Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The ABCs of an RFP, an NDA, and Other Stuff I Had to Learn

I write and illustrate books for kids so I know all about ABCs. But RFPs and NDAs? Not so much.

Turns out RFP stands for Request for Proposal. And NDA = Non Disclosure Agreement. An RFP basically describes your idea. About 18 months ago I wrote one for my app and I drew out a storyboard with the result of every click, swipe, tilt and shake by the hand of the player.

I didn't even know how to describe it. Was it an app? A digital book? A game? It's actually more of a game based on my book Who Hops? No, it is a game-slash-book. That's what it is. An interactive book?

Isn't it?

I guess that's another thing to add to my list, The Things I Don't Yet Know About eBooks, Games, Apps, and Math list. (Math doesn't apply here, but math is on every list I make about stuff I don't know about.)

Anyway, after I wrote my RFP, I needed to find someone to turn my design into a gorgeous app type thing that would sell like crazy in iTunes. I started my search to find a developer. I put the word out, I did google searches, and looked at apps I thought were great, and even ones I don't like, but were selling well. I approached people, and if they were interested, sent them my NDA. I didn't show anyone my RFP and storyboard until I had their signed NDA, which legally prevents someone from disclosing what is in an RFP.

One young and talented college-aged kid told me he'd do it free. I had a couple of developers tell me they could create the app between $1,000 -$2,000.  Another company, which had created an app I think is beyond fabulous, quoted $8000. Another company I love, which is run by a dear friend, gave me a price of $25,000.

So I got quotes between free and 25 grand.

I wanted to jump at the free offer, but the phrase, "you get what you pay for" kept echoing in my head, and I didn't want to spend all that time, energy and effort on something I wasn't completely happy with in the end. Sometimes I regret that decision. And I couldn't afford the 25k.

The company with the $8,000 quote told me that was the lower cost since I wanted to do the art and if I would do the animation myself. I was fine with doing the art, obviously, but I added 'learn animation' to my Stuff I Need To Learn About list (math never makes that to that one somehow).

I'd just gotten a big royalty check and decided I'd reinvest it in my company (AKA myself). I handed over half as a deposit and got to work.

The animation wasn't horrible, but it wasn't what I wanted and it was taking me so long to do it. And then I started getting ignored by my developer. I suspected they got a bigger client. I emailed, called, texted and sent carrier pigeons and heard nothing. I was getting nervous about my $4,000 deposit but kept assuring myself that I knew where these guys lived (yeah, 3,000 miles away, in Silicon Valley).

Finally they told me they had, indeed, snagged a big job and were fine with sending me my deposit back. I was relieved, but exhausted.

To spin it positively, I decided to wait until I learned more about what is available to me and how I can make my plan come to life.

What actually happened? I got discouraged by the thought of all the tech I'd have to add to my Stuff I Need To Learn About list and I lost steam. I was so relieved about not having spent that huge chunk of money, too, because prices were coming down bigtime. The animation was time consuming for me, and I had other work to do like my books, my podcast, and other projects.

After this experience, I was so happy when my friends and colleagues started this coalition and asked me to join in. I'm learning a lot from them, and hope my contributions will teach something, too. Now I'm learning a lot about this process and am happy there are so many companies coming up with ways to create new digital stories to ease the learning curve.

I'm happy to have a long Stuff I Need To Learn About list. As long as there is no math on it.


  1. Your experience is a prime example of why a real effort is needed to help the children's ebook/app field mature. Right now, it's a bit of a frontier, isn't it? Everyone's groping around in the dark, trying to figure out what things should cost, how work should get done and who the real players are.

    But, as the history of technology proves time and again, that's gonna change real soon. Within 12 months, the players will be identified, costs will be normalized and the path to production simplified.

    That's why I'm so excited by this blog. It's *exactly* what's needed to help clear a path for the future of children's books. You guys are one to something important here, I can feel it. We'll do whatever we can to help you along the way.

    Jon Bard
    Managing Editor, Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers

  2. Yeah, I loved that you started the process. How did you find out about these forms? Where did you learn about RFDs or NDAs (or whatever-- HELP). That stuff sounds nuts. Is that developer speak? So computer people speak?

    Great story though. And so good they gave the money back.

    And math: Yeah, that always makes my list too. I think one of my issues with math is simply that I never quite believe that 1+1 = 2. Seems like it can't be that easy. That in a true world, everything would be like writing a book with a lot of different divergent paths, even in something like 1+1 . . .

  3. Thank Katie for posting your experience. Glad you got the big fee back and can venture out again with more knowledge.

  4. that was supposed to be "Thanks"! Katie-

  5. Yikes, Katie. So many acronyms! So many headaches! Sorry you had to muddle through it, but I'm happy that you chose to share with us.

  6. Katie, glad you tripped over some bumps and bonked into some walls so we could all learn from your experience. It is all so confusing - but it is also exciting. Knowledge is always the key, so sharing like this will benefit all of us.
    Thank you!

  7. Indeed - your trial is very informative! Thanks for sharing. :) e

  8. I had that experience with our developer, except that they would never admit they were working on something else...very frustrating.