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Story App Production: It's a Team Sport

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Story App Production: It's a Team Sport

Once upon a time, some crazy smart person got the idea of taking a children’s story previously passed down through oral storytelling and turning it into a book. This spawned a whole new tradition, and an industry that has thrived for centuries with a work-flow process that involves several distinct phases and teams and can take several years to complete the goal of creating an illustrated story book.

It works like this...

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Are Digital Natives Leading the Charge from Print to Screen?

A one-year-old digital native, growing up among touch screen devices, attempts to make print "interact."

At The Bookseller’s recent Children’s Conference in London (25 Sept 2014) we heard, direct from each source, the results of two recent studies that offer compelling insights into reading behaviors among purported “digital natives.” The first, by Voxburner, focused on the 16-24 year-old demographic; the other, by Nickelodeon UK, studied 6-11 years olds. Taken together, these studies make me wonder if children’s publishers should be wary of basing future production decisions on the tastes and habits of today’s teens. Rather, I find the data more instructive in helping us anticipate what the next generation of readers will be expecting from us tomorrow.

The Voxburner data reveal that 16-24 year olds largely prefer print to electronic editions of their favorite books. They find eBooks too expensive. They love to smell pages and run their fingers along spines. To them an eBook does nothing to help flaunt their status as a reader: books that live hidden in electronic devices cannot be displayed for all to see on a shelf; and the book one is seen to be carrying is a huge identity statement for this age group, it turns out. Respondents also said they “resent being enslaved by technology,” causing some publishers to speculate that because teens already spend so much of their day on screens, reading for pleasure may mean getting away from electronics.

When Porter Anderson asked, “What kind of message publishers might see in some of these data as to how to approach the 16-24s' market?” Head researcher, Luke Mitchell, responded, “Perhaps not go wild about innovation and formats, look at content 'likes' and trends instead.”

But these readers are aging out of kidlit and into the NA and Adult markets. So are their behaviors even relevant to children’s publishing? What’s more, I suggest that these readers, while young, are not “digital natives” at all.

To me, true “digital natives” are those children who emerged as readers into a world already awash with touch screens, like the toddler in the video above. Their earliest interactions with the written word may just as likely have taken place with a print book as a tablet. If the average child begins to read at five, and we peg the era of the touch screen to the release of the first iPhone in 2007, that would make our oldest digital natives approximately 12 years old today, if born into a home of early tech adopters. Most “digital natives” are younger.

As the mother of an 18-year-old who was devouring 700-page Harry Potter books by the age of 7, I can attest, first hand, that while she is tech savvy and spends much of her day connected to a screen, she is not a “digital native.” She’s just a few years too old.

It would seem wise, therefore, for publishers to look to the younger set for a truer indicator of future reading preferences, trends, and behavior.

Nickelodeon UK’s study, called Me, My Selfie & I, looked for insights into the impact of the digital world on our youngest citizens. One thousand 6-11 year olds participated in the study. Fifty-five percent of them have three or more screens in the home, including a tablet. The data reveal that these children travel seamlessly across their devices and have developed quite sophisticated expectations about what content experiences they will encounter depending on the size and type of screen. TV, for example, is associated with entertainment; PCs are connected to exploration and socialization; tablets and mobile devices are for relaxing and learning, i.e., for activities such as reading.

These data, I believe, paint a very different picture of the future of reading habits of our rising MG and YA readers. It’s a future that’s right around the corner and one that children’s publishers, in particular, must reckon with today if the act of reading is to compete with other screen-based content tomorrow.

In a recent blog post penned in defense of the future of BookApps, Kate Wilson, MD of Nosy Crow, stated that publishers have a responsibility to be wherever children are. "If children are spending a lot of time with touch-screen devices,” she writes, “I think that we should want reading to be part of the entertainment they find there.”

I agree. We must provide quality content where our audiences want it most. It is in both our best interest as well as theirs to be wherever they are. And where they are differs, these latest research studies reveal, whether you were born before or after the invention of the touch screen.



The Bookseller Children’s Conference 2014: A Recap

I may only have arrived in London two weeks ago, but I couldn’t resist the temptation, yesterday, to crawl out from under the boxes to attend The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference 2014.

I am so glad I did!

What a wonderful opportunity to cross paths with the few people I already know in the UK Kidlit world – shout out to you, Lucy Coats – as well as to make the acquaintance of so many other fellow writers and publishers. Most importantly, it provided me a quick lesson in all the latest news and updates in the UK world of creating awesome content for children.

Here’s a summary of what I learned:

In her opening keynote address, Ann-Janine Murtagh, HarperCollins Children’s Books, likened the current era in children’s publishing to the Gold Rush. In her view, there has never been a better moment to be working in children’s publishing. It's the fastest growing sector in the publishing market, at least in the UK.

She believes this is due to “the incredible transforming power of the story;” that in this increasingly fast paced world of screens and all the distractions that go with them, children are in need of being transported by narrative like never before.

I would argue, too, that kids are in ever increasing need of the story’s power to calm the mind and to bring quiet to an otherwise “noisy” day.

Narrative, Anne-Janine said, is the new gold. Creators and publishers of children’s media, she went on, are the natural custodians of the business of narrative.

“Have confidence in the resilience and power of great content,” she urged us, “and give kids the best, because they deserve it.”

That children’s publishing is a growth area was confirmed by John Lewis of The Bookseller, whose stunningly clear and in-depth overview of the UK children’s book market thus far in 2014 indicates there will be year-end growth in all segments of the industry, including fiction, non-fiction, picture books, and study and teachers guides.

In the second keynote speech, Alison York of Nickelodeon UK revealed the results of her research on the impact of technology and new media on developing minds. Her conclusion is that “digital natives,” i.e., those born into the world of smart phones, touch screens, and interactive virtual experiences, are able to negotiate seamlessly between the digital and real worlds. What’s more, the most successful media products for kids tend to facilitate access between the actual and the virtual. She stated that kids love immersive experiences: the bigger the screen, the better. But, in a world of quantity, it’s quality that holds kids' attention longest and keeps them coming back for more.

Michael Acton-Smith of Moshi Monsters' fame talked about how challenging it is to achieve success if limited only to the mobile space. The key, he stated, is to diversify across formats. Tom Bonnick of Nosy Crow joined him in this advice, advocating that re-purposing beloved kid's content across formats not only makes it available to a broader audience, but can also extend the life-cycle of both characters and narrative.

As you can imagine, I found the above advice very validating, coming as it did from these two industry pros, as this is a business direction we’ve already taken at Time Traveler Tours & Tales.

Similarly, literacy & technology consultant Bev Humphrey offered the TTT&T a proverbial pat on the back. Her presentation confirmed that schools are indeed “switching on,” that is, adopting digital learning tools, thus presenting a great opportunity for publishers targeting the education market.

The Bookseller Children’s Conference 2014 also included two great panels with voices spanning the industry from the usual agent and editor to the librarian, author, independent bookstore owner, and reviewer. I found this extremely refreshing – Bravo Bookseller conference staff!

One panel focused on the need for more industry collaboration across these groups at the service of win-win marketing, and of making kids media more discoverable, at a time when marketing budgets continue to shrink. The second panel focused on what’s working in social media marketing. Panel participants spoke, in particular, about where kids are congregating. The upshot? YouTube and Tumblr. But mostly YouTube.

So get your video mojo on folks! Our target audience still loves to read and to be transported, and calmed, by a great story, that much is clear. But they appear to be searching for their new fave reads on line, through primarily visual media, like book-trailers and author interviews.

The next Bookseller conference, FutureBook,
will take place on 14 November in London.

Can you guess who’s going to be there?



My Turn to Muse -- It's the Magical “My Writing Process” Blog Tour! Join Me! Meet My Friends!

Have you ever seen author/illustrator Wendy Wahman’s work? If you haven’t, run over to her blog, What’s New, Wendy Wahman?, and take a look. (Once you’re done here, that is.) Her images of animals are utterly delightful. I currently have a chapter book MS making the rounds, featuring a loveable lost dog, that I would LOVE to have her illustrate.

Not only do Wendy and I share an affection for the animal kingdom, we also share an agent, Erzsi Deàk of Hen&ink Literary Studio. So when Wendy tagged Erzsi and me to join the magical “My Writing Process” blog tour and post simultaneously on Monday, 21 July 2014, I jumped at the chance.

Also, the timing is great for me. Really. Stay tuned for more on that.

But first, a bit about Wendy…

Wendy Wahman is the author/illustrator of DON’T LICK THE DOG: MAKING FRIENDS WITH DOGS and A CAT LIKE THAT, and illustrator of SNOWBOY 1, 2, 3, written by Joe Wahman. DON’T LICK THE DOG was selected as a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, starred for Outstanding Merit and accepted to the Society of Illustrators Original Art show. Her book trailer for A CAT LIKE THAT was selected from over 7,000 entries for the Walker Art Center’s Catvidfest 2013. Wendy’s editorial illustrations have appeared in major publications including Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and the Harvard Business Journal. She teaches bookmaking classes to children and adults.

To learn more about Erzsi, and her latest book release with illustrator Doug Cushman, visit her today, too, at: PUMPKIN TIME.

Before you bounce, I invite you to stick around and read about My Writing Process...


What am I working on?

Several things. I’m always working on more than one thing at a time, each piece in a different stage of my writing process, from research to drafting to revision to production.

While I almost always have something unrelated on my hard drive—like the lost-dog-meets-boy story I mentioned above—my primary passion is writing creative nonfiction histories.

I’m currently working on a four-story series of Paris for Time Traveler Tours & Tales.

The debut story, BEWARE MADAME LA GUILLOTINE, A REVOLUTIONARY TOUR OF PARIS, narrated by 24-year-old convent schoolgirl turned murderess, Charlotte Corday, is a journey to the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror. The prequel, LONG LIVE THE PLANT HUNTERS, takes place at the gardens of Versailles in the final years of France’s Ancien Régime. It is the story of the French Indiana Joneses of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries; the heroes and adventurers who risked life and limb to explore the far corners of the earth to locate this exotic plant or that medicinal herb for the benefit of kingdom and king.

The sequel to Charlotte’s story, EMPIRE OF THE DEAD, digs into Paris underground, tracing the origins of the city's celebrated Catacombs and cemeteries. These date to the era of Napoleon Bonaparte and are symbolic of his reign.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

One thing that sets me apart is that I tell my historical tales in the first person. I find it’s the best way to take my readers directly to the age and events I wish them to experience. I don’t want them to simply hear about history. I want them to bear witness to it, to become complicit in it. I think that’s the only way for young people to truly understand and get WOWED by history.

I also seek out history’s unknown or little known characters, the stories that time forgot in favor of those of kings and war. I look for (f)actual protagonists, like Charlotte. But understanding that the historical record rarely took note of these people—especially as you go further back through the ages—my characters must sometimes be composites; sketches drawn from descriptions of their more famous historical peers. Though fictionalized, I place them in settings and events that are as true to the historical facts as I my research will allow. In this way, my work spans the range between historical fiction and creative nonfiction.

Another way I differ is that my tales are interactive. They are intended for digital, first, and include gamification features that enhance story content and educate the reader/user even as they entertain.

BEWARE MADAME LA GUILLOTINE launched first as a story-based mobile app for educational tourism, for example. It then came out as an interactive book for iPad for use in schools. Now, I’m thrilled to announce:

The print edition just hit the streets!

To celebrate -- drum roll please -- I’m offering a FREE pdf copy of the book for a limited time in exchange for an Amazon review.

Please consider adding BMLG to your summer reading list!

Click here to request your pdf copy.

Why do I write what I do?

It wasn’t until I was out of high school and traveling the world—I’m a career expat—that I became fascinated by history, its influence on us as cultural beings, and how it stretches through time to shape societies today. When my daughter joined our family adventure, I began to write historical treasure hunts to help deepen her understanding of the people and places we lived and visited.

These were possibly more fun for me to research and create than they were for her to complete, though she did love them, as did her friends. So when we landed in Paris, France, in 2004 for my husband’s job, and I was denied the right to work, I decided to write an interactive history of Paris for them.

I just love making the past come alive for this audience. I love pointing out this street corner or or that historical artifact hiding in plain sight and imbuing it with a meaning these kids will never forget, and will share with their friends and future families. That’s the true power of storytelling!


How does my writing process work?

It all starts with historical research. I read books; go on guided visits; interview people who know more than me; frequent archives; and hang out at the location where each story took place. I steep myself in the setting and time. That’s the only way to find my characters.

Sometimes, as with Charlotte, they find me.

At the beginning of a project, I journal a lot. I take notes and turn over themes in pencil. At first, I’m largely talking to myself. But as the characters begin to emerge, I talk to them. I ask them about their motivations, why they took the actions they did. I ask about their families, their troubles, their responsibilities, their loves and hates. I ask what life was like in their day. It may sound crazy, but they really do talk back to me.

Then, with research to buoy me, and colorful characters to guide me, I write. And write. And write. Until I’ve completed a shitty first draft. And then I revise. A lot. And I revise again, stripping and stripping until all I'm left with is all that's necessary to tell my unique tale in a way that's most accessible to kids.

All the while, I’m searching for images to help illustrate the stories. I’m also collecting fun bits of trivia that the character could not have known but that I might use to extend the story as a textbox extra or extension game.

Finally comes the challenge of weaving and wiring together the story, illustrations, textbox extras, and interactive games. Then we have to record the voice of the narrator and design the story navigation and the graphics. But that’s the stuff of whole new post.

That’s why I’m always working on several projects at once, each at a different stage of my creative process, from research to drafting to revision to production. It’s exhausting and at times difficult to find a balance. But it’s never dull. And most of the time it’s tremendously exhilarating.


Thanks for listening! Now, check out who’s up next on the magical “My Writing Process” blog tour: Two more chicks from Erzsi’s Hen&ink Literary Studio, Pen Avey and Hannah Goodman. You'll find them talking about their writing processes next Monday, 28 July 2014. Read their bios and don't forget to bookmark their respective links below.

Pen Avey

Pen Avey is a writer/illustrator living in Norfolk, England with her fun-loving family. Her passion is comedy writing, from poetry through middle grade to sit-com. Her claim to fame is writing a ditty which she sang to Anne Robinson on 'The Weakest Link'.
Follow Pen at and @PenAvey.


Hannah R. Goodman

Hannah R. Goodman is a YA author and editor of Sucker Literary, which features undiscovered and new YA authors. In 2011, Publisher's Weekly interviewed Hannah about this ground breaking literary enterprise. Volume III was published in April of 2014 to high praise among book bloggers. Her story, A DIFFERENT KIND OF CUTE was touted as “irreverent.” And reviewer Christine continued with, “This story sparkles. This story will pack a punch in a part of your heart you didn’t even know existed.”
Hannah has published young adult short stories in an anthology entitled Bound Is The Bewitching Lilith and in the journal Balancing The Tides. She also has written columns for The Jewish Voice & Herald. Her YA novel, MY SISTER'S WEDDING, won the 2004 Writer’s Digest Self Published Book Awards, Children’s Book Division. 
Hannah is a member of  SCBWI  and ARIA  as well as a graduate of Pine Manor College’s Solstice Program in Creative Writing where she earned an MFA in Writing For Young People. She is a writing coach and tutor to students of all ages and resides in Bristol, RI with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. Learn more about Sucker Literary and follow Hannah on Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon, Tumblr and follow Sucker Literary news on Facebook and Twitter.