From Picture Book to App - Snuggle Mountain by Lindsey Lane, one of the presenters at the conference

It’s astonishing how much the conversation about digital publishing, self-publishing and indie authors has changed in just one year.  Last year at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference, agents and editors said things like, “Yeah it’s out there, but it’s not a huge factor in children’s books yet.”  This year, publishing houses are racing to set up digital publishing arms, E-book sales are outpacing hardcovers in the adult market, and a few breakout indie authors have made millions outside of traditional publishing.

While e-book sales of picture books are not at the level of adult e-books by any stretch, it is only a matter of time before it explodes, IMHO.  Why?  Picture books are the perfect medium for “enhanced e-books”(read: apps).  Also, the expense of printing full-color picture books requires retail pricing of around $16 per book.  Compare that to .99 cents to several dollars for an app or e-book, and suddenly you can imagine how this might revitalize the picture book market down the road.

With this in mind, last weekend I attended a Symposium hosted by the lovely Austin SCBWI folks entitled, Storytelling in the Digital Age. What I learned is that the more you learn, the more you realize you have LOTS more to learn.  But you know what? So does everyone else.  Presenters and attendees agreed that right now, it’s the Wild West out there in publishing.  One thing that’s certain is that no matter how you plan to publish – traditionally, indie, or self – understanding digital publishing is no longer optional for writers.

For that reason, I am going to write a series of posts on this topic with the intention of creating a forum where we can share what we know and ask questions about what we don’t know.  For this, the first, I figured we’d better begin at the beginning.  Definitions.

Deanna Roy of Casey Shay Press provided very clear definitions of the types of books in the marketplace today.  In my own words:

  • Print Books: You know – those paper thingies that people say are going to be made obsolete by e-books because they’ve forgotten that people said that T.V. would make radio obsolete and VCRs would make movie theaters obsolete.  If you’re still not sure, watch this video.  Sold in bookstores, retail stores, online stores and available in libraries.
  • E-Books: This is a digitized version of the print book.  It has exactly the same material but has been formatted to run on e-readers.  Unfortunately, there is not yet a standard e-book format, so the same book will have to be formatted multiple times to work on all e-readers (Kindle AZW, ePub, Mobi and PDF are the major ones. Look here for a list and comparison of formats).  Because most picture books are imported to the e-book formats as a fixed-width (i.e. exactly as the pages appear in the book), and the width of the e-readers vary, the illustrated pages have to be re-sized for each device.  Sold primarily in online stores, although physical bookstores are also devising ways to sell them in-store.  Likewise, many libraries already make or plan to make e-books available for patrons to borrow and read on their e-readers.
  • Enhanced E-Books:  Deanna Roy said, “A true enhanced e-book is one that changes the way you experience the book.”  Not just an extra chapter, for example.  For a novel, an enhanced book might include videos embedded with scenes from the book, an interactive map of a fictional world, music, etc.
  • Storybook Apps: Storybook apps combine the art and text of a picture book and adds sound, animation and interactive features.  While some apps are created from existing picture books (like Snuggle Mountain), many stories are now being written directly for the app market.  An author/illustrator can work directly with an app developer to create a storybook app.  Sold in the iTunes store (or the Android app store, etc.).

So that’s it for now – just a few definitions.  Not too complicated right?

Categories: Apps, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Self Publishing, Writing · Tags: , , , , , ,



  1. Super overview to launch us into more discussion, Julie. I am trying to stay on top of all these advances, but do feel overwhelmed by the speed of change. I feel like author/illustrator really have an edge on this.

  2. You’ve eased us in beautifully. So far, so good – even I understand it 🙂 Looking forward to the continuing series!

  3. It’s amazing how much has changed in the last year. Looking forward to this series. True about the price. With gas prices, purchasing an app (or book) is about the same price as a trip to the library. Of course, I love loading up my bag with picture and board books at the library.

  4. Nice post. I loved the It’s a Book video.

  5. In uncertainty lies all possibility!

    I imagine an enhanced e-book like the moving portraits at Hogwart’s. Instead of a single image, moving images and scenes of Quidditch, and the invisibility cloak, and riding a silver broomstick.

    As a child, I would HAVE to learn how to read to enjoy moving picture books. 😀

  6. If this is the list “what you know and don’t know” about publishing a book…forum… I can pretty much sum up what I know in one Spanish word.
    Nada. I could add a few English words behind it for grammatical affect, but, probably wouldn’t be necessary. Or proper in mixed company either for that matter. But, as they say, “He who knows it all has a lot to learn”.

    Personally, I just can’t see myself curling up to a cold I – pad, or Kindle on a rainy day and drifting off onto a secluded Island with Daniel Defoe…
    I guess I love the smell of fresh ink, and leather, or hard covers?

    Or, could just be I’m getting too much residual binders “Glue” euphoria.
    Nah, I’m just old… that’s probably it.
    God Bless You

  7. I think you are so on the mark…we must embrace the wave of the future! At the grocery store this week, the toddler sitting in the cart ahead of me was alternately teething on, and watching, his mother’s iPhone as it played Alona Frankel’s “Once Upon a Potty” book.

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