Guest Blog: How to get into digital publishing by Jos Carlyle, Creative Director, Persian Cat Press2January 15th, 2012Literacy
I’ve been writing for a few years, and though my agent has had some success with my work, inevitably there have been obstacles, the most frustrating of which is the interminably long timeframes involved while you wait for the powers-that-be to pass judgement.
I’m naturally hardworking, relatively prolific and pretty ambitious too. I’ve always been absolutely determined to earn a living from my craft and I guess that got me thinking about self-publishing at the time when e-readers were first coming onto the market.
However, I’m also wise enough to know experience counts for a lot, and if an experienced publisher thinks a manuscript isn’t quite right for their audience, then they’re probably right.
I realised that I could play to my strengths in the new field of interactive writing- an emerging sector where the rules for both publishers and audiences alike hadn’t yet been written. And, naturally, that got me thinking about apps.
Apps presented a level playing field. Hence the first big decision: As far as I was concerned, self publishing wasn’t the way forward – but app publishing was.
The second big decision was that I couldn’t do this alone. App concepts require a team to bring them to life. As a result, Persian Cat Press was born at the end of 2010: a publisher of original interactive picture book, graphic novel and other illustrated writing apps.
We found ourselves in an industry that generally seemed to be struggling to come to terms with changes in what consumers buy and how they buy it.
In the year or so since Persian Cat Press was incorporated, very little has changed. Although the conversations, at least, are now being had.
“Whilst there is no doubting that there is an appetite for apps among a certain section of consumers,” wrote Sam Missingham on the Futurebook blog recently, “the resources required to produce well thought-out, jaw-droppingly beautiful apps still means that they are beyond the reach of many smaller publishers…“
We’d have to disagree with Sam on this point. At Persian Cat Press, we feel that smaller, younger and perhaps hungrier publishing companies actually have the advantage over more established but slower-moving concerns in many ways. We’ve built a small but dedicated team who know the sector inside out and we’re now at the stage where we feel we can compete with anyone.
Clearly apps are often more expensive to create than both physical books and e-books but we pride ourselves on producing “well thought-out, jaw-droppingly beautiful apps” and we sincerely believe there has been no better time to get into the digital publishing business.
For us, it all starts with great stories – the kind of stories that engage, enthrall and enrapture readers. All of the members of the Persian Cat Press team were lucky enough to develop an all-encompassing appetite for good stories in our childhoods. We want to help engender that same feeling in the readers of today.
We develop original storylines, and make a point of working with only the very best people in their fields – whether that be artists and typographers, composers and musicians, filmmakers and animators or even choreographers and dancers. In our view, that’s the only way that you can ensure the finished product remains true to the original vision that inspired it. And that’s very important to us.
It’s the reason why we asked fine artist Dan Mynard to render the artwork for our first picture book app The Gift in oils on canvas, and Manchester band Mamma Freedom to provide the beautiful theme song for the app. It’s about knowing what works together and what doesn’t.
In the end, The Gift involved no less than six separate teams working on different aspects of its production simultaneously. It involved some serious planning and coordination.
But with fewer fixed working practices and less rigid management structures than larger concerns, smaller publishers can play to their strengths by being nimble and quick thinking, by reacting to changing circumstances and pulling in talents from a range of disciplines as and when they’re needed.
In addition, social media allows us to open up an invaluable dialogue with our customers in a way that was simply not possible previously, although more traditional methods of marketing also play a crucial part in persuading people to buy our apps.
And as far as distribution goes, we simply upload our apps to the App Store and once Apple has approved them, they’re instantly available all around the world.
Unlike many traditional publishers, at Persian Cat Press we write our iStories with the interactivity of touchscreen devices like the iPad and iPhone in mind from the outset – and that takes time. The script for The Gift, for example, went through 16 exhaustive rewrites before we felt it finally lived up to its full
Interactivity can be magical, marvelous and mesmerising, of course, but for us it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.
We’re firm believers in the idea that any interactivity has to be there for a reason, that it needs to add something to this uniquely immersive environment to have any meaning. Essentially, it needs to move the narrative along rather than detract from it.
We don’t do bells and whistles, cheap thrills and style over substance. An app can have all the interactive features in the world but if they don’t add anything of real value, what’s the point of including them?
Combine meaningful content with appropriate interactivity, however, and that’s when interesting things start to happen.
We specialise in making interesting things happen and we’ll continue to make interesting things happen throughout 2012, with the release of The Gift and a further three iStory apps, all of which involve some extraordinary and exciting collaborations with some very talented companies and individuals.
We’re even planning on showing people exactly how to do what we do with formal training courses in interactive writing and other aspects of immersive book app production.
It’s going to be an exciting year. Book apps remain substantially undervalued but we believe quality will out and, after a Christmas with record sales of touchscreen devices, we feel there has simply never been a better time to publish digitally.
If this is ‘niche publishing’, it’s beginning to feel like a pretty sizeable niche.
The truth is, everyone involved in digital publishing is making it up as they go along, us included.
But we learn fast. And we’re getting better at what we do every day.The free Cat-Nav discovery app from Persian Cat Press takes the hard work out of finding your way around the App Store with new reviews of the best picture book, graphic novel and other iStory apps every week. It’s available now.The Gift picture book app will be available from Thursday 19 January.
1 responses to “Guest Blog: How to get into digital publishing by Jos Carlyle, Creative Director, Persian Cat Press”
I agree wholeheartedly with all that the Persian Cat Press is aiming to achieve. There is a clear divide between developers who embrace the multiliteracy opportunities of touch screen technology and those who reproduce existing picture books.
The very best apps are those which, like The Gift, are conceived as an immersive experience.
Although I agree that publishers do know what works, many creative writers (particularly in the field of picture books) have been creatively constrained by house style. I think during 2012 we will see publishing flood with creativity. The problem then is spotlighting quality.
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