Monday, November 12, 2012

The Mystery of Children's Books in eBooks

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 750 authors and imprints.

This week, a break from the blood and guts of Crime; a brief foray into how children's books--formerly "undoable" for Amazon, Nook, and iBooks--have blossomed onto the scene, and what you should be thinking about before you leap into this type of publishing unprepared.  This is the first in a series of articles discussing the fundamentals of epublishing--not "how-to" as much as general concepts, what ebooks look like; how they function, what they can and can't do, and what to expect. 

Before You Start

Before you proceed with digital publishing for a children's book, you need to consider first what platforms (retailers) you intend to sell upon; then, you need to decide whether you're going to publish that kids' book as a "fixed format" book or a regular, reflowable ePUB and MOBI title.  There are important considerations for both options.

What ARE Fixed-Format Books?

"Fixed fomat" books are ebooks that can display two-page spreads, or pages of illustrations that have text on top of the illustrations.  Below are two examples of fixed-format books.  One is from "The Big Galoot," by Shadoe Stevens, on the iBooks application (Apple); the lovely pen-and-ink "Fox and the Fawn" is shown on a Kindle Fire device, with pop-up text boxes (also called, "region magnification," but "pop-up text" just sounds cooler!)

"The Big Galoot," by Shadoe Stevens, in fixed-format, shown here on iBooks.

"The Fox and the Fawn," shown here in Fixed-Format, with "pop-up text," on the Amazon Kindle Fire device.

Now, the upside is that these books will look exactly, or "as exactly as possible" like the original print layout. The downside is that they a) are extremely expensive, and, b) are limited to use on the platform for which they are created.

What this means is that if you have a company make a Kindle Fixed-format Kids' book, it can't be read on any other e-reading device. An Apple Fixed-format book for iBooks can't be read on a Nook. And a Nook Fixed-Format book can't be read on anything but a NookColor tablet, in the special NookKids' platform. (And, note: to publish a NookKids' book, you have to be approved as a NookKids' publisher, by Barnes & Noble, or use an Aggregator/Distributor that is already approved.) An Amazon MOBI made this way only works on those devices that have "K8" formatting--basically, the Kindle Fire Tablet and certain Droid Tablets.

We at have extensive experience in making these types of Kids' books in fixed-format, including books with embedded video, audio, and even animation (the latter on the iBooks platform only (and to a lesser extent, the NookKids' platform); audio is only available to self-publishers for iBooks and Nook at this time).

An alternative to this approach, if you have simple images with text on opposing pages, is to create a reflowable ePUB and MOBI format.  While this can mean that images and text may become separated while someone is reading the book, it is significantly less expensive and has the added advantage of portability.  An ePUB made this way, in other words, works for iBooks, Nook, Sony, and virtually every other ePUB-reading device.  A MOBI file made this way will work on all Amazon devices.  Two examples of books made as reflowable ePUBs or MOBI's are shown below; "Sharon and Eleanor's Escape" by Connie Pontius (Geese image) and "Emerald Green Runner" by Andrew Kay and Romy Dingle (on iBooks, with a tree in the image).

Sharon and Eleanor, by Connie Pontious, on the Kindle Fire--a reflowable MOBI file.

"Emerald Green Runner," by Andrew Kaye and Romy Dingle, a reflowable illustrated children's ePUB, on the iBooks reading application. 

Now, on either of these last two books, when a reader changes the font size of the book, or changes the orientation (you can read both iBooks or the Kindle Fire in horizontal, or landscape, view), the relationship between the images and the text that you see here will change.  For example, in Sharon and Eleanor, it's highly likely that simply enlarging the text would move the paragraph that starts, "This day began like any other..." to the next "page," meaning that a reader would have to click to the next page to read the text.

Some authors don't want this--they want their books to have text and images "married," as you see on The Big Galoot or The Fox and the Fawn, above.  If, however, your book is sparsely illustrated, or is predominantly story with illustrations, using reflowable eBooks is a far more flexible and affordable way to go.  But if you have a storyline this is predominantly illustrations with very sparse text, then something like Fergus and Lady Jane, from the wonderful Australian "Fergus the Ferry" series, shown below in Kindle Fire Tablet, is probably a better choice.

"Fergus and Lady Jane," on the Kindle Fixed-format platform, from the enormously popular "Fergus Ferry" series, originally published in Australia, by author J W Noble. 

(For larger-sized images, please feel free to peruse our Knowledgebase, which you can see at our main KB at: . )
Whatever your decision, don't fly blindly into making your children's book into digital format.  Making these books is not inexpensive--usually starting at $10/page, including all covers, inner pages, frontmatter, backmatter, etc., and even more if you add audio (can be as high as $250 for basic audio plus $0.35/word), and that's per format.  What does that mean?  That means you can expect to pay, for, say, a 38-page kids' book, $380 for a book that will only work on a single device or family of devices.  Some companies, like mine, will give you a discount for the second book--the second format of the same book for a different device--but still, it's a lot of money.  Carefully analyze your ROI--Return on Investment--and make sure that you have a real audience for your particular book.  Make sure that you've picked up and looked at children's books on a NookColor tablet, a Kindle Fire and an iBooks app on the iPad, so that you know what to expect in your fixed-format book.  Do your research, so that you have a good idea of what you're getting into before you take the plunge!


  1. Great information, Hitch! I've been thinking about a children's story and wondered about the illustrations.

  2. Hi, Peg! Yes, I know it's not my usual post...but we've had an absolute slew incoming for the holidays, I thought I'd post this now, and go back to the more mundane "what's an ebook" posts next time. I realize that using "mystery" in the post title was a total cheat, LOL. ;-)

    Anytime you want to check out some kids' books, let me know. I have more screenshots, etc., I can send you, but I figured I was getting into eye-glazing territory as it was.


  3. As a former children's librarian, I found this fascinating and informative. Thanks, Hitch!

  4. Terrific information. I'm sure much of this information applies to authors who want to create ebooks with maps and other illustrations. I think of my friend, a well known cartoonist, and her desire to get her comic strip into ebook format. Which format makes the most sense for her?

  5. That cost actually sounds very reasonable to me. I like the idea of a line drawing at the start of each chapter in a middle grade reader and have wondered how to accomplish this. Also, whether those pages, when read on a computer, could be printable, but only the illustration pages. Coloring pages built in, as it were. Thanks for the terrific post!

  6. It's a bit easier with books for older kids, which often don't have interior illustrations. I published a mystery set in ancient Egypt for ages 9+. The print version did have spot illustrations at the end of some chapters. I took those out for the e-book versions, because I couldn't control the line breaks. I didn't want an illustration to end up alone on a page, as that would give too much importance to what was intended to be minor decoration. Without interior art, the book was simple to produce.

    However, even though The Eyes of Pharaoh is $2.99 as an e-book and $9.99 in print, I sell far more print copies. I know some teachers are picking them up for the classroom. The market is moving toward more e-books for kids, but it's not there yet. If your target is younger than teen, you're probably better off having a print version as well (unless there are interactive elements).

  7. Thanks, Hitch, for a very well-thought out and informative post. Even as a thriller writer, it's interesting to see how things are done in other genres, and as LJ said, applies to those of us who wish to include illustrations in our work. I suspect that as the technology continues to improve, this aspect will have more relevance to us all, no matter what kind of stories we write.

  8. Interesting post, Hitch! And well-written and laid out! Thanks for explaining this cutting-edge technology to us! The visuals really add to the info, making it so much quicker to grasp.

  9. I kind of disagree with Andrew. I work for Little Pickle Press. E-books and apps are a big part of their model, and new books will come out in digital format before print. That includes picture books as well as chapter books. The times really are changing, and very quickly.


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