Monday, September 12, 2011

Creating a Smartphone Picture Book App: Lindsey Lane

I was very excited to learn from my friend and Vermont College of Fine Arts classmate Lindsey Lane that she had acquired the rights to her first picture book, Snuggle Mountain, and then created a smartphone app for the book. Finally, someone who could explain this mysterious process! I've interviewed Lindsey, and am delighted to have her here this week.

Hi Lindsey! How were you able to acquire the rights? Was that a difficult process?

It was not difficult at all. Cynthia Leitich Smith had recommended Aimee Bissonette of Little Buffalo Law to me as someone who would review contracts for authors who don’t have agents. I contacted her in August 2010 and told her that Clarion, the publisher of Snuggle Mountain and imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, had let SM go out of stock about two years ago and that I would like to get the rights reverted to me. She asked me to send her the Rights Reversion clause in my contract. After reading it, she said it was very standard and all I needed to do was send them a letter requesting that the rights revert to me. Basically what’s going on is you have to make the request so that the publisher can decide to put the book back in circulation and, if they don’t do that, the rights revert to you. Because the book had been out of stock for two years, it was pretty clear they weren’t going to reprint it, so the letter was a formality. Still, Aimee was helpful in drafting the letter, subtly letting HMH know that she was representing me and then being available to me if I needed any extra help. Aimee said to give the HMH folks about three months to go through their process and then contact them again. Sure enough, three months later, I wrote them a brief: ‘How is the progress on the Snuggle Mountain rights reversion?’ email and, a week after that, a disk of the book arrived in the mail with a letter telling me that the rights belonged to illustrator Melissa Iwai and me. Ta-Dah!

I was so excited to learn that you have created a smartphone app of the book. Can you tell us (a) how you went about creating the app, (b) how you made it available, (c) how you think it's working?

After Melissa and I got the rights back in December 2010, I emailed her to see what she thought about making Snuggle Mountain into a digital book. She was all for it. She had already been approached by someone who was doing ebooks and apps so we just broadened our search. Fortunately, a group of authors and illustrators had just stared a blog called e is for book. The premise of the blog is that a book is a book regardless of the format and each contributor’s blog post focused on the creation of digital books for kids. Through that site and links to other sites, Melissa and I learned the names of ebook and app developers. We took turns querying and interviewing them. The one that popped out for us was PicPocket Books. They had developed Elizabeth Dulemba’s Lula’s Brew and Elizabeth was very complimentary of their work. We sent Lynette Mattke of PicPocket Books a copy of Snuggle Mountain and she said she would very much like to make it into an app. We had a conference call with her and afterwards, Melissa and I agreed that what we liked about Mattke’s approach was that she really likes to remain true to the integrity of the book. She didn’t want to turn books into games. We signed with her in March. I got busy adding bits of dialogue for Emma. Melissa handled all the reformatting of the artwork for the iPhone and the iPad as well as creating the artwork for specific animations like wagging tails and sniffing noses. In April, Lynette and I skyped and she showed me the app on the desktop of her computer. (That was co cool.) We tweaked a few things (the sheep dog sounded like a Chihuahua) and it was available on iTunes in Mid-May. Because PicPocket Books is an approved Apple app developer, Snuggle Mountain is only available through iTunes and, right now, only folks with iPads and iPhones can purchase the Snuggle Mountain app. But that could change next week. Seriously. The digital world changes that fast.

Did you find the process easy or was the learning curve steep?

PicPocket had about 30 apps under its belt when we came along so that made our process very easy. What was a bit disorienting is the speed of this process. The publishing industry moves at a snail’s pace compared to the app and ebook world. Normally you have time to prepare for publicity (you know make a trailer, do pre-release buzz, make a postcard), but suddenly the app was out and I still feel like I am catching up. But on the other side of the proverbial coin, the app is not a book taking up warehouse space so as long as I’m out promoting it, parents can download the app. Really, it’s pretty sweet to be in an airport, near a wiggly child and ask them if they like books. If they do, I ask the parents if they mind if I read them a book. Next thing you know, I’ve got this little one sliding her finger across the iPhone screen, turning digital pages. Kinda fun.

Would you recommend to authors who have not yet published but who may have a picture book ready that they try creating an app?

Hmm, interesting question. I know that there is a digital fever for books right now. App and ebook developers are cropping up like toadstools after the rain. Melissa and I had an advantage in that Melissa’s gorgeous artwork was already created so it made our project very viable and easy to convert into an app. Certainly, any author or illustrators with out of print picture book should try this route. It’s thrilling to me that Snuggle Mountain can be out there in the hands of the little readers and their parents. For pre-published writers who have written picture book that they would like to turn into an app, it will be a much different journey without already created artwork. But really, anything is possible. I mean, it’s sort like the wild west (at the Toadstool corral) right now with traditional publishing scrambling to catch up to epublishing and app developers opening up to the possibility of picture books.

Anything else about this mysterious world that you'd like to share?

A couple of things.

Melissa and I asked Lynette about making the Snuggle Mountain app available to other smart phones like the Droid. Right now it’s not possible. There is a digital divide between Apple and other smart phones and tablets.

When I started this process, I was a neophyte in the digital world. Really. I had to learn the difference between eBoooks and apps and why a picture book needs to be an app not an eBook. If you have ever seen a picture book an eBook, you would get it immediately. Basically an eReader only shows you one page at a time, so the artwork on a full-page spread gets cut in half. Not very satisfying when illustrators create artwork for a two page spread. With the app format, you can see the entire two page spread on the screen so nothing gets cut in half. It’s quite lovely, really. That said, I just read a post by Elizabeth Dulemba that she has formatted her Lula’s Brew to fit on a Nook. So once again, the digital world is shifting.

Contracts are changing to reflect the digital presence in publishing. Check out the rights reversion clause in your current and future contracts. Pay attention to where your rights will go if the print version of your book goes out of print. Pay attention to your rights period. Be careful they don’t drift off into the ethers of the eWorld.

Finally, in the digital world, there is a new kind of typo. When you first see your book as an app, it is really important to check all the bells and whistles it offers. Remember an app is short for application, which is a kind of software, which means that there can be formatting glitches. Fortunately, in the world of apps, you can send out an update and glitches gets fixed pretty easily but still, these glitches are like typos (and I hate typos) so check ALL the ways your app works before it goes out.

What are you working on now?

On October 8, Austin SCBWI is presenting a symposium called StoryTelling in the Digital Age. I am thrilled to join a stellar faculty and present the picture book app journey to participants. Oh, and I’m excited about taking a writing class with Margo Rabb this fall.

I'm so happy you came by - thank you!


Jenna said...

Great post! I have an iPad and have been letting my kids use it to read <a href="”>kung fu panda digital books for children</a>. I approve, and they love it (win-win)!

Janet Fox said...

Thanks, Jenna!

Nick Lachey said...

Nice post. Here’s a tool to use to build your mobile apps in minutes without coding. Just point-and-click