Is an app a necessity for children’s authors? Finding a developer.

I attended Author (R)evolution Day (TOC) last week, and met a children’s book author sitting nearby. She said, “Soon, having an app will be as imperative as having a website.”

I’ve been thinking about that. Maybe, instead of creating an app to make money (good luck! marketing an app is not easy), you should think of it as an investment in branding, promotion, and showing your best work in a creative new format.

(Re: For fundamentals for children’s book writers/illustrators making apps, including creative, financial, marketing, go to An a-MAZE-ing Transition: Roxie Munro Talks about Print, Digital & Lessons Learned. )

Do it right. Don’t spend money, time, and your creative assets, and be disappointed. There are programs available (some with a steep time-consuming learning curve), and you may have a tech-y friend who volunteers to build your app. Some even “practice” making an app, using your money and creative content! But I recommend getting an experienced professional children’s app developer. It is worth the money, and may prevent a lot of stress and heartbreak. Do your homework: check out apps and figure out what you want (and need, to keep current); find out what functionality and issues are no-nos for parent/teacher/librarian reviewers, including privacy issues; what works with your concept, like animations, text/word highlighting, sounds, music; and get an idea of pricing – it varies a lot.

Some of my author/illustrator friends have had troubling problems: late delivery (4 to 6 or more months to make your app); expensive for what they got; developer used out-dated technology; a lack of follow-up with updates, bug fixes, and customer support; inadequate testing; no real creative collaboration or input.

Once a developer has made your app, you are stuck with them; if they don’t do updates or bug fixes in a timely manner (or at all!), there is not a lot you can do. Usually you can’t turn over the app to a new developer, because much of what goes into building it (coding for example) is proprietary, the intellectual property of the developer. Why would they hand it over to another, possibly rival, company? (You can change this in your contract, but most developers do not want to dive into someone else’s code.)

Am very happy with my developer, OCG Studios (my website home page has some awards and kudos). We’ve made two apps together with several more coming out in April. They have a cool new DYO (Develop Your Own) framework for making illustrated apps. Check out a free example (“The Artist Mortimer”). The program for making apps is explained…you do some work, they build it, and you save a lot of money. Scroll down the page to see pricing. If you’re interested, they send a menu and more info.

But you don’t have to use my guys. Get developer recommendations (check out the awards and reviews their apps have; look at customer comments on the App Store page). A good place to learn about developers and children’s apps is Moms With Apps. On the right side, they have links to more info, and scrolling down, a list of children’s app developers. I don’t know the developers’ commissioning guidelines, but they are experienced. And check out Digital Storytime, great for lots of information and reviews.

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12 comments
  1. Julie said:

    Great post Roxie! It pays to have patience when it comes to making the best choices for your work. To use a football metaphor, why fumble in the end zone? As you know, I chose to find an e-publisher for my app rather than using a developer, so that’s an option too. But all of the considerations you raise in this post still apply – do your homework, find the right fit, make sure it’s a legit outfit, etc.

    Welcome to the blogging world! 🙂

  2. Joanna said:

    Yay, I’ve added your blog to my reader. I know it’s going to be informative!

  3. Kevin said:

    No.

    I have downloaded several picture books in regular Kindle format from Amazon. My kids enjoyed them just fine, and they were readable on anything from my smartphone to my iPad.

    I’ve actually passed my Kindle to my six year old daughter, who is burning through a bunch of middle school books at a rate of 1-3 per day right now (she’s just hit that “reading explosion” phase where she is reading everything we toss at her).

    Honestly? I don’t like the app books as much. For picture books, I bought a few apps for my kids – stuff that read the book aloud, highlighting each word. Or better yet – let the child read it, but if they pressed on a word, then that word would be read (so they could have the book read words if they were stuck). But apps sit out there by themselves on your screen, take up a lot of space, and if they are not providing something that an ebook cannot, I’m probably not buying them (speaking as a parent).

    • You make some excellent points, Kevin! I agree that many books DO NOT make good apps (I mention that in the Fundamentals blog link) – some work beautifully in print, but are not enhanced with a bunch of bells and whistles…which, actually, can be distracting and PREVENT reading comprehension. But, as my Fundamentals blog discusses, there are certain “interactive” books that lend themselves quite well to a nonlinear, discovery (search-n-find,counting, etc), or game format. And those books make cool apps!

  4. Couldn’t agree more with you Roxie, as an illustrator originally, that’s exactly why I started Space Dog Books because I didn’t see many developers treating the content (or the artist’s) with enough care, creativity, and innovation. We put art and content first which has led us to having 5 start Kirkus and App store reviews as well as winning a Parent’s Choice award. We are branching out from producing our own content to consulting for people who want to create apps for themselves and navigate monetizing and marketing it because of exactly what you site in this article. Marketing for apps can be difficult and development has many perils. We are starting to help people navigate that minefield a bit and pair them with vendors that we have personally vetted on our own projects. If anyone is interested we’d love to help more of you, feel free to check us out at http://www.spacedogbooks.com.

    • Great, Victoria. It IS a brave new world out there, and people need guidance. There are some mediocre apps around … I want our industry (and the artists and writers who contribute to it) to be respected for quality work! That’s why I am urging folks to deal with responsible good qualified experienced developers, like OCG Studios, you, and some of the others on the MWA list. I wrote this blog because some children’s book authors/illustrators tried to do it on the cheap, or without quite knowing what was what, and they have been disappointed in the results (marketing is a whole other issue, of course). Those who have gone the professional developer route are, like me, thrilled with their apps.

    • Thanks, Jerry! I’ve heard of Dragonpencil. But I love my guys – OCG Studios is a fabulous award-winning developer…they have this new framework that saves a lot of money for authors and illustrators (DYO -Develop Your Own) http://www.ocgstudios.com/dyo-develop-your-own/ . They do only apps and trailers (not all the other print, ebook etc publishing stuff), so are totally up-to-date on all new technology, and VERY creative.

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