Interview: Joanna Marple on uTales

Thank you for joining me today as I interview fellow 12×12’er and Perfect Picture Book Friday contributor, Joanna Marple. It has been about ~7 months that I have known her through the blogosphere, and it has been delightful. She is a school librarian in the South of France and has a special place in her heart for animal and cultural diversity around the world. She runs a wonderful blog, Marple’s Musings, be sure to check it out.

A week ago, Joanna published her first book Snow Games. Yeah!! I read the sample pages, loved it. (see my review) So I signed-up for a free trial, was impressed with the ebooks I read and liked the idea of working with an illustrator on a story. So now I have like a ton of questions on uTales and the creative experience. Joanna was gracious in agreeing to be interviewed on such short notice. Thank you so much!

Snow Games is Joanna’s first book, but she was also a contributor to the Friendship Alphabet book, which was a collaborative project with over 30 authors and illustrators from around the globe. Pretty cool, right. I think so.  Now on with the interview. Enjoy!

1) What benefits do you see with the uTales platform for parents of young kids?

I believe the uTales eBook platform is a wonderful complement to printed picture books. For those who sign up for the monthly subscription (and they are doing a very special deal of $4.99/month right now) kids have access to a mini library of books on their/their parents’ iPads and iPhones (or computers) at all times, making reading even more accessible. There is a complete range of topics and styles, both fun and more educational, and from a very international group of authors and illustrators. The discreet use of animation and sound can also enhance the reading experience for many children.

2) Any personal uTale book recommendations for parents with kids in the 2-5 or 6-8 range?

Absolutely! uTales is more focused on the younger group, but there are stories for the older children too, and we are also in the process of creating more educational book. For the 2-5 range I recommend: THE UGLY DUCKLING by Hazel Mitchel, THE BOY WHO CRIED SHMUTZ by Sandi Hershenson, illustrated by Claudia Fehr-Levin and THIS IS MARCY by Mark Weinstein. For the 6-8 range, do read: THE SEA CAT DREAMS by J R Poulter & illustrated by Muza Ulasowski and PROMETHEUS by Mark Weinstein (yes, he has written several that I love).

Thanks for the recommendations, I will need to go check them out!

3) What about the uTale platform appealed to you as picture book author?

Firstly, the opportunity to have something published (that has had some editorial input), and the encouragement this brings, while waiting for the agent contract and illusive traditional publishing contract. I will be agent hunting soon and am committed to the more traditional publishing route, but for me it isn’t an either or. This is offering me the best of all worlds; I retain the rights to my book and yet am learning about: my craft, editing, e-publication, book promotion etc. Secondly, I love the collaborative and international aspect. Thirdly, I am very happy that a percentage of profits can go to Pencils of Promise.

Pencils of Promise is a non-profit charity that builds preschools in developing countries.

4) I understand since you are picture book author only, you were able to collaborate with an illustrator you met through the uTales Collaboration Facebook page. Can you briefly describe the collaboration process? What challenges or benefits did you experience?

It took me a little time to find an illustrator, hence releasing my winter book as summer approaches! I had posted on the uTales Facebook collaboration page and approached around 4 or 5 illustrators, all of whom loved it but were too busy. It was actually Emma Dryden, whose freelance editorial services I have used, who suggested I approach Maja. We had both seen her Owl illustrations on the ‘O’ page of the friendship book and felt she would be a great fit for SNOW GAMES. Emma pointed out to me that mine was a fairly detailed book to illustrate, with the four animals, and that it would need to be an illustrator with a bit of extra time. Maja just happened to be in a lull in her freelance work. I don’t mind having had to wait a little, as I believe Maja was just the perfect illustrator for SNOW GAMES and we hope to collaborate again in the future. She was wonderful about sending me the illustrations as she went along and soliciting my opinion. This was only a positive experience for me, and an opportunity for communication with the illustrator that you will very rarely find in traditional publishing.

5) You were also a contributor in the “Friendship Alphabet” eBook, which had over 30 authors and illustrators from 15 countries. “E” and “Y” were among my favorites. Did you get to pick your letter? What was the collaboration process like with so many people?

This was a wild and wonderful experience. It was initiated by Swedish author/illustrator, Anders Lindholm. Our goal was Valentines Day, and we didn’t really get going until after the New Year! We did get to sign up for our letters. I chose E, and our remit was to do a double page about friendship without using the word itself; show not tell!!  Then as we were nearing our deadline we realized that some letters weren’t happening, so I jumped in for Y too, and Manuela Pantengelo volunteered to illustrate my yaks! I had another South African for my E, Rico Schacherl. We had some crazy back and forth on the collaboration page in the final two weeks, adding the pages/animation/sound etc. I joined Anders to help with the names/nationalities of the contributors. It was a fantastic international team project, which I love. It is our best-selling book so far and ALL the proceeds go to the charity, Pencils of Promise.

6) What is the uTales editorial process like?

I would never have considered contributing to uTales if I wasn’t satisfied with their quality control. Their editorial panel is headed up by publishing industry veteran, Emma D Dryden, which is a huge endorsement for me. All books, once complete, are submitted to the panel before being published and you then have an opportunity to revise your story with their editorial suggestions and resubmit two more times.

7) Does uTales keep all digital rights or just the digital right pertaining to the uTales platform. I understand that authors/illustrators are allowed to pitch their stories to traditional publishers. Any plans to get “Snow Games” into a hardcover picture book?

We retain the rights to our books. Maja and I will definitely consider showing agents SNOW GAMES, and yes, I do hope to see it in print one day!

8) Any advice for picture book authors who are considering submitting stories to the uTales platform?

I highly recommend the experience, even if you are published, as I bet you have some manuscripts in your folder that you know would make great uTales stories! I encourage you to browse the uTales books and sign up on the Facebook collaborations page. I will just say that your book needs to have gone through some serious revision (critique groups etc), giving great attention to presentation, punctuation and precision, before you seek your illustrator.

9) Any new books on the horizon that you would like readers to know about?

Thanks for asking, and the answer is yes! I am revising a sequel to SNOW GAMES entitled MIDSUMMER MADNESS (they get into real mischief this time around). I am also getting more critiques for TO BEE or NOT TO BE before sending this to an illustrator friend, who has asked to collaborate on this one. Otherwise, some recent photos of Maja’s trip to Swaziland inspired me to write a story about a warthog, that still needs a lot of work. These are just the stories I am thinking of submitting to uTales!

How exciting, I like the sound of MIDSUMMER MADNESS. Great title!

10) In keeping with the theme of your book “Snow Games”, what is your favorite wintertime activity?

Snowshoeing! I do enjoy downhill skiing, but much prefer to get away from the crowds in the ski stations into a wilder wintry landscape, where I can chat with my fellow snow-shoers, enjoy the stillness, discover the many animal tracks in the snow… it’s magical.

Sounds wonderful! Makes me wish it were winter and I lived on the East Coast again.

If you would like to hear more from Joanna, follow her BLOG TOUR.

Wednesday, May 23rd – Krista Rausin’s blog, Parenting with a Dash of Inspiration – Multiple Characters in Picture Books

Tuesday, May 29th – Sharon Stanley’s blog, Sharon Stanley Writes – Interview

Monday, June 4th – Clarike Bo Jahn, Clarbojahn’s Blog – The Story Behind the Story

Wednesday, June 6th – Diane Tulloch’s blog, The Patient Dreamer – Book Review and mini Interview

Monday, June 18th – Susanna Leonard Hill’s Blog – The Process of Submitting a Story to uTales

Date TBD – Julie Hedlund’s Blog, Anthropomorphism in picture books


51 Responses to “Interview: Joanna Marple on uTales”

  1. wow! This is a very interesting interview answering questions I wanted to know. I quite keen on utales when I first heard about it and Joanna mentioned it. I kind of shied away from it as I hadn’t heard much since and wondered what the process was. Thankyou for such a lovely insightful interview ladies.

  2. Congrats again to Joanna! I appreciate how you’ve taken the plunge and helped the rest of us learn the ropes in this new, digital world.

  3. Great interview, ladies. Thanks for the nuts and bolts information on uTales, Joanna. Good to learn more about your experiences with this.

  4. Great interview! I had wondered about the uTales experience and I think this answered all of my questions. Good luck with your book Joanna!

  5. Very interesting interview with answers to so many questions! Looking forward to all the other interviews and esp. to hearing your thoughts on anthropomorphism in PB.

  6. Love this interview! I am so happy for you Joanna! SNOW GAMES is truly wonderful. And I can’t wait for TO BEE OR NOT TO BE. What a clever title! UTales seems like it was a amazing experience. 🙂 Congrats.

  7. Was eager to read the first interview. Great job ladies. It seems that many of the books on uTales are anthropomorphic. And I’ve noticed a lot of excellent rhyme, when may traditional agents/publishers are interested. Sounds like uTales offer writers a wide range of opportunities. Also like Joanna’s reasoning about pursing the uTales route — so many things she’s learned in the process which will help her. Helps her platform too.

  8. Congrats Joanna and thanks so much for sharing the experience with us. I’d like to ask who pays the illustrator? is it U-Tales? You have given me the confidence to have a go at this, I can’t wait to read your story. Thanks Joanna!

    • Catherine, do sign up on the FB collaborations page! The illustrator and the author split the proceeds and decided together what percentage they want to give to Pencils of Promise.

  9. Many Congrats Joanna…I know you are having a ball! Can’t wait for our interview.

  10. Many congrats once again, Joanna! I am all for taking the bull by the horns and making stuff happen, so it’s great to see how well your collaboration turned out. Do I understand correctly that both uTales authors and illustrators do this pro bono? Is this a royalty deal?

    Looking forward to more from you SOON! 🙂

    • Thanks for asking this, Renée, as I see I should have clarified this. No, the author and illustrator can opt to give a percentage of their earnings to Pencils of Promise, though they are not obligated to do so. Of course, uTales also take a percentage!

  11. Congrats Joanna! Such a great book!

  12. Thanks for a wonderful and very informative interview, Darshana and Joanna! The more I hear about uTales, the better it sounds. I really love that a portion of the proceeds can go to Pencils of Promise. Looking forward to Midsummer Madness! 🙂

  13. Thank you all for stopping by today. I am glad to hear that the interview answered your questions. A big thank you to Joanna for doing the interview, and I look forward to hearing your more in-depth interviews and posts.

  14. Darshana, I read this earlier and tweeted it. I enjoyed this interview and wanted to stop back by to say it! I’ve been confused about uTales in the past. Joanna’s Snow Games prompted me to get signed up and make a purchase there. Now I’m ready to explore other titles available.

  15. great interview!both of you!and Joanna thanks for giving our book a mention!

  16. Great interview! I just learned about uTales and I think it’s really cool! The books are really well done and the site is easy to use. I can’t wait to read your book Miss Marple! 🙂

  17. This was very interesting to me, as the digital world of publishing is very new and a bit frightening. What is most frightening to me is wondering if anyone is making any money on these projects. As an author/illustrator who has been published traditionally for many years, I am used to receiving an advance against royalties to help me put a little food on the table. Does uTales (or any digital publisher) offer any kind of advance? All of this seems so speculative, especially for an illustrator who can spend a very long time doing artwork for a book. I’d appreciate any insight you can give me in this area.

    • Yes you bring up a very good point. I do not think uTales offers any sort of advance, but I could be mistaken. I still learning about the digital space myself. I think uTales offers a platform for others (readers, editors, agents) to see an illustrator’s work or ability to collaborate with an author. I don’t think it takes the place of traditional publishing where you may get an advance up front.
      The reason why uTales is of interest to me is am I pb author not yet published. The opportunity to work with an illustrator sounds intriguing and a great learning experience. I imagine I would learn a lot from an illustrator and him/her from me as we work to build a picture book together. Yes, I agree there is a downside that even after all that hard work it may not meet the bar of the editorial board. But I’ll hedge my bets. 🙂

    • I don’t know how other digital companies pay, Locekfan. uTales is a recent company so revenue is very small at the moment, so this may be an important and valid consideration for you.

  18. I’m looking forward to reading more about your experience on Susanna’s blog. Again, congrats Joanna and thanks Darshana for posting the interview. 🙂

  19. Thanks Darshana and Joanna. A very enlightening and inspiring interview. I especially like that fact that the organization is international. Do either of you know if uTales is an option for writer/illustrators?

  20. Great interview ladies! This answered many of my initial questions about uTales! I can’t wait to host Joanna on my blog too, so we’ll have to find a unique angle for that! 🙂

    Joanna, I’m curious. If a person goes the monthly subscription route vs. book by book route, how do you get compensated for your book in that model? Does that question make sense?

    • That question makes great sense and you get a percentage for every time someone reads your book!

  21. Adorable book! Really enjoyed reading about your writing adventures here and the collaboration with a great illustrator and with Emma Dryden’s company. I think a lot of us are interested in the newish world of epubbing, and it looks like uTales has a great business model, with both subscription and buy opportunities. Can’t wait to see your next book!

    • Miriam, thanks so much for these encouraging words. Just to say it isn’t Emma’s company. The company was founded by a Swedish guy called Nils von Heijne, whom I have met. uTales employs Emma as an editorial consultant.

  22. Thanks so much Darshana and Joanna for such an informative interview. I’m kinda late posting here but I have been having back trouble and kinda been off line. So glad I can still catch up. I love that proceeds go to a charity! I’m going there next to see about it. Good luck in your endeavors Joanna! 🙂


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