Friday, April 29, 2011

My First App

I have been reading all of the emails everyone has been contributing with the updates on building apps and am in awe of those of you who are figuring this out!  I wasn't so brave.  I think I wrote a few months ago that a friend's son was working with me.  The app was approved and released by apple yesterday.

I wish I could tell you I had a lot of back and forth with the developer.  He's in college and would not write back for weeks on end.  When he finally sent me a video of the app last week, it took so long to load that I really didn't get a full sense of how it worked until last night when I actually had a working version on my iphone.  I have some issues with the functionality of the app.

First, let me say that this is for toddlers.  I took an OP lift the flap of mine (which was called, Peekaboo Blueberry)  I had submitted the book to Harcourt with the title, Where's Your Nose, Nibbly?  I used my original title for the app since Nibbly is the name of a rabbit that my father made up for bedtime stories when I was little.

So the app scrolls down, as opposed to the right.  I know that because I had seen the video, but I am worried a user will get frustrated.  Also, unless you tap, 'just right', theres a black bar above and below the page.  It's a navigation bar, but I can imagine someone using the app and never realizing they can clear the screen and see the entire image.

I also think there needs to be a more clear way to have a 'home' button at the end.  And, last but not least, there is a doorbell on the last spread which I had requested the user be able to press.  So far, it only works when the door opens.

That's my critique but I am hoping (somewhat reluctantly) that some of you might take a peek and weigh in as well.  It's a 99 cent app that can be found by searching, Nibbly's Nose.

Be gentle!

Best,
Barney


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Innovation in prehistory: iDinoBook

The iPad has been out for about a year, and the apps are becoming more and more impressive. Rather than attempt to describe how the iDinoBook works, check out this video showing it in action:
It’s hard to imagine a dinosaur-crazy kid that wouldn’t love to explore the wealth of information contained within this reasonably priced app. (Click for description and screenshots on iTunes Preview.) There’s also a version that’s optimized for the iPhone for only 99¢ at the moment. The illustrations are by paleo-artist Carlos Leon.

I heard about this app via The iPhone Mom, whose review of iDinoBook is here.

Children’s authors and illustrators who are interested in creating this kind of interactive book app don’t currently have many DIY options, but that situation is hopefully going to change soon. Several E is for Book members have been beta testing app-creation software from several companies... when permitted by the terms of any non-disclosure agreements, various members will be posting about our experiences on this blog.

For anyone in Florida, the state chapter of SCBWI is having a mid-year workshop in Orlando that includes an all-day digital workshop on Saturday, June 25th. The topics include ebooks; picture book apps; electronic rights; and book trailers. I will be one of the presenters and my talk’s title is Picture Book Apps: New Options for Content Creators.

Hope to see some of you there!

Loreen Leedy
my web site

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure

Today’s post will be primarily links to fascinating behind-the-scenes info about a new iPad app by Roxie Munro. She is the author-illustrator of many children’s books such as EcoMazes, Hatch! and Inside-Outside Dinosaurs. She has turned her talent for creating incredibly detailed artwork into an interactive game of exploration with surprises at every turn. This video shows Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure in action:  
The Through the Looking Glass blog has three posts about it:
1: A review by Marya Jansen-Gruber.

2: The developer Omar Curiere
describes how he approached Roxie with an idea.


3:  Roxie shares her process.


OCG Studios (Omar Curiere’s company) has several in-depth articles here.

Screenshots and buying info about the Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure app is available here on iTunes.

Loreen Leedy
my web site

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Patrick Carman TED talk


Hi everyone! Ran across this TED talk, via a Harold Underdown tweet (I believe). While this isn't strictly about e-books, it is about interactive books and it's fascinating. I wanted to add it to the discussion. He makes a lot of sense.
(By the way, it's only 15 minutes...)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Judging an ebook by its cover

A few months ago, I was on a plane finishing up Cormac McCarthy's relentless and terrifying post-apocalyptic novel, The Road . I noticed that the guy next to me kept glancing at the cover of the book, twitching a little as I turned the pages. When I finally closed the book, the guy burst out, "Well? What did you think?" We talked about the book for the rest of the flight.

A good book cover operates as a billboard, an ad, an enticement, even a piece of art. There are book covers so iconic that we don't need to read the titles to know what we're looking at:

But I've been wondering whether the switch to electronic reading devices will lessen the importance of cover art. (If I had been using a Kindle, the guy sitting next to me on that plane would never have known what I was reading). Do covers matter in epublishing? And if you're self-publishing an OP title or even a new piece of work, why not make your cover yourself? A nice photo or illustration, a little Photoshopping, and voila, book cover!

Or not .

Janie Bynum , illustrator, designer (and author), has some thoughts about the importance of book covers in epublishing, as well as some hints about good design, which is why I wanted to work with her when I decided to turn my OP book Lily's Ghosts into an ebook. I asked her to explain the function of covers in an electronic world, and the cover design process in general.

LR: First, Janie are covers going to be as important as we make a shift toward epublishing?

JB: Regardless of format (print or e-book), covers remain as important as ever to the browse-and-buy process. In fact, they may carry even more weight in the digital realm since people tend to move at higher browsing speeds when using digital devices (i.e.: laptops, iPads, Kindles, smartphones) than when browsing at a brick-n-mortar bookstore.

LR: So, what do you think are the keys to good cover design?

JB: While “good” cover design is highly subjective, the best covers usually contain the following:

• An enticing image (photo, illustration, or graphic) that will inform or at least tease the reader and give some indication as to the tone/mood and the audience/age level for whom the book is intended

• Composition/color that is interesting/pleasing/and sometimes disturbing —but intentionally so

• Legible typography that enhances the overall design

LR: How do you choose the right image?

JB: There are so many factors to consider in choosing imagery for a novel cover. The image has to appeal to the appropriate audience (age, possibly gender); it has to reflect the mood/tone of the book. You want to entice the reader, but not give up too much. Do you use illustration or photography or photo-illustration? Is the style of illustration representative, abstract, graphic? Is your graphic very simple or very ornate? The considerations are many (and why it’s probably a good idea to involve a professional designer in your book cover design).

LR: We went through a few different photos when we were trying to come up with a concept for Lily's Ghosts. The old illustrated cover always felt a hair too young for the middle-schoolers I had in mind when I wrote it, so we were trying to come up with an image that had a little more edge to it.

JB: Yes, like this doll photo. (Laura had indicated that a doll figured into the plot.)

LR: I sent the doll photo to a friend and she said it was one of the most terrifying pictures she'd ever seen. Maybe too scary?

JB: Yes, creepy, creepy. Baby doll heads creep me out more than clowns. Lily's Ghosts is middle grade, not YA or adult. Nix the doll. So, we considered this dark, mysterious door photo.

LR: Still sort of scary. And it didn't say enough about the story, which is occasionally spooky, but mostly odd and funny.

JB: So, we moved on to the spooky house image.

LR: Which I liked a lot.
JB: Once we agreed on the central image, I used it as the basis of the new cover.

LR: You reversed the image, and changed the color of the original photograph quite a bit.

JB: And there's a lot more Photoshopping in this than meets the eye. I added a third story to make the house look a bit more ominous, transplanted some trees, etc.

A good cover is composed and balanced. Or if it’s “off-balance” it should be intentional (a device sometimes used to create tension). There are many theories about which colors attract, which repel, which colors help a book to sell better. But I’ll always choose the color that feels right for the tone I’m trying to convey.

LR: And then there's the typeface, which I think is a problem for many self-published authors. There are certain typefaces that just scream "amateur." Papyrus, anyone?

JB: Or Brush Script? Type can be simple or it can be more ornate, but it has to integrate and enhance the design. And it should be legible at small sizes (for print catalogs and online thumbnail images.) Some book cover designs require an understated type treatment to showcase the imagery. For others, much emphasis is on ornate typography or highly conceptual typography. Good typography is an art; letter-spacing and kerning can make or break a successful type treatment.

LR: Can you describe the design process? What type of information do you need before you can begin designing a cover?

JB: Ideally, I like to read the book. But given time and budget constraints for self-publishers, this usually isn’t possible. So I ask the author for the following information:

• Audience. Generally, by age-range and specifically by actual perceived audience. For instance, tween girls who want to read Twilight but aren’t quite ready for the content. This tells me that the design needs to be somewhat sophisticated, but not so much that we lose the innocent fun.

• A one- or two-page synopsis

• The first chapter

• Any thoughts about tone and mood, about imagery (even examples of that evoke the mood/style author is imagining*)

• Any additional info about main characters, setting, time period

• ANY additional thoughts and odd bits that mean something to YOU, but you think I may not be interested in (those details are probably some of the most telling)

Part of the reason I ask for so much information up front is because this enables the author to step away and allow me to create some concepts/ideas based on my interpretations of the information she has provided. While no one knows her work like the author, the visual artist can bring a different perspective to the interpretation, hopefully creating a richer visual than even the author envisioned.

Mediating this process has traditionally been the role of editors and art directors at publishing houses. But if the author is mindful not to “dictate” what he thinks the visual outcome should be, is open to a creative, organic process, the author and visual artist can make one helluva creative team!

LR: What can you tell us about designing covers for print books vs. covers for ebooks? What special considerations does a designer have to make?

JB: In reviewing many printed book cover examples for this interview, I wondered how many will have to be adapted for e-book implementation. While some of the intriguing, well-designed covers work in print, they may not translate to digital-only. For example, some covers included foil-stamping and embossing—neither of which will “read” in digital form. Also, some beautiful titles were so integrated into the cover imagery that they may not read well in a smaller format.

LR: Amanda Hocking -- the 26-year-old ebook millionaire – created most of her own book covers for her various ebooks, but the covers didn't scream "home made" to me; I like them a lot. What do you think of her book covers?











JB: I love those images. I think the titles are a little small, so they get lost a bit, but I still really like the covers overall.

LR: I wonder if that's one of the keys to her success. The covers looked more professional and polished than some of the other self-published books at the same price point.

JB: I’m sure some authors have an innate sense of visual composition and may even know their way around an Adobe product or two. And, many online print-on-demand sites and e-book creators provide templates and “build-a-cover” options where the user can design their own cover there at the site.

LR: Does that mean authors should try to design their own covers first?

JB: Like writing, design is a discipline. Many of us spend years in school studying the art of design, then many more years practicing and studying the craft. We make deliberate decisions based on theory and practice, sometimes based on “gut” — instinct we’ve developed over the years. So, if you want your book to look professional, it’s probably best to hire a professional to design it.

LR: What are some of your favorite covers?

JB: I have many favorites. But I’ll include some here to illustrate my idea of a few “good covers.” You'll see that sometimes the typography becomes the main graphic on the cover; sometimes it simply supports the overall design. I’m a big fan of creative/custom typography. But I also like image-driven covers—both photographic and graphic/illustrative—where a simple typographic treatment enhances the image, it doesn’t compete with it.

Picture books:















Chapter books to young middle grade:
















Tween to YA:




















LR: Some great ones in there. I love Olivia, Dani Noir, and Wicked Lovely in particular. Some of those YA covers can get -- to quote my stepkid -- "epic." Like this one:




JB: Epic is right.

LR: I think it would be hard for a DIY-er to achieve these kinds of effects (unless the DIY-er was also a whiz with Photoshop).

JB: One of the problems I see with do-it-yourself publishing (POD or e-book) is lack of quality (cover AND content). But assuming we are offering high-quality content (writing), the cover needs to announce that quality. A poorly designed cover doesn’t project an image of “quality," while a visually appealing cover projects the promise of a good read. While that’s not always the case, a poorly designed book probably won’t even get picked up—or clicked on.

The point is, when it comes to book covers, we consumers may have a more sophisticated visual acuity than we realize. Not everyone can design a cover, but we know a good one (or a bad one) when we see it.

LR: Thanks, Janie!

So, what do you guys think? Are covers still important in epublishing? More important? Have you designed your own cover(s)? What are some of your favorites?


— Janie Bynum & Laura Ruby

Links:

A CBS news item about book covers that discusses covers as works of art (very print focused, though they talk about ebook covers at 3:21)

The digital design of a book cover.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Publishing an eBook? Three Questions to Consider (Part 2 of 2)

E is for Book is happy to welcome children’s author Janet Wong as a guest blogger. The first part of her article is here.

Question #3: How to Create Your eBook?

Traditional publishers have always timed book releases with holidays or events, if possible—and we need to do the same, especially because the main sources of publicity for eBooks are bloggers writing about things that tie into current events. 
Click image for this book’s Amazon page
Creating Content
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for poets and anthologists, poetrymania sweeps the nation during National Poetry Month—and then dies down to polite passion for the rest of the year. This means that new poetry books need to debut in March or April. Sylvia and I got the idea for PoetryTagTime in November, which gave us only five months to get the book up on Amazon.com before Poetry Month. This would have been a very short time for a collection of poems by one poet, but was an absolutely crazy timeframe for doing an anthology with poets who would be tagged by each other one at a time and then would write connection pieces and original poems after being tagged. We were able to do this book only because our contributing poets made it happen; when their turns came, they dropped everything and sent us connection pieces and unpublished poems usually in less than a day. 
Hiring an eBook Formatter
Expecting that we wouldn’t have all our poems until 3 weeks or so before our publication date, I started worrying in mid-January about whether everything would go well with our Kindle and Nook uploading processes. I had read that I could use Word and load a document myself—there are step-by-step instructions on how to do this in the Kindle forum—but I didn’t trust myself to be able to do it. Plus, we could not afford to have any glitches or delays. I decided to experiment with a quickly-assembled test book called Once Upon A Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals. A friend of mine, artist Sladjana Vasic, drew and painted night and day for three weeks, illustrating poems that I’d written about endangered animals. Our book took one month from start to finish, with Sladjana’s husband Milos Vasic (www.VasicBooks.com) doing the eBook formatting (converting the Word document into a .mobi file). I was quite thrilled with the work that Milos did, but we’d already contacted another eBook formatter for PoetryTagTime, so we used that firm for that project; Chris Casey (www.ebookarchitects.com) did an excellent job, too. As a result, I feel that I can recommend two eBook formatters! Formatting fees are quite reasonable, in the $200-$300 range, depending on the work you need done. I feel silly now for even considering doing the Word conversion on my own. I don’t cut my own hair, or change my car oil; why did I even hesitate about hiring an eBook formatter?
Uploading
After the eBook is formatted, you need to upload the file to your Kindle (or other retailer’s) account. It’s a simple process; the only thing you might want to do in advance is to open a separate bank account for direct deposit of your royalties (to make accounting easier at the end of the year). You might also want to create a separate email address and amazon.com account for each of your Kindle titles, just to keep things simple.




A Few Things We Learned
You must give thought to what the reader will see in the first 10% of your book (which amazon.com selects as the “free sample”). One technique is to give the book a false beginning (our first page for PoetryTagTime is Jack Prelutsky’s page, and you need to go back to see the cover, title page, and table of contents). Or, if you want to start with your cover, which we did with Once Upon A Tiger, you might want to decorate your title page. I am astounded by the number of eBooks that show a free sample consisting of a simple text cover, nearly-blank title page, copyright page, and one or two pages of text; that’s not enough to compel someone to buy your book.
You can post revised versions of your eBook, but for the 24 (or more) hours of re-processing time, it might not be available for purchase. I don’t know if this was a one-time glitch or if it is the standard procedure, but while one revised version of Once Upon A Tiger was being processed, I wasn’t able to purchase the previous version of the book. There are some little things that I would like to change in PoetryTagTime, but I don’t want to jeopardize our steady daily sales; maybe we’ll make the changes in May, once the poetry world calms down again.
Spend a few hours reading the posts in the Kindle forum ("Community"): http://forums.kindledirectpublishing.com/kdpforums/index.jspa. The Kindle forum is an excellent source of information; if you speed-read through posts, you’ll find issues you never even considered. You will find discussion and instructions on how to create an account, how to clean up or convert a Word file for uploading, how to set a price for the book (and the corresponding differences in royalties), what to expect regarding payment details, and more. 
As I mentioned above, create an email account that is dedicated to this project. If your book is about elephants, maybe you can create elephantbook@gmail.com and use that address to create an amazon.com account that is dedicated to this project. Register your account at https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/dashboard (and click on “Bookshelf” to get started by adding a title). You’ll want to bookmark this site.
Checking your sales every day is a lot of fun. Sign into https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/dashboard (the same site where you find the forums and Bookshelf, but click on "Reports"). One thing you’ll notice, if you’ve opted for the 70% royalty, is that an “average delivery cost” is deducted from your royalty payment. For our Once Upon A Tiger book, which is .9MB, the delivery cost is 14 cents. Our first version of that same book, which was 1.33MB, had a delivery cost of 20 cents. If your book is extremely heavy on illustrations, you might want to do some research to try to determine your delivery cost; it might be better, for instance, to price your book at $2.98 with a 35% royalty and no delivery costs than at $2.99 with delivery costs.
About Devices

If your eBook is in the Kindle store, people can buy it and read it on their Kindles, iPads, iPhones, BlackBerry phones, Android phones, and regular computers. Please spread the word about this! You can download the apps you need here: http://amzn.to/dKazMq. You can feel good about urging your friends to download the Kindle software to their computers; think of the whole wide world of free eBook classics that you are making available to them. Note: Readers with Nooks need to buy eBooks from the bn.com store. The process for uploading a book to bn.com is similar to the Kindle store, but requires a few more pieces of info, a credit card, and takes a little longer (more than 72 hours for PoetryTagTime).
Please visit my websites, www.PoetryTagTime.com and www.OnceUponATiger.com, to find out more about my ebooks.

Janet Wong (www.janetwong.com) is the author of 21 books for children and teens published by some of the finest publishers (Simon & Schuster, Farrar Straus Giroux, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Candlewick, Charlesbridge, and Richard C. Owen)... her two latest books are eBooks which she chose to publish herself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Publishing an eBook? Three Questions to Consider (Part 1 of 2)

Click image for this ebook’s Amazon page
E is for Book is happy to welcome Janet Wong as a guest blogger. Janet is the author of more than twenty published books for children and has recently released two Kindle books. She has generously agreed to share her experience.

Question #1: Why an eBook?

There are so many wonderful books being put out of print each year—or, worse, put into the purgatory of OSI (Out of Stock Indefinitely). Are we making this situation worse by creating eBooks? 
I feel that eBooks and conventional print books have been pitted against each other unfairly. Each serves a different need. No eBook could possibly replace a gorgeous fully-illustrated picture book and the experience of flipping through its glossy pages. But eBooks are unique in their transportability and affordability; this is why Worldreader.org has had such success in putting e-readers into the hands of children in Ghana and Kenya, places where it costs a fortune to construct conventional libraries.
The burden on us as eBook creators is to keep our standards high. Encourage your fellow eBook creators to revise, revise, and revise. Form critique groups. Be brutal with each other. Download any ten self-published eBooks, and half of them look amateurish. They might have great content, but the way the content is presented looks unprofessional. But: look at any ten eBooks published by big publishers, particularly illustrated eBooks for children, and chances are that they don’t look any better than the best self-published eBooks. In fact, eBooks designed expressly for Kindles, Nooks, and iPads will often look better than the picture books that publishers scan in.
The most compelling reason to make eBooks is that they will change the way millions of kids view books. Reluctant readers who like gadgets will love eBooks. The kid who is obsessed with hermit crabs but hasn’t found the “right book” yet is going to have a better chance of finding it once the obstacles to publication are removed for more writers. It costs nothing to put a book in the Kindle store, which means that wacky Uncle Bob, the hermit crab hobbyist, can put a little book in the Kindle store, illustrated with his hermit crab doodles (that great quirky book that he sent around to publishers 5 years ago and gave up on after a dozen rejection letters). The mailman who loves to talk in rhymes might sit down one weekend and become the next Dr. Seuss. You might be the next J.K. Rowling. Why not?

Question #2: Money or Volume?
Six months ago children’s literature professor Sylvia Vardell* and I set a goal: to create a groundbreaking children’s poetry eBook, one that would make poetry an affordable “impulse buy” and bring poetry to people who never had bought it before. The problem with poetry books is that they aren’t reaching enough people. Poetry rarely goes into paperback, and an $18 hardcover collection is too pricey for the average reader.
*Sylvia’s Poetry for Children blog
$2.99 or 99 cents?
I had read that eBooks priced at 99 cents sell dramatically better than books priced at $2.99, so I decided that 99 cents should be the price for PoetryTagTime. It never occurred to me to wonder why the comparison was being made between .99 and $2.99; I discovered only later that you cannot sell your Kindle book for less than $2.99 if you want a 70% royalty (books priced under $2.99 receive only a 35% royalty). Once I discovered this huge royalty difference, I tried to persuade Sylvia to change the price to $2.99, but she felt strongly that 99 cents needed to be our initial price if the book were truly to be an impulse buy. Which makes sense: people love shopping at the “Dollar Store.” There’s a reason they’re not called “$3 Stores”!
You Can Change Your Price Later
After 4 days of sales, our eBook sold 115 copies. I’m guessing (with our core group of fans and friends) that we would’ve sold at least 50 copies even if the book had been priced at $2.99. We would’ve made the same amount of money, or more, if the book had been priced higher and sold fewer copies. But, because putting poetry books into the hands of children, parents, teachers, and librarians is our goal, we’ll keep the price at 99 cents for now. Later, if we want to raise money for teachers’ poetry grants—another of our goals—we might change the book price to $2.99. As one of our wise friends said, “The price can always go up, but never go down.”


Question #3: How to Create Your eBook? will be in tomorrow’s post.




Janet Wong (www.janetwong.com) is the author of 21 books for children and teens published by some of the finest publishers (Simon & Schuster, Farrar Straus Giroux, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Candlewick, Charlesbridge, and Richard C. Owen), but her two latest books are eBooks which she chose to publish herself.