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Friday, October 17, 2014

Why Kindle Kids' Book Creator Presents an Opportunity No Author Should Ignore


Today I am pleased to bring you a guest post by Jon Bard. Jon is a successful children's author, and co-owner of the popular Children's Book Insider newsletter and website.

In his article, Jon focuses on Kindle Kids' Book Creator, a free downloadable software tool recently released by Amazon. Regular readers may remember that I talked about this myself on this blog a few weeks ago.

Jon believes that the release of this tool illustrates how keen Amazon are to build their presence in illustrated children's e-book publishing, which in turn presents a huge opportunity for authors willing to take up the challenge. But I'll let Jon explain…

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For a massive multinational company, Amazon sure has a way of sneaking up on folks.

That's exactly what they did on September 3 when, seemingly out of the blue, the giant online retailer released Kindle Kids' Book Creator, a free standalone software program that makes developing illustrated children's eBooks (picture books and illustrated easy readers) essentially point and click.

Two weeks later the other shoe dropped, with the announcement of The Fire HD Kids Edition,  Amazon's first tablet created specifically for children.

Suddenly, the message became clear: the world's largest bookseller is going all in on children's ebooks... and they need content.

To writers raised in the traditional publishing paradigm (in which hundreds of authors fight for a handful of open slots at publishers) the new environment promises extraordinary opportunity. With the chance to design, produce, distribute and sell children's ebooks with little or no upfront investment, the landscape has changed almost entirely.

For authors willing to adapt to a new way of thinking, it's a change that will lead to massive benefits in terms of sales, reach and opportunity. 

The Children's ebook Market

While print books aren't going away, ebooks have made steady inroads into the juvenile market. Led by the enormously popular electronic editions of such mega-hits as The Hunger Games trilogy, ebooks have come to represent between 15-20% of the total children's book market, a number that demonstrates both the changing habits of young readers and the significant portion of market share still left on the table for ebook authors and publishers.

That young people are fully wired is hardly a revelation, and the numbers back that up. According to Pew Research, 37% of teens own smartphones - a major jump over 2011 (21%). One in four own tablets. And it's not hard to guess which direction these numbers will head.

The last frontier, however, has been illustrated ebooks for younger children. It's much less likely for a six year old to have a dedicated tablet, and many parents are partial to the printed picture books of their youth.

Enter Kindle Kids' Book Creator and  The Fire HD Kids Edition.

You've gotta hand it to Bezos and company. Rather than stick to established markets, they're essentially creating one. A niche that fits nicely between printed picture books/easy readers  and interactive children's apps. 

Their bet? That parents will see the appeal of low-cost, easily accessed Kindle children's books, and use ebooks to augment, not replace, printed picture books. And with The Fire HD Kids Edition, they've got the hardware to make it happen. Now they need the ebooks.

Or, more precisely, they need you to create those ebooks. And they're making it easy.

Looking at Amazon's Kindle Kids' Book Creator software

From the outside, it seems that Amazon is moving at breakneck speed to create and secure this new niche, and the software they've built to jumpstart the process shows it. Kindle Kids Book Creator is somewhat rough around the edges, particularly in the way it handles fonts (or, to put it more accurately, the way it fails to handle fonts) and it's lack of obvious features (no undo button?  Really?).

It's not quite as intuitive as it could be, and the documentation is sorely lacking.

However, Amazon has already released a major update (making the font situation a bit better) and they're eagerly soliciting feedback. That's a good sign that makes us hopeful for future iterations of the program.

But even with those shortcomings, Kindle Kids' Book Creator still manages to do exactly what it promises - it allows anyone to create a landscape-oriented picture ebook that looks professional and ready-to-sell. And it outputs it cleanly for submission to Amazon's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) platform.

And yes, it's free. You can download it now here.

(And so we're clear - ebooks created by the software and distributed via Amazon can be read on devices other than dedicated Kindle e-readers. With free Kindle apps available for PC, Android, Mac and iOS, Kindle ebooks have almost universal reach.)

How to Take Advantage of This Opportunity

Amazon, of course, cannot make you a successful children's ebook author. That's still on you, and it's dependent on authors maintaining some practices and mindsets from the past, while adopting some entirely new perspectives that are becoming increasingly relevant.

To begin this conversation, I'd like to highlight four key things all authors must keep in mind:

Craft is King. Let's be honest: the democratization of publishing will result in massive, huge, steaming piles of garbage dumped onto the marketplace. I shudder to think of the thousands of fart books, imbecilic talking animal stories and preachy, moralistic tracts about to be foisted upon us. Really folks, it's about to get ugly.
 
In a market with such an absurd signal-to-noise ratio, the only way books will succeed is via word of mouth. Parent to parent. Kid to kid. And, whether read on papyrus, paperback or tablet, bad books don't get talked about, they get forgotten. It's good books (or even better great books) that get talked about, that get shared, that get purchased.

For that reason, take the craft of writing for children seriously. If you haven't written a book that engages and delights a young reader (or the reader's parents), all the digital wizardry on the planet can't save you. Learn to write for children. Worry about publishing later. (To get a master class in children's writing, check out http://writeforkids.org)

Don't Do Everything Yourself.  Sure you can now publish a picture ebook without spending a dime, but you probably shouldn't. Hire a freelance editor to polish your prose. Get the best illustrations you can afford. Hire a talented cover designer. Get some marketing help. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take the process seriously.

Don't Be Ordinary. The vast majority of authors who use Kindle Kids' Book Creator will output ebooks that look and feel similar. Some text, some pictures. A cover. That's fine, but the software can do more, and you should take full advantage. In particular, the ability to add pop-up boxes can lead to some really cool app-like functions, such as interactive treasure maps and hidden "easter eggs". There's nothing in the documentation about this, so it requires some exploration and experimentation. Dig deep into the software and look for ways to stand apart.

You're Still an Author, but Now You're an Entrepreneur, Too. The fact that you're reading Nick's blog tells me that you already understand the importance of treating writing as a business. But, in case you need a refresher, here goes: If you have any desire to sell eBooks and build an ongoing career, you must actively market yourself and your books, and you must build strategic alliances wherever possible. If you don't like the idea of being a "marketer", fine. Call it "advocacy" or "message sharing" or "awareness raising", but, whatever you name it, you need to come to terms with the reality of things. Right now, no one out there cares about you or your ebook. It's up to you to make them care.

It's not every day when an industry's "800 pound gorilla" actively solicits help to create a new niche. And yet, here we are. Amazon is wagering that illustrated Kindle children's books will become a significant market force, and that's a bet that simply cannot be ignored. 

If you're ready to take a piece of that action, your time has arrived. Get to work.

Byline: Jon Bard is the Managing Editor of Children's Book Insider, the Children's Writing Monthly, and co-creator of Kindle Kids Mastery, a complete course for authors who wish to use Amazon's Kindle Kids Book Creator to publish illustrated Kindle books. Learn to design and publish an ebook, find illustrations and cover designs, use pop-ups, market and sell your ebook in a simple step-by-step fashion. Get more details at http://kdpmastery.com/kindle  (and use the discount code NICKDAWS
to get $70 off the full price).

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Thank you to Jon for a very interesting and authoritative article.

Jon has kindly allowed me reviewer access to Kindle Kids Mastery, so I shall be publishing my findings on this blog soon. I should like to thank him as well for offering my readers a $70 discount.

If you have any comments or questions, for either Jon or myself, please feel free to post them below as usual.

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