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A Brief History of StoryApps and Interactivity

In July 2008, Apple launched the App Store, 1 1/2 years after the release the first iPhone, an event that would change the world of publishing forever.

At that point, software applications, aka apps (i.e., task-specific coded programs or utilities for end users), had existed for some time, since the birth of the computer. But their numbers were few. And never before had they been powered and run on a hand-held device that tripled as personal compu-
ter, music player, and phone.

The iPhone unleashed an industry more vast and far-reaching than even Steve Jobs had anticipa-
ted. New apps exploded onto the market, simpli-
fying life's daily tasks in ways we didn't know we wanted but now can't live without.

Apple discovered it needed a way to manage and benefit from the new cultural paradigm it had started, while also offering third-party developers and early adopters a place at their party. At that time, the App Store was the place to be and be seen.

By April 2010, the company changed the game again, as well as the party dress code. This time, it was the release of the iPad that brought new categories to an expanded App Store. Among these new categories: Children's Books.

And thus, the StoryApp genre was born. 

Humankind's newest storytelling genre, the StoryApp has since been trialed and tested and nurtured into its own as intrepid developers, authors, and publishers have struggled with, and learned, how best to make use of the form. From their initial attempts to recreate the book on the screen, these early adopters have much to teach us about how mobile and tablet devices can be used to enrich and extend story content as well as educate a new generation of tech-savvy young readers: today's "digital natives".  

In this Brief History of StoryApps and Interactivity, I attempt to illustrate through real-world examples the evolution of the StoryApp form, from its earliest flawed iterations to today's blockbusters. And with it, I hope to set the stage for more in-depth video views and reviews on the ground-breaking, earth-shaking, entertainment-making StoryApps of today... and tomorrow.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the StoryApp pioneers. I include their products herein not to criticize, but to demonstrate what we may learn from their efforts to help us best usher our story content into an interactive future.

My thanks to all the developers, authors, illustrators, publishers, etc., featured this video. And to a whole host of others besides.

More soon,



Art Desiging an App: Meet the Art Director, Beth Lower


As I wrote in last week's post, How Many People Does it Take to Build a StoryApp?, producing a good StoryApp can require a pretty extensive, and expensive, team.

In addition to the work of the author, illustrator and program developer, you may also need a UX (user experience) designer or a game mechanics expert, depending on the features and navigation you wish to include in your app. If you're developing for children, you may need the help of an educational consultant to ensure that your content is appropriate for the development age and/or to create related curricular materials. And if you don't have a mechanism in place to market your app, you will, most assuredly, need a publicist as well.

But the one person you can absolutely not live without is your Art Director.

I'll never forget the moment when I realized just how true this is. I developed Beware Madame La Guillotine on a shoestring, as you know, and therefore hoped to get away with using Apple's palette of preset buttons, icons and other graphic elements. But when my programmer sent me the initial mock ups, I couldn't believe my eyes.

Several "u" words came immediately to mind: unbecoming, undesirable, uninteresting, and unpromising were among them. But the word that really screamed in my ears was "ugly". It was not unique. It looked like most of other apps in the App Store.

In walked Beth Lower, graphic artist extraordinaire. Beth is an acclaimed Art Director, well known in the magazine world. She came to my StoryApp eager to learn all she could about app development and ready to apply her already proven graphic design skills to the digital environment.

We still had to cut corners from a financial point of view. We used Apple presets in the static content of the nav and tool bars, for example. But all dynamic content in the body of the app, such buttons, text layout, illustration set up, graphic icons and maps -- you name it -- were realized thanks to Beth's artistic eye and creative contribution. I look very forward to collaborating with her again.



Know Thy Form: eReaders, eBooks and Apps Made Easy

Image courtesy of  Kullman  @ Wikimedia Commons. 

Image courtesy of Kullman @ Wikimedia Commons. 

Here's the thing: We authors and illustrators are what we read. Right?

I mean, you wouldn't try to write a picture book without first reading a ton of them and studying the form, would you?

Likewise, you wouldn't set off to write a piece of middle grade fiction without first knowing that genre.

Yet, many of the people who contact me for advice on how to create and publish eBooks and Apps don't actually own a device upon which to read their desired future publication.

My advice to them: Know thy Form.

If you wish to produce digitally, you need to obtain and study digital content first. For each story demands its own form or forms. And each form offers its own unique way of telling, and receiving, stories.

Digital formats are not simply recreations of traditional publishing formats. At least they shouldn't be. So knowing the potential of each of today's publishing options is the only way to know what you like and what you don't; what elements you simply must include in your future enhanced book or app; and what features you and your story can live without.

Most of us, however, are flummoxed as to how to begin. I know I once was. And the way forward seems always to be changing.

So I made this video for you: to demystify the process of obtaining eBooks and Apps, and to help you decide what is the best eReader for your purposes given your personal publishing goals.

I hope you find it helpful. If you do, please feel free to pass it on.

And if you have any questions or wish to share a comment, by all means, fire away!

This video premiered during my Intensive Workshop on Writing and Submitting Interactive Apps and eBooks with Julie Hedlund at the SCBWI 2013 Conference in Los Angeles.



#LA13SCBWI Conference Sneak Peek: App Chat w/ Author/Illustrator Roxie Munro


#LA13SCBWI Conference Sneak Peek: App Chat w/ Author/Illustrator Roxie Munro

When I grow up, I want to be Roxie Munro. Roxie is an inspiration. Author and illustrator of more than 35 mostly nonfiction and concept books, she has also plunged into the app world with aplomb. What's fascinating is that Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure and Roxie’s Doors, both developed in collaboration with Omar Curiere and his team at OCG Studios in Amsterdam, offer two different potential paths to digital development. And the partnership is far from done.

They've got a third app project due to hit the streets this September that I'm just aching to get my fingers on. It's a series of augmented reality (AR) apps linked to Roxie's previously designed and illustrated kids interactive walk-in storybooks created with KIWiStoryBooks.

Roxie's next picture book, Slithering Snakes, is also on its way -- I had a chance to preview some of the spreads for this book when I visited Roxie in April 2012. It's great!

She's also stirring up some sort of "secret sauce", chock full of interactivity, that we should be hearing about soon...