free ebooks

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.

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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.