It is picture book month, but these days picture books come in different formats, unlike during our childhoods. Over the past few months I have been converting from a fairly negative stance towards eBooks for the very young, to a position of appreciation of their place, amongst different options, to encourage a love of story among young children. I do not believe the form of the traditional picture book is in any way dead (and this desserves its own post), but I personally want to embrace, with discernment, the benefits eBooks and Apps, and see how I can contribute to this form of children’s storytelling.
However, maybe like me, you are not tremendously tech-savy, and in my case, much to my chagrin, no artist. I confess to no small amount of envy for author/illustrators! Where does that leave those of us who might want to consider getting into the eBook world, while still pursuing traditional publishing hopes, but really don’t know how?
Enter stage left, a new startup, which is truly answering some of these questions. uTales was launched a couple of weeks ago by a Swede, called Nils von Heijne. It is a subscription based picture book service. For $9.99 per month you have permanent access to the uTales picture book library, or you can buy eBooks on an individual basis. At present there are around 150 books in English, but I am seing new books added almost daily and uTales has plans to expand this to be a multilingual resource, which I am very excited about. Some of the books have sound effects and some are interactive, but I confess I often forget to even look for this. All this is FREE for a 15 day trial period, so don’t take my word for it, check it out!
This is an exciting new concept that is a win win for readers and writers and/or illustrators. Parents with young kids have a portable library of picture books available on iPad, iPhone and computer. Authors, author/illustrators and illustrators, all now have the opportunity to present their work to the public, instead of, or as well as, waiting for that elusive contract! This is getting quality picture books out into the market, that might otherwise never be seen. There are many great storytellers out there! You should at this point be asking the question, “Well, what about the quality issue, Joanna?”. This was indeed my first question on discovering uTales. I was very happy to read that there is an editorial panel, headed up by the skilled and exprienced Emma D Dyrden, of Drydenbks, which vets every book. Every manuscript goes through some serious editorial control, and there are clear parameters of what is expected of a submission to uTales (see a recent post of Emma’s on this). Judge for yourselves during your free trial, but I think you will discover that the overall quality is of a high standard and offering well-illustrated stories that children will want to reread (the golden test of any good picture book). I know I have reread several times, my two personal favorites, ‘This is Marcy’ by Mark Weinstein and a retelling of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ by Hazel Mitchell. I should add, that the submission process is free for the story creators and then, if accepted, they receive a percentage of the subscriptions, based on number of views of their story.
If, like me, you don’t feel confident to do the artwork yourselves, you can joing the uTales collaborators page on Facebook and hook up with an artist. I am very excited about this initiative and hope publishers will be taking note! I am wondering if some of the hundreds of ideas being created through PiBoIdMo may evolve into uTales stories? I personally am trying to focus on writing some simpler, shorter stories for the 2-5 year old group, and will link up with an illustrator to have a go.
Two final important aspects in this project are: uTales has partnered with Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit founded in 2008, that has since built 30 schools in villages around the world. uTalers can choose to give a part of their earnings to Pencils of Promise. Battling global illiteracy gets a big yes vote from me! Secondly, it is a startup, and as such is open to new ideas and evolving all the time.
Whether an author or a parent, the trial period is free, so you have nothing to lose!