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Digital Discoverability: The Importance of Reviews

I need your opinion. But first let me tell you why…

Ensuring that your digital publication—whether StoryApp, interactive eBook, or print-on-demand product—is discovered and read by customers continues to be one of the greatest challenges facing authors and publishers in the digital space today.

  • Online distribution channels are “noisy” places. They are flooded with content, not all of it good. (Some might even say most of it.)

  • Online distribution channels are not well organized, especially the App Store, making it difficult for publishers, both big and small, to successfully “shelve” their digital offerings for easy discovery. (In fact, it remains quite mysterious how to best choose your categories.)

  • Online distribution channels can be daunting for the consumer, many of whom never dig deeper than what is “fed” to them by way of top picks, editor's choices, and other recommendations.

For the producer, the mere act of being on the App or iBookstores, Google Play, or on Amazon does not mean your job is done. Far from it. You now need social proof that your content is worth someone’s attention. This involves marketing. Lots of it. Ongoingly. And for the long haul.

I can state from experience, that digital publishing, while seemingly the opportunity of our age, is not for the faint of heart.

Because the name of the game—the way to get highlighted by Apple or Amazon, for example—is through downloads, lots of them, as well as high ratings and positive reviews. The more you get, the more likely you are to hit that magical tipping point where the system works for you, so you get even more. Only then does quality content rise above and get noticed in the crowd.

Developers with big marketing budgets know this. That’s why they allocate resources in an attempt to trip the system: giving their product away in order to boost downloads and/or paying for reviews are just two examples. These practices prove my point:

To survive in the digital ecosystem, you need ratings and reviews.

Reviews, especially good ones, are a kind of social currency. If I give your book a positive review, someone else is more likely to take your book seriously, purchase it, and also post a glowing review.

Even a bad review, if well-founded, can be turned into a positive if you use it to update and improve your book or product.

True, not all good reviews guarantee quality content. Some are just plain fake. But the power of a positive review cannot be overstated.

It’s exactly this type of community engagement that has driven such powerful social engines as TripAdvisor.

So, on behalf of all content creators out there, when you buy your next favorite book or app, the one you think deserves mention, please take a moment to go back to the store where you bought it and send up a starred review.

It takes many years, a lot of faith, and valuable resources of both time and money to write a great book or to produce a winning app. Yet, it takes mere minutes to let an author or developer know how much you appreciate their efforts.

* * *

Consider adding
Beware Madame la Guillotine
to your reading list this summer.

Request your FREE pdf download
in exchange for an honest review directly on Amazon.

I will be forever grateful.



Introducing Time Traveler Tours & Tales...

How is this Indie Publisher different from other Indie Publishers?

We Take Story Seriously

Story is humankind’s original art form. Humans are the storytelling animal. We learn from story; we pass on knowledge through story; we relax and are entertained and transported through story. A good story has the power to move, explain, and edify.

That’s why we at Time Traveler Tours & Tales, we begin with a great story.

We Believe Learning Can be Fun

Indeed, we think it should be. When a story is engaging, the reader’s focus rarely falters, even in our increasingly high-speed world. But when used carefully to enhance narrative content, technological games and activities can work well to further educate and extend.

That’s why we make it our business to stay on top of best practices in developing new media for children and youth and apply these advancements to our stories.

We Fill a Unique Niche

Our titles bring history to life through story and interactive games, at the tips of your fingers. With Time Traveler Tours & Tales, you discover the past with those who made it!

We’re Multi-Platform & Multi-Market

Why? Because we believe our titles must be available wherever our audiences want them most. Whether educational traveler, history student, history buff, or armchair traveler, there is a preferred format for every reader, for every time of day, and for every reading context.

Our readers deserve to access our content where they want it for the their individual purpose.

We Embrace Original Content

Today’s digital publishing formats are all unique environments, each presenting a different opportunity for creator, producer, and consumer, alike. That’s why we develop expressly for the individual format.

We believe the best way to do this is with original stories intended for digital...first.

We View Authors as Collaborators

Content Collaborators, to be exact, deserving of their own online home. Within the future TTT&T Author Atelier, our content collaborations will be able to seek advice, obtain peer reviews, upload and store content assets, test and review the development sprints of their own future publications, and more.

We Offer Competitive Royalties

We can do this because we publish agilely in collaboration with our content collaborators, testing as we go. We produce across formats, targeting multiple audiences. And we remain focused on our brand mission: to bring history to life through story and games.

Finally, We Provide a Full Service

Founded by an author/educator, our team now boasts editorial, art design, technical, and marketing experts as well. Together, we think through every stage of the publishing process, always with the best interests of your story in mind.

Join us today. Let’s make history together!




What Makes a Bologna Ragazzi Digital Award Winner?

2014-03-24 11.46.57.jpg

On the evening of my Bologna Children’s Book Fair launch of Time Traveler Tours & Tales, I had the great fortune of being present for the 2014 Bologna Ragazzi Award celebration and prosecco toast. This was only the 3rd year for the digital category of the Ragazzi Award. To date, it is the closest thing the digital book world yet has to the Caldecott or Newberry.

It's a unique contest in that it's free to enter, there are no gimmicks, and both entrants as well as judging panel are international. What's more, the judges are particularly interested in discovering unknown talent.

The annual Digital Ragazzi Award shortlist has become my go-to source for all things cutting-edge in story-based interactive media for kids. As soon as the lucky 20 shortlisted titles are announced, I run straight to the appropriate distribution channel – the app store, iBookstore, etc. – to download the winners, mentions, and finalists in both fiction and non-fiction categories.

I play with them. I study them. I try to glean everything I can from these standard bearers in the digital publishing space. I pluck from them every trick, tidbit, and tantalizing technique that might inform the look and feel of the future Time Traveler Tours & Tales media library.

I most appreciate the cross-cultural perspective the Digital Ragazzi Award collection provides. This year’s candidates included 258 products from 37 countries. As the judging panel is also multicultural, it is particularly interesting to discover what resonates within such international diversity.

But, lucky me!, this year I didn’t have to guess how the winning titles made it through the judges’ screening process to rise above the rest. Because on the eve of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I joined an intensive master class sponsored by the Dust or Magic community and facilitated by Bologna Digital Ragazzi Award judge Warren Buckleitner (USA), supported by Klaas Verplanke (Belgium) and Cristina Mussinelli (Italy). Only Chris Meade (UK) appeared to be missing.

Master class participants and speakers comprised Ragazzi Award finalists, including Touch Press, represented by John Cromie, and Nosy Crow's Kate Wilson. Together along with the judges and honorees, we studied what constitutes best practice (Magic) and worst (Dust) in today’s interactive media for kids.


First, the winners. This year’s top prizes went to the following six titles:


  • Pierre et le loup, Camera Lucida, Paris, France

  • ABC Actions, Peapod Labs, LLC, Chicago, USA

  • Double Double, And Then Story Designers, USA/Venezuela


  • Love, The App, Niño Studio, Caba, Argentina

  • Midnight Feast, Slap Happy Larry, Murrumbateman, Australia

  • Jack and the Beanstalk, Nosy Crow, London, UK


What made the judges' feel they were in the presence of Magic?
The judges placed heavy importance on interactive innovations. These did not have to be numerous or even necessarily advanced (see Double Double). But they did need to suit the age and developmental stage of the target audience. They also needed to be seamlessly integrated within the narrative and visual content. In short, they needed to make sophisticated tech look easy by not being noticeable at all.

With the exception of Shaun Tan's, Rules of Summer, the judges tended to prefer works developed specifically for the digital environment, as opposed to digitized duplicates of print publications. Despite cultural differences between the judges as well as personal preferences for illustration versus narration, all four judges agreed without reservation on this singular point:

Digital media offer new ways for children and youth to access and experience content, and learn from it. Digital formats demand, therefore, that developers go beyond the limits of print and explore with their new media publications the boundaries that come with each and every format.

Other features that caused magical titles to shine through the crowd were:

  • Innovation, products that did something new or did something new with older tech

  • A new story, so many ideas are recycled

  • Quality in all product elements, from illustration to narration to audio to technical craftsmanship

  • Multi-touch technology used naturally to tell a story

  • Seamless integration of tech and storytelling assets

  • Responsive to touch

  • Intuitive to use

  • Scaffolds learning for the user

What broke apart and crumbled to Dust in the judges' hands?
In addition to mere digitized print content, other things that constituted Dust for the judges were:

  • Buggy products that crashed or took too long to load

  • Clumsy or obviously templated design

  • Art that doesn’t do anything

  • Good illustration with bad narrative, or vice versa, good narrative with bad illustration

  • Clunky mechanics, ex. pages turn accidentally, interactive elements in for sport, slow to load, not responsive to touch

  • Stuff already seen before, lacking any new innovation or surprising uses of older innovation

  • “Jabby” products, i.e., sprinkled with hotspots that don’t serve the content

  • “Flippy” products, i.e., when page advancement mimics a print book

  • “Evil” products: i.e., cash traps or peppered with links to web content

  • Wordy, especially egregious in products for non- or emerging readers

  • Background music that loops over and over and can’t be controlled by user

  • Content containing ethnic stereotypes

  • Endings that makes no sense

  • No credits – left the judges asking, who made this?

The Dust or Magic masterclass, called Generation Remix, concluded with facilitators restating that quality in all areas is paramount. This validated my mantra that storyapp craft is a team effort. It requires the combined efforts of storytellers, visual designers, interactive user design gurus, and dynamic coders, and let's not forget savvy marketing professionals, to make magical Interactive media for kids.

You can’t make a good salad with bad lettuce. Exceptional quality never goes out of style.
— Warren Buckleitner

Great products can be simple, as some of this year's winners are. But they must be beautiful and well conceived. Indeed, it's the best ones that make it look easy.


How do you know if your product is Dust or Magic? Put it in the hands of kids. They’ll show you, or "home" you. Every time.

But don't take my word for it. Take a look at the video below to hear from the 2014 Digital Ragazzi Award judges themselves.

Stay tuned for my next blog post -- an Interview with Pablo Conti, developer of Love, The App.



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!




Transmedia and Crossmedia: One and the Same?


I just love my tète à tètes with Roxie Munro. We always seem to encourage one another to dig deeper, to think more clearly about what we are doing and who we are serving.

Our latest chat had us defining the terms "transmedia" vs. "crossmedia." We even threw in "multimedia" just to round out the discussion.

These terms seem to be used at times interchangeably, at other times to express entirely different things. Even at the Oct 2012 StoryDrive Conference on "Transmedia Storytelling" at the Frankfurt Book Fair, presentations flitted from creating story worlds to promoting content through subsidiary merchandising to everything in between.


Surely they can't all be one and the same?

So I did my homework -- read a bunch of books and attended a ton of workshops -- and I talked to a lot of people, including Roxie. And here's my take on how we should be using these terms...

Transmedia Storytelling is when a story exists on several platforms, BUT on each platform a different aspect of the story is being told. Taken together, all story strands create a story world, but each story can hold its own on its own. It can be a complete experience alone or become a broader experience as part of the greater whole.

Example: The Matrix. Three movies plus two official gaming environments plus several comic books. A particular character walks off screen in movie 1 and into the gaming world where more of the Matrix story is revealed and lives side-by-side movie 2, in which this character plays no role at all. Then, as if stepping out of the game world and back into the screen, she reappears in movie 3. That's transmedia storytelling, without question.

Crossmedia, on the other hand, is when you take a story, like Roxie's Doors or Beware Mme la Guillotine or The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore, and apply it, with some adaptions to fit the format, to another medium.

Roxie's Doors is a picture book and an app. The two are different products, obviously, and the creative content is treated differently in each, but the story is largely the same in both media.

Beware Madame la Guillotine is currently a storyapp and an interactive eBook and is in development as both plain-text eBook and dual-language print book. The purposes for each of these publications is slightly different as are their target audiences. But the story remains the story from format to format.

This is also true for Morris Lessmore. Though the animated short, storybook app, picture book, and augmented reality app all boast special elements thanks to the various capabilities of each medium in which the story resides, the story itself doesn't really change. There are no new story strands or plot lines or characters.

These are all fine examples of crossmedia storytelling, the purpose of which seems to be to get quality content to the reader/users where they most wish to enjoy it.

Multimedia, to round out this discussion, means using more than one medium in the same place, i.e., bringing multiple media to a single device. An interactive eBook wherein the main character accesses a particular YouTube selection, or sends a tweet or posts to Facebook is a prime example of multimedia storytelling if the videos and tweets and posts remain unchanging and essential to the storytelling in their proscribed form. If, however, the main character has his/her own twitter and FB accounts and is posting and tweeting outside the story, perhaps as a way to engage with fans and/or provide story clues or back-story, etc., that would be transmedia storytelling.

And then there is merchandising, which is not storytelling at all, thank you very much. It falls into none of the above categories. But is being referred to, wrongly, and by many, as "transmedia" or "crossmedia." (The same people also tend to use these two terms interchangeably. Again, in my opinion, wrongly.)

Example: Star Wars. You have the movies. Then you have the myriad books which tell different stories connected to the greater world, like what happened to Princess Leia and Han Solo. This is transmedia storytelling. But then you have the Princess Leia doll. That's merchandising. Then you have the book version of each movie: crossmedia. Then you have the game that takes you to some galaxy featured in the movies, but expands on the story of that galaxy to create a whole new story: transmedia.

What do you think? Have I got it right? Roxie?