The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. The short film version of this app (which is also a storybook app) won an Oscar this year. I think that

ETA 8/12 — This post is still relevant today, but I have answered quite a number of my own questions since its publication. The best of my knowledge is now contained in a template I wrote for authors and illustrators to help them organize their thinking in order to write, illustrate (if applicable) and submit a storybook app proposal to an e-publisher, a developer or to use an app creation tool to develop it themselves. It’s called Julie Hedlund’s Template for Storybook App Proposals. It includes, as a bonus, a list of e-publishers accepting submissions and companies offering app creation tools. 

If, after reading this post, you think the template might be helpful, you can find more information here.

As some of you may know, I am committed to taking the story I entered in last year’s MeeGenius Children’s Author Challenge and developing it into an app.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of research, yet I feel I’ve only just begun my descent into the rabbit hole.  In reality this post should be titled, How to start THINKING about Creating a Storybook App.  There is a huge morass of information out there, much of it inconsistent.  It seems nobody has written Storybook Apps for Dummies yet.  I thought I’d take a crack at the very basics.

First, authors who are also illustrators have a distinct advantage in app development.  One reason it’s been so challenging to find information is because there are precious few resources geared toward “authors only” who have ideas for apps, beyond telling them to partner with an illustrator.  The best information I’ve found so far has been at e is for book, a blog written by a group of traditionally published, professional children’s book authors and illustrators who are working on various digital book projects, and Digital Kid’s Author, author Karen Robertson’s website.

Karen wrote the app “Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island,” a treasure hunt adventure book.  Recently, Karen spoke on Publishing Insiders Blog Talk Radio series on Secrets to Creating Children’s Book Apps (the show is still available; you can listen for free).  On the show, Karen discussed 5 steps to app creation.  All of these steps assume the text is written, edited and ready to be developed into an app.

  1. Decide what kind of app you want to create: Think about how much interaction you want in the story. Think about what animation might enhance (vs. detract from) the story.  Do you want a “read to me” option, which requires narration?  Do you want touch-based animation?  Special sounds?
  2. Create a brief for your app: This is a document that details the text, illustration, sounds/narration and animation that goes on each page. Unlike a manuscript for a traditional picture book submission, here the author and/or illustrator does suggest page turns because they are critical to developing the interactive components of the app.
  3. Create art for your app: Again, this is where illustrators have an advantage because they can both write and illustrate the app.  If you are an author looking to partner with an illustrator, look for one that can work digitally.  Ideally, the art is created using digital layers to produce the best animation effects.
  4. Decide what narration, sounds and animation you want: Do you want music in your app?  Do you need to hire a narrator?  Do you have sound sprites planned (touch-based animation that triggers a sound, for example an animal noise or a drum beating)?
  5. Build the app: This is where the app developer comes in.  The developer creates the code that turns the static story and illustrations into an interactive app.  You can hire an independent developer or work with a company that specializes in app development.  An advantage of an independent developer is that they can usually create custom code for features specific to your app.  You might also be able to retain ownership of that code.  A disadvantage is being reliant on that person to maintain and update your app for its lifetime.  Development companies typically have expertise in app development, and will code your app based upon their platforms.  This might provide less flexibility for custom animation, but companies continue to become more sophisticated in their offerings.  Companies will almost always provide the maintenance and updates for your app on an ongoing basis.  Some companies even offer do-it-yourself drag and drop interfaces.

Our VERY favorite storybook app!

After listening to the radio show and skimming through Karen’s e-book, I am still left with the question of what authors are supposed to submit to app development companies in terms of proposals.  Is it just a manuscript?  A full brief?  Should it include a marketing plan?  I have Googled storybook app “template,” “proposal,” “submission,” “brief,” “specification,” six hundred ways to Sunday and still haven’t come up with a good answer.

In two weeks, I’ll be in Bologna, Italy attending the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, focused exclusively on the children’s market.  I’m writing articles for SCBWI and The Children’s Book Insider.  Many industry thought-leaders will be in attendance, so I am hoping to dig much deeper into these issues on behalf of authors and illustrators.  Stay tuned!  I probably won’t be able to blog in real-time while I am there, but I will be tweeting and posting snippets and updates on my Facebook Author page if you are interested.

I know some of you reading already have experience creating storybook apps.  Any advice to share?  Does anyone have questions they’d like me to get to the bottom of in Bologna?  Leave feedback in the comments!

Categories: Apps, Authors, Children's Books, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Self Publishing, Storybook Apps, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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42 Comments

  1. Julie, is there anything you don’t do? Pitch the dummie book!!! ; )

    Enjoy Italy…

  2. I am so interested in learning more about this Julie. As you know, I have experience with uTales. If you haven’t checked it out, it might be worth a look at the site and the How To videos. While it doesn’t have all of the interactive features that you might be looking for, it does have animation and sounds. Good luck with it, and keep us posted!

  3. Wow. Sounds like you have heaps of big and exciting things on the go this year, Julie. Inspired? YOU are taking the world by storm!! Wishing you all the very best. I look forward to hearing your tips from Bologna! 🙂

  4. Hi Julie, I am working on a couple of my own Interactive Kids book apps at the moment and may be able to answer some of your questions. I am probably in a better position than most, because I am a partner in an App Development company here in Australia (sodacode.com) and also have a background in animation.

    The answer to your question is definately a full brief. It has to be more than just the number of pages. In fact the more information you send the more accurate the quotation can be. I don’t think there is any need to send a marketing plan at all.

    Also, make sure you have an accurate idea of what interactions/sfx you want on each page. Are you after some simple animations with sound fx, or are you after more complicated physics based interactions (e.g. images affected by gravity).

    Another thing to keep in mind is not to try and do everything in the first version of your app. As long as you have a great story, with interesting characters, you can keep the interactions to a minimum, and build them into the app with the sales revenue. Customers love to see you constantly improving your product and releasing updated versions.

    Hope all that makes sense. Let me know if I can answer any other questions, you or your readers have.

    Steve

    • Steve, thank you so much for such a comprehensive comment. You raise a great point about adding more interactivity after you have enough sales to support the cost. I didn’t even know that was possible!

  5. http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/id347874193 its one of my very first digital illo’s.. bit embarressing to look at now.. heeheee……

  6. well.. not as embarrassing as my spelling in last post….

  7. Perfect Timing…I have been doing lots of research too about creating an app for my two books. My books are used in schools, and I am having schools asking me when ‘an app’ will be available!!

    There is so much information around, it is really hard to know where to start, where to head, where to handball….I am lucky, as I am the illustrator as well, therefore I can create new artwork if needed, in fact, I have been working on this for some time (usually in the wee hours of the mornings!)

    @ Steve, it is great to hear your reply, ( and very may well get in touch!) I am nervous about the work needed every time there is a software upgrade… and what effect this will have on ‘my app’ (which doesn’t exist yet!!)

    @Kelly, aren’t you a clever thing??? You just never cease to surprise me!! hee hee…

    Thank you for this post, it is one that will be very popular I am sure, as we grow into the world of technology!

    • Nicky,

      If you go to the e is for book site, there is quite a bit of information there about how to take a physical book and turn it into an ebook or an app, so long as the rights have reverted back to you.

  8. Steve and Kelly, really appreciated your additions in the comments. Julie, I am so glad you offered this intro on apps. Having just got into e-books with uTales, the next thing I want to try is apps, but as an author only, I feel very overwhelmed. This post has helped me enormously. While I love print books, I certainly want to embrace these new digital ways to bring stories to children.

  9. Greetings from number 11 on your list – Australia!

    Have a wonderful time in Bologna and I look forward to your report. I went there in 2010 and to the London Digital Conference (I can send you a report from that, but it doesn’t cover picture booksw well) and London Book Fair. I’m sure much has changed since then.

    It would be nice to think that someone will develop a nice simple and affordable wysiwyg program to make apps yourself, in the same way there are website building programs. I will be investigating. Our State Library has a resource centre where many programs can be used and tuition provided free of charge. I wonder what they have…

    All best wishes

    Peter
    http://www.writing-for-children.com
    http://www.writing-for-children.blogspot.com

  10. Thanks for taking us into this brave new world. Have fun in Bologna. I’m looking forward to learning more.

  11. This is great. My husband (sound designer) and I (writer/illustrator/designer) are starting an app company with a focus on social and storybook apps. We’re in the preliminary stages still, but I’d like to be set up to offer illustration services to writers looking create stroybook apps and need illustration help. I’m just putting the feelers out to see what kind of interest there is in that. I’m part of SCBWI and my husband currently works in the video games industry. I’m working on recreating our website, but you can find us here: http://www.designinkarnation.com/ (doesn’t mention anything about apps yet, but I’ll be adding that and web design). It really seems like this is a good direction to put our creative energies into, and I’m interested to hear what you discover in your ongoing research. Thanks! And Steve Sagovac (@daydreemin), I’d love to pick your brain about pricing structures. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Julie. I also like the idea of using the hashtag #storybookapps to continue the conversation on twitter.

  12. Karen Robertson is great! Lots of good stuff on her site and books.

    I’ve done two kids apps for the iPad, iphone/iTouch. For more info on the creative aspects from the POV of the artist/writer and developer (and also marketing) check out the link below. The “Letters” from artist and developer, plus the links to OCG Studios, gives step-by-step process of 1. creating an original app, and 2. a direct book-to-app conversion. (There are also links on the page to an NPR “All things Considered ” interview I did on apps last week.)

    http://www.roxiemunro.com/makingtheapps.html
    and
    http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2011/12/books-into-apps-an-authors-perspective/

    Great good luck – making apps is a lot fun.
    Roxie Munro

  13. Looking forward to hearing more from you on this topic. My first children’s book app will be available at the Apple store later this month. I can tell you it took a lot of work and having a great developer is a must.
    -Scott

  14. I was working on an app for my first book Who Hops? a couple of years ago, and the bids I got from developers were all over the map, but that was before this whole thing really got traction. I created a storyboard with every stage of movement, an RFP, describing every detail I wanted. I got bids ranging from $200 – $25,000. A couple of things happened that sidetracked the project, but I do know people who’ve found good developers on elance.com but you do need to be careful!

    • Katie,

      Wow, you should definitely pursue that again. It’s still the wild west out there, but at least a little more stabilized from two years ago.

    • Hi Katie, I just watched a video of you reading “Who Hops?”. Its a fun, simple story. Maybe we should do something?
      Would you be interested in developing a couple of your pages, and we could write about the development journey between developer and author/illustrator.

      It may be an interesting/useful read for others considering a storybook app.

      Just thinking aloud.
      Steve

  15. Wow! All very interesting. I am nowhere near this stage, but taught computer for years am intrigued by “everything digital”. I will be tuned in for all you share as you move along on this journey.

  16. I have been “thinking” about this for while now, too. Thanks for getting the ball rolling and the wheels turning!

  17. (don’t know if my first post showed up….)
    Karen Robertson is great, and knowledgeable – lots of good info on her site and in her ebook. I’ve done two children’s apps…one original and one direct book-to-app conversion. Info re: creating and marketing from artist/writer and the developer’s POV on http://www.roxiemunro.com/makingtheapps.html (scroll down for “Letters” from author and developer; interview re: Apps and the Future of Children’s Books on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and ALA’s blog post; also step-by-step process). Making apps is a lot of work, fun, and important. And it is the way publishing is going….

    • Roxie,

      I was so excited to find your website and blog! People, you should check out all the great info she has there! I will definitely follow up with you. I have loads of questions.

  18. We can discuss on twitter using #storybookapps. And we can track it here: http://www.hashtags.org/storybookapps. Hope you can all join in 🙂

  19. This is really cool! It’s awesome to read about how to do the apps (I like using them a lot)! Great post!

  20. Julie – Ask away. Pricing for apps Interactive Book apps is tough. For an accurate price, you need to do what Katie Davis did, and plan out / storyboard each spread. But I would start at a minimum of $2000 for the basics.

    The planning is especially important if using sites like Elance. You need to make sure you leave no guesswork in your brief!

    Katie Davis – That price range is crazy! I think common sense needs to step in when getting prices. If you are doing a 32 page book, inc. front and back cover, with some animation/interaction…. it can’t realistically be done for $200!

  21. Hi Everyone,
    It’s Karen Robertson here, referenced in Julie’s terrific article above!

    Just wanted to mention that I didn’t illustration “Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island,” I’m the author.

    There are several types of development companies that specialise in turning children’s books into apps now. Some are DIY with drag and drop technology and others will develop the app for you. I mention some of these and a number of other resources in this blog post here: http://digitalkidsauthor.com/radio-interview-secrets-to-creating-childrens-book-apps/

    A page-by-page brief is essential for presenting to development companies quoting on your app.

    @Julie, what I find with book app development is that it’s quite different from submitting to a traditional publisher. With a publisher, you submit a manuscript and they help edit and publish it. With apps, you’re looking at a company that will have more of a production company role.

    I haven’t found many yet who are looking to take on manuscripts.

    @Steve, I’d love to know more about what you are doing.

    If anyone is in Sydney, I’m teaching a one-day course on How to create and market book apps on March 16 for the Australian Society of Authors. It will cover creating your brief, how to prepare your art (if it’s flat, layered or how to get your book illustrated if it’s not illustrated yet), finding developers, narration, sound, marketing and more.

    Karen

    • Karen,

      Thank you so much for stopping by and contributing your knowledge.

      I guess my biggest question is, what does a page-by-page brief look like? Do you have any templates or suggestions for those of us who want to create one? For authors-only, we would have to create one describing potential illustrations, correct?

      I’m hoping to find more companies that are taking submissions when I am in Bologna, and will keep you all posted.

      • Hi Julie,

        I was just on Linkedin and saw this post from Hana at Flying Books saying they are looking for authors and illustrators.

        hana@flyingbooks.co (no “m” on the end).

        Now to your question about a brief…

        The way I do a brief (and I think I need to write a blog post about this with show and tell!) is that I set up a spreadsheet with each illustration down the left side (the rows) and across the top are columns saying things like:

        -Text (so I show the text that goes with that illustration)
        -Automatic animations (things that will be moving when you land on the page)
        -Touch-triggered sprites (list animations or sound sprites that happen when touched – and by the way a “sprite” is just the term for something happening when you touch it so if you touch a dog’s tail and it wiggles, that’s a sprite).
        -Music (if the music changes on the page)

        So basically it is a storyboard of the app with descriptions of what you want to happen on each page.

        This gives you and the developer an idea of how much work will be involved to produce your app.

        You’ll need to include all of your pages so they can see a page count.
        Include your cover.

        Ask about the app navigation/settings (does the developer have their own navigation structure they want to use (a navigation structure would be the way things like settings and providing feedback will be handled).

        Think about any other pages you want like a credits page or a page that promotes your other books or apps.

        The more information you can give up front the better.

        Karen

    • Hi Karen, I’m developing a couple of Interactive Book apps. I have written the stories and am doing the code. I am a partner in an App Development Company called Sodacode, here in Australia. One book is huge, with planned fully animated sequences etc, and has some pretty talented people involved from my animation days, with a (hopefully) release date of Christmas. The 2nd one is simpler and my wife Karen, will be illustrating ( http://kazartgallery.blogspot.com.au ).

      Also setting up daydreeminbooks.com which will show progress updates, and some development tips.

      Wow, sounds like a busy year ahead.

      Steve

  22. So interesting–and Bologna? How fun for you!

    I only know one PB author who developed an app–and she’s an illustrator. I suppose I assumed you had to be an illustrator/web techie to even consider app-development. Now I know better–;-)

  23. What is most amazing about all of this is that we are all watching an industry in its infancy…going through the difficult stages of teething and formula allergies…and it is people like you, Julie, and Karen and Steve and the others who contributed to this conversation, who are staying up all night and ironing out the kinks so that it will be smoother and easier for the rest of us later on. 🙂
    I have to admit that it is kind of overwhelming…and here I thought I was doing well when I learned how to blog and tweet. 🙂
    I know you WILL do it Julie…you are tenacious and brilliant…what a combination!

  24. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been wanting to create an app, but without spending a lot of money. So I’d like to know if there are app companies willing to accept submissions without illustrations (for authors like me who do not illustrate and don’t have funds to pay for an illustrator). I know. It sounds like a tall order. I’m in the early stages of my research. Still waiting on responses from a few app companies.

    But I would love to follow you on this journey! Have a wonderful trip! I look forward to your notes.

  25. I’m so glad you’re learning abut this and sharing with us! This post was very helpful, and I’m going right over to those links you mentioned. I’m very interested in trying this out, but like you haven’t found a lot of useful info for authors-only. I hope you learn a lot in Italy – I can’t wait to hear all about it! Thanks so much!

  26. Wow, great discussion! I’m amazed at all that you are doing, Julie.

    So, I’m wondering, as someone who has written a number of picture book manuscripts but hasn’t had any published: if I were to turn one into an app, would that be a way of self-publishing it? Just so I’m clear on what it all means.

    I feel like the world is changing faster than i can keep up.

  27. Hi

    Does anyone know how much time it would take to make the illustrations of a 20 page storybook app. In this scenario, all the illustrations will be digital paintings and not 2d or 3d cutouts. It will be interactive however. I have started making one such app but i would like to know the general speed by which these apps are done (only the design part, not the development).

    Thank you…

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