My friend and I created a short children's ebook about a baby heart born to human parents. You can download it free on your Apple device of choice: Part of My Heart
In this post, I'm going to talk about self-publishing that children's ebook. We'll go through the process, share some lessons learned, and see how it turned out.
InspirationThe inspiration for this story came from my (at that time 4-year-old) daughter Nora. She asked me where she came from. I wasn't ready to give the birds and the bees talk, so I gave her the emotional truth: she came from the love Mommy and I have for each other. That explanation satisfied her. I was also inspired by this quote from Elizabeth Stone:
"Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside of your body." I took this literally.
I wrote the story over four months in Lissa Rovetch's class. Also in that class was Sungyeon Joh, a super talented Korean artist/author. We had taken years of Lissa's classes at Pixar together and always felt a kinship in that we both went to emotion first. She enjoyed the story and drew a picture. Here's that early art:
I had been looking for an excuse to collaborate with her for years so this was a wonderful opportunity. We decided to do a children's ebook together.
Why An Ebook?
- Full creative control.
- Much faster process than traditional publisher.
- Basically free to create.
- Liberating to create a finished product.
- Could share with family and friends.
- Digital means instant global distribution and removes barriers to exposure.
- The book would live online 24/7 as a calling card for our work.
To simplify the project, we decided to set the goal of publishing a straight ahead children's book (2-D art) as a free Apple iBook. This would let us create and distribute the book for free. We wouldn't need to pay conversion costs to other formats or worry about designing the art to work on multiple platforms. We also decided not to do it as an app since we didn't want to bring in a third person to do coding/interactive elements. We decided to keep it something we could accomplish between the two of us.
Art Production With An iPad
With a finished story, we met bi-weekly over six months to produce the art. Sungyeon created all the art and my role was mostly giving feedback. She mostly drew directly on the iPad with the app iDraw. For the handwritten text near the end of the process I believe she had to import into Photoshop and do that there. And Book Creator to see the layout in continuity. Our working process was really cool: we would meet for an hour or so and Sungyeon would bring her iPad with the art loaded on it. I would give notes and she would draw changes directly over the images right there. It really accelerated the normal cycle of feedback and editing because she could give herself visual notes in the moment rather than have to translate words into art. I found I enjoyed giving feedback on the art - felt like a movie director in that I was giving my take on the layout, staging, and emotional truth of each page/scene. It was so inspiring that I'm now looking to write/direct a short film.
Early basic images:
Some finished art:
Making a Book With iBooks Author
Apple gives away a free app called iBooks Author which is an incredibly easy way to make your own book. It's really intuitive and easy to use. I took an Apple Camp with my two older daughters and they each made books while I got to observe the process. So easy even little kids can use it. It was as simple as importing Sungyeon's art, adding a bit of metadata, and exporting the ebook.
Publishing With iTunes Producer
iTunes Producer is the free app you use to prepare something for sale on Apple's stores (including the iBook Store). We followed a good tutorial on how to use iTunes Producer. You'll need to categorize the book, give other info about it, and choose sample images. It is a thrilling experience to hit submit and know that your book will be in over 50 countries within 24 hours.
Tracking Downloads With iTunes Connect
Apple also provides a free (noticing a theme here?) website called iTunes Connect which you can use to track downloads/sales in various countries.
We also signed a legal collaboration agreement up front that was a modified version of a free online form. I encourage having an agreement so that it makes it clear up front who owns what. We also filed for copyright once we had a finished product. It's not strictly necessary, but it was pretty cheap and makes it easier to defend your work should you ever have legal action.
Results & Benefits
So was it worth it? Yes. It took us about 10 months to write, create the art, and publish the ebook. With a traditional publisher it would take more like three years! Apple and ebooks in general have streamlined the process and removed many of the traditional barriers that prevented independent creators from getting their work out to the world. It was a liberating and energizing experience. It was a great feeling to own our destiny and have full control from writing to art to layout to font choice to publishing to promoting. Thanks to the internet and free tools, it's recently become possible for one or two people to be their own end-to-end creative enterprise with a global reach for next to nothing. That's really exciting. Can you say "disintermediation?"
The whole process was mostly free, except for my and Sungyeon's time. We did pay a small fee to copyright the book but that was optional. And Sungyeon bought the iDraw app earlier but used it for her art creation process. We gave the book away for free since our primary aim was to create a finished product and remove any barriers to people finding us and enjoying our work. I enjoyed the process so much that my brother Jonathan and I are now working on a new children's ebook series.
The best part of all was that our family and friends across the globe could read something we made and it wasn't compromised by the traditional publishing process. Hundreds of other people also downloaded it and left stellar reviews. My favorite review was from Nora, who inspired the book. She asks me to read it to her all the time.
Hope to see your own book online some day! In the meantime, please download Part of My Heart and share it with someone who is a part of your heart.