Tina Cho, who recently purchased a copy of my Template for Storybook App Proposals and is also a member of the 12 x 12 in 2012 group, asked a great question on my Facebook page recently. Paraphrasing, it was, “My child plays/reads storybook apps, but I haven’t had time to do that yet. Is it important to ‘play’ storybook apps if I want to write them?”
I am so glad Tina asked this question because I think many children’s writers think picture books easily translate to storybook apps. But in fact, what we’re discovering is that storybook apps are a whole new genre. New genre = different style of writing.
The first piece of advice any established author, editor or agent will give you if you want to write in a particular genre is, “read as much in that genre as you can.” Remember our April Author-Palooza in 12 x 12? When asked what their #1 piece of advice was for improving in the craft of picture book writing, all four of them said — READ PICTURE BOOKS!
The same is true for storybook apps. You must buy them (or download free ones), read them and “play” them.
Incidentally, a great place to get recommendations for apps is Digital Storytime. They review apps (both paid and free) for the iPad, Android, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet and also provide “Top 10” lists in many categories.
With each app, test all of the interactive features. Determine which ones you like and why. Does the interactivity enhance the story or detract from it? Are there non-linear story elements? Again, do they enhance or detract from the main storyline? It is only after evaluating many storybook apps that you will be able to determine which of your stories might make a good app and why. You might also end up writing stories specifically for the app market.
Mo Willems’ Pigeon app is a great example of how the technology can be used to create interactivity that will add depth to a character or a story. He could have simply taken his pigeon books, added some animation (pigeon flapping it’s wings, etc.) and sold gazillions of copies. Instead, he made something new. The app extends our relationship with the plucky pigeon. Now children can draw their own pigeon and decide what the pigeon can’t do – in their own voices.
I also highly recommend you listen to Brain Burps About Books podcast episode #104 where Mary Ann Scheuer interviews William Joyce – of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore fame. Afterward, I’m sure you’ll agree that because apps “free” stories from the printed page, a whole new way of telling stories is needed. Furthermore, print to electronic is not the only direction storytelling can take. Lessmore went from film to app to printed book.
A recent Publishing Perspectives article featuring the managing director of Nosy Crow, Kate Wilson, is a must read if you want to understand why writing apps is different. Here is just one of the differences she highlighted: “Writing a picture-book length text isn’t going to provide enough text for an app. Which is not to say that you can have even as much text on a screen at any one time as you can have on a printed page. Apps are non-linear, or, at least, not completely linear: in our experience, understanding the balance of narrative story-telling and other non-linear elements is important.”
I once spent a couple of hours on Nosy Crow’s Cinderella app. It’s brilliant and challenging. There were a few screens where I gave up finding all the interactive elements. But the best part is that the main storyline that is underneath can go forward regardless of whether kids (or me in this case) engage all of the non-linear interactivity and dialog. The story is not compromised by the interactivity and non-linear story elements. In contrast, the dialog adds humor, suspense and personality to the app. While nearly every child knows the Cinderella story, they’ve never seen it quite this way. It’s fresh and surprising. THAT, in my mind, is what makes a great app. Imagine how exciting it will be when brand new stories are released in app form that engage children at this level.
But not all apps require extensive animation and non-linear elements, especially ones for the youngest children. PicPocket Books, MeeGenius and uTales all focus on the integrity of the main storyline so as not to distract or reduce comprehension for younger readers. Just as a picture book written for 4-8 year-olds might not speak to a 2 year-old, so too must you understand the market for your storybook app and plan interactive and non-linear elements accordingly.
With any genre in which you want to write and publish, you must read and study what is already on the market, AND you must practice your craft. The storybook app genre is no different. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll be able to put together a well thought out, intelligent submission targeted appropriately.
On submissions, Kate had this to say. “The bottom line is that we get a lot of submissions of picture book texts that are sent into us as something that “would make a good app”. Often this is on the basis of just a couple of suggestions of interactivity: ‘when you touch the sky, the stars twinkle’, for example. But, in our view, that’s just not enough.”
The only way to know what is good enough is to spend a lot of time with many apps and then to start writing some.
I will say, in defense of authors and illustrators, that a key reason there are so many questions about how to write, illustrate and submit apps is because the genre is so new and publishers haven’t been clear on how they want work submitted.
Sales pitch incoming! My Template for Storybook App Proposals can help you develop your thought process around developing a story for the app market, and help you structure a submission. You will also get a list of e-publishers that actually accept submissions (many of them do not – at least not yet). P.S. The price of the template is going up in three days. Just sayin’.
Then, get ready for your role in this Brave New World of Publishing.
Thanks again to Tina, for asking such a great question!
What are your favorite storybook apps and why? Have you written any apps or considered writing them? Share your experience in the comments!Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Apps, Children's Books, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Picture Books, Publishing, Storybook Apps · Tags: apps, Digital Publishing, e-publishing, ebooks, Julie Hedlund, Julie Hedlund's Template for Storybook App Proposals, Kate Wilson, Nosy Crow, Picture Books, Publishing, Publishing Perspectives, Storybook Apps, Writer