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.
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.
*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 email@example.com with “Snuggle Mountain app” in the subject line.
This giveaway is compliments of author Lindsey Lane. Deadline to enter: October 1, 2011.
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