Sunday, September 11, 2011

Want to turn your picture book into a multi-media iBook?

Like many writer-illustrators, I've long been fascinated by picture-book apps, and I've been wondering how I can take advantage of this new technology. David Fox (along with Carisa Kluver) co-hosts a weekly Twitter chat with Brooks Jones on this topic. It's called #storyappchat, and it takes place every Sunday at 9pm EST. David is also the producer of a new picture iBook, entitled Are You My Friend? He agreed to answer my questions on how a picture iBook is made.

David, please tell us a bit about this project. Who wrote it? How did you find an illustrator? The drawings are delightful, by the way. And what about the voice talent? Who is she? She’s really good. Where did you find her?

Wow, that’s a lot of questions you snuck into the first one :-)

Annie Fox, internationally known children’s author and anti-bullying activist, wrote the book. She also happens to be my wife, which is how I lucked into the opportunity to turn it into an iBook. Annie has written books for Free Spirit Publishing, mostly for tweens and teens, including the Middle School Confidential™ series. More about Annie and her work at

Annie and David Fox

We first met Eli Noyes, our illustrator, about 18 years ago. At the time he was a director at Colossal Pictures. We told him about Annie’s Raymond and Sheila book series, and he offered to create a drawing for us, to help Annie show the book around.

Interestingly, this wasn’t Are You My Friend? but a different Raymond and Sheila story (which we can now publish as an iBook at some point in the future). Anyway, in 2003 we reconnected with Eli and asked if he might be interested in doing some drawings for Are You My Friend? Eli, wanting to expand his already very impressive skill set, happened to be taking a class on children’s book creation/illustration, so he saw this as a great opportunity. He helped us lay out the entire book, did sketches for each page, and did some beautiful watercolor illustrations for some of his sketches. But despite our attempts, even with an agent, we weren’t able to find a publisher then.

A year ago, we realized we didn’t have to wait to find a publisher... we had all the skills to publish it ourselves on an iPad! So we reconnected with Eli yet again, and this time he completed all the illustrations in color.

A few pages from Are You My Friend? on the iPad
Illustrations by Eli Noyes

For the narration and character voices, we knew we wanted to go the professional route. I contacted an old friend and LucasArts alum, Julian Kwasneski, and told him about our project. He loved the story and Eli’s art and wanted to make sure we had a great actor to play the parts. We worked with the Stars Agency and got back auditions from 10 voice-over actors. While they were all really good, Melissa Hutchison was perfect. She was able to nail all the voices in the audition. And Julian had already worked with her on other projects, so they had an established working relationship. Jory Prum was our sound engineer (another LucasArts alum), and Julian our sound director. Julian also helped with the sound effects we added to the iBook’s soundtrack.

Voice-over actor Melissa Hutchison, really getting into character

Why did you and your wife decide to turn this story into an iBook?

Our original plan was to turn it into an app. Having gone through that process once already, I knew how long it would probably take (about 2-3 months). And then I learned about Apple’s update to their iBooks bookshelf app that enabled background audio and synchronized word highlighting with the narration. That seemed like a perfect vehicle for our story, since we already had the art and narration. With the help of a beta version of’s Book Creator app, I was able to lay out the book and text in iBooks format. Then I added the sound coding by hand.

What special features does Are You My Friend? have?

In addition to the read-it-to-me narration and soundtrack I mentioned above, and of course, the whimsical illustrations and fantastic narration, we’re using high resolution images so you can pinch-zoom in to see more details. There’s also a unique friendship skills/social and emotional learning guide for parents and teachers at the back of the iBook.

How did you add those features? Was it a lot of work? Did you have to do any coding? Do you think anyone could do it?

Adding the narration with synchronized word highlighting was a lot of work. I used the open source Audacity software on my Mac and imported the narration for each page spread. Then I selected each word and bookmarked it, naming the bookmark to match the spoken word. Audacity then let me export these bookmarks into a text file that contained each word and the start and end point of the sound (in seconds). I converted that data into the format that the iBook required, using an Excel spreadsheet to help.
I then exported from Excel into the pages of the iBook. Yes, there’s “coding”, very similar to the HTML coding of a website. But no programming. There’s no logic code (if-then-else statements), just XHTML statements.

I don’t know if anyone could do it. If you’ve ever built a website (even a small one) and did some hand-tweaking of the underlying HTML code, then yes, you could do this. If that sounds daunting, then hold on a bit... I’m sure that some tools will appear that will make this all much easier, without ever having to touch the code.

Tell me about Book Creator. Where do you get it? What do you need to run it? What does it do? How much does it cost? Is it hard to get the words to light up when they’re read? Did you encounter any problems along the way? How did you solve them?

I was fortunate to be accepted as a beta test for Book Creator. It’s made by, and was just approved by Apple to go live. You can buy it starting September 15th in the iTunes App Store for $6.99. That’s an amazing deal!
Book Creator does not handle any of the sound features I added to our iBook. It does a great job of letting you position your art assets (jpeg or png files) on the pages, and add/position/resize the text. You can see a video demo of it on their website.

How long did each step in the process take? What were the costs involved?

After having all the art assets and text, it took me a few days to resize the art to the best size for an iBook, drop it in, and add the text. But it took me a few weeks to do all the narration and word sync code, music, sound effects, and ambient sound for each page. Part of that was a learning curve for me. I could probably do it all in about 2 weeks now that I know what I’m doing.

Left to right: Sound director Julian Kwasneski, author Annie Fox, sound engineer Jory Prum
Using iPads to hold the database of each sentence the actor was to say

Costs for this last stage were minimal... really just my time, plus about $50 for the royalty free music we used, and some more for sound effects from Julian.
The biggest cost by far was the actual recording session. Of course, this depends on how much text there is to record (we recorded a lot of extra text for a future interactive app version of our book), how much the talent charges, the sound studio, sound effects, etc. Figure a few thousand dollars to do it all at a professional level. Maybe less if you want to cut some corners.

Author Annie Fox adding vocalizations for the last scene in the book

How do you get a picture-book iBook into the iBookstore?

First step is to set up an iBook publisher account. You do it through iTunes Connect:

If you’re already an app developer, you need to register under a different account. There is no fee for this, but you do need a US bank account. You also need an ISBN number for your book. It should be a new one, not one already used for a paper version of your book (if it’s been published already). But it could be the same as an ebook version of your book.

If you don’t have one, you can buy them through Bowker at where the price is $150 for 1, $250 for 10, or $1000 for 100. But there’s a non-profit that bought a block of 1000 ISBN numbers and is reselling them for $5 each. - only downside is that in the Bowker database, epubbud is listed as the publisher. But you still have control over the meta data you send to Apple, so you can control who the publisher is there.

Once you’re accepted into Apple’s iBook developer program, you can download sample iBook files and their PDF guides on how to do it, like their assets guide. You also download a Mac program called iTunes Producer that walks you through the process of adding all the meta data (title, description, author and illustrator names, pricing, cover) and attaching your epub file. It then checks the syntax to make sure there are no errors, and uploads it all to Apple. It’s then live in the iTunes iBookstore within an hour or two!

Any advice to writers or writer-illustrators who are considering turning their stories into iBooks or apps?
Go for it! If you have any technical skills at all, work with Photoshop, and have an iPad, you can at least do a silent version using the Book Creator app.

If you have HTML skills, and want to invest in recording the narration, then you could go the next step and turn it into an enhanced iBook with sound. Or wait a bit until the tools catch up and it won’t be as difficult to add the sound.

Going the book app route only makes sense if you plan to add some animation and interactivity. Doing a book app is definitely more challenging, though there are several tools that make this easier as well. We list several in the right margin of the site.

There’s a huge range here, with some taking a percentage of the royalties and publishing the final app themselves, and others, like’s tool, where you also need to license the Corona SDK, have an Apple App developer’s license, and submit the final app yourself (but they don’t take a cut of the royalties).

So, unless you plan to do animation and really need a lot of interactivity to make your story work, I’d say stick with the iBook format. Much easier to create. You could always do an app as well.

Are you considering hiring out your services to other writers or writer-illustrators?

Yes, we have considered that. We do have more of our own content to produce, but we’re happy to consider taking on other projects, if they match the types of books we want to work on. The unifying feature of all our iBooks and apps are that they have to be entertaining as well as empowering for kids.

I’m also a consultant for app and iBook developers, and am happy to hand-hold someone through the process. I’ve always enjoyed helping people learn a new tech skill after I’ve successfully completed a project myself.

Anything else you would like to tell us about Are You My Friend?

I’ll let Annie answer that one:

I've been answering email from kids around the world since 1997. For children of any age, nothing matters more than having friends they can trust. Parents do a great job of teaching toddlers to "be nice." But as friendship conflicts become more complex, kids are left to figure things out on their own. The results don't often lead to constructive learning. By telling an engaging story about kids being kids, complete with a set of positive messages, readers can learn what it takes to have a friend and to be a real friend to yourself and others.

Thanks, David and Annie! And here's wishing you both the best of luck with the book.

Thank you for the chance to share this all with you and your readers! If anyone wants to contact us, you can do so through our website,

And for those who would like to learn more  from David and others about making picture iBooks or apps, check out #storyappchat on Twitter on Sundays at 9pm Eastern time.
Photos provided by David Fox


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Fox said...

Thanks, Shevi, for giving us the opportunity to talk about the process of creating our "Are You My Friend?" iBook! If anyone has any questions, please ask here (or through our website, or on our Facebook page.

Carisa said...

Great article Shevi! This is really helpful info for people interested in self-publishing their picture books and now really is the time to consider this as just another route to getting great content to new readers.

Congrats to David & Annie on a great title!

Carisa Kluver (Digital-Storytime:

David Fox said...

Thank you, Carisa! Your liking our iBook is incredibly important to us!

Anonymous said...

David, thank you for all the information you have given us. I learn something new with each of your posts. (MWA, Corona, here) I downloaded the sample of the book and really enjoyed it. Well done. Very nice article.


Brooks Jones said...

David (and Shevi): thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes look at creating an iBook. I know it will be as useful to others as it is to me!

David Fox said...

Liz Castro, who runs a great website on epublishing. Pigs, Gourds, and Wikis, just let me know that the actual pricing for ISBN numbers through Bowker is now $125 for 1, $250 for 10, $575 for 100, and $1,000 for 1,000.

Also, forgot to mention... if you need to create one of those ISBN barcode images, Bowker charges you for it, but you can generate one for free at