On target audience, and advice for newcomers and publishing veterans

Evolution of MiloToday we wrap up our discussion on creating the Milo iPad story app with Mike Austin, author/illustrator; Rubin Pfeffer, his agent; and Rick Richter, Ruckus Media Group CEO.

9. Testing the app with educators, parents, with children, and children alone would be critical. How long did this stage take? Was there unexpected feedback that improved the project? Right now, Milo is only available for the iPad. Will there be an iPhone and iPod version? If so, will conversion be difficult?

Rubin Pfeffer: Ruckus assesses this question as an overall business decision. I’m confident that the app will be converted to whatever format has a market and is an appropriate format or device on which to read and enjoy it. So, stay tuned.

Joy Chu: The following comments are a carry-over from last Friday’s exchange:

Debbie Tilley: “Do you know if all the publishers gearing up to make more ipad app/ electronic books?. . .”

Mike Austin: “. . . I would suspect most publishers are gearing up to take full advantage of the new medium. . . . If you do a google search you’ll find a bunch of interesting articles about digital vs traditional book publishing online. . . .”

iPad_trio_featuring MILO


Link to announcement of iPhone app for the Caldecott Honor book "Freight Train," first published in the 1980s

Many perennial children’s titles are in the process of being made into iPad and iPhone apps. You can see the Greenwillow author/illustrator Donald Crews at work on the storyboard for his classic, Freight Train,  first published in the late 1980s, here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Other examples of classics being turned into e-versions can be found all over the web.

10. Do you have any advice for newcomers? And for seasoned book veterans who secured all rights to their out-of-print titles? Would both groups need to work with a professional development group for best results?

Mike Austin: I think having a great developer is most important.

It’s such a time consuming process that you want to have someone knowledgeable who can tell you whether or not your ideas will work.

Also, be prepared to do a lot more drawing than you might initially think.

A lead-in animation and five clickable objects doing five different things per page (plus background); multiplied by 14 or 16 pages, and suddenly your head pops off. You spend the rest of the evening stumbling around the studio, bumping into things, spilling paint all over.  It can get very messy!

Joy Chu: Mike, I remember when you said this last week:

Mike Austin:  “…Once I condensed the spread into a single screen I had to draw an additional 20 -30 images for the animation sequences (4 or 5 clickable elements each with 4-5 states). That adds up to around 400 individual images! Not including the stuff I drew that didn’t work. At one point I thought I would never be able to finish…”

Rubin Pfeffer: I can’t imagine creating an app without the dedication, creativity, passions, and skills of a developer. Impossible.

Rick Richter: The key to any satisfying experience in our world is to have great partners – developers, producers, marketers, and publicity folks that help folks to discover what we’ve done. One without any of the others is like singing a solo in the forest.

Opening scene of "Milo" on the iPad


16 responses to “On target audience, and advice for newcomers and publishing veterans

  1. Thanks for your kind words, Joy. In a way, we’re all together in this electronic timeless time zone these days… but maybe that makes the WWW (wild wild west ) more do-able…!
    Thanks so much for providing this informative forum and discussion. I really appreciate it!
    much aloha,

  2. I’ve been curious (after my initial FEAR that this new technology would destroy children’s picture books as we know them!) I really appreciate this behind the scenes introduction to childrens books on the Ipad. Thanks! Mike, your work is terrific! I don’t have an Ipad, and haven’t yet played with one, but I’m really excited about the possibilities it presents for storytelling.

    In my work, I research, retell and illustrate Hawaiian legends for a couple of different publishers. There is always SO much material that I can’t include in the traditional paper book format… like cultural, scientific, and historic info, etc, etc… too many tributaries that would distract from the story line, but could add so much context to support the story, if presented in the right way. I am brand new to this kind of thinking, but am turned on by this potentially powerful educational tool!

    My medium is block printing, so the concept of hundreds of illustrations is daunting! But I’ll bet there will be ways to work with this…

    I’m still working on “paper books” but I’m really interested in the possibilities with creating books for the Ipad… Thanks for feeding my curiosity!

  3. Thank you all for sharing your experience, especially Mike–it was very interesting!

  4. 1) I am wondering how an illustrator can afford to do this work (especially with all the new additional artwork for animation) without an advance against a royalty for a $3.99 item? Who pays the development team, the agency or is it out of pocket for the illustrator/author?

    2) Doctors are advising not to put electronics in front of children until at least age 3. How do health implications affect the way these products are developed?

    3) I was hoping to learn how to convert OP books into ebooks. Can you please expound on that further, there are no details, just an overall answer that we need a team. Who pays the team to help us?

    4) How do parents feel about handing over to their toddlers and very young children their expensive iPads to “play” on?

    We are still in the Wild West here. Thanks to the pioneers, but I need more details to understand it all.

    • Hi Melanie!

      You bring up excellent points to brainstorm upon. And yes, the digital book world is still the WWW (WildWestWeb).

      Some quick thoughts:
      On item (1): I imagine one would need to budget on a case-by-case basis. Some projects (ie, stories based on nonfiction) might require more players on the creation side than Milo did.

      One industry journal states hiring a developer can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 for the simplest apps; sophisticated ones that require months to complete will cost more.

      I’m gratified that Mike Austin shared his experiences with Rubin and the Sequel Digital team. It offers us much perspective on questions to ask any prospective developer.

      On item (2):Thanks — I hadn’t even thought about the electronics exposure factor. If memory serves, I only gave my toddler, Bam-Bam, heavy duty Fisher-Price/Tonka type toys until age 4 or so. . . .

      (3) Suggestions: I’d do item (1) first. Draw up a proposal and storyboard with the help of an experienced developer as consultant.

      You’d have your work cut out for you if you already have an OP book.

      Sample several story apps before you have your consultation. You might come up with alternative storyboards. It’s cool that MERMAIDS has multiple layers of story built in. Keep it simple, and have variations as far as “tapping” and scripting goes.

      Then you can offer different price ranges. This is where the developer-as-consultant can really help you. They know what’s possible to execute, and how long each action could take to complete.

      Gather up all info and questions. Will there be story app developers at the upcoming SCBWI-NY Conference? Check them out and share your findings with us! I also notice that among the Practical Application Panelists is Rick Richter of the Ruckus Media Group. And Rubin Pfeffer will be there too. Check out the Development of Original App panel.

      Item (4): If it were me, I’d be the guardian of the iPad. I never allowed kids under 9 in my living room with food; ditto peanut buttered bugger fingers on (my) iPad! 😛

      I’m just sayin’. . . . .

  5. Thank you for the awakening into the new technology. Mike, Milo is fantastic; (it is) the “Steamboat Willy” of the 21st century! Oh my!

    I understand perfectly how Anne feels about the technology. Hopefully (a prospective app) creator will remember where they came from, and leave some imagination to the children by letting them put their own thing in. Remember our coloring books? The outlines were there, but that didn’t stop us from “going-for-it”. Only time will tell.

    Thank you everyone, for your support and creative juices. Have a wonderful holiday! J

  6. Thanks for tuning in what I said, Joy!

    Glug! Glug! To all of Project Milo, and blessings on you all. May 2011 bring new ideas, new insights, and lots of new learning, thinking, and playing experiences from Joy!

  7. So I want to congratulate Milo and the gang!

    • Thanks! Here’s to many more Milo adventures!

      “clink!” glug, glug, glug.
      Cheers and Happy New year to all!

      Mike Austin

    • I also suspect that it helped that the guardian angels of Project Milo (Rubin and Ruckus-Rick) come from book publishing backgrounds. And I love the fact that Milo’s genesis came from a book format. Obviously, the Blue Apple folks were enchanted by that quality, too.

  8. I’m glad to see that this app doesn’t add too many bells and whistles, but remains a book in simply another format. After all, I read books on my kindle when I travel, find a book like WAR AND PEACE mighty heavy to read in bed.

    But they’re books — not movies — simply books. For me, the FREIGHT TRAIN app completely destroys the simplicity of that book, and makes me suspect a child would find the book boring, after all that show, sing and tell.

    As for ALICE IN WONDERLAND — good grief!!!! What I was able to imagine with those and those pictures….and now this chaos….

    I’m reminded of how I loved the MARY POPPINS books as a child, and wanted to go to London and sit under Mary Shepherd’s magnolia tree.

    But my daughters saw the movie, and Dick Van Dyke’s dancing and Julie Andrews singing made the book seem awfully quiet. They never read it, and I wonder how many children did.

    I just hope that as this technology moves on, as it will, we remember that reading requires our own imagination, and let our children develop that gift with the help of reading and looking, whether on an e-device or turning paper pages.

    Ruckus looks to be off to a good start!

    • Excellent points, Anne!

      I agree: That app approach to FREIGHT TRAIN is sleep inducing. I must confess I’ve never ever been fond of folk music, either.

      I suspect that particular ALICE app was made simply to give us a sample of the various bells and whistles that are possible via the iPad. In terms of capturing the essence of Lewis Carroll, I too think it sucks big time.

      Your observations on ALICE and FREIGHT TRAIN bring home two major points Rubin mentioned earlier, that are worth re-visiting:

      “…’We often said (to ourselves) “just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should do it.’ …”

      “…Any “taps” and surprises should happen to further the story line, and not just to “wow” ourselves or the readers.

      To picture book creators out there: I think it’s wise to bear this in mind when selecting the best digital developer for your story.

  9. I learned Flash when it first came out and that really got me interested in digital animation. I also grew up worshiping Bugs Bunny, Johnny Quest and all those Saturday morning cartoon gods! I would make my own cartoon flip books from old phone books or Readers Digest magazines.

    Here are some animation experiments and other goofy e-cards I made for friends using Flash:

  10. Where or how did you learn to do animation?

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