Saturday 28 July 2012

Need an app? Ask an author! Moira Butterfield

A few months ago I heard a spat between children’s author Terry Deary and Professor Susan Greenfield on the future of books. Terry angrily ranted that the book was already dead, and I know that a number of online bloggers stridently agree with him. Others wring their hands and are appalled at the idea of a generation reading only screens and chucking out piles of those fusty old book thingies that their parents used to collect.
People get very angry about it all. Really, properly angry. 
My theory is that those who actively rail against books are in fact defending their beloved interlinked computer universe, the one they’ve often helped to build and spend a lot of time inhabiting.
The hand-wringing group, who foresee doom and ruin for the world if the book goes the way of the top hat stretcher and the crinoline stand, are usually people who were kids in a pre-internet age. They were taught to view books as semi-religious objects, with bookshops as places of worship.
No wonder both groups get so upset.
I believe that we, as authors, should join a different group with a very positive hands-on attitude.
Younger generations simply don’t have the same devotion to the book as a votive object, or to the bookshop/library as a temple, and why should they? But the book argument needn’t be lost, because change provides the opportunity for exciting creativity.
 “A living thing is distinguished from a dead thing by the multiplicity of the changes taking place in it,” said Herbert Spencer, and I think this definitely applies to the book.  The choice of platforms offers an opportunity to combine books and online material to create exciting new products.
So how does all this relate to picture books? We already have apps in which picture books are read out loud and pictures change when children touch the screen. But I believe there could be more innovative computer/picture book mixes out there to discover, and I want publishers to call on us authors for ideas, not just on computer whizzes. I think we should get into the mix and offer our creativity.
As an author of both picture books and material for other age-groups, I very much want to bring my experience to the tablet. I don’t want apps simply created by teccies with no thought for the intricate, delicate, precious magic that happens between a child reading words joined with pictures. Nor do I want to stick my head in the sand, and pretend that the online world doesn’t exist.
I hope publishers will ask authors to help them with creative ideas for stretching their books to make wonderful new material online, and I for one would be delighted if they did.
We authors should start muscling in!


Paeony Lewis said...

Interesting blog, Moira. Must admit, I don't know where I am on this. I have an obsession with my Sony ereader and nowadays I don't like reading an everyday novel if it's not on my ereader. However, I like to be surrounded by 'real' books (quality, reference, signed or antique books; especially illustrated books). As for picture books, they feel like the last bastion of 'real' publishing. They're a child's introduction to books. They're a sharing moment. They're non-screen time. So I'm wary of muscling in on something I'm not passionate about. However, I do feel in general that authors have more to offer publishers than we're often given credit for.

Moira Butterfield said...

Yes, I guess I'm trying to say that, given the vast experience that many picture book authors have of dealing directly with children - and given their really close knowledge of the magic that happens when a child views words and images together - picture book authors must surely have a great deal to offer when it comes to making extra online material for their work. I think the idea that 'the book is dead' is an over-exaggerated extreme position, but conversely I don't think authors should ignore the online world. I think authors have masses to offer in that respect.

Kate Wilson said...

Hello, Moira

As a publisher of print and highly interactive multimedia apps, we are looking for creative talent to write and illustrate our apps, in just the same way that we are interested in finding talent to write and illustrate picture books. It's not easy to find! Reading this prompts me to write a blog post about it on our Nosy Crow website.


Kate Wilson said...

Hi. I wrote the blog post:

Moira Butterfield said...

Kate has written a really interesting blog pointing out how much apps are a team production, and it brings me to the background of my blog. As some of you know, I was originally going to write about whether picture book authors should provide illustration notes or not. I spent most of my time working on very team-based books, so I didn't think I had too much experience to blog about it, and I asked some picture book artists for their views. I got some very strongly-felt ones back along the lines of 'butt out, authors!' I was taken aback by how much they were discouraging authors to get involved in any way, however small, in the production of their book. I began to think then about apps, which must of necessity be a team production (see Kate's blog). I guess I'm trying to encourage you wonderful \proper' picture book authors not to be cowed into 'butting out' all the time, and perhaps have a go at something that's new and exciting, alongside those gorgeous books you do.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Oh, I'm longing to get involved in what are effectively picture books that react and move and make sounds; something in between book and film, that allows the child to influence things. I'm just not sure how best to go about it. Would any publisher like to teach me/us?

Lynne Garner said...

Last year my partner and I had some picture book apps created from some of my picture book stories (look for Mad Moment Media in the iTunes store). They don't contain animation but kids can choose to be read to by me or they can read themselves. We plan others but I'm also working on new stories for traditional publishers. I believe there is room for both and kids will love and use both just as I read the printed page and from my Kindle.

Moira Butterfield said...

I agree, Lynne. You're a real pioneer!

Jane Clarke said...

I find apps exciting too, and the potential for sharing the plethora of possibilities and images that float through my mind as I craft a picture book text.

Moira Butterfield said...

Exactly, Jane, I'm so glad you've written that because my blog came out of being told stridently (by people not connected to the site) that picture book authors had no business offering any of their thoughts on images. In apps it's a very different situation, as Kate's blog makes clear. If experienced authors feel able to cross over, I think it could be very exciting.

Moira Butterfield said...

Writers have a great ability to 'sideways look' at things, I think, that makes us ideal candidates to help develop exciting online material, don't you think?

Pavel Mamaev said...

Great post, Mora!

There are a few companies that are doing exactly what you're talking about: willing to take a chance on new ideas, new authors, and bring new brands to Apps.

For example - we do! :)

I must say though, it's much more difficult to make $ publishing new authors, books and ideas.

I think the main reason the publishers are reluctant to bring new authors along is the issue of cost, control and unwillingness of the publishers to take chances.

You can publish 100 Cinderella books and not pay a cents in royalties. Plus there is a brand already established. Who cares if all you're doing is re-hashing the same material over and over?

Authors have ideas, authors have wants, desires, they want to have a say in the final product. Traditional publishers don't need it, nor don't they want it. Charles Perrault is never going to complain or want the final say, or have ideas on how to improve the app.

The sad truth is that if you all you care about is making $ - why would you ever stray from the classics?

Fortunately, there are more and more companies like ours who are willing to take chances and forgo the easy $. :)

Moira Butterfield said...

Great reply. Thanks Pavel. Yes, Cinderella will always sell in some measure because there is a ready recognition of the title, and why not? There's lots of fun to be had there. I can't count the times I've worked on 'the three little pigs' in all kinds of book forms - flaps, wheels, pop-ups - you name it. But really big new successes - the Harry Potter, Angry Bird successes - usually come from fresh thinkers taking a risk, so good luck to you! Back to the blog - Apps are a team effort, and authors shouldn't be averse to joining in teams. I've done it all my working life and it's very rewarding.

Paeony Lewis said...

I wonder if in my first comment I came over as anti-technology and innovation? I’m not and adore experimenting and thinking up ideas, and I agree that working as part of a team can be inspiring. However, the reason I’m more wary of picture book apps is that I think they can be TOO much fun. Am I nuts? Maybe! I’m concerned that if ordinary picture books become conceived as second rate and ‘boring’ compared to exciting picture book apps, then what will happen when children move on to straightforward stories? Will they then seem boring and old fashioned? Will all children’s books need to become interactive to sustain interest? Perhaps they will - reluctant readers have always been attracted to the primary school books where you interact more with the story and pick your own storyline based on things like throwing a die – this could be done much more easily with an app.

Maron Rose said...

I'd so like to echo Pippa's plea for info/help for writers who want to be involved. Picture book writers are the people with the story ideas, and can be playful and inventive with those ideas in other media too. We just need the tools to get going! If you haven't already, see the 'It's a book' clip on Youtube or posted recently on - it will make you smile!

Catherine Denvir said...

I have just had an animated picture book published on the Applestore
I created the layout and animation online using an application supplied by they then convert it into an app and submit it to the comes the real hurdle trying to get it noticed

Garima said...

Nice blog. Find the lastest Kids' storybook app .