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Summer Reading Roundup

I’ve been catching up on a virtual TBR pile of ebooks I acquired in the past couple of years — most (but not all) from Smashwords, and mainly during Read An Ebook Week and Summer/Winter Sale events. Many of them were free.

Free ebooks are considered problematic by many. Rumor has it they are picked up by persons deficient in morals whose purpose is simply to amass hundreds of ebooks — electronic hoarders, in effect. And, rumor adds, these books are never read. Indie authors are advised never to give away their books for free (except as part of KDP Select’s five free days, of course. Oh, and Goodreads giveaways, in which case you give someone a free print copy, and often pay for shipping it to them).

End of digression. Now, where was I? Oh yes — free ebooks. I have deliberately acquired quite a few, mainly from Smashwords. And I have read most of them. One thing I’ve found, though — it’s really easy to forget ebooks, free or otherwise. Unless I download and start reading an ebook right after I buy it, it disappears into the universe of electronic blips that live in my computer. Unlike physical books that accumulate to form tottering piles on the bedside table (or the floor), ebooks easily vanish from sight. And you know what happens then.

Anticipating summer reading time, I had a look through a file called My Digital Editions. I was happily shocked to find half a dozen titles I had completely forgotten about, sitting there unread. I copied them to my e-reader (yes, I still have one of those) and proceeded to read.

Here are my impressions of some of those ebooks. These aren’t in-depth reviews, just superficial observations. The titles are listed in the order I began reading.

 

The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set. A boxed set of nine stories by crime fiction writers featured on the Crime Cafe podcast with bonus interviews!

A perfect accompaniment for a long flight, bus ride, or any situation that may involve lengthy waits. These books were originally published some years ago, but are still worthy of attention. Hard boiled to cozy mystery, novel to novella-length crime fiction by nine different authors. Quality ranges from okay to excellent.

In No Particular Order: a memoir / by Kevin Brennan. It’s true that life is linear, but the living of it is all over the map. In this memoir-in-vignettes, novelist Kevin Brennan (Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road) examines his life the way memories occur in the wild: in no particular order. Whether it’s recalling high school humiliations, ups and downs in love and romance, or unique interactions with the human race at home and abroad, Brennan both entertains and moves the reader with moments of unexpected poignancy and full-tilt humor. In No Particular Order is a deconstructed memoir, like no other because it looks at life as it really is — a kaleidoscope of individual moments.

Plucked from Kevin Brennan’s blog, this bouquet of vignettes and anecdotes presents a poignant picture of growing up and coming of age in the America of the 1960s through to the new millennium. These are thin but tasty slices of life to be savoured anytime. After reading, I find myself thinking, “Yeah!” or, “Oh!” or, “Hmm.”

The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part One: Eagle Ascendant / by Lorinda J. Taylor. Robbin Haysus Nikalishin was born on 31 October 2729 and became the first starship Captain to make contact with extraterrestrials. This book recounts the early life of this man who became one of Earth’s greatest heroes. All heroes are human beings and all human beings are flawed, and the man the Earth will come to know as “Capt. Robbie” was a very human man.

Combining hard SF with a coming-of-age story, this is an engrossing read. The future society in which the book is set is methodically constructed and fascinating. The fictional science sounded plausible to me. Step by step, the story builds to a gripping climax, ending with an irresistible situation that compels one to read Part Two.

The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part Two: Wounded Eagle / by Lorinda J. Taylor. In this second part of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin’s biography, the responsibility for the space disaster in Part One is determined and Prf. Eiginsh’s mystifying behavior is explained, while the Captain attempts to recover from the devastating aftereffects of the disaster. The resolution is bittersweet; will the Captain ever become capable of coping fully with the damage that was done to him? 

Exploring the causes and consequences of the catastrophe that ends Part One, this book is slower but equally interesting. Less technology and more psychology than the first volume.

Awful, Ohio / by Sirloin Furr. Troy Slushy’s exposure to his life-decimating job, depressed wife, and crumbling home encourage his desire for a life in perpetual darkness. It becomes his objective to destroy the bright, menacing beast that removes him from the ecstasy of his dreams, only to expose him to all of these worthless possessions. Troy Slushy declares that his mission is to destroy the sun.

A modern allegory? Experimental fiction? The author has forged a unique monstrosity, beating words into new shapes and meanings. I had to take a break at the halfway point to reset my brain.

A Long Night in Hell / by Jack Stornoway. The ride down the elevator to Agni Mining Station was like a ride into Hell itself. On a planet where you could never quite get warm enough, it quickly became uncomfortably warm, then uncomfortably hot. G. Drew Akers had been in deep mines before, he’d worked in one for two years in Hussy Crater in his early twenties.

This 10K-word story is categorized as science fiction, but the main character is a detective investigating a murder in a mining colony deep below the surface of Mars. Sadly, the tale does not live up to its intriguing setting.

Out of Focus / by Susan Egner. Morgan Grey photographs a prowler at her home 24 hours after her airline pilot-husband’s death. Picking up the pieces of her life, she debuts her photographic talents and features the unusual eyes of the prowler, setting off unforeseen events exposing her husband’s double life. The illusion of a perfect life gives way to the reality of a gifted artist’s celebrity—a life no longer out of focus.

A thriller of the “woman discovers her husband’s secrets after his death” type. Strangely, the reader is informed of the secrets early in the book, so the main question for the reader is when and how Morgan will discover them. Details about flying commercial airplanes, shooting photographs and processing film are interesting, and there are some suspenseful episodes, but the ending is rushed and unsatisfying. Includes a collection of metaphors and similes used to describe Morgan’s green eyes.

Baiting & Fishing / by Meredith Rae Morgan. A newspaper reporter investigates the circumstances of a corporate scandal, and finds the woman of his dreams. Is she his perfect match or a murderess? Is he a heel or a hero?

Middle-aged reporter Ray Bailey is easy to like and sympathize with, as what starts out a potential big story turns into a charming romance. The vanishing lifestyle of Gulf Coast Florida is a big feature of this book — especially fishing, eating fish, and more fishing. Turns out Ray’s mystery woman is a whiz at fishing, and really rich, and great-looking. And a bunch of other things as well, some of them not so good. Kept me reading, and wondering.

The Eternal Librarian / by Meyari McFarland. When humanity went to the stars they took many things with them. Brencis ensured that they took the books. Unfortunately, humanity also took along their greed, their blindness and their short-sighted focus on all the wrong things. The Eternal Librarian is a touching exploration of human nature, determination and the love of learning that is dedicated to librarians and book lovers everywhere.

Well, the description pretty much sums it up. A short story with a sincere message.

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

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Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale starts July 1st!

Every July, Smashwords authors have the opportunity to offer their ebooks at reduced prices (or free) at the Smashwords store. As Smashwords founder and CEO Mark Coker says, “Think of it as a massive co-marketing collaboration where thousands of authors work in parallel to introduce readers to thousands of awesome indie ebooks.”

For readers, it’s an opportunity to discover new authors or catch up with favourites. Whether you’re reading on the deck (northern hemisphere) or in front of the fire (southern), don’t miss this chance! Start browsing here.

While you’re there, you may wish to have a look at the Herbert West Series.

The Herbert West Series_final

 

Are Free Ebooks Evil?

Free ebooks! It’s a hot topic among indie authors these days, as we try to bring our books to readers’ attention.

Many authors say they would never give away their books for free (except for brief promotional periods). They believe this devalues the hard work of writing and publishing.

Others claim that making the first book in a series “perma-free” is a good way to generate reader interest in the other books in the series.

Who is right?

Arguments against free:

1. The time and treasure you put into writing and publishing the book is worth something.

2. People don’t value the ebooks they download just because they are free, and most never read them.

3. Free books cheapen the written word for everyone, harming authors who depend on selling their books for a living.

Arguments for free:

1. Free “outsells” any non-free book. People love free.

2. Free is frictionless. To buy a $0.99 book you have to go through the payment process. Free is an instant download.

3. People do read free ebooks and some return to buy either the print version or other ebooks in the series.

Now to my own experience: I have written and published a four-book series. In one 18-month period (September 2012 to February 2014) that the first book was free, it was downloaded several thousand times. And that was when it had its original homemade cover image. Sadly, only a small fraction of those who downloaded it returned to purchase the other 3 books in the series. But I was thrilled at the numbers that did.

Every year, Smashwords offers its authors two opportunities to make their books available in a special catalogue at reduced rates (Read an Ebook Week in March and the Summer/Winter Sale for the month of July). Prices may be reduced by 25% to 100% off the regular price. In my experience, there is little uptake for books at 50% off, but those at 100% (i.e., free) are snapped up. I suspect there are many readers who visit Smashwords only during these events, trolling for free ebooks.

Some say that making an ebook free should be part of a marketing plan, in which readers who get free books should be required to offer up something other than money in exchange — a review or an email address. A good idea, except it depends on the goodwill of the recipient reader. If a reader doesn’t produce a review, the author can’t get the book back. As for email addresses, when someone downloads my book from the Smashwords site, or from B&N, the Apple iBooks store or the other outlets to which Smashwords distributes, I have no idea who those readers are. All I see are the numbers of downloads; the readers are invisible to me. The only way I can think of to get their email addresses is to put a note at the end of the free book offering the reader the second one for free by sending me a message. (Have I done this? Not yet.)

Many authors buy advertising, which may or may not pay for itself in book sales. It may end up being a financial loss, so really, how is that different from giving away books for free?

Conclusion: do what works for you. The beauty of self-publishing is that you call the shots. If you have a number of books available, try making one of them free. Or write short prequel or spinoff story and make that free.

Of course the downside of calling all the shots is  ever-present doubts, second thoughts and what-ifs. I frequently have arguments with myself that go something like this:

If I were charging $0.99 for that book, I’d be earning $0.60 per sale. Sure, there are lots of downloads, but I’m losing $0.60 on each one!

Yes, but if the book cost even $0.99, the uptake would be way less. And so would the number of readers buying the next book.

OK, but what if it’s true that hardly anyone actually reads free ebooks? If only a fraction do, and only a fraction of those return to buy the other books in the series, is losing the $0.60 worth it?

Well, but don’t you like seeing all those downloads pile up? It’s depressing to see no sales week after week. Better to keep the first book free for a few more months.

OK, but what about…

And so it goes. For now, The Friendship of Mortals ebook is free. For the next month, anyway. Or maybe the next 6 months. Or maybe just a few more days, depending on how that argument turns out.

A Fall/Winter Reading Challenge!

To celebrate fall and anticipate winter — great seasons for reading — I am issuing a friendly challenge to readers who are up for a “big read.”

You can acquire all four books of the Herbert West Series for free in exchange for thoughtful comments about the series.

Accept the challenge with a comment to this post, and then follow this link and enter the secret codes at checkout. They will cease to work at midnight on October 1st, so act now!

Book 1, The Friendship of Mortals  QP85L

Book 2, Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey  CA25C

Book 3, Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure  ZY56H

Book 4, Hunting the Phoenix  BQ87N

You will be undertaking to read upward of half a million words, which will take time, but I hope to see comments on Goodreads, Smashwords or your blogs by the vernal equinox — Friday, March 20th, 2015.

 

The Herbert West Series_final.

 

The Power and Peril of “Free”

From September 2012 until last week, the first book of my Herbert West Series, The Friendship of Mortals, was available as a free download. When I re-launched the series with new cover images, I changed its price from $0 to $0.99.

During the 18 months that it was free, The Friendship of Mortals was downloaded 2 to 3 times a day. I suspect that many readers make “free” their primary search criterion when trolling for ebooks on the internet. Giveaways on Goodreads and Amazon’s KDP Select program are touted as good ways to create interest in a series and encourage purchases of its other books. On the other hand, some say that most free ebooks languish unread because having no value they are not valued by those who acquire them.

I braced myself for uptake of The Friendship of Mortals to slow to a trickle, but was pleasantly surprised to find that 8 copies have been purchased since the price change, more than I expected. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next six months, especially after I make the series available for purchase on Amazon in March.

In the meantime, readers of this blog who missed acquiring The Friendship of Mortals while it was free may do so for another two weeks, until February 28. I participated in a program on self-publishing at my local public library last week, at which I distributed handouts with a coupon code for a 100% discount on that book:  SWS50. Just go to the book’s page at Smashwords and enter that code when you check out.

Loading Up the E-Reader

A couple of months ago I finally bought an ebook reader, having grown weary of disengaging from interesting books at bedtime. I always read in bed for a while last thing at night, but not on a computer. After years of working with my own and others’ manuscripts, I have no problem with text on a computer screen, but I think “laptop” is a misnomer for computers that are still rather heavy and fragile, safer on tabletops than on laps. And it was ironic to have published four ebooks without owning the primary instrument for reading them.

In selecting books for the e-reader, I decided to start with self-published books. Recently there have been recurring and endless debates on the Fiction Writers’ Guild at LinkedIn that always seem to boil down to “Are self-published books more likely to be badly written than traditionally published ones?” I don’t pretend to have any credible statistics, but I recommend the following well-written self-published books, discovered without a lot of effort on my part. Several of them are free, none of them is more than $2.99. $2.99, folks! Less than the price of a good cup of coffee. You have to admit that’s a real bargain for a good read.

Clear Heart by Joe Cottonwood. “A love story for men about nail guns, wet concrete and strong women.” OK, it’s a “guy book,” but it worked for me. In addition to a complicated bunch of love stories, there’s a lot of stuff about the art of building houses that reads like it comes from lived experience.

Northern Liberties by Glenn Vanstrum. A historical novel about the artist Thomas Eakins set in 1870s Philadelphia, it delves into the creation of Eakins’s painting The Gross Clinic. The story combines elements of art, medicine and history, with a murder mystery woven in as well. I liked this book so well I also bought another one by Vanstrum — Let Fall Thy Blade. I’m only about a quarter through reading it, but so far it’s impressive.

Effie Perine by Buzzy Jackson. This is an odd tangent from The Maltese Falcon, featuring Sam Spade’s secretary. By artful timebending it combines the 1920s, 1970s and 1990s, honouring Hammett’s detective and the classic movie while adding unique elements that kept me guessing — and reading.

Three short works by A.M. Kirkby — Rise Above, Sword of Justice and A Ghost Story of the Norfolk Broads. These are beautifully written, understated stories of supernatural and natural horror. I especially recommend Rise Above.

He Needed Killing and He Needed Killing Too — a pair of murder mysteries by Bill Fitts set on a Southern university campus, featuring a retired tech guy turned private investigator. These are leisurely-paced books, related by a first-person narrator with a congenial, relaxed style. Anyone who has ever spent time in academia will find something to relate to here.

Finally, of course, there is my own Herbert West Trilogy (in four volumes), a hefty opus of which I speak often. The first book, The Friendship of Mortals, is free.

All of these books are available on Smashwords, and my reviews of them are also to be found there.

Roar, Whine, Grumble and Snap!

I’ve been under the weather lately and thus have spent a couple of days near my garden but not in it (i.e. in a bed, the kind with a mattress). Maybe that’s why I noticed ambient sounds more acutely than usual, not having the distractions of deadheading, trimming, raking and watering.

Out of all this comes a list of grumpy observations:

1.  Gardening in suburbia is a noisy business. For much of the two days in question the roaring of lawn mowers prevailed, a relentless noise that made me feel I was in a war zone, not in peaceful, quiet Oak Bay. I reminded myself that some folks hereabouts find the “racket” of crows intolerable and a few huff and puff that “the government” should “do something” about them. But the epic roar of mowers, is, apparently just fine.

2.  Ditto for the whine of string trimmers (weed whackers, weed eaters, whipper-snippers et al.) Believe me, these devices whack more than weeds. They can do untold damage to young trees and the nerves of the weary and irritated. And we can look forward to leaf-blowers in fall, oh joy!

3.  Maximum noise from these mainly gas-powered devices is achieved on weekdays, when hired guns (lawn and garden services) arrive with their arsenals and rip through a property quickly, mowing and trimming at the same time. The property owners, of course, are at work, and arrive home to find their place all ready for kicking back around the barbie. Unfortunately, weekends are the favoured time for mowing and trimming by those who do their own “yard work” (as distinct from gardening). Some have a knack for getting out the self-propelled, auto choke with EZ start monstrosity on calm, (otherwise) idyllic evenings perfect for gardening or relaxing around the barbie. This is permitted by law, but keeping chickens is tightly regulated — because of noise and smell.  Hydrocarbons and combustion engines, of course, are signs of progress, lifting us from our agrarian, chicken-scratched patches of earth to suburban bliss.

4.  Still with the subject of garden sounds, here is one not caused by any machinery but by the clumsy gardener:  OK, you’re halfway into a perennial bed or border, secateurs in hand, doing maintenance. You admire a nice spike of flowers, on Digitalis lutea, for example. Then you lean forward to trim off a spent peony bloom. Just as you reach it, you hear (or maybe “feel” is more accurate) a quiet, juicy snap. When you straighten up, the yellow foxglove bloom is hanging at an acute angle, never to rise again. You can call it “premature deadheading” if you like, but it’s annoying, especially because it’s your own fault, not the neighbour’s.

5.  Being sick in bed is a great time for dreaming up half-baked conspiracy theories, something I’ve always enjoyed at the best of times. Such as the notion that we humans are too hard on this planet and so must have come from somewhere else in space. Maybe our distant ancestors were exiles from a tougher world — one of stainless steel and teflon, blessed with endless sunshine, hamburgers, beer and fossil fuels. And maybe the current U.S. debt crisis can be blamed on Dr. Spock’s advocacy of permissive child-rearing. Well, maybe not — the good doctor apparently denied being in favour of that kind of permissiveness. Dang. Well how about…

Finally, a reminder that there are only nine days left in the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale — only nine days in which to acquire my novel, The Friendship of Mortals, at a 100% discount.