What inspired you to become a children’s author?
When my daughter was 18-months-old, I made a list of all the words that she was saying, and she found nothing funnier than when someone sneezed. So I started dreaming about this character, who had this hysterical sneezing fit.
My first drafts were scribbled out on the back of a napkin when I was stopped in rush hour traffic on my commute to work.
I’ve always been a writer. I started my career in journalism. But having kids of my own and reading to them every night as I rocked them to sleep really got me passionate about starting some fiction writing and getting involved in the children’s publishing industry.
Why did you choose the app platform?
I decided to publish my story as an app because I felt like there was a gap between these e-books that had static images and fixed format pages and games that were often wordless and had no plot or character development. So I became fascinated with this idea of creating a story that could involve the child with these interactions, where the child could become the producer and help move the story forward.
In the same way that you have to translate a novel for a screenplay, I believe you have to translate children’s books for digital media. You couldn’t just read a novel in front of a camera and call it a movie. Sometimes you have to kill off characters, you add different plot points, sometimes you change the sequence or even the time period, but all of those things are done so the story fits that medium.
I feel like we’re in that same moment with children’s publishing, where we need to change some story elements so that it really works on this digital device and it’s not just a copy of a printed book.
What were the first steps in figuring our how to create a book app?
I had an illustrator in mind, but I didn’t know, do I need an animator? Do I need a programmer? Can I use one of the existing platforms that’s out there to do it on my own?
Ultimately I contacted one of the universities in town, Carnegie Mellon University, and was able to work with a graduate student in their Entertainment Technology Center to build the framework.
We did rapid prototyping to understand what worked and what didn’t. There’s a saying in game design: “Fail fast, find the fun.” I think it really helped that we knew we had a 15-week deadline until the semester was over, so it made us prioritize and make really smart decisions about what mattered and what functions we really needed, so that we could keep the project moving forward and not just keep overdeveloping it and adding bells and whistles we didn’t need.
What single point of advice would you offer an author considering a book app?
If I had one piece of advice for somebody considering a book app, it would be to push the format further. We’ve already seen how some simple animation can happen where a character’s eyes can blink or a dog’s tail can wag, but that’s not going to be enough to get you news to get people to hear about your storybook app or learn about it.
There’s a real opportunity right now to push this format even further. I really feel like we’re in the Wild West of developing stories for touch screens, and we have an opportunity to make a significant contribution to storytelling in this medium.
This group and the Book App Alliance are truly the game changers here, and we’re going to be able to influence how a generation of digital natives learns how to read.