It’s hard to believe, but July is coming to an end, and so is the opportunity to read the complete Herbert West Series for free (as well as many other ebooks).
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.
Indie authors who may not be aware of Smashwords as another way to publish your works, read this!
For the seventh year running, Smashwords is participating in Read An Ebook Week. Authors who have published through Smashwords can offer their books at discounts from 25% to 100% (i.e. free) on the Smashwords site. The discounted books are featured in a separate catalogue from March 1st (12 a.m. Pacific Standard Time) until March 7th (12 p.m. PST).
What are you waiting for?
Today I intended to write a “state of the garden” post, but instead took advantage of a new Smashwords feature — the author interview. It’s easy to use and surprisingly realistic — except that you are your own interviewer. The interview appears on an author’s main Smashwords page and is cross-linked to all their books. Mine can be viewed here.
I also did some work in the garden and took pictures, so that post is forthcoming soon.
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.
Elsewhere in this blog I’ve taken a stab at book reviews — both writing a few myself and opining on the reviewing process. I’m returning to the topic today because I’ve recently wrestled with the matter of writing a negative review.
When I became a member of the Smashwords community in 2010, I resolved to contribute a review of every piece of writing I acquired from that source. I also came up with some Rules for Responsible Reviewing, which I think I have adhered to: 1) Always read the entire book before reviewing. 2) Don’t indulge in gratuitous nastiness. 3) Don’t indulge in mindless cheerleading. 4) Hardly ever give five star or one star ratings. Save them for the absolutely wonderful and the truly abysmal.
So what do you do when you get that sinking feeling while reading a book that’s decent but not really good? The best choice might just be — do nothing at all. Stop reading and move on. Otherwise, it’s too easy to point out every fault, creating a torrent of negativity. People do that all the time on Amazon; I actually enjoy reading some of those diatribes. But excessively brutal honesty isn’t very helpful to an author. How would I feel if I read something like that about one of my books?
That’s the difference between reviews written by consumers and those by fellow writers. Because I joined Smashwords in order to publish my own writings, all my reviewing there is done in the spirit of being helpful to other writers, much the same as comments made in a critique group. I belong to several such groups and have witnessed the devastation that can be inflicted by critical comments delivered in an inconsiderate way.
Besides, in this connected world, anything you write may be used against you. Just Google “Greek Seaman.”
Yesterday I attended a panel discussion on book reviewing organized by a literary journal published in the city where I live. At another recent event , a successful novelist said that one reason for his success was that before submitting his first novel to agents and publishers, he had done a lot of book reviewing, thereby gaining a measure of credibility with those folks. So what is it about reviewing, I wondered, and when I saw a notice of this panel discussion, I decided to go.
There was a distinctly academic flavour to the presenters, the organizers and even the audience, not surprising, perhaps, given that the literary journal organizing the event is situated at the local university. The first speaker, a professor of English literature, emphasized that a good reviewer takes in a writer’s entire oeuvre, not merely the book that is the focus of the review. He also noted that (given sufficient space in whatever publication the review would appear), a review could function as a critical evaluation of the author, or explore a larger literary topic as exemplified by the work being reviewed. Finally, he said, a review must be as crafted a piece of writing as any literary work.
He was followed by a freelance writer and editor who succinctly described the responsibilities of a reviewer to the publication for which they are writing, to the readers of that publication and to the author of the work being reviewed. Self-interest is not absent from these considerations — the author whose work you trash may appear on a committee evaluating your grant application.
Another panel member, speaking strictly from the perspective of reviewing poetry, noted that critics are failing poets these days, not the other way around. Reviews are full of received phrases that sound intelligent but are empty of meaning. Certain words, such as “meditative” are overused.
Finally, a publisher stated that the dearth of reviews is worse than badly written or “unhelpful” ones. The biggest problem today is the decline of book pages in newspapers and magazines, due largely to the undervaluing of the arts in today’s commercially-minded society. There are fewer reviews because there are few reviewers willing to write for peanuts. Reviewers should focus their energies on lesser-known authors, rather than reviewing books already on the best-seller lists. The internet should be used to start conversations among writers and readers.
It was interesting that not one of these folks said the word “Amazon” until a question from the audience prompted it. Everyone acknowledged that for many readers, Amazon is a primary source of reviews. They are not always used in order to make a purchasing decision, either (although someone pointed out that you need to have spent $25 with Amazon before you can post a review — the opposite of reviewing for pay). Some readers (myself included) go to Amazon after having read a book, to seek the opinions of other readers. Does anyone else out there think that this book is an overrated piece of trash? Or — does anyone else love this book as much as I do?
By the end of the session, a consensus emerged that the literary conversation should include both amateur and professional reviewers, perhaps juxtaposed as in the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site. The truth is, there is no shortage of book reviews, ratings and rankings on the internet — sites such as Goodreads and LibraryThing and individual blogs abound. Anyone can review a book any way they like, even without a degree in English Literature. A trend is emerging here, similar to the rise of the “indie author,” as Smashwords founder Mark Coker calls the folks who publish ebooks on his site. Incidentally, readers of Smashwords ebooks can post reviews to the site. Anyone can publish on the internet and anyone can review too. Maybe we’ve gone from a relatively polite conversation to a buzzing cacophony. Is this good? It’s probably too early to tell, and maybe it doesn’t matter.
Write, publish, read, review! What’s holding you back?