Starting today, once a month we will introduce an artist, using Kwik to create storybook or games. The idea behind the Artist Spotlight is to promote great users, creating amazing apps. For this introductory posting, I would like to present Anna Hines, who has used Kwik for a long time, creating beautiful storybooks, the last one, “Bean’s Night“, received the Kirkus’ Star’s Review, a very hard to achieve recognition.
Kwiksher’s questions are in bold, to facilitate the reading. Feel free to send more questions to Anna via comments below. I am sure she will appreciate. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about you. Where are you based, for how long are you writing and illustration – in sum, what is your “story”?
From the age of seven I knew I wanted to make picture books. I studied art in college, but children’s books, being deemed neither fine nor commercial art, were not part of the curriculum. I took child development classes and studied the books being published for kids, but it was years before I finally learned exactly what to submit and to whom, and then another seven years of collecting “encouraging rejection letters” before I sold my first book in 1981. Over the next thirty years I published nearly 70 books with several fine houses, mostly books about everyday events in the lives of young children. I even got to illustrate a few Curious George books along the way. In the late nineties I started using fabric as a medium to illustrate my original poems with quilts. The computer was helpful in designing the quilts, which led me to illustrate two books digitally, and, eventually, to exploring the possibility of creating book apps.
After my husband, who has also written and published several picture books, retired from his career with the Forest Service, in which he did a great deal of audio visual work, we moved to a small community on the northern California coast, convenient for visits with our three daughters and their families who all live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
How did you enter the storybook app market?
In November, 2010, when I completed my second digitally illustrated book, I Am a Tyrannosaurus Rex, my editor suggested I do a trailer for it. I enlisted the help of my husband, who does audio work, and our son-in-law, a storyboard animator, working free-lance at the time. We had such fun with it—and saw the potential for it to be much more than an ad—that we decided to start our own company to create apps. Within the family we have writers, illustrators, an editor, a musician and sound engineer, a computer animator, and another computer whiz-designer (who only had enough time to advise). We had dreams of getting a few apps in the just-opened market and making enough money to support all of us. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a programmer, but my daughter and son-in-law took on Unity and I plunged into Objective-C. I got as far as building a calculator app, but the fun stuff looked so far away!
We also got our first iPad, checked out the apps being published, and followed blogs by people investigating the possibilities of digital publishing. I investigated leads for possible tools to create apps without the need to program. Some, like uTales, seemed easy enough, but too formulaic. I played a little bit with Moglue, and then signed up as a beta tester with Demibooks. The platform was in the very early stages, but growing quickly. I enjoyed working with the team and actually being able to create some of the interactions I wanted directly on my iPad. Very cool!
Within a few months we published Not Without Bear, based on my out of print pop-up book. Reviews were great, it was even a finalist for the first ever Bologna Rigazzi Digital Award, but sales were disappointing.
Next, following Liz Castro’s book and template, I tried my hand at a fixed layout epub book with read-aloud text, to publish Grandma Gets Grumpy. But iBooks was the only platform that supported the read-aloud feature. Too limiting.
By this time, my husband and I had lost the direct participation of the other family members, who have young families to support and needed immediate income. Still, I was enjoying the challenge, and with family cheering and advising, decided to try to add the Android market. We also had the Spanish audio ready to add to make Not Without Bear bilingual, a feature Demibooks had worked on, but back-burnered at that point. As much as I liked the people and appreciated their marketing efforts in creating their Storytime app, I felt I had to look further. That’s when I found Kwik.
This is really interesting. How was that?
It was the spring of 2012. I saw a mention of Kwik, either on a blog or a list of new programs reviewed by Digital Book World, and checked it out. The promise of being able to create picture book apps for both iPad/iPhone and Android—bilingual with word highlighting—was exactly what I was looking for. It sounded too good to be true! I downloaded the trial and began to experiment. Since I was rebuilding an app I had already created, I was determined to make the new one do a lot of the same or equivalent things. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, which I might have avoided had I followed one of the tutorials on how to start from scratch, but I could immediately see the potential. Not Without Bear was the first app (from Demibooks to Kwik) I developed using Kwik.
How many apps have you created with Kwik?
We have four apps in four stores at this point. Hopefully, we’ll have at least four more this year. At this point doing the art will take longer than the work with Kwik.
You are pretty active providing feedback and reporting bugs. Can you share some words on your experience with Kwik/Kwiksher?
What I love most about Kwik is how flexible it is and that it leaves the creative work in my hands. Although it will handle games, Alex started out with picture books in mind and it is perfect for that. The possibilities are extensive enough that I am able to do pretty much whatever I want to do. I love the challenge of that, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with making things happen the way I envision.
I am also very grateful that we can publish as many apps as we can build, then tweak to improve and republish without paying further fees. If I want to make an improvement, I don’t have to ask, “Can I afford it?” It is only a matter of the changes being worth our time.
As long as Kwik makes it possible to build apps without “mortgaging the farm,” and as long as I am enjoying the process, I will continue publish apps.
Your app “Bean’s Night” received the prestigious Kirkus Star’s Review. Would you tell us a bit more about Kirkus and the importance of this recognition?
Kirkus is one of five major reviewers of children’s books not well known to the general public, but a big deal to librarians and others who work in the field of children’s literature. Receiving a star from Kirkus makes authors, illustrators, and editors jump up and down and shriek with joy. Very few of my books have been starred, so to have Bean’s Night receive a Kirkus Star means a great deal to me. It means the app has been recognized as serious children’s literature. I’m also delighted that it is on Kirkus’s list of the best book apps for 2013.
Can you share your design/production process? How does it work?
While doing the sound for Not Without Bear my husband became intrigued with Kwik and joined me in the app building. Now we can have two apps going at once. I prepare the artwork, scanning the original art, then make changes to fit the app format. Working large enough that the art can be trimmed and resized to fit both maximum iOS and Android sizes without losing quality, I create the background for each page and then the moveable object layers. If my husband will be doing the Kwik work, we talk about what interactive possibilities he sees and the layers he will need to do that. Meanwhile, he starts working on the sound, preparing the narration and collecting or creating sound effects and musical passages.
I put all the layered Photoshop files, one for each page, into a folder. Whichever of us is creating the app opens the PS file for the first page, and creates the new Kwik project. We add an “audio resources folder” within the Kwik project folder and put all the sound files in that. We build the app page by page in order, sometimes going back to make changes as we come up with better ideas. We also add or modify art and sounds as the book develops. I also design the icons and start doing some of the art pieces needed to publish in the stores.
With the Bean apps we made the iOS versions first and when each was done, I followed Alex’s tutorial, “Creating new project from an old one,” to make the android versions. We test on an iPad, iPod, iPhones, Nook plus, and Kindle Fire and when all seems to be working smoothly, publish.*
*With Kwik 3, new projects can be created using a previous one as a template – no need to manually do what Anna suggests above.
Any tips and tricks to someone willing to follow your steps?
Kwik offers so many possibilities for anyone who is comfortable working with Photoshop. I suggest checking out some of the apps that have been done with Kwik. Experiment with what is possible. Follow the tutorials. They are really helpful! Check out the forum, too. Questions get answered pretty quickly there. When I run into a snag someone else may have a solution. Often that person is Alex, but other users respond, too. In fact it has happened that some of us have found ways to make Kwik do something that Alex didn’t know was possible. J
Are you doing or planning to do any marketing initiatives to promote the app?
I would love to have another person in our company who could handle the promotion side of things! When we published Not Without Bear I submitted it to dozens of review sites and got some excellent responses. Fortunately, some of those reviewers are now happy to see new apps from me. I do what I can to support and recommend their sites. I submit to new sites, too, but have not opted to pay for expedited reviews or ads. I tried a couple ads in the beginning, but didn’t notice a difference. I also use social media, but find I am mostly connecting with other app developers and people looking for free apps. The big problem at this point is that parents don’t yet see the value of book-apps, preferring to spend money on “educational” apps. If I could see an avenue to not only reach parents, but convince them of the value of stories in their children’s social and emotional as well as cognitive development, I might try a Kickstarter campaign and hire someone to head a big promotional push. Until then, I’ll be spending most of my time doing more apps.
You mentioned that you are working on new titles. Anything you can share now?
We have art and sound on the boards for a couple more Bean books which my husband will be doing with Kwik, and have recorded a German translation to add to Not Without Bear. After that I have at least four titles begging to be next and a whole string of ideas following those. I may have to flip a coin to make my choice!
Any final words to Kwiksher’s readers?
Stories have been an important part of children’s lives since we lived in caves and sat around the fire sharing tales. Invention of the printing press and development of paper added a new way to share those stories and in the last half of the twentieth century illustrated picture books became a big part of most children’s lives. Now we have the potential for children’s stories to not only be beautifully illustrated, but interactive, and for a parent to carry a whole library around in a pocket or purse. E-books were around for a while before significant numbers of people began to read them on a regular basis. I believe the same thing will eventually happen with picture book apps. As long as Kwik makes it possible to build apps without “mortgaging the farm,” and as long as I am enjoying the process, I will continue publish apps. I’d love to see other writers and illustrators who already know the qualities of a truly good picture book join me in this worthy endeavor.
Thank you, Alex, for making it possible.