(These sales are valid until midnight on Saturday March 10. I’ll be adding more titles until that time. If you have any free/almost free titles to recommend from SW, please list it in the comments. Thanks!]
Smashwords may not yet be a household name yet to readers, but it serves as a great alternative to Amazon for ebooks. For publishers and authors, Smashwords provides a gateway for authors to get their ebooks in stores like Kobo, Apple, Overdrive (but alas, not Google Books). The main drawback of getting ebooks through Smashwords (which I actually consider to be an advantage) is that you have to manually put the DRM-free ebook/epub files on your ereader/tablet/phone of choice. (My personal preference is to download EPUB files and then upload them to GOOGLE PLAY BOOKS which is found on all android devices. Alternatively, if you use iphone/ios, just download them (or email to youself) and then open in the iBooks app. Many titles here also provide .mobi files for sending to your Kindle (and often PDF).
Another advantage of finding ebooks at Smashwords is that it’s much easier to offer discounts or sales or free ebooks than on Amazon. This is especially true during Ebookweek on March 4-10 where a lot of ebooks have (temporary) reductions in price. Amazon will always have a significantly larger ebook catalog (duh!), but for this next week, prices on ebooks by Smashwords authors are likely to be significantly lower on Smashwords than on Amazon.com!
It can be a challenge to find gems on Smashwords. You have book descriptions, but rarely reviews (although you can just go to the Amazon.com page or Goodreads to see what readers are saying about it). A lot of Smashwords titles are shorter (like less than 20 pages — yikes!), the percentage of Adult-content titles is higher (ugh!), and the inventory of nonfiction titles can be pretty lame in comparison to what you see on Amazon. On the other hand, high quality fiction, memoirs, poetry, self-help and random academic titles are plentiful on Smashwords — certainly comparable to what you’d find on Amazon.com To summarize:
You can always find great, cheap shit on Smashwords!
The challenge is that so few names are ones you’d recognize, and most people don’t have time to go through individual titles. Fortunately, I have done the necessary legwork. Below is a list of several underappreciated and overlooked titles on Smashwords I found during the week which are free or very cheap. Caveats: 1)I strongly prefer literary fiction to genre, I don’t like series, and I am biased against certain genres. 2)I have only browsed book descriptions, author background and maybe read a sample chapter for these titles (i.e., I haven’t finished the books). But all sound very promising. 3)I’m overlooking titles with less than 20,000 words, and 4)I generally don’t care about how popular a title has been. The less popular, the more likely I am to mention it!
Note: Prices listed will take into account the coupon/discount for this week only. After this week, these prices might no longer be valid (but I suspect most will be decent deals anyway).
Literature & Literary Collections
- (Free!) Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. My Personville Press publishes several titles by this great Ohio writer of philosophical stories (see my book description and biographical sketch ). Also check out the (Free) story sampler, Three Times Time . Also, I discounted another story collection Soldier Boys to $1 for this week only (which I think is one of his best works).
- (All Free!) Fiction and Poetry by Paul Hina. Hina is an incredible and prolific author who sells on both Amazon and Smashwords — except that all his titles on Amazon cost money, while on SW, they are free! I read and loved the Other Shore: Two Stories of Love and Death which I would call highbrow romance in the vein of D.H. Lawrence or Somerset Maugham. It’s about a troubled son of a famous poet who returns to his hometown (and dying father) to deal with the family issues which he’d been avoiding. In my review, I wrote: “the book captures romance and domestic drama with psychological nuance. Hina writes incredibly well and with tenderness about unique relationship situations and flawed but complex characters.” Hina has several poetry collections — which I thumbed through. All interesting and expressive. Grab these titles while you can (before Hina wises up and starts pricing them on SW for nonfree!).
- (Free!) Eye of a Needle: And Other Stories. Cornelia Fick (her website) . Here’s a collection of flash fiction/prose pieces about relationships and marriage by South African author (and nurse) Cornelia Fick which was her master’s thesis when she was studying creative writing at Rhodes U. She dabbles in poetry and experimental forms (the book description mentions Lydia Davis, Maxine Chernoff and Flannery O’Connor — and certainly the stories are ironic and observational). Watch out for (and enjoy) the nutty-sounding South African dialect!
- (Free!) Fine Print and Other Yarns by Dinesh Verma. 9 separate stories about 9 different Indians visiting Paris during the 1980s and 1990s. Verma works for the Indian government studied overseas in several countries (including Paris) and recently published a translation of stories by the 19th century Hindi author Premchand. The first story is a masterful tale about a disappointment experienced by an Indian art lover when given two days to visit Paris. This is an ebook version of a book which was positively reviewed in several Indian literary publications several years ago.
- (Always Free!). Speaking of Work: A Story of Love, Suspense and Paperclips. Literary Anthology, with contributions from Jonathan Ames, Lee Child,Jonathan Safran Foer,Aimee Mann, Gary Shteyngart, Joyce Carol Oates, and others. (PS, it’s also a free download on the Xerox project site). The book seems to be a collaboration between the 92nd St Y and the Xerox company, and based on my superficial impressions, the stories are based in New York offices.
- (Free!) Various Novels by Anne Billson I raved about Billson’s film books below, and special mention needs to be made of her novels (all of which are also free this week). They run the gamut from horror to satire to supernatural. From her own descriptions: SUCKERS (an upwardly mobile vampire novel), STIFF LIPS (a Notting Hill ghost story), THE EX (a supernatural detective story) and THE COMING THING (Rosemary’s Baby meets Bridget Jones) . As I mentioned above, I don’t read much horror, but I will note that Suckers, (her first novel) was very well-received by readers and critics (one reviewer called it Bret Easton Ellis meets Anne Rice). Also, Stiff Lips has lots of great blurbs: “‘Sexy, sardonic and distinctly spooky… a tale to make you shiver – if you don’t die laughing first’ (Cosmopolitan).
- (Free/Set Your Own Price) Call me a Taxi by Terry Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft is a very accomplished writer for British TV comedies; he’s also been publishing a lot of novels in a similar vein. This novel (which I’ve read two chapters of) is about an out-of-work man with the uncanny resemblance to Oliver Hardy who runs into a strange neighborhood character who resembles Stan Laurel. It’s a promising start to what will surely be a series of comic misadventures mixed with occasional Mitty-esque returns to glum reality. Also, the Razzamatazz Not Entirely PC Encylopedia is like a Devil’s Dictionary for modern times. These two Ravenscroft works are likely to remain Set Your Own Price after this week, but about a third of his remaining ebooks are free for Ebook week: Stairlift to Heaven, Good Old George! and Dear Coca Cola (humorous letters to corporations actually sent to companies).
- (99 cents) White Mythology: Two Novellas by W.D. Clarke. Clarke is an Ontario-based Pynchon-loving scholar who writes lots of smartypants fiction in the fine tradition of Joyce/Pynchon/Barth/Daniel Foster Wallace. Here are two novellas which showcase Clarke’s dazzling but always readable style. The first (longer) novella describes in stream-of-consciousness manner the crazy life and thoughts of a certain psychiatrist, Dr. Ed, as he goes through his day . The second novella captures a series of interrelated whimsical conversations and intrigue between various American expats in Japan. The first novella is more focused and introspective; the second is more rambling and silly (Those are my initial impressions at least). Apparently, these two are part of a “Skinner Boxed” thematically-linked series of novellas. (Apparently, many people on Goodreads have reviewed it, using phrases like “clever,” “wild ride,” the “perfect book for these chaotic, stressful times”). (If you are wondering more about the author, check out this curmudgeonly blog post).
- (Free!) Tales by KindleLight by Kate Rigby. Rigby is a highly accomplished British author who has about 10 titles. They are budget-priced, but generally high quality, quirky, unpredictable, experimental, always trying new subjects, full of British slang and attitude. This story collection has some sexy and bittersweet stories — and one (“Sharing Sarah” about a strange love triangle where two best friends try to date the same girl simultaneously) made me laugh aloud. Two other longer works are free: Are you Dead? (described as “An edgy, contemporary tale about death and suicide and its effects on two families….Written in bite-sized sections in a colloquial style with elements of black humour and surrealism”) and Little Guide to Unhip (a fun but insubstantial series of rants about unhip things like “Umbrellas,” “early birds,” Christmas, Badminton, Vicar of Dibley, etc.). Two other nonfree works deserve mention: Fall of the Flamingo Circus — her first novel about a rebellious punk teenage girl during the 1970s which lots of positive reviews when it came out in on Amazon. Also Did You Whisper Back? an award winning 1991 novella about a psychological breakdown of a girl seeking her twin sister.
- (new-Free!) New Old World by C.D. Stowell. Magnum opus 200,000 word semi-autographical novel about a 39 year Oregon photographer reflecting on her life as she travels to various places (and continents). Stowell herself is an award winning photographer who published a creative nonfiction book about an Indian reservation in the 1980s. In her interview, she mentions that it took 25 years to complete this novel and that she’s an admirer of Louise Erdrich, David Mitchell and James Welch. The book itself includes some of her photos. One reviewer said it had ” top-notch word-smithing, perfectly complimented by the author’s artful photography” and another called it “a brilliant, absorbing, and moving work of fiction.”
- (Free!) Cats on Film by Anne Billson (and lots more by her). Billson is a prolific film critic, cat-lover and novelist who runs several special interest blogs and sometimes writes reviews for the Guardian. (Her blog is here). This book contains dozens of essays (and movie stills) about cats who have appeared in movies, and although the topic and style is humorous, it’s seriously tries to understand what role they play in each movie, as well as comment on what they add (or don’t add) to the movie itself. Each chapter looks at a different kind of cat movie role — the Catagonist, the Heropuss, Catrifice, Catguffin, Catscallion, Cataphor …. Oh, I’m dying here! This is one of those books you’d never thought you’d want to read, and yet I can imagine, spending a lot of time on reading it(yes, now, I’ll be watching some of the mentioned movies just to see the cats). This is a MUST BUY!
- (Free!) Multiple Titles of Movie Criticism by Anne Billson (see above). Unbelievably, all the Billson titles on SW are free this week. Check out especially the Billson Film Database (500,000 words, that’s about 5x the size of most movie reference guides). Also check out Spoilers Part 1 (1989-1995) and Spoilers Part 2 (1995-2001). (Several other collections are available for free this week). These are solid, interesting books; watch out Kael and Ebert!
- (Always Free!) Dead Media Notebook by Bruce Sterling and Others. This is an encyclopedia about failed/obsolete technologies. Sci fi author and futurist Bruce Sterling once made an offhanded remark that somebody should write about failed technologies, and this ebook is the result. A random hodgepodge of historical and technological curiosities.(Free!)
Social Science and History
- ($2) Sacred History of Being by Thomas Yaeger. This book of ancient scholarship by a scholar of ancient languages intrigued me so much that I ended up buying the ebook at 75% off. The book argues that philosophy and the conception of the divine, the nature of reality and being came about well before the Greek philosophers; Yaeger examines historical evidence from cultures predating the Greeks to establish this thesis. Another fascinating and slightly more accessible book, Understanding Ancient Thought ($1 for this week only) tries to get inside the mind of ancient humans from different cultures in Greece, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Mexico and Asia. You can view the Table of Contents for this book on Yaeger’s blog.
- (Free!) Be a Hater: A Polemic on the Hater Mindset by Wes Parham. This erudite but unclassifiable book is a spirited and lively defense of contrarianism in contemporary society. The book engages the reader with pop culture references (i.e., Taylor Swift’s “Haters gonna hate”), first person narratives, humor and lots of discussions of recent books on psychology and cognition. Interestingly, the book talks very little about politics; Parham has an MBA and PhD in organizational leadership and works in education.
Science and Medicine
- (Free!) Snake Oil is Alive and Well by Morton E. Tavel MD. Tavel is a doctor, professor, medical researcher and grandfather with a distinguished history in the medical field. This book is an introduction to how to evaluate medical claims and recognize medical quackery before it bites you in the butt. The companion book, Health Tips, Myths and Tricks, contains 2-3 page chapters about ways to stay healthy and fit (similar to Dr. Weil’s books) and full of practical advice. The topics are probably familiar: Eating breakfast, health benefits of green tea, whether you should eat less red meat, that sort of thing. Overall, good and informative, with the caveats that the book research might be out of date (it was published in 2015), the topics are not covered in great depth, and unfortunately, there are some major formatting errors in the book (like, there are a few chapter titles minus chapters — alas, they appear OK later in the book!). But the content is all there and readable.
- (Free!)25 Years in the Rearview Mirror: 52 Authors Look Back. Edited by Stacy Juba. (Free also on Amazon). Juba explains that she used to write articles for her publications with a “25 (or 50) years ago today” theme. Then she thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to ask my writing friends what they were doing exactly 25 years ago? This readable anthology is the result. Juba was going to write a mystery about a person who writes these “25 years ago today” articles and stumbles upon an unsolved murder mystery. (Ah, published only on Amazon but very well reviewed). Juba has published several chicklist/YA fiction that are somewhat light-hearted and well-reviewed on Amazon
- (Free!)Footnote to a Dream by Benny Michel. This is an autobiography of a well-known South African musician, his rise during the “Big Band” era, his affliction with polio and living as a Jew in the early days of Johannesburg’s history. I picked this title less for its literary qualities than the fact that I just found the subject matter interesting in and of itself. (BTW, I had problems opening the EPUB file, but managed to send the .mobi file to my kindle app without problem).
- (Free!)An Incredible Talent for Existing by Pamela Jane. Jane is the author of 30 books (mostly children’s books). Here is a memoir for adults about going from the idyllic childhood of the 50s to the turbulent sixties and beyond. I had time only to flip through the chapters, but she spends a lot of time on childhood (and her encounters with various children’s literary works) and college. Highly readable, literate and thoughtful, full of photographs and cultural details, this is a book I probably would never go out of my way to buy, but I think that it will be easy to fall into this memoir (like a character from a children’s book might fall into some inner fantasy land). BTW, I noticed a nice blogpost by the author about outstanding books for memoir writers.
I probably wouldn’t be able to recommend any titles in the genres below, but if you have something to recommend (or other genres), feel free to indicate.
- (2.99 — not free! ) Onset, Reset, Mindset by E.L. Russell. First, this ebook (actually a trilogy in one volume) is a medical/scientific thriller about a young female athlete (and medical student) who suffers a severe injury, and through genetic reprogramming becomes more than human with special powers. I mention it here because I ran into Mr. Russell at a local writers’ event. Russell has a PHD in Math, has worked in technology research all his life and now cowrites these technical thrillers with his wife. I found the man and the background behind his sci fi novels to be fascinating and thought-provoking. I don’t read much sci fi, and I haven’t read this one yet — though I definitely plan to. The author has lots of ebooks on Smashwords — and some of his shorter works are free, and if I recall, the ebooks contain instructions about how to get other free ebooks by him.
Finally, remember that these are titles which caught my eye. Surely I’ve overlooking a lot. If you have one or titles to recommend from Smashwords, list it below (links are ok, but try not to mention more than 2 titles, especially if you are mentioning your own titles. I’ll approve your comments fairly quickly).
Special Note for SW Authors Listed Here: If you’d like to provide a custom SW coupon code for a discounted price valid after this week, send me an email ( idiotprogrammer AT fastmailbox.net ). I’d be more than happy to help you sell your stuff!
Finally, as I mentioned above, I run Personville Press. SW currently has three Jack Matthews titles, but I should have 3 more Matthews titles by Matthews in a month or so. A fourth volume (a short story collection) will be released at the end of 2018. I keep a page of Smashwords coupon codes for Jack Matthews which I regularly update, so check there for the latest deals. Incidentally, I’ll be publishing my first fiction title (a short story collection) this summer. It will be listed on the Personville Press page at Smashwords — when it’s ready.