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’.

Now go read the full article. Listen to the podcast. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.

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: , , , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Great article, Julie, and thanks for answering my question. My husband wasn’t happy that I wanted to buy lots of apps. I told him they are cheaper than books…

  2. Great question from Tina and excellent advice here. Thank you, Julie.

  3. Thanks for a great explanation, Julie. I had the same question. I also have another one, much dumber. I don’t have an iPad or an iPhone. I do have a phone that I think could do apps, though. Is there one platform or another that is better for viewing/trying apps? Or are certain apps designed only for phone size and others only for iPad size? Thanks!

    • This is also a great question Susanna, and probably worthy of another blog post! The short answer is that right now Apple (and the iTunes store) dominates in the app market. I think most storybook apps these days are being developed for the iPad due to the larger screen, but there are still some that are developed specifically for the iPhone. Some have versions for both iPhone and iPad.

      If you were looking into getting a device specifically geared toward evaluating the best storybook apps on the market today, I’d say the iPad is your best bet.

      However, apps are being developed for the Android (Google) tablets, Kindle Fire and Nook, so it may change over time. It’s just that Apple has a pretty big head start.

      I hope this comment helps in the short term, and I’ll look into it more and see if I can’t write another blog post just on this topic sometime soon.

  4. Thanks for the great advice! 🙂

  5. Interesting information and appreciate Tina asking the question. This is an area I must get into more, I think.

  6. Great advice and information Julie.

  7. Fantastic advice, Julie! Thanks so much!

  8. Love the links and info here, Julie! I will be tweeting you, too…thanks!

  9. I’ll have to check out the Pigeon! I noticed the book Press Here is now in app form. Another one, I need to check out. It’s an interesting point about the amount of text. My toddler enjoys apps and often seems frustrated when an ebook version doesn’t “move” when he touches it. We use a Kindle Fire, iPad and iPhone in the reading experience now.

    • We have the Press Here app and it really is amazing. Again, it’s in addition to the book rather than a replacement for it.

      How’s the Kindle Fire with apps?

  10. I’m pretty sure utales gives a free month to read like a demon and get a taste of their product.

  11. This is excellent information! I must add a link to this post in my overview of electronic access to books for kids.

  12. Thanks for the detailed information, Julie. It’s been great watching you spread into this area and become such an expert. I’ll definitely be sending clients interested in creating apps your way. You’re amazing…

  13. Thanks for the details. Nice list. Most of the apps listed are for very young children. Story Worldwide and Bookerella have deveoped the first 3D nonfiction book app for kids 5-12. It’s called Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night and is an immersive experience where reading is primary. And, it reads like a picture book but utilizes amazing iPad technology. We’re thrilled with the high praise from –Scool Library Journal, Kirkus star review, CNet, Apple New & Noteworthy and were just received best nongame Unity award in Amsterdam last week! And, the Memphis Zoo selected it for their Animals of the night exhibit!

  14. Thanks for the question, Tina. And Julie, another great post. A good reminder that picture book apps are a whole new genre!

    • Indeed it is, and while that’s exciting, it also means we need to educate ourselves in the genre.

  15. Great question from you, Tina! I love that you say it’s a whole new genre, Julie. I have several storybook apps, and,I agree, it is a whole new experience. You mentioned several apps that I need to check out! I have already listened to the podcast-extremely useful information!!!! I, also, have your template. I have not tried my hand at turning a story into an app yet, but your template certainly clarifies the direction I need to head when I am ready to tackle that. Before I looked at the template, it seemed overwhelming, but your template makes it seem attainable.You are a wealth of knowledge. Thanks!!!

  16. This is awesome. Your flawless guidance has been so encouraging to start dipping my toes into these waters. You rule!

  17. Great advice and information Julie. I take it that if you purchase your app template it must be done with/through an iPad? Not your computer. I enjoyed the apps you shared. I know a few people who have created apps based on former books. I didn’t understand you could just create an app. I believe you are right — it is the future.

    • Pat, the template is actually a pdf file, so you can read it and use it right from your computer. I wouldn’t say you can just “create” apps. You have to storyboard them and write them out, just as with picture books. But if you have all the text, illustrations, and you have a plan for what type of animation, sound, etc. you want to include, there are companies that offer app creation tools that will enable you to make an app without knowing any code. Otherwise, you would hire a developer to create it for you.

      The template is also meant to help you put together a submission for an app proposal to an e-publisher.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks Julie. I know how to storyboard. I was hesitant to purchase it because I just didn’t understand the downloading and how you’d work with the program. Thanks. – Pat

  18. Julie, the app template is great. Haven’t geared anything into app form yet, but your recent posts, (and your appearance on Brain Burps last month sharing your app insights and experience) has me really thinking hard about which of my stories could be app-pealing (sorry…couldn’t resist that).
    SO, any of you who don’t have the template, go ahead and get it. Its not just a form, it’s a guide with lots of considerations that I would never have thought of in preparation of a story for an app form.
    My granddaughter is app savy. She even bought an app on her Nonni’s Nook without permission. She just turned four. She has about 30 app storybooks that she ‘reads’ and re-reads. Hmmm.. Are we supposed to say ‘runs’ or ‘reads’ with apps….whole new world.
    (Thanks Tina Cho for prompting a good discussion.)

    • Damon, thank you so much for these great comments! I’m glad you found the template helpful. I hope to save authors and illustrators a lot of the work I did!

      And I’m not sure about ‘runs’ or ‘reads” – another good question!

  19. Really informative post, Julie. I’m so far behind on the times…I don’t even have an iphone. 🙁

  20. Great advice, Julie. I am 100% agreed. Writers always write to a format, whether it’s picture books or non-fiction or grant proposals or blog posts. Writing to the storyapp format is no different. And it really is its own genre. The best way to know if your story would make a good app is to know your storyapps.

  21. Good stuff, Julie (and Tina) as I am exploring this avenue at the moment. However, I’m more interested in concept books with minimal interactivity (matching, etc.) for the toddler and pre-school set. My question is, what’s the better choice for such a thing – app or iBook? I’m so confused!

    • Renee, it’s my understanding that iBooks are still limited in the interactivity they can include, although I’m sure that’s likely to change. Even if your interactivity is minimal, you’re probably better off marketing it as an app and selling it in the iTunes store. My own first app is a concept book, btw!

      • I was afraid you’d say that! I really want to do some DIY with this and avoid hiring a developer, so I’ve been playing with iBooks Author…but my eye has been wandering to apps…We’ll see how it goes! You mention some companies who offer packages – could you point me in a direction on that, because I’m coming up empty. Thanks for your help, as always (and very cool about your app!).

        • There are app creation tools that you can use without knowing code (those are in the bonus document that comes with my template), but you need to have illustrations before you can use them. Otherwise, you could submit your concept to e-publishers, which is what I did. The publisher then hired the illustrator, so it was more like a traditional publishing arrangement.

          My advice is to keep current on the market, keep working on your concepts, and keep looking for the opportunity to publish (whether it’s with a developer, an app creation tool, or an e-publisher) that’s best for your work. Eventually, it will happen! 🙂

  22. Thanks for all the great info and links to even more about writing and illustrating apps for children.

  23. Thank you for all the information about apps. Happy writing and creating!

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