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 Some people think the publisher’s role is obsolete when it comes to digital publishing.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” (www.treasurekai.com). 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” (www.digitalkidsauthor.com).