Gaming, Writing And Collaboration With Nathan Meunier

Gamers love their games, many are addicted and are passionate about the experiences they are immersed in.

I think we’d all love to see more of that addictive behavior around books! In today’s show, I interview Nathan Meunier, an author and game journalist, about what we can all learn from gaming.

In the intro I mention The Author’s Guild fair contract initiative, the new Kindle for Kids Fire HD device and the interview about KDP Kids ebook creator, Thrillerfest in NYC in July. Plus, talking about Mark Dawson’s Facebook Advertising for Authors course.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to:

nathan meunierNathan Meunier is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer who covers video games, technology, and geek culture. He’s also an indie game developer and has non-fiction books on game journalism as well as indie publishing.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below.

  • Nathan had always been interested in entertainment writing and also writing books, and made the shift from journalism to freelance writing.
  • The connections and also the differences between gaming and writing. And the opportunities that might be available in the near future to merge the worlds of books and games. And how he seeks out games for experiences he can’t get with movies or books.
  • The different types of games available that have narrative structure. And the opportunities available in gaming to make choices about different paths – or branches – in the story.
  • The way that gaming companies work with writers, including approaching gaming companies as a freelance writer or being part of a creative team on a contractual basis. For gaming companies, writers can focus on character development, story, narrative, branching paths and world building.
  • The parallels between large and small or indie companies that produces games, and the traditional and indie publishing worlds. Larger gaming companies often have a ‘self-publishing’ option where they will allow developers to produce a game on their platform. Nathan compares this to Amazon KDP where they provide the platform, the writer provides the content and Amazon takes a cut from the sale.
  • On Apps, freemium pricing, layers of micro-transactions and how the different platforms dictate the price people are willing to pay for the app.
  • The broadening of the audience for gaming and how different types of games can connect with different types of people.
  • On Twine, a free, downloadable program that lets you create your own choose-your-own-adventure style books. Nathan is experimenting with using Twine to combine game development, self-publishing and interactive fiction.
  • On collaboration with creative partners. Choosing partners who are a good fit to work with. Providing critical feedback without causing problems. Creating unique projects and making sure the games and products produced are ones the market is hungry for.
  • The future of gaming, including Virtual Reality. Different gaming experiences that might become available when combined with VR. And the fun at the heart of gaming.
  • On taking a shorter approach to book publishing. Writing books in shorter lengths while still providing value to the reader. Books with shorter lengths allow Nathan to experiment more, pivot quickly and move in different directions.

You can find Nathan at and on Twitter @NMeunier

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Virtual Reality For Writers, Publishing And Gaming With Rob Morgan

I’ve been excited about virtual reality for a while now and today I finally get to do a whole show on it! Rob Morgan explains what VR and augmented reality are, how the technology impacts writers and storytelling as well as discussing what the future might hold for gaming, education, retail and VR socializing.

** Sorry for the delay in posting this! I was cycling through Croatia last week and forgot to schedule!! **

In the intro I talk about finishing my draft of Deviance and also my next non-fiction book, How to make a living with your writing. It’s been a big word count month so I talk about how my writing routine has changed. I mention the brilliant Masterclass course with James Patterson – I have so many pages of notes from it. Plus, I talk about some exciting new audiobook developments.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to:

Rob MorganRob Morgan is a game writer, narrative designer and voice director. Rob is currently developing stories and writing scripts for upcoming virtual reality titles across multiple genres.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below.

  • How Rob moved into VR and gaming. Rob did literature at University and then moved to a digital agency. He did some work with a Sony augmented book and game – the Wonderbook, which led into a project with JK Rowling – Wonderbook: Book of Spells. Then Rob moved into working on virtual reality projects.
  • Defining augmented reality vs virtual reality. VR basically obscures your normal vision and replaces it with a helmet/pair of screens; replacing your normal vision with pixels. It has sound and haptics (touch) and smell are under development. Augmented reality is another layer on the existing world – superimposing onto your vision e.g. directions on top of the road that aren’t necessarily seen by other people. This is already here with how we use smartphone apps like maps, Google Glass and more. For authors, doing a map of your fictional characters around a neighbourhood or have monsters pop out as you walk around. There are all sorts of possibilities.
  • The aim of VR is getting to something like the Holodeck on Star Trek. They didn’t use it for just gaming, they resurrected stories and experienced more nuanced entertainment there. All types of content creators are excited about VR. They want to tell a compelling story that people want to be immersed in.
  • The technology is growing fast in the games industry, but is also about doing more social entertainment for families, as well as education, retail and social networks. The applications will be used in multiple industries. Examples in education (medics); doctor’s surgeries, example in retail from Westfield malls; social meetups in VR world High Fidelity.
  • On bookstores and VR applications for authors and publishers. Telepresence through VR for book launches would be fantastic. Retailing in a VR bookstore may not be the optimal use of the technology. [See my article here on what I think about VR for publishing] It’s not worth developing these VR retail spaces as publishers – it’s more interesting to think about VR experiences for people, ways to immerse readers in stories.

And remember, whatever the technology, storytellers and content creators will always be needed!

You can find Rob at and on twitter @AboutThisLaterContinue Reading

Solving The Discoverability Problem: Virtual Reality And The Future Of Publishing

“if Oculus Rift achieves its potential, it will change more than just a game, but entire industries.”

From TechcrunchoculusriftCC, 16 March 2015

This is how I feel about virtual reality, Oculus Rift and all the other tech possibilities, about High Fidelity and the future of education, about how virtual reality will be the next shift in media – and will impact publishing in a similar way to the ebook revolution.

This article first appeared on The Future Book yesterday (16 March 2015.) And before everyone freaks out at the next new thing, I believe this will happen on a 2 – 5 year timeline, so it is not imminent! But something to get excited about (if you like this kind of thing!) I’ll keep you up to date on it over time.

Customers will always want books, in that they want entertainment, inspiration and education in some kind of packaged format, but how they shop is changing and how they experience the world is changing too.

Imagine walking along a street of bookstores, each one with an enticing window display of eye-catching new covers that appeal to readers of a certain genre. You walk inside one with the dark, brooding atmosphere of the crime/thriller lover and find yourself in a bookstore with shelves of books configured just for your tastes. You’re drawn to a cover, pick up the book and start to read. You turn the pages, feeling the quality paper, smelling that new book scent. You continue browsing and when you’re ready to purchase, you choose your format and the book is sent to you in the format you choose.

Then you take off your VR headset and carry on with your day.

The Virtual Reality Bookstore

With a VR bookstore, or street of bookstores, you could have:

  • Infinite stock with a display that changes when the same customer re-enters, meaning they are exposed to more product
  • Algorithms tailored to present people with new books, or books related to what they have read before and might like next
  • Avatar bookstore owners and assistants who can talk about their recommendations – the same personal touch you get in independent bookstores
  • A global reach with niche bookstores so any independent could set up a curated store and have customers entering from anywhere, solving the problem of foot traffic and high costs of running a physical bookstore
  • Stores tailored to nichesg. Apple style chrome and glass for tech geeks, candlelit rooms for Gothic, flower filled boudoirs for romance readers. And of course, less cliché environments too!
  • Libraries for reference based on the great libraries of the world where people can find digitalised versions of books that aren’t available for sale anymore. In my ARKANE novels, I have a portal that leads into the Bodleian Library where my characters consult ancient texts in a VR Radcliffe Camera
  • Virtual author appearances where people can come and hear authors speak in the niche bookstores – without the costs of actually getting the author there. Like a webinar but with the full immersion VR experience
  • The customer can browse the shelves, picking up books and reading them. They can feel the paper with haptic technology, and yes, they can even smell that new book smell. They can then click to buy in whatever format they like – print on demand shipped immediately (via the drones, of course!), ebook or audiobook format to their device. Or maybe the new VR format where you’re immersed in the story, particularly popular in the romance stores

I see a Harry Potter style Diagon Alley where as a bibliophile, I can go and roam, discovering new and exciting books. Since I buy books (digitally) almost every day, I’d probably be in there a lot!

The financial model

The costs will involve buying and developing a VR domain, and the algorithms that suggest virtual product need to be designed. Yes, there is a technical challenge here. But just imagine the upside:

  • Fewer physical stores – and those that there are can be run as ‘experiences’ and ‘destinations’ as per Apple/Google. The jobs will be in curation and management of the online stock as opposed to shipping, opening boxes, stocking shelves. But there will be many more curated digital stores that appeal to different types of readers. As an author writing in the thriller niche, I would definitely want to curate my own store, recommending books that I enjoy and earning affiliate income. A kind of Goodreads meets Penguin Random House’s My Independent Bookstore but in the virtual reality space where I can control the look and feel of my store. Many of us already do this kind of thing with lists of recommended books and affiliate links but this would be much cooler.
  • Lower costs and increased profits. Income from customers, either through some version of retail pricing decided with publishers or through an affiliate model. The opportunity for up-sell based on what the customer is interested in, as well as personalised recommendations. More books produced but using digital formats and print on demand instead of print runs meaning less wastage and pulping.
  • Global penetration into a market that is increasingly online. With both Google and Facebook invested in getting another billion people online, this won’t take long and virtual browsing customers can come from anywhere.
  • And just imagine the data you will be able to capture! All those juicy details about browsing habits and what people buy. You could test covers, using different versions for gender or age group or nationality. You could test price points, placement and even titles. The possibilities here are incredibly exciting for data geeks!

Virtual reality is (almost) here

You might think this sounds crazy but the technology is already here and the first wave will be mainstream in the next year. Forbes reports that the VR market is expected to grow to $407.51 million and reach more than 25 million users by 2018.

Yahoo reports that Facebook has Oculus Rift, Samsung has Gear VR, Microsoft has the HoloLens, and Apple and Google Project Cardboard also have developments in progress. Car companies are using VR for virtual test drives at car shows, and Sir Paul McCartney has launched a VR app for 360 degree concert footage plus immersive effects.

Gaming companies are taking it further, so players can use their hands in the game, a technological advancement where the body becomes the controller in VR space. And one of the biggest investments will be in education, taking MOOCs into the next level with virtual immersive learning.

But it goes further than tech because the virtual reality community has already been proven in SecondLife, an online world now 12 years old. I have a friend who makes a full-time living designing virtual clothing for avatars on SecondLife. She spends much of the year on cruises as the costs are incredibly low with digital product and she can work from anywhere. There are bookstores in SecondLife and there are authors who run events and retreats there too. The ecosystem is incredibly rich … but it’s not immersive. It’s not VR and never went mainstream because it was too early.

But the creator of SecondLife, Philip Rosedale, has now started High Fidelity, which is part funded by Google Ventures, and looks like it could be something like a SecondLife world in VR. They have just raised another 11m in funding to build deployable virtual worlds, to “quickly generate a virtual space to meet and interact with.” That sounds like it could turn into a virtual bookstore, or a virtual conference, an author group, a writer’s group and so much more.

Let’s look a few years into the future

We’re not competing against each other, we’re competing against gaming and on-demand film/TV as well as music. These industries are embracing VR and the immersive experience will take consumers even further from books. We need to embrace this technology and invest in where the online retail environment will be in five years time.

I’m super excited about the opportunity ahead and if you’re interested in VR for publishing and the future of books, I’d love to be part of cross-industry group to discuss this further. Let’s design the FutureBook!

Are you excited about virtual reality? Or are you still getting to grips with ebooks :) Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Oculus rift headset by Ian Muttoo

Ebooks: A Treasure Trove For Dyslexic Readers

 Reading has always been my escape as well as my hobby, my education as well as my entertainment and inspiration. I am a book junkie! But there are people who struggle with reading.

typographyI have dyslexia in my family and I have friends with children who are dyslexic. I usually point them towards Richard Branson, as an example of becoming successful despite the challenge. But I have always felt a particular pain at the struggle to read.

Today I have an article from James Nuttall, a psychologist who is also dyslexic, about how ebooks have transformed his own reading and his passion for helping others.

While growing up, I knew that I had a reading problem.

During elementary school and upper grades, I struggled to read. I was basically a non-reader. While in the upper grades I read John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The only two books that I read cover to cover.

Every day, I watched my family read books, magazines and newspapers. I longed to do the same.

When I went away to the university, I visited the University of Chicago Reading Clinic. At this clinic I learned that I had dyslexia. While in the university I had other students read all my books and library research to me. I persevered with my studies and earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Michigan State University.

After leaving the university and without readers, I again was not able to read very much. Then technology improved so I was able to scan print books onto my computer and turn them into audiobooks for myself. I liked using ABBY FineReader OCR software to digitize print books and Nextup’s TextAloud to turn the digitized books into mp3 audiobooks. In this way I was able to read books that interested me. I often like to read books on technology, the information age, and the sociology of economics.

For many years e-books were very marginal. But in December 2007 Amazon launched their Kindle e-reader.

Amazon made hundreds of thousands of e-books available for their Kindle. In February 2009 Amazon came out with the Kindle 2 with built-in text-to-speech which could read books aloud. Fortunately, now the Kindle Store has over two million books available and 99% of the Kindle e-books are enabled to be read aloud with text-to-speech. Text-to-speech is a computerized voice which can read text aloud. These voices today sound just like real people reading aloud. I particularly like the voices that are build into the Kindle Fire.

I have both an Apple iPad and a Kindle Fire. Since these tablets can read aloud, I now have millions of books available to me to read. Additionally through the internet every day, I read e-magazines and e-newspapers.

My tablets allow me to fulfill my childhood dream of sitting in my easy chair and reading books and newspapers just like any other person.

It is a miracle to visit the Kindle bookstore and to buy an e-book and to start reading.

For a person like myself, who must read everything in digital format, having millions of digital books is exciting news. I have spent the majority of my life locked out of the book world. With my Kindle Fire, I now have the world of print available to me.

dyslexia ebookI am so pleased to finally read so many books that I have written a book for parents of dyslexic dyslexia and ipadchildren and other dyslexic people.

My book Dyslexia and the Kindle Fire Overcoming Dyslexia with Technology talks more about this topic and there is also a companion volume for the iPad.

Fortunately, young dyslexic readers will never know the anxiety of not reading.

My final word is, “bring on the books!”

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Typography jumble by Bill Dickinson

Game Changing Technology For Self Publishing Children’s Picture Books With Laura Backes

Up until recently, one of the hardest markets to self-publish in has been the children’s picture book market.

KDP Kids book creatorBut that has now all changed with the launch of KDP Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, a tool from Amazon to help publish image-based books for children.

This could be a game-changer! In today’s podcast, I discuss this new tool with Laura Backes, who teaches people how to use it with her Picture Ebook Mastery course.

In the introduction, I talk about finishing my draft of One Day in New York, recording in a professional studio for my non-fiction audiobooks, changing my podcast logo to include a face, and my speaking events for 2015 – including March in Charleston at Pubsense and May in London on Making a Living with your Writing.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to:

laura backesLaura Backes is a children’s writing teacher and has been published by Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Random House as well as independently publishing. She has been producing the Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers for 25 years alongside her husband, Jon. She has also produced the Picture Ebook Mastery course which we’re talking about today. You can use promo code penn and get $20 off.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube here or read the notes and links below.

  • Laura’s background with over 30 years in the publishing industry and how she has developed a business helping authors writing for children.

Current state of digital for kids books.

  • Survey from K-lytics: People are buying more children’s books in digital format. Print books are not going away but often people buy both formats because kids love to read the same book over and over again. It’s easy to buy a new ebook and download it immediately if your child needs distraction – it’s an impulse buy.
  • Digital Book World 2015 also reported that children are starting to read e-books at a younger age, and the e-book format is growing as a percentage share of all books purchased. (It increased to 21% in 2014, up from 14% in 2013.)
  • This generation of parents is younger and has grown up with more technology. They are comfortable giving younger children the ebook reader.
  • Schools are moving to tablets for learning – some are iPad specific and others are Kindle Fire. It depends on the school district. Kids are reading more ebooks and if print books are more expensive, kids know they can get more for their money.

KDP Kids’ Book Creator vs iBooks Author

  • KDP Kids book creatorKDP Kids’ Book Creator is stand-alone software, downloadable from Amazon that can be used on Mac or PC and can be used to create illustrated books in landscape format or portrait format.
  • You can import your PDF file with layout done, or you can create page by page and place your illustrations and text, which allows you to edit more easily.
  • Text popups can be used – the user clicks on the text and it enlarges in pop up window. Laura has created some workarounds for the pop-ups that give kids hidden things to look for, making the book interactive. You can also create new text and change the pop-up text so it says something different. More about this in Laura’s Picture Ebook Mastery course.
  • When you’re designing for the smaller screen, you might need to write the story differently. In print, you can have more detailed illustrations, whereas on smaller screens, like iPhones, you might need to break the book into smaller illustrations. There’s also less room for text. But remember, you don’t have to stick to 32 pages as per print, you can do whatever you like.
  • You can preview for multiple devices so you can tweak the layout per device. You then get a mobi file which is then uploaded on KDP to publish.
  • iBooks Author can only be used on Mac and for Mac product based readers. The good thing about it is that you can embed video and audio – but this is the number 1 feedback given on the KDP Kids Book Creator as it is missing, so this is likely to be something added soon. You can use both technologies if you own the rights to your books. You can’t add hyperlinks but that’s not likely to change as could lead to problems with kids books.

I include some questions from Alexandra Amor, middle grade author of Sugar and Clive, and also Karen Inglis, who writes for kids of different ages.

  • We talk about other possibilities for using the program e.g. for books in landscape format, like history books or fantasy books with maps. We also discuss Kindle Comic book Creator, which has a similar functionality by panels.
  • The cost of publishing books for kids. This technology brings it down substantially. Print and distribution costs are brought right down – although you’ll still need professional editing and illustration. With a picture book, your delivery charge on Kindle may be high as the size may be large with so many illustrations. Make sure you use JPEG Optimizer software (lots of free options online) to shrink your images without affecting the quality.
  • We discuss marketing your books for children – by targeting the parents and grandparents, not the children themselves. Tips on using your website to extend your book further with extra downloads for parents and teachers. Using Pinterest for marketing with images.
  • Other possibilities – the future of children’s picture books plus more illustrated books for adults. The possibility for translation when the text is such a small part of the book.

It is a fantastic time to get your picture books for kids out there, as the space isn’t as crowded as the rest of the genres.

picture ebook masteryIf you would like to learn more about this and shortcut the learning process, Laura has a great course, Picture Ebook Mastery, which will teach you how to use the KDP Kids Book Creator as well as sharing tips on designing, publishing and marketing your books for children as well as her top tips for working around some of the limitations of the software right now. Click here to take a look at the course – and you can also get $20 off if you use the coupon code penn at checkout. You can also check out the free video course by clicking the image below.

picture book creator

You can also find Laura at and Childrens Book Insider

Do you have any questions or comments about publishing children’s picture books? Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Full transcription of the interview with Laura Backes

Joanna: Hi everyone. I am Joanna Penn from and today I am here with Laura Backes. Hi, Laura.

Laura: Hi, Joanna. How are you?

Joanna: I’m good. Thanks so much for coming on the show. Just a little introduction for everybody, Laura is a children’s writing teacher and has been published by Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Random House as well as independently publishing. She has been producing the Children’s Book Insider, the newsletter for children’s writers, for 25 years alongside her husband, Jon. Today we’re talking specifically about Kindle Kids’ Book Creator which is pretty exciting.

So Laura, just start by telling us a bit more about you and your writing and publishing background.

Laura: Well, thank you for the nice introduction. I have been working in publishing for nearly 30 years right now. I started working at publishing houses in New York and knew that I wanted to eventually be a literary agent. That was my first dream in the publishing field. So I worked at some publishers and then I got a job at a small literary agency. While I was reading the manuscripts that were coming in and writing the rejection letters, I was writing like two or three-page rejection letters because I was telling people what was wrong with their manuscript and why it was being rejected and how they could make it better, because I didn’t want to just tell then no. I wanted to tell them why.

I said to my husband at one point, I wish there was a source of information that I could just refer people to, to learn this stuff. And he said, “Why don’t you start one?” Being a Type A personality when someone tells me that, I have to do it.

So I started the newsletter, Children’s Book Insider, 25 years ago and it has grown since then. A few years after I started the newsletter, my husband had his own business, a public relations company, and he sold that and started working with me. That’s when our business really grew. We started publishing books on writing, developed our website, now we do webinars, we have online courses, we have all sorts of information for people on how to write and illustrate, self-publish and market their children’s books. I found my greatest love is working with writers and helping them develop their craft and get published.

Joanna: Oh, that’s fantastic. Yes, so you guys have loads of resources, which is brilliant. I must say I don’t write for children. I am child-free happily and it’s not my market, but I have a lot people in my audience who email me asking about this. So it’s a really important topic. Right now as we speak, Digital Book World just today had a day on children’s writing and I see for example that e-book reading for kids is coming up.

But I wondered if you could start by kind of talking about the current state of specifically digital for kids’ books. Is it still print-dominated? What do you see coming? What is the current state?

Laura: This is actually a really interesting question because just a few days ago a site called, which is a site devoted to tracking e-book trends, released its November 2014 report. And they tracked the top 28 categories of books being sold on Amazon, and found that children’s e-books rose more than any other category during that month and are now in the top seven bestselling categories. And that includes all books, adult books, everything. And the average children’s e-books sold 78 copies a day on Amazon in November, and the number of titles available of children’s e-books grew by 11% that month which is extraordinary because usually categories grow by maybe 1% or 2% a month. So it was just booming.

So we’ve got this huge influx of supply. Are people buying them? What they found out is that the average sales ranking of children’s e-books improved 46% during the month of November. Also they had the biggest price increase per book. So not only are the books out there but people are buying them and they’re buying them at higher prices which is really extraordinary and what this can all be traced back to is in September, Amazon released a program called K.D.P. Kids’ Book Creator. It’s to allow people to create illustrated children’s books for the Kindle and upload them directly to Amazon to sell. This really changed everything and made it very easy for people to self-publish picture books, e-books and get them on Amazon and it looks like the market is really out there.

What we’re seeing also is that print books are not going away in children’s books.

But what’s happening is people are often buying both the print and e-book version of the same book because their child loves the book and they want to have a very portable version of it for when they travel so they’ll get the e-book version because e-books are so easy to download just about anywhere. If you’re a parent with a three-year-old and you’re standing in line at the post office and they’re getting cranky, you can easily download an e-book onto your iPad or your Kindle and have a new book for them right there. So it’s more of an impulse buy and because they’re priced lower than print picture books, parents are able to buy two or three e-books for the same price as one print book. So they’re really complimenting the print books, they’re not replacing them. Also I think because this generation of parents is younger and grew up with more technology, certainly than I did, they’re comfortable doing this with their child. It’s not something that’s foreign to them. They read on their Kindle or their iPad all the time and they’ve no problem also having their child share a book with them on the same device.

Joanna: Yeah, which seems really interesting. I wonder about the schools as well. Because I’ve heard that schools in America are moving to tablets and I’ve heard that some are iPad specific.

So what is this state of devices for kids? Is it iBooks, iPad or is Kindle Fire now taking a slice?

Laura: It kind of depends on the school district. Amazon is donating a lot of Kindles to the poorer school districts and worldwide there are a lot of organizations. Worldreader is one of them where they go into developing countries, donate Kindles to schools there then load them up with free e-books for the kids. But a lot of districts are also using the iPad and so what’s interesting is that you can have a Kindle app on an iPad and still read the Kindle books. So I feel that the Amazon delivery system is still the most worldwide, the most accessible ones for schools everywhere. But a lot of schools are using iPads and it’s just becoming a norm in the classroom now. I think because it is less expensive to access books that way for the students. And a lot of the books have interactive elements which is really nice too. So yes we are seeing that.

Joanna: Yeah, it was interesting I gave my nine-year-old nephew some money for Christmas. I gave him 25 New Zealand dollars which is not that much but books are really expensive in New Zealand and he said “Auntie Jo I really like having a print book but I’m going to use this money to buy e-books because I can get four of them for the same price as a print book.” So he still wanted a print book but he was willing to sacrifice that for e-books because he could get more. So I really see that as a real trend. So let’s talk about coming back to that Kindle versus iPad and I think I’ve got the name wrong again so is it K.D.P. Kindle Book Creator?

Laura: It’s called K.D.P. Kids’ Book Creator.

Joanna: OK. K.D.P. Kids’ Book Creator.

Laura: Yeah.

Joanna: OK.

How does KDP Kids Book Creator compare to iBooks Author?

Laura: OK well K.D.P. Kids’ Book Creator and by the way for your listeners who don’t know K.D.P. stands for Kindle Direct Publishing. So K.D.P. Kids’ Book Creator is a free standalone piece of software that you can download from Amazon and it could be used on either the Mac or the PC to create illustrated books in either the landscape format which mimics print picture books or the portrait format which is more the up and down format for novels and more text heavy books. It’s very to use.

You can either import the entire book as a PDF file with your text and illustrations already laid out or you can create it page by page and place your illustrations where you want then and then place the text where you want it. If you do it page by page then you can go in and edit the text very easily. The program also allows for text pop ups and what these are if the user clicks on the text on the device, it actually enlarges in a pop up window and so for children’s books if the child is reading the book on their own it makes it very easy to see the text which is a nice feature. Then in the program you can preview how the book is going to look on different devices. So you can see how it’s going to look on the Kindle Fire, on a smartphone, even on a PC with a Kindle app. So it shows you all those different sizes so you can tweak the layout to make sure it looks the best on each type of screen that you’re looking at it.

Then you can upload it directly to Amazon and sell it. Like I said it’s a very easy-to-use program. The iBooks Author is also a great program. The one drawback, at least to me, is that the books created on this program can only be viewed on an iPad, an iPhone or on a Mac. So it limits a little bit who can buy your product. The nice thing about iBooks Author is that they currently have the ability to put video and audio within the e-books. Right now, the K.D.P. Kid’s Book Creator does not.

We are personally in contact with the tech department at Amazon giving them a lot of feedback on this program and the biggest feedback I’ve given them is people want to be able to add sound to these books. So they’re working on that and I really hope that they create that update soon, because I think that would be a very valuable addition to a children’s book to be able to do that.

Joanna: And I’m sure they will because presumably they are competing with iBooks Author. That’s the point. They want the school market. The other thing is authors who own their own rights and are self-publishing this way can use both, can’t they?

Laura: Of course.

Joanna: Yes. We’re not saying this is an either or this is just, and you do need a Mac to do iBooks Author.

Laura: Yes you do. And it creates a different type of file. So the file you create in the Kindle program is a mobi file and that is uploaded to Amazon. On the iBooks, it’s an ePub so you would have to create your book twice.

Joanna: Yeah. You create it twice but we all do that anyway when we publish. So within the K.D.P. Kids’ Book Creator do you have to download the mobi and the re-upload it into the normal K.D.P. publishing or does it automatically publish at the end?

Laura: It creates a mobi file and then you go onto Amazon to upload it and it’s very easy. It’s like one click you just upload the file onto Amazon and then you can create your keywords and your author page and all of that right there so it’s really very simple.

Joanna: OK and authors who are already publishing they just use their normal sign in account, it’s all integrated.

Laura: Yes, absolutely.

Joanna: So that makes sense.

Laura: The other nice thing is if you have other books published on Amazon in other formats it will link all your books together for you. So people can see everything that you’ve done when they go to one place which is nice.

Joanna: Fantastic. I’ve got quite a lot of questions. I did ask some of my friends who are kids’ book authors for some questions for you that would be my intelligent on my own. One question from Alexandra Amor who writes novels for middle grade readers so nine to 12 said, “It seems to me that the tools that are aimed at kids’ picture books aged three to five with large pictures, very little text.

Is this software just for picture books or can it be used for all kinds of things?”

Laura: Well, it could be used for all kinds of things, but if you’re writing a middle grade novel that is mostly text and maybe has a few black and white illustrations scattered throughout. I would suggest using the regular K.D.P. publishing software because it’s designed for that. The only reason to use this with a text heavy book is if you wanted it for some reason to be in the landscape format. Then you would use this program. But really for novels I think the regular Kindle is probably easier to use and built more for that.

Joanna: For me, I’m thinking, “Now I know some fantasy authors for example who have loads of maps and want to do books that are primarily illustration with some explanation. Would that be suitable?”

Laura: Absolutely. And the really exciting thing I think about the e-book market opening up like this is that there are no rules. So if you want to create a middle grade book that is basically very, very illustration heavy but targeted to the middle grade readers you can use do that with this program and you don’t have the constraints that a publisher might put on you saying well we don’t know how to sell that because it doesn’t fit into a specific category that we already have. So you can be very, very creative, yes, and there are no page limits on this program. You can make your book as long as you need to so it works well for that.

Joanna: I guess I am really saying “does it just have to be used for kid’s books?” Can I do like a history book or something?

Laura: Sure I think you could use it for anything absolutely yeah. Absolutely.

Joanna: Because that pop out text, and like you say, if they add sound to it, because of course iBooks Author, a lot of people are using it for text books and anything with integration on my list, I’ve got on my lists somewhere. But it seems to me like this software could be used for the same thing like instead of having to code the mobi to do these things otherwise.

Laura: Yes, I agree. I think there’s a lot of potential with this software and what’s exciting is I have a lot of clients of mine who are using it so when they come up with cool things that they’ve discovered they can do with it they let me know and then I can tell everybody about it. It’s only been around a couple of months I think as more people use it we’re going to see it used in very creative ways like you suggested.

Joanna: They’ve got Kindle Comic Creator and I bet you that’s just the same software with a different name.

Laura: It’s very similar yes. It creates panels on the screen like a comic book and then you can have it have one panel at a time show up or have it go through panel by panel. So it has slightly different features but it’s very similar yeah. There are a lot of similarities between the two.

Joanna: It’s really interesting. So from a reader perspective the difference is that it is landscape and pop up, is that the main features for a reader?

Laura: Those would be the two main features. Within the landscape format you can either have one page per screen or two facing pages per screen like if the picture book was sitting open on your lap. It could look like that. And you have these pop up abilities. I’ve created some workarounds on some of the design limitations that are kind of cool. I’ve discovered some fun things you can do with pop ups that kind of give kids hidden things to look for in the book which makes it a little bit interactive which is really unique.

From an author perspective, some of the things to think about is when you’re designing for this smaller screen, you often have to write the story a little bit differently. If people are used to writing picture books for print, you have a large canvas where a lot of things can be happening in the illustrations on each page and you have to keep in mind that this is a smaller canvas with the smaller screen and so you might want to break down your scenes into smaller parts so that the action unfolds a little differently so that you can get all the details into the illustrations that you want to have in the illustrations. Because it’s a smaller screen you have a little less room for the text because your text is going to be a larger type size than it would in a novel. Those are a few little things to think about as you are writing and designing the books from an author and illustrator perspective. It just takes a little playing around to get the right look and the right flow as you design it.

Joanna: Yeah, OK, that’s fine. Then I had a question from Karen Inglis, who is a children’s author who does picture books all the way up to middle grade and I think one more than that. She tried it out so I asked her to have a look and she said she uploaded a PDF, she’s really impressed with the onscreen help text, the user guide but she does have a question.

Do they pop up texts allow you to, can you insert new pop up text which you kind of mentioned and do these work on the normal e-ink Kindles or only the Kindle Fire?

Laura: I believe they work an all of the Kindle devices. And yes you can insert. If you upload it as a PDF, the texts that you have uploaded you can place a pop up over that text if you want to create it as a pop up. You cannot edit the content of the text that you imported as a PDF. But you can create a new text box on any page and add new text. Then in the page by page design format, if you’re just laying it down page by page you have a lot more freedom to edit and that sort of thing. But yes you can always put a pop up on top of something that you’ve got already on the screen.

Joanna: Yes. I really like the idea I’m just thinking with my business book which is not a kids book but you want to have to have these things where people can click stuff and then get like more information or like they have now you can get the dictionary pop up. You want to have something more meaningful so yes.

Laura: What I’ve discovered in playing around with it is that the pop up if you lay down text there’s an automatic pop up feature that where the texts that you actually laid down pops up word for word but you can change the text within the pop up. So again it’s kind of a fun thing for kids if you want them to click on your text and see something different pop up on the screen. Like if you have a joke book, you can have the “knock knock, who’s there” and then they click on it and then the next line of the joke pops up. There is some fun stuff you can do with it.

Joanna: That’s really cool.

Karen also asks, “What would you say are the limitations of the software?” Of course you’ve mentioned the lack of audio at the moment although I would put money on that coming.

Laura: I would put money on that coming too. That’s the number one comment I’ve gotten and I’ve forwarded it to Amazon because I think that’s huge. The other limitations some people would like to be able to place hyperlinks in their books and have the readers be able to click through. I can see why they can’t do that because it’s for children and they might not want children being able to click through to the internet. I kind of doubt that will appear. Down the road it would be great if they could embed video. That’s a much more complex program so I could see maybe down the road getting something like that but I’m thinking audio will be the next big change for sure.

Joanne: Fantastic. Yes. So one of the biggest issues that children’s book publishers or indie authors have is the cost of doing it and of course this will remove the print cost if people don’t do the print.

But how are the costs different for this method?

Laura: Right. Well of course the print cost is a big one and to print a full color children’s picture book is very expensive so that’s huge. The distribution cost is cut. You don’t have to ship your books anywhere. You don’t have to pay a distributor to carry your books in books stores. Depending on which royalty structure you choose with Amazon and there are a couple different structures you can choose, if you choose the highest royalty structure which is a 70% royalty per book sold, there is a delivery cost to that Amazon tacks on to the book of and this is in U.S. dollars, 15 cents per megabyte file size.

So with a picture book your files can get pretty big but there are ways to compress the illustrations and you can download what’s called a JPEG Optimizer software and there’s a lot of free ones out there. Basically they compress your JPEG files so you don’t lose any of the quality but they’re smaller and that will make your books smaller and that delivery fee will be cut down so that’s something to definitely use.

The other cost with self-publishing, there are two costs that I definitely recommend.

First of all you should get your book edited professionally. Hire an editor and this is very important even if it’s a very short book. Hire someone who is well-versed in children’s books to look it over and make sure the manuscript is in good shape. Beyond that if you have the money, you want to get the best illustrations you can afford because illustrations are so important in these books. You can run the gamut from spending several thousand dollars on a very top notch illustrator to hiring maybe a beginning illustrator who’s good but they want to get some publishing credits and so they’ll charge you less. Then there are also online services who will do illustrations for a lower fee. So there is a lot of ways you can go about it. If you’re writing non-fiction and you want to illustrate the books with photographs, there are a lot of stock photo places where you could get photos very inexpensively to use in your books. So you can really cover any budget with the illustrations.

Then finally if you have the money I would suggest hiring a designer for your cover because, if you don’t personally have design experience or take a class yourself on cover design, because your cover is your first sales tool. That’s the first thing people are going to see and your cover and your title in a picture book are very important. So spend a little money to get that really, really designed well. But really if you’re creative and you’re smart there are ways that you can publish a really great children’s picture book for very little money online and that’s a huge advantage over the print market. Then a lot of people they get their name out there, they create an audience with their e-book and then they go ahead and do the print book but they’ve already got a customer base who they can then contact and say my print book is out now and they’ll start generating sales right away.

Joanna: I think this is a game changer.

That’s why I was excited to hear about you and the training course you have because this has been the problem. Up until recently, I do a lot of speaking and someone will put their hand up and say “hey I’m writing an illustrated children’s book” and I would be like “I’m really sorry you have the most expensive job and it’s very hard to make any money with children’s picture books.” Basically what you are saying is obviously the cover we all have to do, the editing we all have to do, hopefully the editing is cheaper because it’s so few words than a full length novel but you have the cost of illustration within the book which is more expensive but this should put it out of par with publishing a novel for example.

Laura: Absolutely. The other nice thing about e-books is that they don’t have to be 32 pages long.

Print picture books are for the most part 32 pages long. That’s a lot of illustrations. But say you’ve written a very simple story for two and three-year-old children and it only needs to be 15 pages. You can do a 15 page book so you have a lot of freedom. The other really great thing about this is the marketing field has been leveled. You don’t have to have a huge marketing budget. You have the same opportunity to sell your book on Amazon as any other author. It all depends on how much effort you’re going to put into the marketing but you don’t need a big budget behind you or a big publisher behind you in order to do it so it really is a game changer in that way as well.

Joanna: It’s very exciting. Talking about marketing because again children’s authors struggle here because they think “Oh I must market to this four-year-old” which of course is very difficult.

So what are some of your tips around marketing for these authors?

Laura: Again if you’re writing a picture book you’re really going to be marketing to the parents, the grandparents, possibly some teachers so you’re trying to reach the adults with a product that’s meant for the children. So first of all you have to have an online platform of some sort and that’s true with any author these days. Your website, your blog are very important. I would suggest that these are extensions of your book. So if your book is funny, you want your website to be fun. You want it to have humor, a humorous tone to it, you want to have activities on there that parents can download for their kids to do that complement your story.

If your book is informational, you’re going to have additional information on your site that maybe, say you’ve written a book about bullying, kids getting bullied, you want to have also information for the parents and teachers on how to talk to their kids about this topic, other books they can read, that sort of thing. If you have a blog you can certainly speak to the parents in your blog with your own parenting stories, funny things that have happened to you. Basically you’re letting your consumers get to know you and like you as a personality and your book is just an extension of that.

Another great thing a lot of picture book authors are doing is creating a Pinterest page with images from their book, other things related to their book and make sure your book’s title and a link to your sales page is on everything that’s on Pinterest. That’s going to get passed around and linked to. Doing a book blog tour is very very useful. There are companies, if you just Google book blog tours, there are companies that will set those up for you. And they will target parenting blogs and book review blogs and you’ll do online interviews with these people and make sure you can build in some sort of giveaway on these blog tour so either a free copy of your e-book or a poster with images from your book or something fun that the blogger can give away to someone who visits their site.

Then there are two really important issues when you’re marketing on Amazon.

First is your author page. Your author page is crucial that you set that up and after you have one book out you need to start working on your second book right away. Because what we found is people will buy an author’s book, go to their author’s page to see what else they’ve written, and then if you’ve got a second book, they’ll often click through and buy it right away. So your first book fuels your second book which fuels your third book which is really important.

The other is your keywords that you use when you’re describing your book.

We have a good friend who’s written several e-books and published them for Kindle, and she says Amazon is a search engine for people with their wallets open. I think that’s a great way to look at it. When a parent goes to Amazon and looks for books, they’re not looking to browse. They’re looking to buy. If you are just casually browsing, you’re probably going to go to a bookstore and spend the day and figure out what you want to buy. When you go to Amazon, it’s like, “I need a book. I want to find the book that I am going to buy.” So your keywords are very important and you want to have those keywords not just reflect the content of your book – dogs, robots, whatever the story is about – but also the themes. If it’s about friendship or if it’s about sibling rivalry or if it’s about starting school, those are the kinds of keywords you also want to put into your search, the description of your books so that parents looking for books on those general topics will find yours as well. Those are some things to keep in mind.

Joanna: Most of those are relevant whatever book you have…

Laura: They really are.

Joanna: …on Amazon. They’re not specific. That’s interesting because, obviously right now in the novel space people are kind of moaning about the end of the gold rush, are kids books not really taken off yet as in right now is a good time to be putting kids books on Kindle because there’s not very many?

Laura: I think so. I think it’s sort of a new frontier for the children’s book arena especially the younger children’s books. Young adults and middle grade novels have been in e-book format for quite a while but the picture books are just really getting started so it is a terrific opportunity right now. Picture books also, the nice thing about picture books is they tend to be timeless. You write your book now; five years from now it’s still going to be just as relevant to the next five-year-old who reads it so they have longevity about them that a lot of other books don’t.

Joanna: Yeah. This is awesome. So listeners you’ve heard it here first, we are predicting a boom in kid’s books so get on with it basically.

So you have a great course which is Kindle Kids Mastery which helps authors sort all their stuff out. Tell us a bit about the course and how people can find it.

Laura: Sure. Well we’ve actually recently renamed the course to Picture e-book Mastery but it’s the same course. This is designed for people who want to use this K.D.P. Kids Book Creator software especially if you’re non-technical as I am. So the course walks you through everything step by step. First we give you some really good advice on things you need to think about with your book before you even start laying it out in Kindle as far as the content and the age group and how you tell the story. Then we walk you through how to find an illustrator.

We have several different options from finding the really top notch professional illustrators all the way down to even using public domain art in your book. Depending on your budget there’s lots of options there for you. Then the real meat of the course is I walk through the program step by step with videos. You can see my screen and you can see everything I’m doing and I go very slowly because for people like me who are not technical we need to be walked through very slowly. I show you how to lay out the book in either the PDF or the page by page option.

I also show you some cool things I’ve discovered like I talked about how to use those pop ups in really creative ways, how if you want some of your illustrations to be one full landscape page across the screen and then you want other ones to be two facing pages, how you can mix those together in one book. I created a workaround for that. Then we have a bunch of marketing information which is really valuable. We talk about designing a good cover, creating the keywords, creating your author page. We have interviews with four people who are expert marketers on Amazon and they give their tips on how to market.

We have an e-book thrown in there, we have lots of stuff. It’s really a full course and the really great thing is it exists only online this course. Once you have access to it not only do you have lifetime access but I update it. As Amazon creates new elements of the software or as I find out how to do new things, I’ll create an update to the course so you’ll always have the most current information as to how to use this software. So it’s very exciting and we’ve heard from a lot of people who have used it and now their books are up there and they’re selling them and they’ve been very happy with it. So like you said, it’s booming.

Joanna: Yeah, it’s going well. Where can people find that and there is a promo code as well we’ve got today haven’t we?

Laura: Yes. You can either go to and we have created a promo code for your listeners for $20 off and it’s the word “penn” P-E-N-N all lower case and there will be a little box you can type that in and get $20 off. You can also go to our site which is and you’ll see links there to our Picture e-book Mastery Course. Another thing that I forgot to mention with the marketing section, we have an interview up on that course with two marketing experts on how to get reviews on Amazon which is another really important part of your marketing process. I just put that interview up yesterday on They give you some really great information on how to generate reviews, legitimate reviews not just all your friends getting on there because Amazon can kind of figure that out. And that will helps your book move up in the sales rankings so be sure to check that out as well.

Joanna: That is fantastic. You’ve also got the Children’s Book Insider newsletter that I thought maybe you could also mention what other resources you have because you do a lot don’t you?

Laura: We do do a lot. Our monthly newsletter’s called Children’s Book Insider and that was my original product that I created way back. There is a link to that also on that page and it’s a monthly newsletter where we list markets that are accepting submissions from children’s writers as well as articles on writing and selling your books. With that newsletter subscription you get access to our membership site which is called the Children’s Writers Knowledge Base and that has 25 years’ worth of information on it on how to write for kids. We have podcasts and videos and articles and all sorts of stuff on there. It’s a huge database of information. All of that is included with your subscription to the Children’s Book Insider newsletter

Joanna: Wow and presumably people should work backwards. Things have changed in 25 years.

Laura: They’ve changed a little bit but what’s interesting is the writing part really hasn’t changed that much.

Joanna: That hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

Laura: That’s still the same. The selling has changed and so we’re always adding new content onto the knowledge base as far as self-publishing and marketing and that of sort of thing yes.

Joanna: That’s really cool. So apart from, if it follows the process or the pattern of the way other things have worked we are going to see more people putting their kids’ books on Kindle. We are going to see more kids reading in digital.

What else do you see in terms of the next year, couple of years in this space for kids’ books in particular? Have you got any other sort of predictions?

Laura: I think that what we’re going to start seeing a lot of is one book in many formats. So we are going to have the print book, the e-book and an app all related to the same story but each one has a slightly different focus to it. So the app might have really cool activities that the kids can do that relate to the story or they’ll be able to manipulate the ending of the book in different ways. I see a lot more illustrated books for older readers and as you said this kid’s book creator software could be used in a lot of ways like that. Even young adult books we’re starting to see a lot more illustrated books that are geared toward that young adult format.

The other really cool thing and again this is with older kids.

You see e-books that have links to songs within the book that maybe the character is listening to in the story. You have links to a blog site that is created by the character of the book and where they’re blogging about stuff that’s going on in the story. My husband thought of this great marketing technique and again this would work for older readers. If you had a protagonist and an antagonist in your story and you gave them each a Twitter account. Then you had them communicating back and forth via Twitter about things going on in the book and all your readers can see it and they can participate in the conversation, they can retweet it, they can add their two cents. I think it’s wide open for kids to really participate in the books in different ways which is very exciting. It makes the book a whole experience. Of course the reading of it is awesome but you can also immerse yourself in the world in a lot of different ways. So I think it allows for people to be as creative as they can be which is really exciting.

Joanna: It strikes me too on translations. I’ve been doing Germany for example, I’ve done Italian, Spanish, Portuguese coming. It’s difficult to do a novel in translation because it’s so long. Kids’ books obviously the images can stay the same and to get the text translated will be a lot cheaper.

So presumably people are going to start doing translations as well.

Laura: Yes. Absolutely. What’s interesting on Amazon I had a client who, she lives in the U.K. and she did a children’s picture book and she published two versions, a U.K. and a U.S. version because she wanted the spellings to be correct for each country. I think that’s something to think about especially for the young kids if they’re starting to read on their own you want the words to be spelled as they see them spelled. But it’s very easy to do that when you’re self-publishing on Kindle. It’s very easy to upload two different versions of your book.

Joanna: That’s great. I’m excited about this. I think it’s going to be, it’s fascinating, it really does. I am so pleased because I always feel so bad, I have felt so bad for this group of authors who just, it’s so expensive to print the 32 page or full color blooming kids books so this is great.

So just tell people, was there anything else you wanted to share, anything we missed, any extras?

Laura: I think just one final word which I always feel compelled to say is people always ask me well doesn’t this mean a lot of really bad books are going to get published because it’s so easy to put stuff out there. My answer is yes. It does mean a lot of bad books are going to get published but every time we democratize the publishing process one more step, that’s just an outcome of it. But it doesn’t mean your book should be bad. It means that you need to work as hard as ever on making it a good quality product. If you do, it will get talked about, people will buy it and it will rise to the top. Word of mouth is the number one sales vehicle for online books. With reviews, with people recommending them to their friends so if your book is good it will get recommended. Basically don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Only worry about what you’re doing and make sure it is absolutely the best you can make it. And do whatever you have to do to make it as good as possible and then you’ll be fine.

Joanna: Again wise words for any author regardless of what level you’re publishing at. OK so just once more give us your website so people can find you.

Laura: OK. It’s

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time Laura. That was great.

Laura: Thank you very much for having me.