Emma Laybourn's Blog

May 30, 2015

I've started trawling through Smashwords again, looking for free children's ebooks for my next list. Sadly some books make me switch off before I've even reached the third page. These tend to have certain traits in common. So if you're writing a children's book and don't want to lose your readers in the first chapter, here are a few suggestions:

1)Please don't spend the opening paragraphs telling me what your characters look like. There's plenty of time for that later. In any case, what they say and do is far more important than their height or hair length or descriptions of their clothing.

2) The same goes for descriptions of the room, the weather and the breakfast that your characters are eating.

3)In fact, don't start with your characters eating breakfast at all, unless an elephant is about to crash through the wall and steal the muffins. Start with the first interesting event.

I know you only want to set the scene, and have your characters fill in some back-story - maybe thus:

"As Joe poured himself a bowl of cereal, he pushed back his dark, tousled hair from his piercing blue eyes with a freckled hand and pondered on the unlikely series of events - his mother's trampoline accident and his father's disappearance in the cemetery - which had led to his spending this October half-term holiday with his spindly, middle-aged Auntie Agnes (who was not really his aunt but had been his mother's closest friend ever since they were kidnapped from boarding school together) in her creepy ivy-covered cottage, which happened to be right next door to the zoo..."

Most of the detail can wait until something has actually happened:
"Joey was half way through his bowl of cereal when the kitchen wall exploded in a shower of brinks. Through the gap, an elephant's trunk appeared."


4)When you do get round to filling in the back-story, please don't do it all at once in great distracting four-page wodges.

5)"Talking of wodges, dialogue is so much more readable than slabs of text."
"Really?"
"Sure. Get your characters talking. And your readers are more likely to keep reading too."

Well, I am, at least. And now I'm off to rewrite the beginning of my latest children's story, having just realised that I've broken at least two of these rules myself...

My next list of free children's ebooks should, I hope, be ready next month. Meanwhile, happy reading.
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Published on May 30, 2015 09:23 • 23 views • Tags: writing-children-s-stories, writing-first-chapter

April 6, 2015

Three weeks ago, Google sent me an email that made me go Aargh. The reason? It told me that my website was not mobile-phone-friendly - and that unless I fixed it, I could expect my search rankings to plummet when Google change their algorithms later this month.

So mobile phones now rule. When I started my children's story website Megamouse Books three years ago, this development never occurred to me. I certainly didn't expect people to read children's stories on their phones. So, Google rankings apart, would an overhaul of my website not be just a massive waste of time?

After all, how many people actually use smartphones for reading? On hunting for figures, I found two surveys carried out in 2014. One, by UNESCO, covered seven developing countries, while the other, by Publishing Technology, only looked at the UK.

The UK first. This survey reported that 43% of smartphone owners used their phones for reading ebooks; possession of an iPhone made it more likely that its owner would read on it. The most popular reading apps were Kindle (50%) and the iBooks app (31%). Older people were more likely to use the Kindle app. However, significant numbers of people were put off reading via mobiles because they found the experience unpleasant or difficult. It was suggested that poor ebook formatting and clunky technology could be to blame.

UNESCO surveyed seven countries in Africa and Asia where internet access is limited and levels of illiteracy (especially for women) as high as 70%. It found that male mobile readers were 3 times more numerous than female - not surprisingly, as men were more likely to own mobile phones. However, each woman spent, on average, twice as long reading as each man, and the most avid readers were more likely to be women.

Most mobile readers were aged from 16 to 40 or so; very few were older. They tended to be more educated than the general population. The reason most often given for mobile reading was convenience - i.e., because phones were portable and always there. Cost came some way behind. 27% cited a lack of access to print books as an important secondary reason for using mobiles.

From my point of view, an interesting finding was that although very few children used mobiles to read, a third of adult users - both men and women - read to children from their phones, and said they would do it more if there was more suitable material available.

That answered my question. My website has many users from developing countries, and making it mobile-friendly is not a waste of time. So I've fixed it - for now. In another three years, who knows how people will be choosing to read?
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Published on April 06, 2015 09:32 • 37 views • Tags: ebook-apps, mobile-reading-surveys, reading-on-mobile-phone, smartphone-reading

December 15, 2014

The tide of new free ebooks being published on Smashwords just keeps pouring in. As before, I've been trawling through it for children's books (not picture books) that are decently written and enjoyable to read, for ages about 6 to 12.
These ones are worth a try: click on the title to be taken to the Smashwords page.

Monkey Trouble! by Salome Byleveldt. African animals persuade a human artist to draw them: gentle fun for over 6s.
Archibald the Giant-Slayer by Terence O'Grady. Archibald tries to live up to his giant-slaying father's reputation, in this entertaining short book for children of 8 and up.
Andie's Adventures: the Boots and the Lion by Kaelan Cessna. A clever retelling of "Puss in Boots", with a few twists, for ages 8 and over.
The Magical Repair Shop: the Bouncy Scarf by Gillian Rogerson. A short, easy story for ages 6 plus.
The Armoire Pirate by KH Gordon. Benny and Kate meet an unusual pirate in a lively, zany tale for readers over 7.
Growned by Tracey Meredith. Liam is kidnapped by fairies: a light-hearted book for the over 9s.
Stars by David McRobbie. A lively, light-hearted, well-crafted story about Charlie's efforts to prove himself innocent of art vandalism. Age 9 and up.
Rare pets and other oddities by David Leys. Quirky, entertaining short stories for over 10s.
Across the Largo by Mitchell Atkinson. A fantasy adventure involving a magic flute and giant turtles: best suited to good readers of 11 up.

Of course, these are only my personal choices and you may well find other books on Smashwords that you prefer.
I'm not suggesting these as a substitute for professionally published books: few self-published works have the narrative tightness and perfect formatting that you'd expect of commercial books. But they can be interesting additions to an e-library.

For previous lists of suggestions, please scroll back through my blog. Another list should follow in a few months' time...
Meanwhile, Happy Reading.
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Published on December 15, 2014 01:27 • 303 views • Tags: ebook-reviews, free-kids-online-books, reviews-of-smashwords-books

September 6, 2014

I've been trying to make one of my children's books free on the Amazon Kindle store. It's A Bundle of Dinosaurs: Three Dinosaur Stories , for younger children, and is already free on the Nook store, Kobo, iTunes and Smashwords - but on Amazon it's 99 cents, which is the lowest price they allow authors to sell their books at. I could make it free there for a short time by enrolling it on the KDP Select program; but that would mean I would have to withdraw it from all other ebook stores.

So instead I've been trying another way to make my book free on the Kindle Store. If I tell Amazon that it's free elsewhere, they are then supposed to match the price. There's even a button on the webpage for each Kindle book to notify Amazon of lower prices elsewhere.

The trouble is that this method doesn't seem to work. For the last six months I've been trying to get them to price-match and nothing has happened.

So if you'd like the free book for your Kindle, please get it from Smashwords here. The three separate dinosaur stories are also free to download or read online at my website Megamouse Books ; you can print off pdf colouring-book versions there as well.

And to the handful of people who have forked out 99 cents on the Kindle Store for a book that should be free - sorry! I have given the proceeds to a children's charity.

Later note: I've now given up the attempt. The book's no longer on Amazon, but is still free on Smashwords (as above), as well as
the Nook Book store
, Kobo Books,
iTunes, etc etc...
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Published on September 06, 2014 03:42 • 101 views • Tags: children-s-free-dinosaur-stories, free-kindle-books, self-publishing-on-kindle-store

June 23, 2014

Here's the latest list of the better (in my opinion) free kids' ebooks available from Smashwords. As before, I've reviewed books for children aged from about 6 to 12.

I've been looking for readable, entertaining stories written in good English. To read them online or download (in all ebook formats,) just click on the title to be taken to the Smashwords page. (Right-click to open in a new tab.)
This time, the books seemed to have grouped themselves into pairs.

To start, two easy books for younger readers of 5 or 6 up, both by Gillian Rogerson:
Watch Out for the Bears! Tom is left in charge of the weather huts and finds bears have been stealing the weather.
Lilly's Pets - a Fish Called Blackbeard , a cute story about a special goldfish.

Two books full of horrid ingredients:
The Secret Ingredient by Geoffrey Boileau. Short, lively book for over 7s about a girl who aims to be a chef with a difference (Grilled caterpillar, anyone?)
Goblin Eyeballs by Alex Watts: a girl has to help 3 nasty aunts in their fudge shop. Gruesome fun for over 7s.

Two rather more serious books:
A Time for Mercy by Terence O'Grady. Emily strikes up a friendship with two old men - one a former Nazi, and one a Jew - in this thoughtful, unusual story about forgiveness. Age 9 and over.
Daksha the Medicine Girl by Gita V. Reddy. Daksha lives in a poor village in India, where she uses her herbal knowledge to heal. A carefully-crafted, informative story for ages 9 and over.

Two volumes for junior horror-lovers:
Mystery Underground: States of Emergency by David Anthony. A collection of short spine-chilling stories for over-10s: dark without being too graphic.
Creepers: Five Terrifying Tales by Rusty Fischer contains well-crafted Halloween stories (USA setting) to curdle the blood of over-tens.

Two books that feature dogs:
Treasure from the Past: Big Honey Dog Mysteries by H. Y. Hanna. A bunch of likeable dogs hunt for a very special egg, in this story for age 8 plus.
Keeper by Bonnie Garety. Ten-year old orphan Stephen has to make a new life with an unfriendly aunt. 10 plus.

And finally, two fantasy stories:
Fierce Winds and Fiery Dragons by Nan Sweet. When Carrie and Ivy hatch a dragon's egg, it leads them into exciting adventures: a lively read for over-nines.
Porcelain Princess by Jon Jacks is an assured, complex fantasy for age 11 up, about a world suffering from the Fading and a group of puppets that wander through it.

This booklist is longer than the last, but may become shorter, as I'm trying to remove ebooks from these lists if they stop being free. (To see the previous booklists, just scroll back through my blog.) Since some books only stay free for a short time, better grab them while you can! Happy Reading!
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Published on June 23, 2014 02:38 • 404 views • Tags: free-kids-ebooks, free-kids-fantasy-ebooks, free-middle-grade-readers, smashwords-children-s-book

April 13, 2014

Later update: the abridgement is now finished and available free from Smashwords - click here to be taken to the page for it.

In intervals of light relief from writing a children's book, I've been attempting an abridged version of Daniel Deronda - the editing of someone else's words, even George Eliot's, being much easier than the effort of creating one's own. (And more productive than Spider Solitaire.)

This seems like an extraordinarily presumptuous undertaking; but if I have learnt anything from my own writing, it is how to cut. In the short story markets that I write for, word count is crucial, and my tendency has always been to write long and end up short. The close reading of DD that this process entails has increased my already considerable respect for George Eliot: where the book seems long-winded, it is in fact very precise and detailed in its meaning. How to preserve that meaning in fewer words is proving quite a challenge.

If you fancy trying to compose your own abridgement of a public domain work, you could start as I did: download the plain text version of the book from Project Gutenberg, copy it onto Notepad to strip out excess formatting, and then back into Word where it can be edited. Unfortunately in DD's case this failed to strip out the thirty thousand or so unwanted paragraph breaks - one for every line - so a lot of reformatting has been required. The Gutenberg version also has a few errors, so I've had to keep checking it against my own C19 hardback edition with its terribly tiny print.

The abridged version won't be finished for some weeks or possibly months, when I'll put it up as a free ebook on Smashwords. It will still probably be equivalent to 400 to 500 pages (as opposed to the original's 800 to 900), but that will put it in the merely hefty category rather than the elephantine. At that length, I hope that those who have previously groaned at the prospect of tackling Daniel Deronda will give it a go. And perhaps readers who have taken up the book before, and put it down unfinished, may find this version a way back to the original; because despite its current unfashionable status compared to Middlemarch, this is a great book by a great writer, and deserves to be read.
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Published on April 13, 2014 07:01 • 210 views • Tags: daniel-deronda, george-eliot, victorian-novel

February 8, 2014

I've been trawling Smashwords again in the search for decent free fiction in ebook form for children aged about 7 to 12. In no particular order, here is the latest haul of the most readable stories that I've found. I should add that none of these authors have asked me to review their books.

Just click on the title to be taken to each book's Smashwords page, where you can download the free ebook for Kindle, Nook, tablets etc. (Right-click to open it in a new tab.) You can also read the books on-screen.

Rocky Hill, Fireman #1: Fire by James Burd Brewster. This easy, illustrated story of a fireman's first real fire has plenty of detail and just enough excitement for younger readers (aged about 5 to 8.)
Tunnels of Terror by Anne Ludwig. When grouchy twin boys stay on a remote farmstead, they learn a lot about themselves in this adventure for readers over 8.
The Bagman by Rachael Rippon. A cut above most self-published books, this well-crafted supernatural story set in an orphanage is original and suspenseful. Age 10 plus.
Sunshine Zoo #1: Monkey on the Loose by Sir Ryan Dale. Though slightly underwritten, this is a cheerful romp about a girl's adventures in a struggling zoo; for ages 8 and over.
The Moops by J I Bartholomew. Moops are mischievous furry creatures that appear when children are naughty, and cause havoc in their school. Fun for over 7s.
Wychetts and the Key to Magic by William Holley. Slightly rambling but otherwise well-written humorous story about a magical family, for age 9 up. Later note (June 2014): this book is no longer up on Smashwords but there is another in the same series (which I haven't read): Wychetts and the Farm of Fear .

I'm afraid this list, which was quite long when I first compiled it, is now rather shorter as I've had to remove a few books which are no longer free.
However, to see my previous lists of good free kids' ebooks, please scroll back through my blog. It'll probably be a few months before I compile the next one - meanwhile I hope there's something here for your children (or you) to enjoy. Happy reading!
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Published on February 08, 2014 02:55 • 345 views • Tags: free-kids-ebooks, kids-book-reviews, smashwords-children-s-books

November 15, 2013

Abridge Jane Austen? Why? Why? I hear a Janeite scream...

Well, if you're a Goodreads member you're probably happy to read Jane Austen in the original. But I'm aware that many people struggle with the book's language, its complex sentences and its density. Mansfield Park is, I suspect, particularly difficult for younger readers unacquainted with 19th century style, as well as those for whom English is not their first language.

Hence the abridgment: I've reduced the book to about two-thirds of its original length, aiming at a result that is still recognisably Jane Austen. It's not as basic as a Readers' Digest-style condensed book, but is more approachable than the original book.

Despite the 6 or 7 re-readings of Mansfield Park which this entailed, I never got tired of it. And I kept noticing things that I had failed to spot before - for instance, how frequently in Fanny's life pain and pleasure are entwined.

In the hopes that this abridgment will provide more pleasure than pain, I've put it up free on Smashwords here, (to read on screen or download as a free ebook). It's also on scribd here.
Happy Reading!
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Published on November 15, 2013 04:19 • 269 views • Tags: abridged-classic-novels, jane-austen, mansfield-park

August 28, 2013

This latest list of some of the more readable free Smashwords ebooks for kids aged 7 to 12 is, I'm afraid, somewhat skewed towards the over-nines. But if you want to load up your e-reader for that age-group, these books are worth a try. (Click on the link to be taken to the Smashwords page, where you can download them free or read them on screen.)

The Greenwich Interplanetary Society by Stuart Boyd: Stella discovers she has a strange uncle and unusual powers. May appeal to Harry Potter fans over 9.
My Very Unfairy Tale Life by Anne Staniszewski. A lively, tongue-in-cheek tale of how Jenny finds herself caught up in an argument between dragons and sprites. For age 9 up.
Tiny Quest by Matt Youngmark. Princess Sassefras sets out to rescue some hapless knights: sophisticated humour for over 10s.
The Grub Rides Again by Lock Pollard. Aussie high-school tale of a country boy who learns to surf. Age 11 plus.
Return of Mr Badpenny by Brian Bakos. Thought-provoking story about a two-faced coin that causes trouble for its owner. Age 10 up.
Emily Macintosh, Ghostbuster by Jen Cole. A lively, well-written ghost story for tens and over.
Harriet's Mystery by Brent Meske. This short book about Harriet the bee is a slight but good-natured read for ages 7 and up.
Scar and the Wolf by Plainfield Press (epub version only). Undead Scarlet's 13th unbirthday doesn't go as she hoped...Zombie fun for fans of the macabre over 10.
And if your older kids (or you) are really into zombies, try The Undertakers: Night of Monsters Part 1 (of 3) by Ty Drago - be warned, there are some very gruesome details in this account of zombie wars! Age 12 up.

If you'd prefer to download these books from the Kobo or Nook book or Sony store, or from iTunes, you'll find many of them are also available free from those stores.

Like to see more reviews of free kids' books? Please scroll back to previous posts in this blog. This is my 4th list of Smashwords books, and looks like it won't be the last... Watch this space.
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Published on August 28, 2013 09:16 • 386 views • Tags: children-s-book-reviews, find-good-free-kids-books, free-kids-ebooks

July 19, 2013

On my regular browse through Smashwords I was delighted to see the children's novel Redwall by Brian Jacques has been published as a freebie. I've just given it a 5 star review there, as it's head and shoulders above most free ebooks.

If you don't know the Redwall series, they are action-packed epic tales of warrior mice (and other animals) versus dastardly rats, and have been hugely popular ever since this book - the first in the series - appeared in 1986.

So if you want something to put on your ereader for ages 9 to early teens, don't miss this one! I don't how long it'll be up for free. (Just be warned- your kid may get hooked...)

For the link to the Smashwords page, click here. Redwall (Redwall, #1) by Brian Jacques
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Published on July 19, 2013 02:01 • 175 views • Tags: brian-jacques, free-fantasy-ebook-for-kids, redwall-series