An Adventure Worth Having: Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book as an App

| May 10, 2011 | 5 Comments



Do you have a children’s book inside you just waiting to get out into the world? Maybe you’re an artist/illustrator or a budding children’s book author? Or possibly a savvy programmer with a creative itch to scratch? It used to be common to hear people talk about the children’s book they “always wanted to write”.  Now it’s almost as common to hear that they are really going to do it – thanks in part to the new digital world of children’s book apps on the iPad.

But is it really that easy? Is there an app for that? Or even a guidebook on how to get started? Well yes, there is! A new ebook, The Author’s Guide to Book Apps, written by Karen Guinn Robertson (one of the pioneers of this industry) now offers up at least one author’s experience of this adventure and the things she has learned along the way.

I first met Karen through the Moms With Apps forum. We found we had a mutual passion for finding innovative ways for kids to engage with stories. She sent me a copy of her print book with toys, Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island, and  my son loved the interactive format and treasure hunt adventure stories. It seemed only natural to turn the book into an app, which Karen did. I reviewed the “Treasure Kai” book app as my 100th review when it launched in February.

One of the fascinating things about digital book apps (and the whole app scene in general) is the ability of authors, writers, illustrators and development teams to self-publish kid’s books without the traditional middleman – the publisher. This can be an exciting adventure, but also a bewildering experience with few resources to help navigate the uncharted wilderness of today’s digital book app market.

Book publishers play an important role in the process of getting a kid’s book published in print. They support authors/illustrators through the process by providing editorial guidance, proofreading, distribution, cover and bio advice, and marketing as part of their service. Ultimately, they act as a guide, navigating the author through the world of publishing with the skill of  seasoned experts. Some people think the publisher’s role is obsolete when it comes to digital publishing. I think it is just in transition. There will always be a need for knowledgeable people to develop and shepherd quality creative works to the right audience.

But right now, at least in digital book app publishing, there aren’t really any ‘seasoned’ experts. After just a year of being in this industry myself, I have been called an ‘expert’ by some. This is flattering but also evidence of a very new market emerging. I’ve decided that if I am an ‘expert’ then I’m more of an ‘accidental expert’ – someone who was just at the right place at the right time with a tiny bit of vision and a lot of hard work.

Mostly I am the target audience – a mom who loves book apps. And after spending so much time with thousands of digital books and researching the industry over the past year, I’m now a lot more knowledgeable about what makes a good picture book app. When people ask me what it takes to self-publish their children’s book as an app, my first answer is, “It takes passion, vision and persistence … plus a lot of patience!”

Karen is a shining example of how an author can turn a quality, self published children’s book into a creative and interactive book app. She’s shared her ups and downs with me along the way so I know how passionate she is about sharing her experiences with other writers and authors to make the journey easier for them.

If you’re really interested in self-publishing that children’s book you’ve always dreamed of writing or re-publishing a book you have previously published in print, there are still a lot of steps before you’ll see your book in the App Store. Reading Karen’s eBook is a great place to start. I’d also recommend finding a community of others who have been down this road. Consider resources like “e is for book” or “moms with apps” to read great articles and start some conversations. I’d also recommend spending some time looking at the top 200 books in paid & free on the App Store as well as reading reviews of some of the top book apps in the market.

Even before I began our review site I had hundreds of book apps downloaded. Simply getting to know what’s already in the growing book app market is a great place for anyone interested in self-publishing to start. Download a few dozen book apps (you can watch for discounts/sales on our Deal Page or narrow your focus to 5-Star rated books on our site). Another helpful place to start is the explanation of our rating system, since it gives you an idea of some of important elements to consider. Look at other review sites, too. I’d recommend Common Sense Media & Kirkus Reviews as two good sites with at least 50 book reviews. General app review sites can also be a good source of picture book app reviews and are easy to find by Googling “kids app reviews”.

And once you’re certain that you want to jump into this new digital market, the only piece of advice I would add is that you need to be realistic and pace yourself. Taking on book app development without a ‘publisher’ means doing a lot of things on your own. So be patient with your learning curve. Digital books need to be tested a lot for programming bugs, edited and re-edited and then shared with a wide audience for feedback in order to be successful. Even if you have the art, story and a programmer, you will still need a lot of friends to help test your product before it’s ready. And you’ll need to be open to constructive criticism to make your book better – not just for the first launch but also down the road, for future updates.

In addition to your passion, persistence and vision, self-publishing will also take time and money. App development can take months and depending on your approach it can get expensive. But these are important realities to consider. There are a lot of risks and rewards in any budding new industry. I would not discourage anyone from jumping in at this point, though. In fact, I’d suggest starting the process as soon as possible. It’s an adventure worth having.

Are you an independent book app developer, author or illustrator? What has been your experience of self-publishing?

About Karen & her new book: Inspired by her sons who aren’t keen readers, Karen is passionate about finding ways for kids to interact with stories. She’s the author and creator of “Treasure Kai” ( And the author of “Author’s Guide to Book Apps – a Guide for Children’s Authors, Writers and Illustrators Wanting to Turn Stories into Apps” (



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Category: 100+ Reviews ... What I've Learned So Far, All About Apps, Marketing Apps

About the Author ()

Carisa Kluver is the the editor of, an iPad children's book review site. She has a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MSW from the University of Washington. Before starting this project, she was a school counselor, health educator and researcher in child & maternal health.

Comments (5)

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  1. Jason Izatt says:

    This was great! Creating your own ebook is definitely a fun adventure.

    I would like to introduce your readers to TaleSpring. It’s a new online service where non-technical authors can create their own interactive, animated ebook for the iPad and iPhone. It’s free to sign-up, free to create books; you simply pay $150 when it’s time to publish!

    If you would like to learn more, or write a review of TaleSpring for your readers, I would love to hear from you. You have my email address from this post. Or you can reach out through our contact form at

  2. Sharon Cohen says:

    As you can see, there are many new options available for producing interactive e-books for children. At InteractBooks, we just announced a contest for the best interactive children’s books using our software InteractBuilder. First prize is an iPad2 or $500. We are really excited about seeing all the creativity that authors and illustrators can offer. It’s a wonderful time for digital communication! Best of luck with your entry!

  3. Chris Adams says:

    My first children’s book, Sam The Biggest Fire Truck is a story I made up for my son and published as an App. It was a wonderful experience and made the home page on iTunes in New and Notable and was covered widely. It was the basis for my next book which I published, Cowboys & Aliens: The Kids ( which came out in the App store a month ago and was written by the creator of the movie. I partnered with Starlight Children’s Foundation and will donate $.25 cents of every app sold to them. My next book is a follow-up to Sam called “Dan the Biggest Dump Truck” and will be coming out at Christmas and will feature a celebrity narrator, benefit two charities and I am expanding the App book model into eBooks, iBooks and print books, all coming out at once so that the charities can benefit most. I believe that turning your stories into Apps, especially with interactive features (we have paint, voice record and social sharing onto FB and Twitter) is a great way to go and I am very much enjoying the process.

  4. Alex Souza says:

    You should check also for Kwik, a plugin for Photoshop that allows you to create apps directly from Adobe’s most used software. More that 50 storybooks were already created with Kwik, including Sparky the Shark, named one of the 30 best storybooks. Everything is done (animations, interactivity,etc) without any code required from the artist. Check at

  5. Hi there,

    We have published two children book apps using Gideros Studio. The books were written by amateur writers and my illustrator friend OIP. It is so much fun to create children books, thinking about the possibilities and interactions. I am a mom blogger/programmer/entrepreneur myself. While testing the app, I let my 3 year old to test it, see the reactions, adjust the interactions accordingly.

    Using Gideros Studio for app development makes it affordable to parents. It has a free license so, just to see how it is done, you can try. And if it works, you can publish, with a splash screen for free. The development is much simpler than Obj C or OpenGl. And you get to publish on iPad, iPhone, Android tablets and devices.

    There are also other tools out there. I suggest, everyone with a passion for these apps to go and try some of the tools and create something. Once you make an app you do your best. And try for the second time and it gets better. It comes down to the passion on the heart. If it makes your heart beat, give it a try. For the technology there is always an easier way to do.

    If anybody wants to try Gideros Studio, use the forum, I am there to help. I love book apps!



    reference applications:

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