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

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: 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, 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

News, Tips

Keep Writing: Your Story is Worth It

A few weeks ago, I received an ask on tumblr.com asking what my process is in writing a novel. While that topic is for a different post, what I would like to talk about is the response I received.

I won’t quote it word-for-word out of respect for this individuals privacy, but basically they said:

Wow, I wish I was motivated enough to do all of this. I wish my story was worth it. 

That response broke my heart. Because of course their story is worth it!

Some people are going to go through the process I went through: coming up with an initial idea, and refining it for years and years…before getting the right idea and THEN writing ten drafts. (Again, I’ll detail this insanity all later…since it really has been insane and it needs it’s own post.) Some people are going to be content writing one draft and then posting it online, others will write a few and then decide between wattpad, indie publishing, or traditional publishing…or not sharing it at all.

But never ever think your story isn’t worth it. Because I promise…it is. You’re writing this story to explore your own inspiration, to rediscover humanity, and explore the confines of your own mind. If it makes you happy, if you’re having fun…isn’t it worth it?

Still don’t believe me? Well let me give you a few reasons WHY your story is worth it!

  1. You’re having fun! You’re creating these characters, this world, and something that is entirely yours.

    Okay, your next question is probably: What if I write fan fiction? Then you’re still having fun! You’re doing something that makes you happy! So get those endorphins flowing and create!

  2. You’re creating something new! This is something entirely your own. You created this…you brought these characters to life or fed them a new story. That’s something new. That’s something wonderful.
  3. You’re human. Unless someone who isn’t a human is reading this (which well, that’s impressive so I’m sure this applies to you nonetheless), it’s a part of the human experience to create. Whether you’re here to publish or not, jump between projects, or just like creating for the heck of it…you’re experiencing humanity’s desire to create. Because without art and writing and music…what are we really?

But what if I can’t stay committed to an idea? Or what if I haven’t created in weeks? 

That’s okay too! Give yourself a break! Your story will be there waiting for you…and it is still worth the work. Because every bit of writing, or resting, or day dreaming, or creating is still adding to this world.

It won’t exist if you create it.

So trust me, your story is worth it. Keep telling it.

Keep creating.

Until next time,

E.S. Barrison

News, Tips

Insights: My Beta Reading Experience

It has been a bit since I posted an update, but I have needed some time to put together this next post about the terrifying topic of Beta Reading!

Now what is beta reading?
Beta Reading is when an author reaches out to potential readers and get their feedback on the unpublished story. This is different from an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) reader, who reviews the book in its final form before being published.

My Experience
Over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to be on both sides of the Beta Reading Spectrum – as the recipient and as a reader.

My personal experience as a beta reading recipient went through two rounds. My first round I deemed unsuccessful. Few of my readers finished or responded after the first couple weeks. Some of the problems were my own: I released chapters in segments rather all at once, I didn’t regularly update my beta readers, and quite frankly, the story wasn’t ready.

My second round went a lot better. Of the 14 beta readers, 10 of them openly finished. Anything higher than 50% completion with beta reading I think is a success. Not only that, while there were things that needed to be adjusted, the feedback was great. I was terrified people would hate it, but they loved it…and that made this all the better.

After receiving my own beta feedback, I had the honor to beta read for Esther T. Jones’s second novel, Thorunn. While I won’t go into details on the actual story (that will be saved for the book review when the novel is released), it opened my eyes on how to improve the beta reading experience of my readers in the future.

So, after these experiences, I wanted to pass along some insights to others who may be preparing to either send their novel to beta readers or for any readers preparing to beta read. While in no way these are universal, I think they provide some insight…or I hope so.

Personally, I love beta reading. 

It’s a way to help writers improve their stories. It’s stressful to receive feedback too. But, it is a necessary evil. 

Since I’m currently starting to beta read another story so at the moment I am not available to beta read. When I am, I will post on my various social media accounts since this is something I do in my free time. 

Thanks again everyone. I hope this helps.