How the book app is poised to change childhood reading forever
Throughout our conversation, one of the things Robertson stressed the most was how the book app has the potential to open up new and exciting frontiers for engaging kids with reading. With the addition of new sensory components, the book app shrinks the gap between reading and more “accessible” entertainment forms like videogames or television, to its narrowest distance ever. And for authors, teachers, parents, and publishing professionals who have spent years looking for innovative means of getting kids interested in reading, that’s a titanic development.
“Being the mother of a dyslexic child, I just get so excited when my child chooses book as entertainment,” Robertson said. “As far as I’m concerned [a book app] is guilt-free screen time. One in seven children is dyslexic and one in five has difficulty reading, so any time kids can get engaged in reading, that’s really exciting.”
But if books apps, with their helpful narrative and highlighting functions, could be an invaluable tool for teaching kids how to read, then why hasn’t the technology taken off yet? According to Robertson, the answer is a simple one.
“The consumers need to know about them,” she explained. “There are 30,000 or more book apps out there, but the general public still doesn’t know they exist. The publishing industry needs to understand them as well, to not be intimidated by them, and know how to put one together.”
From the Tech Desk
New book gives writers a comprehensive guide to creating a book app
Last month, our own Jillian Bergsma took a look at the rapidly evolving “app” phenomenon, remarking on the meteoric rise of the Apple app store — and other similar markets — over the past couple of years. Perhaps more than any other technological development from the last decade, the app seems to represent a brand new genre in the entertainment industry. Modern eBooks are a clear evolution from generations’ worth of print media, while digital MP3’s, for all they have altered the marketing game within the music industry, have done little to transform the actual art of musical composition and performance. The roots for the app, however, are significantly more difficult to chart: a quick glance at the top sellers in the Apple’s store displays the vast array of different uses for the app technology, from gaming to instructional, informational to educational, extremely practical to laughably trivial. And with sales for tablets and smart phones going through the roof, it seems as if entire industries are building within the app movement, right before our eyes.
If that’s the case, then expect Karen Robertson, a marketing and advertising professional turned author — and an expert in the growing book app field — to be one of the major players. Unsettled and inspired by her by her dyslexic son and his difficulties with reading, Robertson set to work developing a new kind of book that would incorporate child-friendly games and toys into the narrative of the story. And when her son began picking up her iPad and selecting storybook apps over more gameplay-oriented programs, Robertson decided to take a full-bodied plunge into the book app movement.
“I converted the printed book to a book app, and started teaching others how to do the same,” Robertson explained. “I felt like I had a lot to learn and then a lot to share, so I started speaking and writing on the process and sharing the pitfalls and experiences. I just love the format, and I wanted to share that with others. When you go digital, it’s creatively inspiring. You get to bring more sensory levels into the reading experience.”
Robertson’s growing book app expertise translated to a variety of different titles/—/including Author’s Guide to Book Apps, How to Choose a Book App Developer, and 6 FREE Ways to Market Your Book App, all meant to illuminate different aspects of the creation process for authors and publishers looking to break into the field. Her latest book, What is a Book App and Could YOU Create One? How 27 Writers Did, goes one step further, sharing anecdotal evidence from her own experiences while also picking the brains of authors who have gone down a similar road. The resulting text plays out like an in-depth FAQ, covering the nuances and unique hurdles that the still-developing book app genre might present for new players.
“The first thing that I like people to understand is what this opportunity actually is: that it gives you freedom to create something in a new, multi-sensory way,” Robertson said, addressing the still-cloudy perception of what a book app offers that other publication forms don’t. “And I also wanted people to see how many different types of writers are doing this, from successful published writers to those who have had stories in their bottom drawer for ten years.”
These definitions and stories serve as the book’s backbone, but the text also follows the format of many of Robertson’s speeches, giving writers — even the most technologically challenged among them — a simple step-by-step walkthrough of the ingredients necessary for a successful book app.
Robertson calls her method the DREAM system, outlined below:
D – Determine Objectives: The first thing a prospective book app author must do is to get educated on the medium and decide what kind of app they want to create. Audience considerations are vital here, as a book app developed specifically for the grandkids will probably require less work and fewer bells and whistles than something meant to reach a wider crowd.
R – Review Your Book and Create Your Brief: Just like with any other form of print publication, a book app needs to be polished and well-planned from a textual standpoint before it can move on to the next stages of production and publication. Of course, authors should go through the story with the typical editorial eye, catching typos or narrative discrepancies that disrupt the flow, but they must also consider how they want different parts of that story to play out in app form. What kinds of games are appropriate, or where would a “choose your own adventure” option resonate particularly well with readers? Robertson offers a list of sub-steps in order to help answer such questions.
E – Evaluate Developers: According to Robertson, even authors with a great product and a solid idea of how they want their book app to play out can often get intimidated when it comes to selecting a developer. But since she’s written an entire book on that subject already, Robertson has the expertise to guide her readers through such pitfalls. Here, she shares a list of 22 developmental resources that range from do-it-yourself programs to full-fledged tech companies, offering tips for how authors can pick the option that most suits their objectives.
A – Assemble Your Assets: A great story and a well-planned app design can go a long way, but sonic and visual flourishes are truly the ingredients with the power to take a book app from “good” to “exceptional.” In this section, Robertson tackles such concerns, incorporating additional sensory aspects like narration, illustration, or sound effects.
M – Manage Your Project to Completion: The “everything else” section of the process, this final set of steps involves a range of important project management considerations that can help an author keep their book app on track as it moves through developmental arenas and on to the distribution stage.
So how easy is the process? With a guide like Robertson’s, it should be a breeze.
“If you just step through the process and tick the boxes, you will have a book app that you can share with a global market,” Robertson said.
Interested in reading more? The Kindle edition of What is a Book App and Could YOU Create One? How 27 Writers Did is available from Amazon.com for only $2.99, and Robertson will be giving the book away for free during the week of April 9 – 13. The rest of her books, articles, and information are available at http://digitalkidsauthor.com/.
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Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In edition to writing for Independent Publisher, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.