Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to write “The Day I Became a Pirate”
My name is Cary Snowden and I have been in high-tech for about 25 years in various roles including marketing, product management, development and ownership. I am married and have four children to whom I enjoy reading and telling stories at bedtime and on long trips.
Writing has always been a fun thing for me, both professionally and creatively. I started writing stories for my children as they came of age to listen and engage. I especially love to create rhyming stories, and for each of my four children I have written a rhyming story that features them in a unique moment or emphasizes a character trait that make them each unique.
The Day I Became A Pirate is a story I eventually designated for my youngest son, Kaiyan. The story came about while we were walking along Hukilau Beach on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.
I talked my two sons into a hike that was just beyond their endurance. We had a long hike to make it to Goat Island for some exploring. My two young boys were starting to think the walk was going to be too long, so I started spinning a tale to keep them entertained. Initially pitched as a ‘true’ story about when I was a kid, they of course knew it wasn’t but joined in the fun and played along.
Pointing out to the sea I assured them that “I was walking along the beach one day when out on the horizon a ship appeared…” I illustrated the scene with pointed gestures and an occasional stop to point out features of the beach or to clarify where the pirates landed and dealt with the confrontations and dilemmas I was inventing along the way. My youngest son often stopping me in my tracks to confirm a detail or ask a question. I couldn’t help but laugh at his enthusiasm.
An additional inspiration for the story was a large sailing ship moored at Hukilau, just off the shore in the middle of the bay. It looked like something pirates would sail, and provided a realistic backdrop for the story.
We made it to Goat Island and came back to the house with a new adventure under our belts and sunburns that mom wasn’t too happy about. I spent the rest of the day thinking about the story and sharing the boys’ excitement at various details with my wife. She suggested this could be my story for our youngest boy and I spent the rest of the trip mulling over the details and writing down notes.
The plane ride from Oahu to Salt Lake City is a six hour trip over night. I usually sleep as much as I can, but on this trip I couldn’t stop thinking about the story and spent the entire flight putting the details to rhyme. I had it finished by the time we landed, and shared it with the family the next evening. Everyone loved it, and I was thrilled.
It is the first of six stories I plan to publish to the iPad, and have already penciled out the details of a sequel to The Day I Became A Pirate that will reveal some additional secrets in the story and introduce a new secret character.
Q: Why did you decide to create “The Day I Became a Pirate” as a book app?
I was fully engaged in trying to get any of my books published by a traditional publisher. I had friends who were in and around the industry and thought I had a good shot at it. I soon became discouraged, having been bounced around to various people and making little to no headway for nearly a year.
On a particular occasion I was chatting with a few colleagues at the end of a business luncheon when I was approached by a friend who wanted me to offer some advice on a new project he was working on. He explained that it was a new platform that would allow authors to create book apps in an online environment for the iPad. His project would later see the light of day as TaleSpring.com.
As he told me about his new project my jaw dropped to the floor; here I was, at a high tech business meeting holding my iPad (literally) and it only occurred to me at that moment that I could publish my stories to a digital platform. In my excitement I committed to publish my pirate story on his system, and set off immediately that evening planning an entirely new dimension to the story; bringing it to life with sounds, animations and hidden objects to find.
Having ‘grown up’ in the high tech industry, it is only fitting that I publish to the digital book market.
Q: What’s unique about your book app?
I usually tell people it is ‘unique’ because it’s true. But it isn’t. Once the joke wears off, I explain that there are three distinct things that make The Day I Became A Pirate unique:
—1. The Pirate Ode, which is a short song that I wrote for the book. At a pivotal point in the story, The Captain sings The Pirate Ode to The Boy to teach him what it means to be a pirate. For my family, this is a nod to our reliance on each other, and illustrates that even though we often ‘kick and fight’, we all stop to help whenever a family member is in need; …to ‘all for one’ we’re true! The book app includes an actual music sheet for The Pirate Ode, with a simple tune made easy enough for a youngster to play.
—2. It is a rhyming story, and there just aren’t enough rhyming stories out there, if you ask me. And for a rhyming story it is a little longer than most, making it ‘meaty’ enough to consider a good, robust story for older children, and fun enough to keep every entertained with a rhyming cadence.
—3. Puzzles. There are two hunt-and-seek puzzles in the book app that reveal passwords to two locked pages on the website. The obvious Treasure Hunt provides clues to a password, once the reader discovers the password they are given secret instructions on how to find the second set of clues, which then reveals a special video message and the revelation of a secret character.
—4. The book app itself includes two special features that add a little more to the story; one is the first ever (as far as I know) Pirate X-Ray Machine, which helps the reader look into a sick pirate’s stomach to see what might be troubling him. The other is a Meet The Crew page on which each member of the crew shares a brief audio introduction, revealing a personality trait and their duty on board the ship. There are also back stories on the website for each character with more developments on the way to help expand the story and add depth.
Q: How did you get it developed? How did the development process go?
I chose to do the development myself using the TaleSpring.com software. TaleSpring allowed me to create a first-class book app without a lot of expense. I did all the development myself including the animations, sounds, and placement of images, etc. The process was extremely rewarding.
As far as process is concerned, I would discuss each page with Zach Clough, who provided illustrations for the book. He would produce images and we would share and discuss them online over Skype. He would send me the final images and I would import them into Pixelmator to resize and adjust them for the screen. I would then export from Pixelmator and import them into TaleSpring for placement and animation.
Working in the TaleSpring environment became easier and easier as I became accustomed to it, and the process went faster and faster as we progressed.
Q: When did it launch?
The book launched officially on Monday, May 7th. Within four days it made it to number 8 in the Books category of the iTunes App Store. In the last two weeks we have had consistent sales and have sold more copies than any other TaleSpring book.
Q: What have been your most effective marketing strategies?
My most effective marketing strategy to date was somewhat of a risk that really paid off: As the book climbed into the top ten, I wanted to take immediate advantage with a press release. I drafted one as quickly as I could on a Friday morning, but with work requirements was terribly late getting it into the rotation. I submitted the press release to PRMac at 11:30 MST, which I knew was too late to be picked up by any big agencies.
In fact, my own PR manager, as well as PRMac themselves called me to tell me that it was too late and to hold the release until Monday.
I decided against waiting and released fairly late on Friday. What happened next was a surprise to everyone; the story was picked up by quite a few bloggers in strategic markets around the web. As it was the very last story to be posted for the day, and into the weekend, the fortunate result was that my news story remained at the top of all the blogs for the duration of the weekend. I checked over 30 prominent review sites and my ‘late’ story remained at the top of their blogs until Monday morning. Anyone browsing the news blogs that weekend saw my story as the lead story on most of the review blogs. That was huge.
Another very successful event was my participation in an online Facebook event hosted by fellow Pirate Author Melissa Northway. Melissa invited me to participate in the event and I upped the ante by offering a hand-made necklace featuring the characters from my book. I pitched it as ‘pirate booty’ as a tie-in and got a really good response from moms and teachers participating in the event. It was so successful I have ordered additional custom booty to give away at similar events.
Q: What’s been your least effective marketing strategies?
I haven’t been at this long enough to really rack up a list of least effective strategies. From the time of our launch to now things have gone pretty well, and I haven’t been able to attribute any dips in sales to a particular tactic. I am working strong on social media, and am keeping my site and blog extremely active. I am tracking activity on my site with Google Analytics and watching sales and ranking stats every hour to measure performance of every post and push. I’ll keep you posted when I determine one thing or another is not so worthwhile.
For the time being, I am realizing more and more that ‘the real work starts after the book is published’. Fortunately I knew this already from reading your (Karen Robertson’s) book on How To Market A Book App. You were right; that book has been worth its weight in gold and saved me the pain of learning quite a few things the hard way. Your book did more to prepare me for marketing my book app than any other single source of material. I am so glad I read it first. I wish I had read it much earlier; the single biggest thing I have learned is that you should start laying the foundation of your marketing plan the moment you write your first page.
Q: Have you ever made your app free? What happened?
I have not release the app free, yet. I may do this later to see how it goes. I am currently selling it for $1.99, -half of what I originally planned to sell it for, so I have actually been thinking about experimenting with a price increase.
Q: Did you use “Author’s Guide To Book Apps” and if so, what was most useful about it?
I didn’t, but not because I didn’t want to. I only discovered Author’s Guide To Book Apps as I was crossing the finish line on my book. I did download ‘The Top 5 Things You Must Know About Creating A Book App For Kids’ and ’7 Secrets of Book App Marketing’. If there was a single thing I could point out that I learned from reading these is that ‘quality matters’. I was tempted to cave in to my fatigue at the end and rush a few pages to get things wrapped up, but knowing in advance that my book would be judged on quality, I spent even more time with each final item to make sure it was just right. Thankfully, my illustrator agreed and we actually added more to the book as we got closer to the finish line.
I have three more books in production right now and the advice in Author’s Guide To Book Apps is being incorporated. I am very glad I discovered Karen’s advice, and think my books are already better for it.
Q: What other apps did you use to inspire you?
I downloaded a number of book apps to gauge the quality and diversity of the market. I must admit that I was a little disappointed in most of them, and motivated to raise the bar on what I could do. I was exposed to a couple of book apps that really caught my eye for quality and possibilities. One, (I will shamelessly plug), was Treasure Kai, which really sets the bar high. I was impressed that my kids were mesmerized, and took active turns choosing the next treasure chest with each turn of the page. My greatest inspiration came from printed books, in particular a few by Australian author and illustrator Graeme Base. The Sign Of The Seahorse and The Eleventh Hour are among my all-time favorite books. I loved the way he integrated puzzles into the books, and I tried to do something similar with mine.
Q: Estimated budget
Using TaleSpring allowed me to do all of the programming myself. I am technically-minded (my day job is in high-tech), and have ad agency experience, so while I am no ‘pro’, I am able to fumble my way around most software applications and know just enough about art and layout to be a danger to myself. The net result is that I was able to do everything myself except for the illustration, and I was very fortunate to team up with Zach Clough, who literally joined me on the project as an investor of his time and talent. Bottom line: I was able to produce and publish the book for less than $500 in actual cash outlay.
Don’t let me give you the wrong impression, however: Zach and I devoted over 300 hours of elbow grease to complete the project, and I am sure there are many tens of hours unaccounted for in noodling over issues and planning.
Doing it myself was a lot of work, but very rewarding. Saving money on the development side allows me to focus some resources on marketing, which can really take a toll on a budget. With a stern goal to keep costs down, I am now looking for creative ways to marketing the book for as little as I spent on the development side.
Q: How are your sales going?
Sales have been steady and climbing. I reached #8 in the App Store for iPad Book Apps and was in the top ten for four days. The initial burst allowed me to gain a lot of word-of-mouth sales which have kept me at a steady pace and I can at least reveal that I recovered my initial investment in the first two weeks of sales. It is still too early to mark a trend, so I am remaining a little ‘tight-lipped’ about sales at the moment.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
I am currently working on three new books. These will be a little shorter than The Day I Became A Pirate, but will have a more educational twist to them with fun puzzles and learning pages intermixed with stories I originally wrote for my children. The three in the works are One Day In The Grass, a whimsical tale about a girl daydreaming in the grass who meets and plays with some fairies and leprechauns. Dad And Me Under The Sea is actually a true story of my son and I snorkeling for his first time. The book reviews all the animals we encountered in a rhyming story. And third; an Alien story about a young girl who meets an alien who takes her on a ride in his spaceship.
I am also working on the text for a sequel to The Day I Became A Pirate, featuring a secret new character who is introduced as the result of one of the puzzles in the pirate book. Whe
Q: Links to your app, social media, website, etc.