is). To me, the Grishaverse serves as a great comparable to my story.

Let me tell you why:

The world is composed of multiple countries with different feelings about magic (or Grisha), with different factions fighting. The world is diverse, and the way magic behaves is beautiful. Combined with references to more of an 1800s/1900s feeling, there was a similar vibe to my story…at least from a world building perspective.

The stories are very different though. My story deals with Death Gods as well as magic; the Grishaverse deals with the magic…and in Six of Crows, heists.

But, the purpose of a comparable title is this: I can say that if you’re someone who is 16+ and enjoys the Grishaverse, you might just enjoy my book.

That might not be the case with everyone. But, it is nice to say.

It’s a way to help market my book, as well as reach different audiences.

Will it work? Who knows.

And I’m sure I’ll find more comparable books as time goes on.

Until next time,

ESB

Insights, News

To Hire an Editor or Not…That is the Question

Indie Authors face a challenge when it comes to getting their work out there: do they hire an editor? Many independent authors see the price tag of hiring an editor and back off: is it worth it? After all, as a writer, shouldn’t you already be familiar with sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation? 

Each indie author approaches how to edit their book differently. Some will go and hire an editor. Others will work on their own. Some might do something in between (hiring for proofreading only, or using a friend/relative). Everyone will have a different opinion on this, and that is why I reached out to multiple people in the community to find out their thoughts. 

First…My Opinion 

Personally, I believe if you have the means to hire an editor, do so! There are many editors with fair prices out there, while also providing writers with the tools they need to succeed. On all counts, I have a relatively firm grasp of the English language, but there are obscure rules that completely pass over my head. In fact, I even tried to take a single credit grammar class in college, and some of the rules were so strange I barely pulled off a “C” in the class. (Granted, I will admit, it was just a single credit so I could get my loan money for the semester, so I didn’t take it too seriously.)

But that being said, I searched for an editor because I knew my ability to completely polish my prose was limited. I really wanted to see it shine. In addition, I have the means to hire an editor and found an amazing editor within my price range. Charlie Knight helped me clean my prose and make the story pop, and without their help, I don’t think I would have ended up with the story I have today. As an editor, Charlie not only cleaned my prose, but helped me find plot holes and strange spots that even my beta readers missed. 

That, I think, is one of the many important things to take into account: editors don’t just find your spelling errors…they also help you develop the story into something, well, awesome. When you hire an editor with the proper training, they will really help make your writing shine! 

How do you find an editor?

Research! There are so many editors out there, and only YOU will know who is best for your story.

But, heed the following warning from Editor Charlie Knight…for there is fraudulent activity out there, and sometimes the amount you pay for an editor won’t be worth.

Per Charlie:

Indie publishing is, unfortunately, very open to the scam of people who have written books or beta’d for friends calling themselves editors. I regularly get new clients who were already screwed by one of these people. Best advice for avoiding them: Get samples. You’ll know if the editor can do their job and if you click.

This isn’t to say that your writer friends can’t help you edit…but be wary. Years of training and education goes into becoming an editor. Just because someone has a good understanding of grammar or story structure doesn’t mean they really understand how to be an effective editor. 

What if I can’t hire an editor? 

If you do not have the means to hire an editor, do not let this stop you from publishing. There are tools and courses out there that can help your writing pop! Here are just a few of them that I know of off the top of my head. If you know any more, please comment below!

  • ProWritingAid – I will say, I use this one before sending my book to beta readers! It helps clean up repetitiveness, grammatical errors, and passive voice. There is a free web-based version that lets you operate with 500-words at a time, or a subscription based attachment you can download to MS Word or Google Docs. 
  • Grammarly – We see this one everywhere! It’s a web attachment that you can use as a basic spell check, or you can use its priced services to help with editing.
  • Hemingway Editor – I don’t know too much about this one, but I know it helps identify a grade level for your writing and find overly complex sentence. 

There are also tons of resources to learn more about editing…just remember to heed each with caution!

While I still don’t think different software programs or self-training can replace someone who is trained, if you cannot hire an editor, these are the next best thing! But, I do believe that if you can find at least ONE person to read your work before you publish, even if it’s your friend or relative, then do so. They’ll catch things you don’t see. When you edit, after all, you are far too deep into the weeds to notice every little error. 

In fact, don’t just take it from me!  My editor, Charlie Knight, has very similar thoughts!

If you’re going to self-edit, my biggest pieces of advice would be to take recommendations from software like Grammarly or ProWritingAid with a grain of salt (they can’t read for voice), read your drafts out loud, and use beta readers.

Other authors have had their only thoughts regarding self-editing. Most of the time it has to do with costs. A few authors on instagram have voiced how the price-tag for an editor is too high for them at the moment. 

Author Kaitlyn Legaspi told me that, as a college student, it is hard to afford an editor. So she works with her boyfriend to read through her books and make it shine! 

But, there are other reasons too why authors don’t always hire an editor.  

Author SG Bacon doesn’t hire an editor directly, because she has a group of close companions who are effective editors. Her process is:

I do the first round of editing myself, just to make sure I’ve fixed any mistakes that stood out to me. Then, the next round is done with my mom and brother. I know having people close to you edit is something some people advise against, but it all depends, I think. I know that both my mom and brother won’t hold back on their opinions, so I will still get a good result. My final round of editing is with a family friend who is absolutely fantastic at catching little mistakes and picking up on things that might not make sense to the readers.

Author Céline Gelpe has a more methodical approach, once again working with people close to her while tackling her books. 

I did six rounds of editing (developmental, line, copy, proofreading), then I had a uncle who is a poet to do a final proofreading. I did the developmental and line editing after long discussions with beta readers. Talking with my beta-readers was great. I really enjoyed their feedback and I think that overall, my story benefited from their inputs. I had to justify things my characters would do and discovered them in the process. One also took the “job” of a sensitivity reader and made me realize my own bias and my own limits.

But Céline Gelpe has a word to the wise regarding using friends:

My beta-readers were my friends and did this as a favor to me, […] but I had to check regularly to see how they were doing on their reading. I had to actively seek them out for them to give the feedback. It’s not a nice feeling when, once a month, I have to write to them to know how far they are. It takes a toll on my well-being, and makes me feel a bit like a stalker. All of them took more time than they had initially thought. It’s okay, not everybody is a reader but instead of publishing my story 6 months after the final draft was done, it took a whole year.”

As I am sure you can see, there are so many different approaches to editing. While some ways may be better than others, if you want to get your story out there, find a way! Just find the method that best works for you.

Insights

On Editing with Tina Capricorn

Writing is hard. Editing can be harder, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Hi, I’m Tina, and I am fresh off the launch of my first book The Anchor of Time and I wanted to share some hot tips that I learned about editing.

First bit of advice, write better copy. This may seem like a no brainer, however after editing my first book–which took six years and many, many rewrites because–I realized I was teaching myself how to write better which made editing easier. But what does that mean?

Show Don’t Tell

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” –Anton Chekhov

From your descriptions to your characters–show us, don’t tell us. Narrative summary is not an engaging way to get people to turn the pages. An actual scene with your characters conversing is a more engaging way to introduce your world, the plot/conflict, and your characters. When I read a book and there are pages of ‘info-dumping’ instead of clever world building, it’s an immediate DNF book.

‘As if’

Maybe this was more of a problem for me writing sci-fi/fantasy, but writing with conviction and certainty means this phrase is pretty much out of place (unless your character’s POV is unsure) ‘As if’ is a weakening phrase, it weakens the prose and the context it is setting up. Be bold, be certain–this is your story!

‘Found’ 

This is one that really annoyed me throughout the editing process. So many writers use it: ‘He found that he was unsure of what to do about the party.’ What did he find? Find is such a weird word, I like to relegate it to actual treasure or missing car keys in my work, not nebulous emotions. Look how much stronger the sentence is without it… ‘He realized he was unsure about what to do about the party.’ Realize is a more clarifying word and brings us closer to the character’s perspective.

Adverbs 

We’ve all heard it–adverbs weaken your copy. A string of adverbs and adjectives can be confusing and the words can actually detract from each other and the story! They are superfluous and considered by many in the biz (Stephen King among them) as lazy writing. This isn’t to say don’t use them, but use them sparingly and when you do, try to use unusual ones or not overuse the same one. Less is more with adverbs.

Some great books I used for reference are On Writing by Stephen KingThe First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King. The best way to become better at your craft is to practice every day, but also research. These books really helped me!

Have an Editing Plan

To all my indies out there, before you publish, hire a professional editor! This will help the manuscript so much, and it will give a professional touch. EVERYONE NEEDS AN EDITOR. No one writes a perfect first draft, and if they say they do, well then they’re selling something.

On my first book I had it professionally edited twice and at the very end, I tried to cut corners and let a very gracious family member (who offered) do my final proof read… but if you’ve never proofread a 90k document in Word before… let’s just say I recently hired someone and am doing a second edition this year because cutting corners just isn’t something to be done with a final proofread (I thought I was safe because I had it professionally edited twice, but no).

 I also realized that my editing process would really benefit from a final proofread after the ARC read is complete and I get all my final feedback. Now that I’ve done a book from start to finish, I have an editing plan for my second book:

  1. Finish Rough Draft
  2. Self-edit until you are satisfied it can be looked at and understood by another reader…
  3. Professional edit, development and structure. 
  4. Self-edit/add additional copy based on feedback.
  5. Beta Read, get some trusted friends to read it and give their feedback.
  6. Self edit based on feedback. Could also hire an editor to do line edits at this point.
  7. Release it into the wild with an Advanced Reader Copy. At this point the manuscript should be close to polished and ready for publishing. 
  8. Final Proofread! Hire someone, I think it’s worth it…
  9. Publish

Thanks for reading, if you want to follow along my writing, editing and publishing journey this year, find me on Instagram @tinacapricornwrites

You can find Tina Capricorn below…

Insights, News

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Editing

 Editing: it’s probably the most important aspect of publishing a book. More than the book cover or sometimes even the story itself, editing can often make or break a good story. Why? Because editing helps polish the story and make it shine. Without editing, a good story could become unreadable, cumbersome, and looked over by readers. 

As the first part of my series, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Self Publishing, we’re going to talk about Editing. Everyone has had both good and bad experiences with their editing: between using software, hiring editors, and discovering typos…we all are faced with different hurdles throughout our publishing journey.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be sharing thoughts and stories from many different authors (including myself) in regards to their experiences with editing. 

What can you look forward to in the coming weeks? Let me tell you!

  • Insights on editing software
  • Insights on finding and working with an editor
  • Mistakes that authors have made along the way
  • And more!

So stay tuned while we begin to discuss all these topics and more. As a reader, you might understand more about the amount of effort put into an author’s work. As a writer, you’ll learn about all your options. We can all continue to learn and improve our craft.

So if you’re interested, stay tuned.

Insights, News

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Self-Publishing – Authors Wanted

One thing is evident: self-publishing is hard.

But often times, people only celebrate their successes on social media. This makes sense. Who wants to share their dismal sales numbers or terrible reviews? 

Unfortunately though, self-publishing is riddle with obstacles like this. 

So I want to throw together a series of blog posts to discuss topics that might not be so readily explored so those getting ready to self-publish know what they are in for as they prepare their novel. 

So, I am looking for people to answer questions about the following subjects: 

  • Editing 
  • Cover Design
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Reviews 
  • Imposter Syndrome & Self-Doubt
  • And more!

I want candid answers that cover the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let us find out your marketing plan and what has worked! Tell us about the heartbreak you have suffered along the way! We want to know. 

We’re not racing against each other to be the best. We’re a team. Authors aren’t each other’s competition. We all write different stories.

So why not talk about these hurdles…and maybe, help each other overcome them?

If you are interested in participating, please fill out the form below! I’m looking for both people to be interviewed as well as guest blog posts.

I cannot wait to see your responses. 

Until next time,

ESB

Insights

What I Discovered Reading 100 Books in 1 Year

While Covid-19 struck the world, many of us retreated into the confines of our homes. For me, this meant returning to a habit I had long lost: reading. 

In 2020, from late March through the end of the year, I read 108 books. That is the most I have read since I was in high school! Combined with short stories, novellas, comics, audio books, and novel, this has allowed me to immerse myself in the world of many characters, new and old, big and small. 

I mean, look at all these books I’ve read! Pages upon pages! I don’t think I ever thought I’d read this much again!

But, upon reading this many books, as expected, I’ve learned some things about, well, me as a reader. My tastes changed; books I rated 5 stars earlier this year might not be rated 5 stars now…or books I rated lower might receive a higher rating if I were to return to them. This of course is expected with any sort of hobby: you change.

So I wanted to take a moment to highlight some things I’ve discovered as a reader this year. Below consists of only my opinions, so do not take them to heart. In addition, since I am a writer, the way I look at and analyze books varies compared to someone who reads for fun. (But I do read for fun! Just I notice random things that others might not!)

  1. I’m *more* critical when it comes to fantasy books
    One of the first things I discovered was how critical I became of fantasy books. Don’t get me wrong…I love fantasy! I write fantasy! But there is a trap a lot of writers fall into: lack of worldbuilding, too much worldbuilding, lack of originality, or lack of characterization. This can occur with any book, but it’s most notably with fantasy – especially when you’re climbing beyond the paranormal realm. I think this is due in part to the need to create things that didn’t exist before.

    Being a fantasy writer myself, I am picky. I notice things I would have done or not done. But one thing I make sure is to NEVER compare the author to me. That is utterly repulsive to do so – this is the author’s story. Not mine. Even if I didn’t like where their vision went, I won’t say “well I could do this better”…because maybe I can’t! 
  2. I’m *less* critical of contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and non fiction.
    I am far less critical of genres I don’t write, particularly contemporary, historical, and non fiction. Often this is due to the realism of these situations, and often times, the research I know needs to go into these. More often than not, my rating has to do more with what keeps my interest. 
  3. Pacing is important to me
    I’ve found that I have a sweet spot of what I consider “good pacing” for a novel. Something that is too fast, throwing characters from one situation to another, will leave my head spinning. A book that meanders too long before getting to an inciting incident will bore me. There’s that sweet spot that is entirely subjective. In both cases too, it’s a matter of how the authors handle it: sometimes a fast paced book works perfectly (especially when it’s tongue-in-cheek or supposed to be more light hearted). Other times, a slow book is great as well (especially if it gives us insights into the characters). There really has to be that nice sweet spot for me, and I can’t completely describe it. 
  4. My *least* favorite genre is *still* romance
    While I will read romance, it is still my least favorite genre (of the genres I will read. I still won’t read erotica or Christian Fiction). Don’t get me wrong, I have read some adorable romances this year, but often times I need more. In addition, I’m picky with my romance tropes: I don’t like soul mates (much), I dislike “dream connections”, I am one of the few who shies from enemies-to-lovers, and I am wary of any romances that base themselves around uncomfortable sexual situations. Some people might like these situations, but unless they are done just right, they don’t work for me. In addition, any book that is contemporary romance will be *much* harder for me to get into; some will work, some won’t. But overall, it is still the genre I am most picky about. 
  5. I don’t like books with too many *named* characters
    I’ve seen this in quite a few books (especially ones that are on the shorter side). Some authors feel the need to name every character, or provide a large cast of named individuals, some of whom don’t really stand out from the pack. While yes, a lot of books have many characters, when you throw me into a scenario that has 20 people in its significant cast and the book itself is only 250 pages, it is harder for me to get into the plot or to connect with the characters. 
  6. Middle Grade books aren’t *just* for kids
    One thing I’ve done this year is read a lot of middle-grade books! This is mostly due to audio books – middle grade novels just have fantastic production quality when it comes to audio! They’re simplistic enough to pay attention to, but are some of the most entertaining stories. I’ve even picked up a number of physical and ebook copies of middle grade novels as well. I do find that I am less critical of these stories too because, come on, they’re for kids!
  7. My favorite POV is deep third person. Least favorite is the omnipresent narrator. 
    I still hold that I love deep third person POV. The ability to switch between characters (but limiting it by chapter or section), allows me to see more of the story. First person isn’t that bad either, but I do find that the characters feel more similar since I am reading them as *me* to an extent. 

    But what I really struggle with is the omnipresent narrator. I’ve gotten used to this form of narration, but often I have to backtrack to figure out who is thinking once. That’s not to say some authors don’t do this well, and in those cases the POV doesn’t matter as much to me.
  8. I will notice bad writing or grammar…but often I can overlook it.
    The writer side of me DOES notice the bad writing and grammar. I recognize the passive voice, when people are “telling” rather than “showing”, and if there are grammatical errors. Not all readers will notice this.

    And that’s why I can overlook it. I understand that not ALL individuals have the money or means to hire an editor, or perhaps English isn’t their first language. 

    BUT! If the grammar is absolute horrible, I may end up DNFing the book. There is a fine line between what I am able to tolerate and what I cannot, after all. 
  9. I want to connect with the characters
    This goes back to pacing and POV. I want to understand and connect with the characters. Let me see that they hate mashed potatoes, or that they close themselves off in times of fear. Let me sense their love, and worry for their survival. This is why I like that slower pacing and deeper POV. It’s because I love getting to know the characters.
  10. I love reading.
    I can finally say it again. I love to read as much as I love to write. If I don’t read anything one day, I feel weird. I’d rather sit with a book than watch TV or play video games. Words are my forte. I never want to leave them.

I am sure I can think of more things I’ve discovered, but these are the many things I’ve noticed over the past year. As I tackle more books, I am sure I will discover more things I like (or dislike) about books. 

But no matter how my tastes change, I will always be honest and fair in my reviews. I think most books do indeed have redeemable qualities, so when I rate a book, I want to use my best discretion.

So let’s see what journey books take me on this year! 

Until next time,

ESB

Insights, News

Insights: Why I Take Time to Promote Other Authors

A question has been posed to me on multiple occasions: why do you take time to promote other authors and review their books?

The answer to this is simple to me, and it comes down to a simple statement children are taught since childhood: treat others how you want to be treated.

What does that have to do with my author promotions? Simple. I personally believe that it is not fair for me to go out and ask people to review my book, or to promote me as an author, if I am not doing it myself.

Not every author has the time or energy to do this. But I think, especially for Indie Authors (who typically have smaller street teams or marketing budgets), it is our job to stick together and support other Indie Authors. Do I expect the authors I read or feature to do the same for me? Absolutely not. But from a personal standpoint, it’s how I am.

Do the benefits of doing this equal the effort though? Maybe not from a review or sale standpoint (not that I’ve run the numbers), but from an enjoyment standpoint… ABSOLUTELY! Authors aren’t competitors. Sure, maybe ten years ago when I was a silly teenager I might have thought that. But really, we’re all running the same race. Sure, some people might win a prize at the end, or get more support…but we’re all just trying to tell a story.

So while I could just beg for reviews, submit my book for features, or post on social media, I have decided instead to focus in a way I know I can help other indie authors: reading and featuring them instead.

This also falls into my own type of anxiety. For me, personally, interacting on social media takes a lot out of me. It comes down to social anxiety: even in real life, I’m not one to interact much with others. So it is far easier for me to offer features or to go read someone’s book. It’s support for the authors, since after all, reviews are a type of currency for authors.

That’s why I focus so much on these initiatives. While yes, they can be cumbersome, they’re less draining (for me) than actually commenting on social media posts. Instead, I see a book I like, and I add it to my TBR list. Or, by featuring authors, I discover new books as well!

We’re all a part of a community of reader and writers. So why not build each other up? I think it’s worth it.

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