Monthly Archives: September 2012

[Guest blog] An author’s view: Sally Gardner on Maggot Moon Digital

Personally I don’t think it matters how you read or what you read with, as long as you read. The book will always be there, I don’t believe it will disappear or be frightened away by technology. No, it is far too magical for that. I think the interactive book has arrived as a loving bridegroom to take away the book’s virginity. Its role is to enhance the reading experience and it does do something extraordinary. It gives the author a chance to add to an idea they have created, to share their story in an incredibly personal way.

I have been longing for years to try and show the non-dyslexic world what it is like to be dyslexic, how we see words, what the gift it is and to try and make it seen in a positive light rather than as a disability. At last here is the technology that allows me to that, here is the vision I can share.  It has also pulled in and expanded various inspirations behind the book, including primary sources, like Churchill’s letters, a timeline of some of the world’s cruelest tyrannies, unwritten histories, animated sentences, characters as interpreted by sculptors, independent videos made by youth groups, theories about the brain, puzzles…the list goes on.

All this wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing Sara O’Connor. The minute I met her I felt here was someone who was going to fight to make this idea work. She understood straight away what I wanted to do and we worked together closely from start to finish. The next thing I knew she and her team where buried deep under piles of research into dyslexia. She was horrified by all the rubbish that is talked about dyslexia and the money that people try to extract online for supposed ‘tests’ to see if your child is or isn’t dyslexic.

The more we all talked, the broader and more ambitious our ideas became. Together we began to see what we could and couldn’t do. It has been an extraordinary learning process for both of us and the end result has made my toes tingle with delight. I am so proud of the Maggot Moon Multi-touch edition; I really love the way it’s laid out with a very clever signage system for image, music and video.

I still believe that above all you need a well-written story, the digital version in no way diminishes that, far from it. In my humble opinion it demands it. For if the story doesn’t grab you, all people will do is shimmer through the iBook, tap on all the extra content, and leave it. When the story is strong, the extra content allows for an almost four dimensional experience of the book.

I remember in the dark ages after I left Central St Martins, a friend of mine went to work on music videos. A lot of people told him he was wasting his time, no one would be interested in that, it was the music counted.

This then is a gauntlet thrown down to novelists in the digital age. In fact, I can’t wait to take up the challenge again. I will just have to hurry up and write the next book. For the possibilities are endless, or, as Standish Treadwell would say, they are as boundless as the stars.

Come and hear Sally talk about Seeing the World Differently, and see the digital edition in action, at our special event with Booktrust at the Freeword Centre, London on 11th October. Click here for more information and to book a FREE ticket.


How We Made Our iBook

The Maggot Moon Multi-touch iBook was a complete labour of love for everyone involved – we learnt so much throughout the process of collating content and building this iBook, so we wanted to share it with you. Sara O’Connor and Sarah Benton take you through the process they went through to bring Maggot Moon from printed page to iPad…

This project was first and foremost based on Sally’s message. She has long been passionate about debunking the myths surrounding dyslexia and all the concepts for this project came from her.

We met with Sally three times before even starting building an idea of what this digital project could be, and as we progressed through the steps, kept meeting with her. Each time, we left more inspired than ever before.

My favourite meeting was when we were sitting out in our building’s lobby and Sally was talking about how some dyslexics have exceptional spacial awareness. Suddenly, she asked me, “Without turning around, tell me what’s behind you right now.” Luckily, I could remember that there was a door behind me, but it did make me think about how many spaces I move through without ever really seeing them.

With all the thoughts of extra content, and discussions with Sally about what she wanted to achieve, we then had the hard task of trying to decide exactly how and what, we put in the book.

We had real concerns about making sure the content fit in with the text, so the only thing to be done before we went any further was to sit down again, and go through the book with a fine toothcomb, highlighting anything that could be enhanced with extra content, or an interaction. For instance, being we’d talked to Sally a lot, we started to notice how many parts of her were in Standish, and where videos of her talking about her experiences would fit.

We started off with a very LONG list (think crazy spreadsheet) which was numbered and colour coded based on priority. We then sat down pretty regularly to cull things from the list, if they were too tenuous or unachievable. We didn’t want to put any content in for the sake of it. It had to fit.

Video content, we knew, would be important for the project. It would bring the page alive, and help us display a lot of content in an interactive way.

Some videos we made ourselves, with the help of screen capture software, and iMovie (like one that shows how Visual Theasurus works), some other people were kind enough to let us put in things they had made (thanks Bold Creative and Digital Disruption!), and some we had to commission ourselves.

Two of the most important ones were the animated page sequences – which give a peek into what reading is like for Sally and other dyslexics. We discussed the pages with Sally, and she described what movement she sees, how words bump into each other, fight for attention, and generally don’t stay still. We then briefed talented illustrator, and video animator Tom Percival to bring this to life. When we were happy we showed some dyslexic teenagers, just to make sure they were accurate and then made a few changes based on their feedback.

I don’t think any of us imagined how amazing the final videos would be, so thank you Tom for the hard work!

Getting permissions for things like the Churchill/Lindemann telegrams was quite a fun challenge. The lovely people at the Churchill Archives Centre were so helpful, but though they held the documents, I had to get permission from the copyright owners. One set of permissions came in the very day we were uploading the files… (That’s the best thing about working digitally and instantly. We could still squeeze it in at the extreme last moment!)

We also worked with people at M C Escher’s foundation to get permission for his Relativity painting. Sally had wanted us to find an example of some dyslexic’s skill at seeing things three-dimensionally. Especially in a mind-boggling image like Escher’s, many dyslexics can spot instantly what is “wrong” with the image, whereas I have to follow the staircase with my eye and realise that it is impossible.

Best of all, there were fabulous people like the Digital Disruption team, who were happy for us to use their amazing content, once they heard what we were trying to do with the project. Their videos about propaganda and techniques for brain washing fit so perfectly with the messages of this book, as well as being relevant and brilliant learning tools. We’re so grateful to them for letting us include it.

Once everything was decided, created, numbered, labelled and correctly formatted, we sent it off to the developer. And then we realised that not everything was quite in the right place or the right format. So, we sent various corrections. And then again, and then again. We got there in the end and are ever grateful to Justin and Hugh for not throttling us as we all worked to get everything in the right places.

(SARA’S BIG TIP: When designing a 200+ page book, with pieces of content tagged to certain bits of text… turn off hyphenation BEFORE you do your page layout. Otherwise, correcting it afterwards, things get very, very fiddly.)

And here’s how it all turned out:

How Audio Books Happen

(I almost called this post, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” because I watched the second half of Love, Actually last night and feel all Christmassy.)

Anyway… those of you who have been with us for a while (hello, Linda!) might remember this post from Georgia.  Well, at last, the inspiration behind it has completed it’s journey: the MAGGOT MOON audio book is out!

But the thing that I wanted to blog about today was this awesome behind-the-scene sneak peek at what it’s like recording an audio book – which includes tips from the producer about hw to get into audio recording… Our reader is the incredible Robert Madge – a sixteen-year-old with enormous talent. We are so lucky to have found him!

If you want to hear more of the end product of Robert reading, you can hear samples iTunes and Audible.

Allaying my fears about digital publishing

Anna Cunnane has just begun the MA in Publishing Studies program at University College London. In her spare time she enjoys reading, the theatre and keeping up with the publishing industry on her blog. She can be found on twitter as @MollyBloom1989.

 Digital has recently become a buzzword in the publishing world, but for somebody taking their first steps into the industry, it is sometimes tricky to work out exactly what the implications of this much talked about transition are. It is often tempting to become concerned about the future and to give too much credence to those who would proclaim the printed book dead.

Like many who love reading, I am very much attached to the physical book and the way each one looks, feels and even smells. A book can be both stimulating and comforting and I only have to take a look at the battered titles on my own bookshelves at home to feel my chest swelling with pride at my hard won collection. I admit then that I have previously viewed digital editions with suspicion. Will the use of multimedia detract from the impact of the narrative I wondered? And will the importance placed on traditional storytelling decline as digital threatens to become the default publishing format?

My bookshelf at home

It turns out I needn’t have worried. In my week interning at Hot Key Books, I  wasn’t prepared to be so excited by their use of interactive digital editions to enhance their physical list, and to redefine what we think of as a book.

The mix of video, audio, text and images in the Maggot Moon Multi-Touch means that the story literally leaps of the page, or in this case out of the screen! Like the best interactive books, the additions to the text found in this edition do not disrupt the flow of the story; their content links thematically to the original narrative to ensure a seamless reading experience. The multi-touch edition stays true to the spirit of the book but also expands the reading experience beyond the scope of the printed word. This product proves that high quality children’s and young adult’s books with strong characters, compelling plots and beautiful design can shine in any format.

The warmth and the passion for great stories I have witnessed at Hot Key has made me even more excited about working in publishing. I look forward to keeping up with what they do next, and I am sure that what I have learned about digital publishing during my time at Hot Key will continue to inspire me in my reading.

Fiction publishers should make books, not apps

So, I know, that’s kind of a controversial headline, but for us it is the result of about five months of planning, networking, debating and creating – and then changing our minds.

Sarah Odedina always planned for Hot Key to be digitally savvy. (Lucky me, it means I got to get a job here!) And Sarah Benton and I were dead set on taking full advantage and producing an innovative digital accompaniment for a book we all loved. MAGGOT MOON by Sally Gardner described by Meg Rosoff as “The Perfect Book” and the Telegraph this weekend as “the outstanding teenage novel of the autumn”.

We set out from day one, determined to make an innovative fiction app that amplified Sally’s ideas to challenge public perception of dyslexia. We met with tons of great app developers and honed and refined our concept, trying to pack in the most dyslexia-friendly features and examples as we could. There was going to be a drawing feature – because doodling often helps dyslexics concentrate – and text-to-audio sync, lots of font and colour options… and then some stuff at the back of Sally talking about her experiences.

But the more we poked at the project, the clearer it became that:
1. We would spend all our budget on programming, and have practically nothing left for extra content.
2. Pricing a book app in the app store was going to just be awful.
3. Getting noticed in the app store would be so, so difficult.
4. By the time we actually saw visuals of a prototype, we realised that what we were taking about didn’t feel very innovative anymore.

Luckily, one of our many meetings was with Justin Moodie of Clerkenwell Digital. He had worked at DK building their beautiful iBooks using the new and exciting tool that Apple had just released, iBooks Author. He suggested that we consider working with the platform.

Like a government U-turn, the idea took a little while to properly bed in, but once we’d finally come to terms with not building an app, so so so many possibilities opened up. (Plus Sally was so excited about the possibilities of new format.)

1. The average build cost was reduced by about two thirds.
2. We could spend time and energy on enhancing Sally’s personal story and the one she had written by creating videos, artwork and getting permissions for things like Winston Churchill telegrams and artwork by Escher.
3. At the time, no one had used iBooks Author for fiction, and not for young adult fiction, so we would be innovating.
4. And this was the one that really sealed the deal: it would be a BOOK sold through a BOOK store.

Here’s Sally’s introduction to the book:

We are so proud of what we have made, so much so that we’re going to do it again! iBooks Author is an amazing tool that ANYONE can use to publish beautiful books. Check this out:

Please let us know what you think of the Maggot Moon Multi-touch iBook – it’s only available for iPad, but that’s because that’s where it looks the most beautiful.

Lessons from India

A few weeks ago, Sarah Odedina went to the Penguin India conference in Delhi. This post is a collection of her observations and experiences from that trip.

A visit to India is a fantastically ‘awakening’ experience for anyone working in publishing. It is a country with a vibrant, even booming, publishing scene which shares many of the same authors on the best-seller lists as in the UK and USA.  Suzanne Collins, Jeff Kinney and Eoin Colfer all feature strongly in  bookshops and school bags across the country. But the most solid and reliable sector of the children’s market appears to be amongst local authors whose books sell consistently and whose profiles and reputations are solid.  Ruskin Bond, Anushka Ravishankar and Paro Anand’s and many others have the lions share of space in the children’s section of bookshops.

A healthy stock of YA titles in the Delhi Airport (including one of our own!)

India, like everywhere else, has also started looking at the Young, or New, Adult market and a vibrant publishing genre is emerging. Many Indian publishers are selling a unisex version of ‘chick lit’. These are affordable tales featuring the highs and lows of love. Aimed at both young adult and adult readers, these books are often campus-set, and have melodramatic story lines that somewhat mimic the formula of the county’s most popular films. They have attractive and commercial jackets and very competitive price points making them a perfect impulse buy.  English-language publishing in India is growing across the country and these high-energy books are one of the driving forces behind that growth.  Penguin India has a series called “Metro Reads” with their best selling title, CAN LOVE HAPPEN TWICE, selling 200,000 copies so far. While Rupa Publishers, with such titles as ‘RIGHT FIT, WRONG SHOE’ is the market leader and often sells around 65,000 copies per title.  This is commercial mass market fiction at its most effective.  Sold in great volume, at low cost, to a variety of readers and the feeling is that their easy style and low price point will encourage readers generally.

In a country with a rapidly growing middle-class, book publishing is a beneficiary of the economically stable times. Both adults and children’s books have a ready and willing audience who want books that reflect their lives. The Indian publishing scene is strong, clear and creating some of the best books I have seen for a very long time. With a really sophisticated market, split into many different social groups, publishers are shaping their lists to reflect this social complexity. While home-grown literary fiction like Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger sits at one end of the spectrum, at the other sits the commercial Metro Reads, and the result is that all Indian readers can find something to their taste in this market.

Returning to London and reflecting on all I had seen and learnt while in Delhi, I realise that we have lots of great opportunities in our home market. The most important difference between our markets of course is that we only deal in English-language sales. While in India there are many local languages with strong publishing industries catering to them we only publish in English.

This may be both good and bad. On one hand, it definitely means all our eggs are in one basket. My preoccupation at the moment is thinking about the “Metro Reads” model. How can we launch inexpensive, fun and disposable novels that appeal to a wide range of readers? I suspect electronic formats might be the answer, and while there have been many great ‘one-offs’ in this market, no one has yet managed to launch a series or range which generates its own reader loyalty.  Coming very soon from Hot Key Books is the racy New Adult novel THE VINCENT BOYS. We will publish this title initially as a digital book with a very competitive price for a short period of time, and then print version will follow.  Who knows, this may be the start of our own version of “Metro Reads”!  Watch this space…

The Times They Are A Changin’

As you might already know, yesterday our very own Sarah Odedina was featured in The Telegraph commenting on the Publishers Association’s news that sales of children’s e-books were nearly triple what they were this time last year. Sarah (and the rest of us) think this is “marvellous” and (as we’ve said before) it’s not HOW children read that’s important – just the fact that they’re reading is.

However, not everyone is so sure. In the same article, Joan Brady said that she felt: “There is a certain amount of gravitas to a page that you don’t get on a screen” and I stumbled upon this article yesterday too, in which author David Gaughran ponders whether e-books are killing the ‘literary’ novel.

David actually concludes that no, e-books are not doing literary titles any harm – their lack of popularity in the charts is mainly due to fans of literary books being a bit more reluctant to buy downloads (but they’re getting there), and that publishers are unsure about how to market literary e-book titles.

I can definitely see where he’s coming from – I was recently desperate to read Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue, but rather than simply download it and access it immediately, I waited to get hold of one of the new special-edition hardbacks Virago has just released. I suppose that was because I wanted to have the book on my shelf (it is exceptionally pretty) and I felt willing to wait – and pay more – for what I was fairly certain would be a classic book.

But that said, digital publishing is becoming more and more exciting, and recently I actually seriously considered buying an iPad just so I could download the multi-touch edition of Maggot Moon (if you have an iPad, DO IT, YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED). I wish I was exaggerating. Sorry bank manager.

So maybe it is a case of how we publishers go about producing and marketing our more literary titles in digital format. Luckily here at Hot Key towers ALL of our books will be available in e-book format (this was one of David’s complaints – many publishers don’t convert titles into digital format, especially back-list ones) and our multi-touch editions are actually focusing on our more literary titles.

So, we hope as ever that we can be considered to be leading the way in how digital books are produced, marketed and consumed… but let us know!