Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Interview with Katie Davis about the Brain Burps App!

Today, in my ever-ongoing quest to try and figure out how this whole interweb thing works, I'm going to interview Katie Davis, author/illustrator extraordinaire. She is the author of Who Hops, I Hate To Go To Bed, Kindergarten Rocks, and the middle grade novel The Curse of Addy McMahon. More importantly, she has an app! Brain Burps About Books. Here's the link. Isn't the cow cute?

And now the interview:

First off, I think Brain Burps is such a great title. No one forgets it. Did it take long to come up with that? And is the purple-blue cow there because cows often burp?

It’s SO funny you say that because I’ve been advised by smart marketing type guys that it doesn’t take me seriously enough…not that I’m ever going to stop laughing at myself, heaven forbid! But more in terms of will I be taken seriously as someone in the business with that name.

But I love it! So I don’t know what to do, and plus, people often tell me how it makes them laugh and I’m a sucker for making people laugh.

As for how I came up with it, it started as the name for my blog. My mind pops from thing to thing all the time and add to that I didn’t want to be locked into talking about one specific thing, so I figured it covered anything to do with children’s literature. That way I can talk about specific books, but also, the business end of things, libraries and librarians, how to read books, how to write them, school visits, craft, you name it, it’d come under that umbrella! And it worked for the podcast, too.

The cow comes from my first book, WHO HOPS? which has a hopping cow on the cover.

I love hopping cows. Or Kangacows as we call them in Saskatchewan. Why an app in the first place?

The app kind of came along with the podcast. As I got my show structure and equipment together (for good sound quality), I found out about Liberated Syndication, or Libsyn for short. Libsyn is my podcast server, and I pay a monthly service fee to upload and store my files, which can be very large, or about 1.5 mb per episode minute. For my service fee, there is an app included. All I had to do was create the art.

To be clear, anyone can hear the podcast free via my blog (soon to be within my redesigned site) or iTunes. But if you want it automatically downloaded to your iPod, iPhone, Android or Blackberry, you need to buy the app. I didn't have anything to do with the pricing of $1.99, either - that was Libsyn (I get a few cents per app kids won't be paying for college with the app). As a sort of thank you for buying it, I make the podcast available to my app owners a full day early. That’s an advantage when there is a contest! I’ve also included PDFs only available on the app, like the first chapter of Nancy Werlin’s latest book before it came out.

Who's your audience? Bovines? Teachers? Anyone with $1.99?

I am pretty sure you can’t text without thumbs so probably no bovines have purchased my app, sad as that makes me. Anyone who wants to learn about the business of children’s lit and wants to hear the show before everyone else buys it.

Whether you’re an established author or a hopeful, there is content for you. Teachers and librarians have liked it too, as they can hear their favorite writers and illustrators talking about the creation of books they’ve read, or their students are reading. I feel so lucky to do this - I love my guests! I get to support my friends' books, I’ve had Newbery and Caldecott winners, app creators, eBook publishers, bestselling authors and illustrators and school visit experts.

What was the "app" process like? Do they take a cut of the $1.99 or do you pay them upfront? Is it an expensive endeavour for authors to consider?

It was very easy but I’m an illustrator so that wasn’t a big leap – though I give props to Janie Bynum who gave me valuable graphic design input, as I am definitely no graphic artist! And as I mentioned above, the app is part of the monthly $20 fee. Knowing how much it would cost me elsewhere, it seemed like a great deal to me.

Do people think you're cooler because you have an app? Just curious. I need to work on my coolness. I think you're cooler, in case you're wondering.

What are you talking about? You are the coolest guy I know. After my husband and Justin Timberlake. Sorry. But third place isn’t so bad.

And to answer your question, I am actually 17.5% cooler than I was before. Except to my teenaged kids who probably think I’m not even in the same state as cool.

Seriously, I think I am the only one who thinks it’s cool. And now you. So now there are two of us.

Justin Timberlake? Is he another YA writer? Anyway, what has the reaction been to the app? Was it better than you imagined?

Nope. It’s actually way worse. 8-)

I get the statements and it’s embarrassing. Meanwhile, the show grows by leaps and bounds every day! As I write this I’m just about to pass the 15,000 download mark and have been heard in 67 countries. By the time you print this, those numbers will have gone up by a lot. So the app not selling isn’t that big a deal to me but ONLY because it’s not a book app. That would be a completely different story. And I will be doing a book app, so let’s talk again then!

I didn't even know there were 67 countries in the world! Now that the app is out there, you still have work to do. Interviews, cutting and splicing of digital tape, etc., Is it time consuming? And what tools do you use to do all your podcasting?

I have good sound equipment, including my favorite thing, an Edirol digital recorder, about the size of an iPhone, only fatter. I’ve gotten more streamlined as I become more experienced, but it still takes anywhere from a couple of hours to 6 hours, depending on the episode. I do research, read the books by my guests (I’m not counting reading time), then I write my show notes. The interview usually lasts about an hour, maybe more “off camera” if we’re having fun, and then I edit the show, which means listening to it, and adding music, the reviews by Betsy Bird and Jennifer Hubert Swan (Reading Rants) and the new feature, Take5 Marketing Tips, submitted by Dianne de las Casas. I also delete things, like too many “ums” or if I interrupt someone.

Um, I see. So you should cut out the ums. Ummm, that's a great tip. I assume one of the advantages to having the podcasting app is that you can react to changes in the industry instantly. Do you pursue topics that are...uh...topical? Or is it more general?

You are so right! I’ve had timely episodes, including one with the editor who removed the N-word from Huck Finn, Bruce Coville’s escape from Egypt during the recent revolution, and one of my first episodes was with Ellen Hopkins, right after she was “uninvited” from a Texas book festival. I had her on and two other authors, one of whom boycotted the festival and one who decided to go.

I see that people can also phone in with questions. That is so great. It's kind of like being able to talk directly to Oprah. Have you found this interactive aspect of the podcast useful? Do you get crank calls?

I love that I can do that. People can also email me an mp3 message recorded on their iPod or iPhone – it has better quality. And yep, that number has gotten some crank calls. But that’s okay – I got the service to make it easy for people to ask questions. It’s been pretty dead lately on the question front, though so I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep paying for that!

Did I mention that you're now 90% cooler because you have an app? Anyway, has anything really surprising come out of the whole app thing? Like, perhaps, Brain Burps the movie?

The most surprising thing is that you think I’m 90% cooler because of the app.

Ha! So what are the net benefits? Are they measurable? Does this sell books or is it more a way of reaching out and growing your audience (which we hope in turn will sell books). And, most important of all, is it fun?

It’s so much fun I can’t even believe it. The benefits are multi-fold: I get to support other people’s books, I feel good supporting literacy and spreading the kidlit gospel, my name is associated with respected book reviewers who contribute to the show, and I’m going more speaking engagements because of it. I was just asked by Chautauqua to interview Candy Fleming for their website, I will be podcasting the New England SCBWI and the Rutgers One-on-One conferences this year and I’m appearing at the NY Reading Association, presenting “How to Turn Reluctant Readers Into Stars Through Podcasting.”

So, though I don’t know if it directly is selling my books, through these appearances and associations, maybe it is. Most of all, it’s really fun and very fulfilling.

One thing I know for sure, this interview was fun! Thanks Katie, I really appreciate you sharing your time and information and laughing at my jokes. You were laughing right? Please check out Katie’s Website and buy all of her books. Err, wait, first buy mine. Then hers! Oh, and don't forget to watch her very cool video FAQ's. All your FAQ's will be answered! Finally!


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