“a writer turned accidental entrepreneur.”
When she moved to Paris as a trailing spouse, her academic career effectively ended, but once settled in Paris with her family, she decided to write about the history of Paris for the teens and tweens market. She started with Beware Madame La Guillotine, a treasure hunt that directs the reader to key monuments in Paris and the historical events that took place there during the French Revolution.
Her first story is about twenty six year old Charlotte Corday, who stabbed to death Jean-Pierre Morat, a radical journalist and politician, who encouraged the violent repression of his party’s opponents. Charlotte was arrested at the scene of the crime and subsequently beheaded on the Place de la Revolution, now called the Place de la Concorde.
The first drafts of the story were narrated by the historian’s voice, but when Sarah went to the Palais Royal arcade, to try to locate the shop, where Charlotte bought the murder weapon, Sarah noticed a chalk portrait of Charlotte,
“I heard a voice in my head, and that doesn’t usually happen to me. It was Charlotte saying over and over “let me speak,” and that is when I decided to write the story in Charlotte’s voice.”
Sarah tested the story on several groups of teenagers, who loved the tour, treasure hunts and games, but hated having to read text at each stop on the itinerary. They suggested making the story into an application for iPhones.
So it was back to the drawing board for Sarah and the concept of Time Traveler Tours was born.
Sarah wrote a query letter and proposal, which she sent to several agents and got good responses, but they felt that a book that combines a game, history and language, was too complicated to market. At that time the publishing industry was not ready to consider mobile story-based apps. In fact, Sarah had created a new genre and she was ahead of the market.
Sarah then took her idea to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2010, in the hope of finding a digital publisher. The book fair is the largest trade fair for children’s literature in the world, the size of five football fields. She only found one agent willingly moving into the digital landscape, who asked to see a PDF of the story. His conclusion was,
“This is the most exciting thing at the fair, but you’ll have to do it yourself.”
Sarah hired three consecutive coders, at great expense for a new entrepreneur, to code the application, but as Apple technology is regularly updated, the code for Sarah’s application had to follow these developments and with the application costing only $5, selling a single story application is not a viable business proposition.
“When I started this project I believed the old saying, “build it and they will come,” but my experience has shown me that in today’s world it’s up to you to “build it and then push it to your target customers yourself.” I thought about giving up many times and asked myself why I was doing this.”
Sarah decided to republish her interactive story herself in multiple formats, which is often the best way to publish for writers today. In 2010, Apple launched a free programme for self-publishing interactive books, called iBooks Author, that uses a customer friendly template process, similar to building a blog. In this way, the production costs are minimal and Sarah could do most of the technical work herself. Most of the images used in the ibook are free of copyright or alternately, you can buy seven year rights for unlimited digital use to digitized images of archival images at minimal cost.
“The advantage of using digital technology is that you can put out some content, test it on the public and use their feedback to improve and develop your product.”
The iBook Beware Madame La Guillotine is currently English only. The French version will launch next with the bilingual English/French version shortly after. The app is fully bilingual so you can switch languages at the touch of a finger on the tactile screen. Both offer all the usual widgetry and extra pages that give more information on themes such as the Enlightenment, detailed history of the monuments or quizzes. The iBook is being used in classrooms by language and history teachers, as well as armchair travelers. Visitors in Paris, who can enjoy the treasure hunt in situ, will prefer the app.
The next story, which will be launched this summer, is about the creation of the Catacombs beneath Paris, narrated by a grave digger’s ghost. His story tells of the underground ossuary, which contains the remains of about six million people and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of ancient Roman quarries. The Catacombs were opened in the late 18th century for the disposal of the bodies previously buried in paupers’ graves next to Les Halles, the fresh food market. The underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1874.