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Bluespark Labs


Bologna Sneak Peek: Time Traveler Tours & Tales Are Now Open for Author Submissions

I am thrilled to announce that on 24 March 2014, at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I will throw open the virtual doors of my burgeoning twin digital imprints, Time Traveler Tours & Tales, for author submissions.

Thanks to the editorial and programming firepower I have now assembled in Team TTT&T, Time Traveler Tours & Tales aims to produce a full suite of digital publications: storyapps, interactive books, eBooks, print on demand paperback books, and curriculum guides dedicated to bringing history to life through story and games. We now seek authors of creative nonfiction and historical fiction interested in publishing across the formats and in being a part of a promising start-up now positioning itself to scale worldwide.

If you’re coming to the Fair and want to hear more, I will be officially launching the endeavor at the SCBWI Stand (Pavilion 26, Booth A/66) from 1:00-2:00pm.

Now, I can almost hear you saying, Sarah, What the What? Why in the world would you want to become a digital publisher? Are you mad? I’ve certainly asked that plenty of time myself.

I will be recounting the story of Why? at the Fair. So for those of you planning to attend my talk and launch announcement, go on and bounce. We all have plenty to read in cyberspace. Go read someone else’s blog and I’ll see you at the Fair.

But, for those of you who can’t be with me in Bologna, please read on. I want you to know my story, for it is also the story of the digital revolution…


I launch my debut bilingual storyapp tour, Beware Madame La Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris, to rave reviews and numerous accolades.

But you know that part of the story, ‘cause it’s the only part of the story I’ve ever told. What you don’t know is that there’s been a dark underbelly to my story, too. A truly gloomy, sometimes sinister side. So allow me to skip right to that, to tell what was really happening behind all my happy-go-lucky bluster…

Chapter One
Despite the critical success of Beware Mme la Guillotine (BMLG), I was forced to halt production of any further storyapp iTineraries in the spring of 2012. The pre-production plan with my then-development partner had been that BMLG would provide a structure onto which all future TTT storyapps could be constructed. The model would be: one build, many apps. From an economical standpoint, BMLG would be the most expensive app to produce, with all others coming in at a fraction of that cost.

I bought into this plan, heavily considering I was using personal savings to support it. I entrusted my dev partner to the task. But no sooner had BMLG gone live in its fully realized bilingual form when my now ex-dev partner would change his tune completely.

All apps going forward, he informed me, will cost just as much to produce as BMLG.


Chapter Two
I couldn’t afford to go on. It wasn’t economically viable for me to do so, for the mathematical reality faced – then as now – by the app developer is this:

Apps are expensive to build
nearly impossible to find in the increasingly noisy AppStore
the culture of the AppStore pushes prices down.

Anything over $2.99 is considered expensive. And I was hoping to get $7.99 for BMLG. But the only time the app ever really moved was during promotional events with Moms With Apps or the Educational App Store when I set it to free or 99 cents. Then, downloads would shoot to between 500-1000. But no one, NO ONE, was thanking me with a review.

So BMLG very quickly fell out of Apple’s sights. Though she began her life with two whole weeks as an Apple New & Noteworthy App, and many months in What’s Hot, once she fell out of view, there was no getting her back. She was no longer “discoverable.” 

The only way to realize ROI (return on investment) in the AppStore is to sell cheap, in massive volume, and to engineer into your app structure the need for users to purchase additional bits and pieces. This works very well in the gaming world – think: Angry Birds.

But for storyapps with a limited audience like mine – kids in Paris with an iPhone or iPod Touch – as well as legal and ethical restrictions on exploiting youth with in-app purchases, the model of bespoke app development simply doesn’t work.


Chapter Three
I was loathe to give up. I had already come so far. My concept – to bring history to life through story and games by harnessing the latest in interactive technology – had proven itself with BMLG.

So I took my source code and set out to find another developer, one who would buy into my concept and help me achieve my original goal of developing an app publishing platform.

My search was arduous, Sisyphean even. No one wanted to work with my first guy’s code: in part, because developers (it turns out) are mostly prima donnas; in part, because (it turned out) the code was a big, fat mess.

I would have to start all over. And I was all out of money.

When I finally gave up searching, that’s when things really started to happen.


Chapter Four
Apple launched iBooks Author, and I spent a few weeks setting BMLG up for that environment. Why not? I had all the creative assets and image permissions. iBA is a free download, so no dev costs if you do it yourself. And while not as interactive as the App, the BMLG iBook looks and feels great.

What’s more, teachers and librarians love it.

But I could spend 25-hour days marketing the thing and still not sell enough to warrant my time investment. Plus, all the marketing was interfering with my ability to produce new work.

That’s when it dawned on me that it would be easier to sell in collaboration. The key: Cross-Promotion.

Currently, when you land on my Apple preview page you see one lonely book. It’s beautiful, to be sure, and it may be just what you need. But who wants to party with a wallflower?

Now imagine that page filled with titles by many authors. Suddenly you have a rockin’ party. As a consumer, you feel immediately more confidant about joining the dance. Just look at all that social proof!

Chapter Five
So I decided to produce for the tablet environment instead and to invite others to join me: A coalition of quality creative nonfiction authors writing under a single brand: Time Traveler Tales.

I teamed up with star Editor & Publishing Consultant, Emma D. Dryden. Together we envisioned a library full of interactive stories that bring history to life across devices and markets, written by ace authors of creative nonfiction and historical fiction with also have active online presences.

We brought Beth Lower, Art Designer for the BMLG storyapp, back into the picture and set out to build a new website and image. Then Marcie Colleen leapt in to produce professional curriculum guides to go along with out stories. Caitlin Hoffman and Sebastian Hallum-Clarke also climbed on board as Community Manager and In-House Tech Guru, respectively.

I was writing again, producing my next interactive title with Emma’s able guidance. And the team was working to “define” the Time Traveler Tales brand.


Chapter Six
Meanwhile, BMLG, the storyapp, sat languishing in the AppStore, dying a slow death with each new iOS update. I was doing nothing to save her, merely counting the days when I’d have to pull her off the Store.

Then, into my life re-walked the team at Bluespark Labs. Their Founder, Michael Tucker, had been one of the original beta-testers of the BMLG tour. He’d loved the concept then and is in a position now, having built his own creative digital development agency, to help reignite the Time Traveler Tours vision.

And so Team TTT&T was born. Blending our respective talents, we will now unite the very best in interactive storytelling with the latest in mobile technology to revolutionize the discovery of history by digital natives on mobile and tablet formats – we’re even throwing in POD editions, because we can.

Chapter Seven
So, at long last, I am thrilled to announce that my twin digital imprints, Time Traveler Tours & Tales, are now open for author submissions.

Accepted authors will become part of the TTT&T Author Atelier, an online forum offering ongoing editorial support for all works in development.

Stories will first be produced as tablet iTales, eTales, and POD paperback books. Common Core aligned curriculum guides will be produced to support their use in schools.

Stories will then be adapted and expanded for the mobile environment and republished as interactive iTineraries.

Royalties to authors will be generous.


Time Traveler Tours & Tales bring history to life at the tips of your fingers.
Consider joining us. Let’s make history together!



Sarah Towle and Bluespark Labs Join Forces to Power Up the Time Traveler Tours App Publishing Engine

Newsflash! On 24 March 2014, at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I will be announcing the official launch of my twin digital imprints, Time Traveler Tours & Tales. Finally!

I wanted to share the news first with my dedicated blog readers.

Team TTT&T now joins forces with Ronald Ashri and the creative digital development agency, Bluespark Labs, to power up the Time Traveler Tours concept and vision with a spanky new app publishing engine.

Blending the talents of our respective teams, we will collaborate to unite the best in interactive storytelling with the latest in mobile technology to revolutionize the discovery of history and culture, and along with it, educational tourism.

Or aim: To produce interactive mobile tours—both branded as well as white-label—to the world’s most popular historic destinations, museums, and other cultural institutions. Content for our branded StoryApp iTineraries will spring from the interactive iTales now under development under the aegis of Time Traveler Tales.

Our target audience: Youth. And the young at heart.

Our mission: To bring history and culture to life through story and games, at the tips of your fingers.

~  ~  ~

Time Traveler Tours mobile publications usher users on treasure hunts through time, guided by history’s most colorful characters. Our debut StoryApp iTinerary, ParisAppTours: Beware Madame la Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris, earned numerous Top 10 App distinctions and garnered stellar reviews, such as this one by Daryl Grabarek, reviewer for School Library Journal's Touch & Go, Guide to the Best Apps for Children and Teens:

“Drama of historical proportions, an awesome guide, and games and challenges, what more could a teen on vacation ask for?”

The award-winning story kicked off the creation of a suite of digital products—for tablet and eReader— along with the birth of a second digital imprint, Time Traveler Tales. Our eTales will also be available for print, on demand through Amazon. With our stories now traversing the formats, we are able to bring quality interactive content to all readers where they want it most.

A growing alliance of authors of narrative nonfiction and historical fiction is now fast at work, helping to position Time Traveler Tours & Tales to scale its unique concept worldwide. And to our great fortune, Bluespark Labs boasts a special affinity for international travel and culture. Merging thoughtful user experiences, beautiful interface designs, and powerful web and mobile platforms, they design and build apps that people love.

Bluespark Founder & Principal, Michael Tucker, was taken with the Time Traveler Tours concept from the early beta-testing days of the Beware Madame la Guillotine StoryApp iTinerary, when he accidentally shared a day out and about in Paris with Sarah and her story’s protagonist, Charlotte Corday.

Now he and his partner, Ronald Ashri, have engaged their team to power up the Time Traveler Tours app publishing engine with state-of-the-art features and functionality. You can meet the whole team here.

The coming technical platform will enable Team TTT&T to produce interactive mobile media at a competitive cost. This will include content published under the Time Traveler Tours trademark, as well as that tailor-made to highlight the historical legacy of museums, monuments, and other cultural institutions, worldwide.

~ ~ ~

Cultural Institutions: Are you looking for an affordable solution to building interactive apps and other educational media for your organization? You need search no further. Engage us! It's what we do best.

Authors: Do you have a dramatic historic tale to tell? Consider joining Team TTT&T! We are open for submissions.

For more information about our collaborative opportunities for authors and organizations, contact me!