Behind the Scenes: Making a Great Book into an Awesome App

First in a series. Ever wonder what it takes to get a book to print, or convert a book from print to an eBook or app? We know that our readers are curious about how the Free Spirit staff gets ideas, works with authors and illustrators, and develops books and materials for kids, teachers, and parents. Watch for more Behind the Scenes blog posts in the future.

MiddleSchoolConfidentialbook 1 from Free Spirit PublishingIf you have a middle school kid in your life, you may already be familiar with the Middle School Confidential™ series. Author Annie Fox brings great insight and personality to dealing with social and emotional learning for the preteen crowd. Add the illustrations by Matt Kindt, and together they have created a set of handbooks/graphic novels—complete with tips, resources, and more—that are popular with tweens as well as the adults in their lives. The characters seem like kids we all know—kids trying to figure out where they fit in and how to be a friend. The books in the series are accompanied by a leader’s guide, but to reach as many kids as possible, creating apps was the next step.

According to Free Spirit’s president and publisher Judy Galbraith, the company is “committed to delivering content in multiple formats to give people options. If you’d rather read one of our books on an e-reader versus a paper book, it’s our job to make sure you have that choice. msc1_app_icon FSP Electric EggplantLikewise, we know young people use multiple devices to access not just their friends, but information and entertainment.” As the founder of Free Spirit, Judy has seen many innovations in publishing change how content gets to readers.

The books came first, and Annie researches and plans her materials based largely on the emails she has received from kids at her interactive blog, Hey Terra, over the last 16 years. These real stories of daily challenges in self-esteem, peer pressure, and dealing with friends and families are brought to life in the book’s six characters. She attributes a large part of the connection readers feel to her books to the fact that the problems her characters face are all based on real problems being tackled by real kids.

© Annie and David Fox courtesy of Electric Eggplant


Annie & David Fox

Annie Fox’s books were naturals for app development, not only because of the graphic novel element but also becauseAnnie and her husband David Fox own Electric Eggplant, a multimedia production company focused on social and emotional learning. Annie and David work to get social learning tools into the hands of kids in a way that they will easily access them. “Smartphones, etc., are what they’re holding, so it makes sense to get the content on the delivery systems they use most frequently,” says Annie. “Kids love apps! When offered a choice between a story on a page and an interactive app . . . for many kids, especially reluctant readers, the app is going to win every time.”

Annie and David did not want to re-create the books when they created the apps. They worked to make the best use of Matt’s illustrations while drawing the viewer in to the action. “Apps are about interactivity. We saw great potential of lifting only the graphic novel sections of the books and the quizzes for the app. We developed a special comic book reader feature.” A tap on the screen zooms the reader onto to the face of the speaker. Swiping across moves you to the next person in the conversation. And another tap takes you back to the entire scene. The sound effects are tied to each motion, so the sense of being drawn in is accomplished even without animation.

Full page screenshot, Middle School Confidential Book 2 app

Double-tapping on a full page of the graphic novel app . . .

Zoom in screenshot, Middle School Confidential Book 2 app

. . . moves the reader to single scene.

This partnership between Free Spirit and Electric Eggplant has now put two successful apps into the hands of kids: Middle School Confidential Book 1: Be Who You Are and Book 2: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind. Book 3 is in development. When kids are enthusiastic about content, teachers know the lessons they build around that content will stay with students. Middle School Confidential apps are a favorite with teachers. They use them in language arts classes and advisory classes; speech therapists use them, and so do drama teachers.

“We’ve also heard that kids with special needs love our app,” says Annie. “Not something we anticipated, but it’s all very gratifying for us as developers!”

Judy Galbraith agrees. The books are interactive, but the apps make them even more personal. “Annie’s messages are important, and presenting them in ways that are appealing to kids is key to our mission at Free Spirit.”

Have you used the Middle School Confidential™ apps with your students? How would you integrate them into your class? What other apps do you use in class?

Click to learn more about Annie Fox, M.Ed., Matt Kindt, and Electric Eggplant, or to find the Middle School Confidential™ series in our catalog.

Xcode visual sample snapshotSo you want the technical scoop on turning a book into an app?In a simple description not intended to be directions, here is the Apple way, but the Android method is similar:

Write a book. Heavily illustrate it, because apps are visual. Test the book on your audience to see if there is interest. Download the Apple Software Development Kit (sdk), install it, and read their intro and rules carefully. Research similar projects on the Web; there are extensive developer sites and examples. Experiment with the program and play with the XCode before searching out a tutorial.

Working on a computer, with your iPhone plugged in to it, bravely move ahead. Create an app ID and your own developers’ certificate. Start coding your app using sdk, via File, and Build and Run Simulator, but be sure to set the Debug option. Monitor how much memory your screens and actions will use on the iPhone, which is limited. How you code it will depend on what you are putting in your app.

Debug it, check for leaks, and get some friends to test it. Set up AdHoc certificates on their phones. Make changes. Keep debugging, checking, and testing until it runs right on all iPhone, iPad, and iPod versions.

Prepare to submit for App Store consideration. Fill out all their forms, download their app upload tools, and upload your binary coding. Make advertising graphics and screen shots in sizes for all platforms. Write a concise but appealing introduction. Decide if you want ads to run in your app (you can earn more that way but users don’t always like them). Set your price, considering the 30 percent the App Store will keep. Submit it for review. Wait. Wait more. Get reviewed. Their rejections come with suggestions. Follow the suggestions. Resubmit. If it goes in the App Store, figure out how to promote your app. Plan for the next one.

Or hire a developer to move your book to an app!


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


Springy Book Anniversary © by Free Spirit Publishing© 2013 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

Blogger for Free Spirit Publishing.
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