From Picture Book to Interactive App – Lindsey Lane and SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN

 

Austin author, playwright, and columnist Lindsey Lane, is a multi-talented writer and one of the nicest people in the world. Today, she shares her unique experience of re-birthing a picture book as an interactive app for IPhone and IPad.
 
 
Welcome, Lindsey!
First, tell us about the SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN story. What was the original inspiration?
Thanks so much for asking. I love telling this story. My daughter Gabi was about 18 months old. I was in bed, asleep. It was early morning. Presunrise. I hear a clunk coming from Gabi’s room. Then another clunk. Then a thud. Then pad, pad, pad into my room. Then I hear her breathing by the side of the bed, looking up at the sleeping lump that I am. I imagine that she is trying to figure out how to climb up to wake me up. I think these words rolled across the movie screen in my brain, “I’ll bet my bed looks like a mountain to her. I bet I look like a giant…” And there it was: the seed of an idea. When I got up, I wrote it down. Five years later, it was a book.
SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN was originally published as a hardcover picture book (Clarion, 2003) but, like so many others, eventually went out of print. Why did you decide to bring it back to life?
I think it’s the saddest thing in the world when a book goes out of print. It’s like it’s gone to this netherworld. It exists but not in a real “order a bunch of copies for a school visit or conference” kind of way. One of my biggest surprises (and delights) as an author is doing readings and presentations to children. It’s like having a ticket to fun land. Really. I love kids. Especially the wiggly, 3-5 year old set. When I learned that SM had gone out of stock in 2008, I had thought that I would try to find a smaller publisher to print a soft cover version of the book but I was just starting graduate school at Vermont College of Fine Arts and I put the thought on hold. When I graduated two years later in July 2010, the digital world of books was starting to explode. The IPad debuted. Amazon sold more digital books than hard covers. It seemed like the perfect time to bring Snuggle Mountain back to life in an entirely new format.
How did you reclaim copyright?
I contacted Aimee Bissonette of Little, Buffalo Law (Thank you, Cynthia Leitich Smith for the recommendation) who read the rights reversion clause in my contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Fortunately, it was very standard and all I needed to do was write a letter requesting that the rights revert to illustrator Melissa Iwai and me.  Because the book had been out of stock for two years, it was pretty clear that HMH wasn’t going to put SM back in print so the letter was a formality. Aimee basically looked over my shoulder and three months later, Melissa and I received the book on a disk.


Why did you choose to reintroduce it as an iPad/iPhoneapp instead of an e-Book?
Great question. Up until very recently, ebooks didn’t format well for picture books. Ebooks are text heavy and only show one page at a time. Picture books are a marriage of art and words. Illustrators use the two-page spread to tell the story. Ebooks chop the art in half. Apps are a different matter. You can see the entire two page spread on the screen. Much more satisfying. But guess what? I just read a blog post at e is for book that Elizabeth Dulemba has formatted her picture book Lula’s Brew for the Nook. She describes it as a very easy process. So once again, the landscape is changing.
Tell us about PicPocket Books and how they approached the digital transformation of SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN?
Lynette Mattke started PicPocket Books in 2009. As a mother, she saw the trend toward mobile devices and wanted to create family friendly content. Shortly thereafter, Lynette joined forces with a group of like-minded app developers and started Moms with Apps with the specific goal of developing family friendly apps.
There are quite a few reasons why Melissa and I chose PicPocket Books. What I love about Lynette’s company is that she respects the integrity of books and chooses not to turn them into games. With apps, you can add a lot of bells and whistles and a book can quickly become more game oriented. Sometimes, that’s not a bad thing but SM is a book for 3-5 year olds. Does that age group need a lot of extra stimulation? Melissa did add some pretty sweet animations to the artwork and I added some bits of dialogue for Emma but we stayed true to the book with its beginning, middle and end, plot-based structure.
Also, PicPocket had also been already the block, so to speak, in the app world. They were an approved Apple/ITunes app developer and had done about two dozen book apps when we came along. She had a software formatting team in place. I think we appealed to her because we had a ready-made book and she appealed to us because she knew how to make the print to digital transition. It felt like a great match.
Right away, I began writing extra dialogue for Emma to say as she climbed Snuggle Mountain. Melissa got busy reformatting the artwork for the iPhone and iPad platforms and adding bits of animation to her artwork. Once our part was done, Lynette found this wonderful narrator Sylvie Ashford to read the book as well as speak Emma’s bits of dialogue. In one month’s time, I was on a Skype call with Lynette seeing the app on her desktop. My mind was effectively blown by that event for several days. The only change I suggested was the dog bark sounded too yippy for the English sheep dog in the drawing.
Is the SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN app interactive?
Yes. Melissa added in a few animations so the dog’s tail wags and and his nose sniffs. Children can also touch the screen and hear the dog snuffle and bark, the cat meow and Emma say a few words. Melissa also added eyes in the covers to highlight the faces of the two headed giant in the bed covers. Again, we kept the integrity of the book but we opened up to the some of the possibilities of this new format.
How involved was your illustrator, Melissa Iwai, in the process?
Very. I can’t thank Melissa enough for being game to take this digital leap. I think Melissa and I compliment each other very well. As soon as we got the rights back, she and I started having regular phone conversations about app developers and ePublishers. We’d make a list of things to do and then check in by email as we learned more about the process and players. When we signed with PicPocket, she jumped in doing the animating and formatting. Really. I’m so grateful that she knew what to do and could enhance her artwork for the digital format.
How are prices determined for apps? And, how are royalties handled?
I think the price point for apps is pretty standard at this point. They start at $.99 and top out at $3.99 on the iPhone. It’s a little bit more for an iPad app but not much. Lynette suggested $1.99 for the iPhone app and $2.99 for the iPad app so we would stay in line with how apps are priced.
As for royalties, Apple has a standard agreement with all their approved app developers. Apple takes 30%; Lynette, Melissa and I split the remaining 70%. Apple does their accounting quarterly and guess what? We got our first check. Yea!
Do you have any advice for authors interested in this digital medium?
If you have an out of print book and you want to ePublish it, well, it’s a bit like the wild west right now. Lots of people creating apps. Publishers creating app departments to reformat their older titles for the digital platform. Do your research. Look at apps you like and find out who did them. Query those companies. It’s a wild ride. We picked a smaller boutique app developer. It suited us.
As for writers with unpublished mss, you have to do your research. App developers are interested in unpublished work. PicPocket welcomes those queries, for instance. But the landscape changes everyday so do your research.
Also I have a bit of cautionary advice: before your app is released, check to make sure that all the ways it is supposed to work, do, in fact, work. Typos are different in the digital world. There can be a software formatting problem and if you don’t check it, well, the app gets released with a glitch and that’s a drag. Of course, the good news is updates are sent out electronically and they can be fixed in relative jiffy.
You have a new perspective on digital books. What is your overall feeling about the traditional to digital trend?
You know, I know that when books starting coming out digitally, many people were worried that books would become extinct or that children would lose the experience of sitting on their parents’ laps reading books and turning the pages. I don’t think that’s going to happen. The advent of television didn’t make theatre disappear. If anything the digital trend might make books more available to more people because the price point is lower. I still think people are going to love books but screens are here to stay so why not have good books on them?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes. On October 8, Austin SCBWI is hosting a digital symposium called StoryTellingin the Digital Age at the St. Edward’sUniversity campus in Austin, Texas. I am joining a faculty of way smart folks to talk about the digital shift in storytelling and publishing. My presentation “from oop* to app” will focus on the aspect of transforming out of print picture books into apps.  It should be a great, informative conference and I think there are still some spots available.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t link to iTunes where your readers can purchase the SM iPhone app or the SM iPad app. 
Thanks so much for inviting me over to your blog, Donna and congratulations again on signing with Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary.
*out of print
     Enter to win a SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN interactive app (IPhone and IPad users only). To enter, comment on this post, include an email address or a link to an email address. Or you can email Donna directly at dbratton3@austin.rr.com with “Snuggle Mountain app” in the subject line. 

     This giveaway is compliments of author Lindsey Lane. Deadline to enter: October 1, 2011.

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):
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CRITIQUE WEEK Part Two- Emily Kristin Anderson & Lindsey Lane

Emily Kristin Anderson
Lindsey Lane

Continuing the trilogy of interviews with authors who participate in critique groups, I give you…

Emily Kristin Anderson, a young adult novelist and poet, is a resident of Austin, Texas, a long way from her native Maine. Her poetry has been published in national literary journals and she is currently querying her first completed YA novels. Most recently, she co-created the popular Dear Teen Me website, featuring letters from authors to their teen selves.

Lindsey Lane’s journey toward authorship followed a path that included a degree in theatre arts and careers as a journalist and award-winning playwright. Her picture book, SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN (Clarion, 2003) was listed among “Best Children’s Books of 2004” by Bank Street College of Education. Today, she continues to pen charming books for children while raising her daughter, a house full of pets, and her blog, The Meandering Lane.


What’s the secret to a successful critique group?

E.K.A. 
I think the key is respect.  You’ve got to respect what your crit partners are writing – respect their style and their vision – in order to take it apart and help them put it back together.  If you don’t respect the work someone is doing, someone else would probably be more helpful as a critique partner.

L.L.  My first thought is: kindness, respect and honesty. Each of those is essential to a successful critique group. Except, well, touting the values of a critique group sounds a bit bland. Really, I think the secret to a successful critique group is being just a little bit in awe of the other writers. Like every time you go, you pinch yourself and say, “I can’t believe I get to be here.” When it comes time to put your work out in the world, it has to be the best it can possible be so if I’m with writers I am in awe of, I want to bring my A game. Not just in my writing. I bring it to the reading of their work. I think of my critique group as an assembly of dream editors: Candlewick, Knopf, Simon & Schuster. Does this mean I can’t show my dream editors first drafts and rough stuff? Of course I can. I dare myself with them first.

How has being part of a critique group helped your writing?


E.K.A.  My writing is so much stronger for my critique group.  They have ideas that I wouldn’t have come up with, they are a wealth of knowledge in areas I’m not so keen on.  I mean, if you can’t ask your critique group how long it takes for someone to bleed out from a stab wound, well who CAN you ask?

L.L.  I think the biggest way critique groups have helped my writing is they help me deepen my commitment to a story. Recently, I brought in a first draft of a short story and I thought it might be a little over the top, a little schmaltzy. Well the ending was schmaltzy but the essential story was on point. My group helped me find the nugget of the story and bring if forward so it shined and wasn’t covered up by a schmaltzy ending.

Where does your critique group meet? Why did you choose that environment?

E.K.A. We meet at a café/bar in central Austin.  I don’t know how it became our place, but it’s a fabulous atmosphere.  Perfect combination of peace and noise.  Well, mostly noise.  Between the night nurses having drinks at 9am and the occasional folks outside in troll costumes, it seems like a good place to write fiction.

L.L.  We are early birds. We meet around one of our dining room tables in the mornings. Coffee and tea are our substance of choice with a few nibbles on the side. One of us recently sold a manuscript. No champagne. We splurged on pie.

What are the biggest challenges of critiquing someone else’s manuscript?

E.K.A.  I think finding the fine line between honest in a constructive way and honest in a destructive way can be tough.  Which isn’t to say I haven’t threatened a CP with stabbing by fork if she didn’t cut her cliffhanger ending.  But, you know, it’s about guaging what your crit partner needs vs. telling it like it is.

L.L.  Well of course, the biggest challenge would be not loving someone’s manuscript and not being able to comment on it because you just don’t like it or get it. That’s never happened to me. Even if I feel a little distant from a manuscript, I can still look at it as a craftsperson. I can still spot when the author is doing too much telling or a character’s voice goes a little too authorial. I can still be helpful. Challenges are opportunities. The saying’s been around for a while because it’s true.

What are the biggest challenges of having your own manuscript critiqued?

E.K.A.  Dude.  I love having my MS critiqued.  It makes revision so much easier to attack.  Although once in a blue moon you get a critique that makes you wonder if the critiquer really got what you were going for, if maybe they just didn’t like your style.  It’s finiding the nuggets to take from critiques like these that can be a little hard.

L.L.  Well I think a big challenge is when your critique group looks at your ms. for the fifth time and tells you to put it in a drawer and move on. That is very hard. That’s happened to me in another group. They were right but it was hard to hear. I recently looked at that manuscript and I realized I am a different writer now. I have different tools in my tool box. Sometimes when you work on the same manuscript over and over again, you can’t grow as a writer. You have to put it away and work on something else because a new manuscript will ask different skills of you. You can always go back. When you do, you will be a different writer and who knows? You may have just the right tools to bring that story to life now. Or the wisdom to know that you won’t.

How do you handle situations when you, as the author, disagree with someone’s feedback on your manuscript?

E.K.A. I think it’s important to always thank someone who’s read your manuscript and given feedback.  So if you can’t say anything else, say thank you!  And like I said above, even when a critique doesn’t quite see your vision, there are definitely things you can take from it if you look hard enough.

L.L.  Hmmm, I’m a pretty compliant sort. If someone says a character sounds too young or they were confused by a POV shift, I go take a look.  Always. Part of how a critique group functions for me is that their comments help me deepen my commitment to the manuscript. You really have to love a story to stick with it through revision, submission, more revision, publication and then promotion. So I had better be working on a story that I love and believe in. Their comments test my mettle as well as the story’s mettle.

How do you handle critiquing a manuscript you’re not comfortable with? For example, if you don’t care for horror, or paranormal, or rhyming picture books.

E.K.A. Within my crit group, there are definitely certain manuscripts I wouldn’t take on.  If one of my CPs wrote, say, a middle grade sci fi comedy, I might not be the best person to look at it.  I’d be completely useless with an epic fantasy complete with its own dictionary.  So I think it’s okay to say that.  You’re not going to be very useful if you can’t get behind the story.

L.L. I think critiquing genres I don’t write gives me an opportunity to be more objective on craft issues (point of view, setting) and story logic. Because I’m not swept up by the genre and loving the author’s dystopian world, for instance, I can be more objective and thoughtful about what’s working on the page. I remember once I was in a group where a member had submitted a rhyming manuscript about space. What I brought to the table was a naiveté about the subject matter so that I could honestly say what didn’t make sense or what wasn’t clear. I think it’s important to understand the world that the manuscript is trying to create but you don’t have to be an expert in that genre to bring value to the critique table.

Would you like to share a funny, sweet, or unusual anecdote about a critique group situation?

E.K.A.  We write at a place called, um THE PLACE.  Because we have actually been CRASHED after we continually posted our meeting place on Twitter.  So, you know, I guess we’re famous or something.  Possibly awesome.

L.L.   One of my critiquers writes in the margins of my manuscripts: ‘I’m holding my breath.’ or ‘Yuck!’ Or ‘Swoon.’ She notes her emotional response to the material. At first, I didn’t understand the comments. You know, I thought they had to be more cerebral and cognitive. But now I love to see if the emotional effect I want is coming through.

What advice would you give to a writer joining a critique group for the first time?

E.K.A.  
Be patient.  Figure out how it works before throwing your manuscript at everyone.  Read the published works of other members (if there are published members) and read the blogs/Twitters/Facebooks of unpublished members.  Get to know them as people AND as writers.  Then have fun!

L.L.  You will become a better writer by becoming a better critiquer. So often we think that we become better writers by all the feedback we receive on our manuscripts. Not so. In fact, sometimes I get flooded by a lot of feedback and it takes me some time to sift and mull about what to do next. What I notice is that by paying attention to craft and story in other people’s manuscripts, I am a lot sharper when I am crafting my own stories. When I see how one of my fellow critiquers handles a time shift in her ms., for instance, I tend to be braver in my own pages. 

Next up, the final critique group interviews with authors Samantha Clark, and Cynthia Levinson, and author/illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson.