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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)?
- 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.
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: App Developers, apps, Bologna Children's Book Fair, Children's Book Insider, Digital Publishing, e is for book, ebooks, Julie Hedlund, Karen Robertson, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Storybook Apps, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, There's a Monster at the End of this Book, ToC Bologna, Treasure Kai App, Writer