This annual sale normally generates thousands of downloads, both free and paid, for the indie authors who distribute their work at Smashwords.
Long-time customers of the platform that has been operational since 2009 know to wait for this big sale due to the heavy discounts offered. According to Smashwords founder Mark Coker:
It’s quite common for Smashwords customers to stuff their shopping carts with hundreds of dollars worth of deep-discounted titles during these sales. Since Smashwords authors earn 80% or more of the list price as their royalty for customer cart sizes over $9, it means even 99-cent ebooks often earn 80% list during these sales, as do higher-priced books.
If you’ve been planning on picking up another title in one of my fantasy series, this is the time to do it. All titles are 50% off regular price.
Several of my titles are free through New Year’s Day as well. Give my work a try with a free download. If you like what you read, there’s plenty of super affordable ebooks to keep your imagination happy the rest of the winter (or summer for my Southern Hemisphere readers).
Today’s Featured Fantasy Box Set December Download Deal:
50% Off Through January 1 – All four books from The Rys Chronicles my first fantasy series that I wrote. Thousands around the world have enjoyed this epic magical adventure. Now you can too! The Rys Chronicles Ebook
The beta version of Google’s auto-narration tool has been free to publishers, and I took advantage of it to create an audiobook of my historical fantasy werewolf novel Werelord Thal.
As someone who has paid to produce audiobooks in the past, or recorded them myself, I was intrigued by the potential of auto-narration. I know that some people will cringe at the thought of a sterile auto-narration, but compared to spending thousands of dollars and dozens of hours to produce an audiobook, it can be forgiven for its limitations.
Google Play Audiobooks Made With Auto-Narration
I will say that the auto-narration did a good job of reading the text. I only had to adjust the usage or pronunciation of a handful of words throughout the whole novel. Although the auto-narration lacks artistry, it does get the job done.
I know that some people have already been converting ebooks to audiobooks with text-to-speech software for years. One of my reader’s turned me on to the whole technology years ago. This means that there is a consumer niche for people who want to listen to stories and won’t fuss too much about auto-narration when they can get audiobooks at low cost.
$1 Audiobooks Now Possible
Because the recording of Werelord Thal was automated, I’m able to offer it for the astonishingly pitiful price of $0.99 for an audiobook.
I’m hoping that auto-narration will allow many more works to enter the audiobook market, which has been constrained to best-sellers mostly due to the production costs involved.
On September 10, 2022, the Werelord Thal audiobook will go live in the Google Play Store. As of this evening, it is active for preordering.
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At this point, anyone online should know that algorithms filter and sort what gets presented to the eyeballs staring at screens. The posts and ads that you see on a social media site are engineered to increase or prolong your engagement. Mostly, the algorithm wants to keep you scrolling instead of going elsewhere so that you will be exposed to more ads.
A book retailer, like Amazon Kindle or Google Play, will suggest related books based on your browsing and reading activity in the hopes of generating mores sales. But how does such a system let you encounter topics, authors, or genres that you may not have considered or read before? The computer system can make suggestions related to your reading preferences, demographics, what the company wants to sell, and probably a bunch of things that I don’t know about.
What Is an Algorithm?
An algorithm takes data inputs and translates them into output actions based on the given calculations. Think Automation sums up the definition of an algorithm succinctly as a “series of instructions that are followed, step by step, to do something useful or solve a problem.”
Although the recommendation engines that run online retail are useful, they cannot replicate the old-fashioned experience of browsing a physical bookstore or library. I believe that serendipity is lost when everything that you’re exposed to emerges from a calculation meant to manipulate you.
A similar situation predominates in music discovery. The article Finding New Music in the Algorithm Age raised the question of how up-and-coming artists get found when they would automatically mean nothing to an algorithm? With broadcast radio, print magazines, and blogs receiving less attention, the article asked music insiders how they learned about new artists outside of the algorithmic bubble. Much of what they said applies to book discovery too.
How Can I Find New Books to Read?
If you regularly buy ebooks or books online, then you browse titles often. Do you ever feel like you’re seeing the same books over and over? I have had this experience. I’ll get to the point where I’ve either read something or rejected suggestions.
The solution is to branch out and discover books in places outside of retail ecosystems. Sure, you’ll still be interacting with algorithms on social media and with search engines, but you’ll have more freedom to dig down rabbit holes if you like.
1. Browse Writing and Book Related Hashtags on Twitter.
Twitter is better for book browsing because tweets have clickable links in each tweet so that you can get more information about any title that catches your eye with little effort. Instagram restricts link placement, and you’ll usually have to click through to an author’s profile and then click another link to wherever the profile sends you to see more about the books. Although Instagram has a huge books and authors presence, the literal missing link of easy click through makes it a more cumbersome experience to ponder books than Twitter. Your primary strategy with Instagram would be to identify and follow authors or book reviewers who interest you. Twitter satisfies this purpose as well.
Regardless of which one you go to, hashtags will speed your book discovery at each venue.
Popular book and author hashtags are:
2. Join some Book and Reading Groups on Facebook.
Facebook is packed with book-related groups where authors post an endless supply of links to their books. Groups like these will expose you to an infinite stream of posts about books. You’re certain to find something you would not normally encounter.
People still like to talk about books. And people who read books are usually delighted to run into someone who wants to talk about books unless of course they are actually reading a book at the time that you initiate conversation.
Ask around whenever the opportunity arises. A social media post asking for book recommendations will usually inspire many replies.
Asking people who work at libraries and bookstores still works too.
From the news, I gather that things are tough in the United Kingdom right now. Now that Brexit has finally sundered the nation from the European Union, I’ve read that your economic situation is bollixed up.
As an American, sometimes I wonder if you’re country didn’t get more f-ed up since 2016 than my country. I supposed that point could be debated at length, but I do feel your pain.
Since it’s looking like hard times across the pond, I’d like to point out that I’ve got plenty of cheap entertainment to offer. Your Brexit busted budgets can certainly accommodate my free ebooks.
I’ve been writing and publishing fantasy novels for many years now. At one point, I was selling ebooks quite regularly in the UK. I can attribute most of that success to the fact that the Amazon Kindle store for the UK would price match my free fantasy ebooks in the UK. That basically does not happen anymore, which deprives UK Kindle readers of the chance to try out my fiction.
UK Readers Left Me Some Great Reviews
Here’s a screenshot from the top reviews for the epic fantasy Rys Rising: Book I
Happily, people in the UK who like to read fantasy books, can download free copies of any series starter. If it’s the Book 1 of a series, then it’s always free at:
If you prefer to get your ebooks from the Amazon Kindle store, you could alert Amazon in the UK to the free status of my titles at other UK retailers. This could result in Amazon price matching the title to free, but one can never be certain.
Amazon mostly loathes to price match my titles. Even though my free ebooks are routinely free in the US Kindle store, if many readers download a title at once, Amazon inevitably reinstates the minimum price of $0.99. I assume this is done to prevent me from getting any consistent exposure.
What Free Fantasy Ebooks UK Do I Have to Offer?
You can choose from three full-length novels. They are:
Union of Renegades (I suggest downloading from Smashwords where I routinely offer discounts on the sequels.)
Rys Rising (I suggest downloading from Smashwords where I routinely offer discounts on the sequels.)
As coronavirus infections start to shut down Michigan again, I know that many people around the world are facing the same thing. At best, you’ll spend your off hours stuck at home this winter because of cancelled events, closed bars, and a general desire not to get infected.
With all the unscheduled hours of free time probably coupled with a constrained income, reading books remains affordable and perhaps therapeutic. I like watching Netflix too, but I don’t always feel like watching shows.
Enter the humble book as a way to get through the long winter days and nights that await us all.
Signal that you’re having alone time
For those of us with introverted tendencies, sharing a home with family members or roommates who don’t go out, go to school, work at home now, or who’ve lost jobs makes alone time scarce. Sticking your nose in a book is a method for segregating yourself from the household group. Reading signals that you don’t wish to talk although you’ll likely have to explain this to some people who can’t pick up on an obvious hint.
2. Stop doomscrolling
You keep checking the news because deep down you’re hoping for that headline that says it’s all over and life can be normal again. That is not going to happen any time soon, so you might as well as escape from the world by finding a good book.
3. Rediscover the joy of long-form reading
Tweets, updates, posts, memes. These things are nice and serve various purposes, but if they are the only media that you consume, your brain will lose the strength to concentrate. A novel lets you concentrate on another world without resorting to the constant stream of upsetting information clogging the internet. Unplug with a book and build your mind back up.
4. Try a new genre
I totally understand the feeling of fussiness that arises when picking out a book. You want something just right. The need to pass time at home however gives you a chance to broaden your horizons. If you’ve never read a thriller before give one a try. If you’ve never considered historical romance, why not now? Something fresh on your reading list could rekindle your excitement for reading fiction.
5. Get better at managing fear
The world is scary right now…more than usual I guess. Fictional worlds, especially where horrible things happen to characters, allow readers to process their fears in the safe environment of their minds. Fiction can inspire you to be braver because you essentially get to role play dealing with danger through stories.
Many times I’ve found courage by telling myself that if Frodo and Sam can walk alone into Mordor, then I can handle what is in front of me.
Netflix has a few good titles to offer fans of sci fi and fantasy. Right now in November 2020, I can recommend some that I think are worth your time.
This 2007 production used live actors enhanced by animation. The effect was a little disconcerting to me at first but don’t let that stop you from watching this one. Directed by Robert Zemeckis with a screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, the movie presents a brilliant interpretation of the Old English epic Beowulf. Angelina Jolie is unforgettable as Grendel’s mother, and Ray Wintstone, Robin Wright, John Malkovich and Anthony Hopkins deliver marvelous performances. I own this movie on DVD as well and have watched it many times. I find something new to appreciate every time that I watch it. Be sure to enjoy it while it’s on Netflix.
It’s hard to imagine that any fantasy fan has failed to watch the first season the Witcher, but if you’ve been in jail or something, be sure to watch it. I especially love the character of Yennefer, and everyone likes Geralt although he is rather grumpy. The nonlinear overlapping layers of the story are a bit tricky, but it all comes together in an amazing way. The Witcher is truly an above average fantasy television show. The wait for season 2 shall be long and difficult.
This movie is just so much good sci fi fun. I can’t imagine why this was not a huge hit when it was in theaters. That it’s only rated 5.3 out of 10 at IMBd proves that there’s something wrong with the world. Written and directed by the Wachowskis, the movie stars Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum. The fact that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is one of the producers of Jupiter Ascending makes the story of a galactic super race farming and harvesting humans to produce an elixir that prolongs life even creepier.
The Frankenstein Chronicles
I’ve watched season 1 of this series loosely inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Sean Bean plays the lead character, and his performance is moving and a bit riveting to tell the truth. Although I recommend the series, it’s so horrifying to me that I’ve been working up my courage before diving into season 2.
Most fiction readers separate into two camps. Some want or at least don’t mind love stories or sexual situations in the books that they reads. Others really don’t want sexual tension or issues in their stories. As a reader and an author, I fall into the first camp. Although not all stories need or can tolerate a love interest, I generally like love or lust in fiction.
Big stories sometimes call for big relationships
Epic tales that involve young heroes and heroines and with narrative arcs that span years would seem quite lacking if no one ever had relationships. The passionate details of a character’s personal life can inject more emotion and tension into a story. The stakes are high on the front lines and on the home front. Will he get killed? Will she get caught?
Fictional characters with sex lives come across as realistic
Critics might argue that using romance to heighten the emotional stakes detracts from an otherwise gripping narrative or that the romance is used to hide a lackluster story. I’m not sure how an affair, fling, intense romance, or even marriage would detract from a good story. Giving characters sex lives, or at least the desire for sex or love, increases the depth of a character. Realistically, most people are involved in a relationship or at least vaguely interested in having one if the opportunity presents itself.
Bad choices for flawed heroes
Love affairs in stories can also be used to make a hero flawed. This can be dangerous territory as an author because I want to create someone you want to root for and then give him some disappointing traits. I might infuriate a reader. I might lose a reader, or a reader might soldier on alongside a character after coming to forgive him or her. Either way, I’ll at least know that I provoked emotion within a reader, and for that I can be proud.
Authors making readers angry
Trust me, I know how hard it can be to have a beloved character commit adultery. The Poldark Series written by Winston Graham and adapted for British Television (spoiler alert if you keep reading) took a devastating turn when Ross cheated on Demelza with Elizabeth. I stopped the series for a few weeks because I just couldn’t stand what had happened. Eventually, I had to go back to the series. The whole story had made the encounter between Ross and Elizabeth inevitable. Now I had to go back and find out how things worked out with Demelza, who was truly the love of Ross’s life.
I know from my own writing, that I made choices for characters in the Rys Rising series that caused readers difficulty. My young hero Cruce, who is age 18 to 21 in the saga, becomes involved with a married woman. He remains involved with her even after he tries to forget his feelings for her and gets married. So his continued dalliances are doubly adulterous.
I cast his moral failures against the setting of terrible war and calamity for his people. He fights valiantly to defend his people and he is openly regarded as a hero by the public. Although readers might be quick to judge him for being a terrible boyfriend/husband, I wrote him from the perspective of a young man under pressure who might not be making good choices.
I think it’s entirely realistic that a 20-year-old would cheat on a lover.
Also, as the Rys Rising series progresses, Cruce is suffering from cumulative trauma from the war. He soothes himself with sex and drinking.
As an author, my ultimate goal is to make readers feel at least something and hopefully many things. I want you to be happy, sad, angry, offended, and begging for more.
Outside the walls, Ajel stopped while other men and women streamed past her. The approaching militiamen were staggering with exhaustion. She guessed at the horrible trials they had gone through to reach her remote home. Desperately she scanned their haggard faces and sighed with relief when she finally spotted Cruce.
Grizzled and with dark circles around his eyes, he looked older. She noted too the foreign armor. The blood and mud spattered on it created a jarring contrast to its striking beauty. With a strange sword swinging from his hip with every stride, he looked the quintessential warrior with the gore of his enemies fresh upon his powerful body. He embodied all that was strong and fierce in men, projecting the horror of violence and the sad necessity of it.
When their eyes finally met, relief quivered on his face. To see his raw concern for her and Brayten beckoned her as a woman. Her attraction for him had always been undeniable, and now she feared that it was enduring.
Cruce stopped and they gazed at each other. People crossed between them but their connection did not break. Ajel finally looked away from the open doorway of his passion.
Mark felt the usual melancholy as he closed the family’s lake house for the season. The good times of summer were over for another year. The honking of migrating geese had replaced the laughing and splashing of children. The last blobs of melted marshmallows in the dirt around the firepit had been consumed by scavenging animals thrilled to score a sugar high.
He was doing the job alone this year. Amy, his wife, had needed to take their son to a robotics competition. He would be lying if he said that he wished he was there. The natural surroundings of Lake McCandliss, even in its post-season quietude, were far better than hours trapped in a gymnasium with noisy middle schoolers.
He savored these final views of the lake before he abandoned it to wintry winds that would soon howl across the ice. Only a brave handful of locals ice fished the lake. Otherwise, the vast majority of the cottages sat empty until well after the groundhogs woke up.
Mark had shut off the water supply and emptied the pipes. He had just finished splashing some antifreeze into the drains and was putting the jug in the shed. After setting it on its place on a well-organized shelf, he shut the door, looped the padlock through the hasp, and pushed it shut with a click.
With his work done, he paused to admire the lake for a final time. His cottage’s backyard sloped down to the dock. Pulling it out of the water had been a beast of a job. He looked forward to when Connor was big enough to help him with it. Maybe next season.
The gentle ripple of the water alternated between orange and silver in the setting sun. His bit of the lakeshore lined up with the island in the middle of small Lake McCandliss. The deciduous trees had dropped their leaves except for a few stubborn clusters of orange and gold. Their bare branches drew attention to the pines that obscured an old cottage behind their thick evergreen boughs.
He and his lake neighbors liked to trade stories about the island and its abandoned cottage. No one really had any solid information about the place. Baxter, the old timer who ran, or more accurately still thought that he ran, the nearby gas station/pizza and ice cream parlor/bait shop/liquor store had said that the county registry of deeds had the island under the name of a Chinese industrial magnate hiding cash in U.S. real estate. Most things Baxter said these days ended with some ominous comment regarding China.
His guess was as good as Mark’s on the subject. Mark was hardly going to dig up county records to find out who owned it. The island cottage had probably been absorbed into the estate of some distant relation to the original owner and forgotten. Mark could not imagine ignoring a lake property. He and Amy had saved for years to get their summer retreat.
But he supposed that he would not have wanted that particular island cottage. The stark neglect that it had obviously endured screamed money pit and hardly invited visions of family good times. The place received no visitors although Mark suspected that teenagers snooped out there on summer evenings to explore and scare each other.
Across the water, a vacant window on the cottage stared back at him like the dead eye of an animal killed on the road. Paint had long since peeled off the siding like the fur dropping away from desiccated skin and rotting flesh. The black pane of glass reflected nothing despite the increasingly beauteous blaze of the setting sun.
Movement caught his eye to the right, and his eyes widened with delight. A deer was swimming to the island. A fine rack of antlers that any hunter would covet tilted back over his strong back as he held his head up and swam.
People who did not know better might be surprised to think that deer swim, but they were quite able to cross small stretches of water and did so whenever they pleased.
The buck ascended the bank. He was a pleasure to behold in the prime of his life. Water streamed off his powerful body, and Mark admired him in an almost trance-like state before suddenly realizing he would love to get a picture of it.
He fumbled in his pocket for his phone and activated the camera. The procedure took him longer than normal because his fingers had grown cold. The phone’s camera made a sound mimicking its analog film ancestors. The buck pranced into the undergrowth and disappeared quick as a gambler’s paycheck.
Mark looked at the result on his camera and was quite dissatisfied. The blurred shape was discernible as a buck but hardly worthy of social media. He was not prone to participating in such time-sucking nonsense, but he felt an intense desire to share the majesty of that animal with the world.
He stared at the place where the buck had gone into the trees until he accepted that he had an urge to go after it. The light would last for maybe another 20 or 30 minutes. A little attempt at wildlife photography would give him a final small excursion into the natural world until he retreated to the city for the winter.
Mark slid his key into the padlock and opened the shed. He pulled out a kayak that he had just stowed that afternoon and was soon pushing off into the lake. Excitement replaced the usual peace of kayaking on a quiet lake. Technically, he was about to trespass, and the juvenile thrill reminded him that he had become a boring fellow, but he was not that way right now. He would get a good picture of that buck, maybe even a video. And he would have some firsthand information to share the next time talk turned to speculation about the island.
As the kayak ground against the shore, his excitement turned to wariness. He pulled the kayak out of the water and looked back. His cottage seemed farther away than he had expected. The shore urged him to return like a parent whose toddler has wandered into the street. When he regarded the overgrown island, its crowded trees adopted a suspicious posture. They communicated a tangible dislike for the intrusion, but Mark told himself he was just getting spooked like a kid, which was fun.
He looked around for the tracks of the deer. He had been certain that he had paddled directly to the spot where he had seen it. No tracks were evident though. He looked three times and then gave up. He did not want to waste the last of the light.
With a final look at the shore to confirm that no one was witnessing his unsanctioned island tour, he walked under the trees. He tread as quietly as he could on the pine needles and leaves, hoping to come upon the buck. The island had the shape of a small flat-topped hill. The feature was a bit strange now that he thought about it because it did not resemble any other hills in the area. It was like a random mound rising from the middle of Lake McCandliss.
Mark could not deny his curiosity about the dilapidated cottage and headed toward it. The place looked like it had been untouched for decades with weeds and trees growing around the foundation. He imagined some terrible scene inside like the bones of a family covered in mouldering old clothes. Perhaps some deranged father had wiped out his family when quality time away from the city had failed to soothe his nerves.
He shuddered at the macabre scenario. If such a thing had happened, he was certain that Old Baxter would have shared the tale unless no one had ever discovered what had happened.
He walked around back. The back porch with half rotted steps presided over a clearing. He saw some trails crisscrossing the area. The buck had probably come through here. Maybe the local deer swam out to this island regularly for a safe place to bed down for the night.
The remnants of a swing set were on his left. The seats had disintegrated long ago and left the rusted chains hanging. The thing looked like an abandoned slave auction. Mark could not imagine any good times ever occurring in this place.
A creaking sound made him whirl toward the porch. It had sounded exactly like a footstep on an old porch step, but no one was there.
He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He jumped like a rabbit and then froze. A blurry figure had darted into the gloom of dark pine boughs.
Mark swallowed because his mouth was dry. He took out his camera, but he did not think that he had seen the buck. He had thought that he had seen a person or at least a person shape.
At first he had the normal civilized dread that he was trespassing when a legitimate landowner was present. Mark did not worry so much about prosecution but rather the embarrassment of being caught. Gradually, his intuition dismissed his attempt to explain the situation rationally.
The knowledge that he was not alone assailed him with preternatural certainty. He spun and someone was standing right there.
He gasped but could not even begin to say anything. He could barely focus upon the figure of an old man. The wavering image that both demanded and deflected his attention convinced Mark that he was seeing a ghost.
He raised his camera. Despite his shaking hand, he saw the man more clearly on the screen for a moment. He was unshaven and unfriendly and then his face shifted into a toothy grimace of voracious evil. The screen went utterly black.
Mark ran until he burst onto the bank with pine needles caught in his hair. The lapping water had just pulled his kayak loose. He splashed toward it frantically and grabbed its small stern. He shoved his phone into the pocket of his flannel shirt and flopped into the kayak. Desperation more than skill prevented him from flipping the thing.
He paddled furiously and only looked back once he was dragging the kayak into his backyard. The island looked as empty as ever but it would never be empty in his mind again.
Mark shoved the kayak carelessly into the shed. He heard it bang against other things and make them fall with a clatter. He slammed the door and locked the padlock.
His lungs were still heaving as he turned the key in his truck’s ignition. The gravel spun from the tires as he accelerated out of the driveway.
Mark was a good five miles past Baxter’s store before he pulled over. He cussed a couple times as if to admonish himself for snooping around a creepy island by himself. He pulled out his phone. His shaking hand proved to him that he had just felt true terror.
He had to restart the phone. He had no pictures, not even the shabby shot of the buck that had started his daft adventure. In fact, the phone appeared to have gone through a factory reset. His contacts were gone.
When he felt steadier, he finally started driving again. The interstate greeted him with its tedious normalcy. Mark wondered how he would tell the story to Amy and Connor. Should he tell them? Did he want to spoil their sense of ease in their happy summer place? Would things ever be the same for him again? Why did he have to see a ghost when he was alone?
Maybe you had to be alone for such things to happen.
Mark began to think about the strong real estate values in the area. He could put the place up for sale and do all right. That’s how he would frame things for Amy. He didn’t feel like being teased about seeing a ghost. Mark could not imagine that he would ever have a sense of humor about what he had just experienced. With the proceeds from the sale, he could buy a nicer summer home without a view of a haunted island that had wanted to trap him.
The epic begins as Dreibrand Veta and the conquering Horde of the Atrophane Empire reach a mythic Wilderness that beckons with a magical call to glory. But Onja, Queen of the rys, a race far more powerful than the greatest human state, guards this land. She has the power to imprison souls and her genocidal rage is legendary. Everything is at risk for her desperate enemies, the union of renegades.
This story is a beast – 180,000 words of pure epic fantasy. I read all of it. It took me a month. Every word was worth it!
Union of Renegades is available at many other audio outlets if you prefer to listen to this exciting epic fantasy elsewhere. The regular price of $8.99 will apply at other places except for subscription services like Scribd where it is simply available to all members.
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