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Collaboration for success

Jonathan Higham

Author and Illustrator

It’s May 6th 2010 and I go to the iTunes website to see how my self-published children’s book apps are doing in the iPad chart. I click on the books section and then the top paid iPad sellers – and there they are at numbers 30, 56 and 58. Needless to say I’m euphoric, and I hadn’t spent a penny getting them there – so how have I managed to publish my children’s early readers without a publisher or company backing? The story goes back a couple of years when my agent wrote and said she was no longer concentrating on children’s picture books, a market so difficult in the present climate, so I was back to square one.  I did contact another literary agent who I had encountered in the 1980’s when it seemed so much easier to get my work published, but she too said she wasn’t taking on anything else. Publishers web sites also seemed to be a closed door ‘our lists are full for the time being’ or ‘no unsolicited manuscripts please’ usually on their contact pages.

So when I stumbled on an app developer called Dipali Vaidya on LinkedIn in early March 2010 who was keen to take on children’s book apps, I just knew just what to do. We talked on Skype, found we were on the same page, discussed percentage splits, and within less than a fortnight we were nearly ready with the first app, and by April 2010 had three iPhone/iPod touch books out. We were on a roll, and following the first weekend of sales of the iPad in the states, we thought there was no time to lose in getting the books converted to iPad as soon as possible.

From our first call in March, to three books out and in the top 100 iPad books chart, it had been just a month and a half.

Of course I marketed the book too – sending promo codes to just about every app review site I could find and was rewarded by a couple of reviews on theiphonemom and crazymikes. My friends too started blogging about it especially my friend and colleague, illustrator Peter Richardson, who has watched the whole process unfold from close by.

In fact children’s book apps are doing so well on the iPad that there’s talk of Apple creating a separate category, and there’s no doubting the iPad has taken America by storm. It’s being fully embraced as a new medium to access and enjoy magazines papers books and games, as well as adding new creative and stimulating dimensions to them, which Alice for the iPad has set out to do.

Of course things may not be so easy (for the likes of minnows like me) when the big guns hove into view but right now this has been a fantastic journey, where I have been in control of publishing my own books in my own way at my own pace and with no committee meetings, no heavy handed creative direction or knocking on publishers doors until my knuckles hurt. And judging by the comments about my story on Peter Richardson’s blog, many creatives are excited and motivated by the new technology too, partly perhaps because all those longer in the tooth are all a little jaded with the whole regular route to publishing, slush piles, non responses, disappointments and acquisition committees.

Jon Higham

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6 Responses to “Collaboration for success”

  1. david stong Says:

    May 18th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Jon I love your illustrations. I’ve been working with an iPad and trying to understand iBook, EPUB, and all the potential. I’m missing something here because I’m an idiot and not sure exactly what you mean by an App. I know an app is a small application designed for iPhones and iPads, but it looks like you’re publishing a beautiful ebook: something that would sell in the iTunes Bookstore. Am I wrong? Is my confusion easily corrected?

  2. Neil Says:

    May 18th, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Hi Jon.

    Congratulations. Interesting post. I’m actually about to release a literary app created in the same vein. I think we’re very much in the right place at the right time, but you’re right, it won’t be long before these early efforts are over-shadowed. I don’t see there’s any need to resent the bigger publishers. Hopefully we’re demonstrating to them what can be done with the medium and that if they don’t take it seriously and invest in it properly, they’ll be out-flanked, if not out-gunned, by us ‘minnows’.

    Well done. I know how much work’s involved.

  3. Jon Higham Says:

    May 18th, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    David/Neil – thank you ever so much for your kind comments.

    David you’ve made a good point, and it is confusing and I had to go away and check my facts !. When we did Elly there was no ipad then, nor apple ebooks (and here’s the really confusing bit), or an ibooks app through which one accesses and reads the ebooks. So we followed the thousands of developers who have put out kids books as apps. We then enhanced it so it will look sharp and clean at the larger ipad size. So without an ipad I can’t even enter the world of apple ebooks to comment. But it makes interesting reading if you sign into itunes usa, then ipad, then ibooks, and read the comments about the ibook/ebook store – not all flattering and some griping about the price of ebooks too….There is to be access to apple’s ebooks for iphone users in the new OS 4 update on the way.

    Neil you’re quite right – no I shan’t resent the big publishers, who knows, I may even hook up with one again someday ! But I hope the technology will open new doors and perhaps a new era of publishing. I hope too that it means publishers take more risks again, and finally I won’t be surprised if new successful independents spring up with some exciting material – and good luck with your app !

  4. david stong Says:

    May 19th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks Jon- that’s an eye opener, and it makes such good sense. There’s no way an writer/illustrator could produce a content rich book with beautiful images using EPUB.

  5. Roy Says:

    May 19th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    To David Stong: It’s funny but before ebooks and their readers are ubiquous we have to already define these things further, but…

    A “book app” is an app just like the others being sold on the app store (whether Apple’s or RIM’s (Blackberry) or some Android app store. And it only works on the platform it was made for. But instead of a game, or mapping program, it’s a book. As an app, much more interesting things can happen in that book, like animation, video, audio, etc.

    An “ebook” typically is one created using the ePub (Apple iBook, B&N, etc.), Mobi (Amazon), PDF (Adobe Digital Editions) or some other largely text-based format. They can be viewed on multiple devices (depending on restrictions the seller applies) and so far are limited as to what rich media or interactive capabilities they have. These are the books you see on the Kindle or iBook “bookshelf” side by side one another.

  6. Emily Says:

    June 3rd, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks Jon- that’s an eye opener, and it makes such good sense. There’s no way an writer/illustrator could produce a content rich book with beautiful images using EPUB.

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