Interview with Melissa Northway of Polka Dots Publishing

Today’s interview is with Melissa Northway, a author, app reviewer and one of our featured speakers this week. You can find out more about Melissa and Penelope the Purple Pirate via her website , by reading our of review of Penelope the Purple Pirate or by following on Facebook and Twitter. Please be sure to join us and Melissa Northway, author of Penelope the Purple Pirate, will be available in The iMums chatroom on Sunday June 24 from 5pm Pacific/7pm Central/8pm Eastern (US). The chat room is available at

penelopeiconHi Melissa! Thank you for participating our interview. Please tell us a little about yourself.

Hello! My background is in business and health science and recently I completed my masters in nutrition. After college, I moved to Japan to teach ESL to college students. After living and traveling around Asia for three years I came back to the states and started an import/export business. I married one of my classmates from high school and we had our daughter six years ago. She has been the inspiration to create a fun and spunky character who likes to have adventures. I felt there weren’t enough adventurous female roles for our girls and boys to look up to and enjoy – so I created Penelope.

How did the idea for your app come about?
A friend at my daughter’s preschool told me that she thought Penelope would make a good storybook app. This was back in March of 2010 and the market was just opening up for book apps. I researched the market and worked with illustrator Paul Johnson to get some scenes for Penelope the Purple Pirate. I sent the story along with these illustrations to PicPocket Books in September of 2010. Lynette Mattke sent me an email the next week saying they had accepted it to be part of their PicPocket Books library. I was estactic and we released the storybook app that January 2011.

And how long was the process from the original idea to the release of the app?
I wrote the story one night after listening to my husband tell my daughter a bedtime story about Redbeard and his adventures on the high seas. I thought it would be fun to create a character that likes to have adventures – sort of a modern-day Pippi Longstocking! It took me about one year to get the story ready as I joined the Orange County SCBWI and went to several of their functions to have the story edited and reviewed by agents, editors and other writers. It then took me about six months to find the right illustrator and another few months before it was sent off to PicPocket Books after I had researched the different options available. It was an unusual route to take at that time but one that I am glad that I took!

Did you hire a developer or do it yourself?
I worked with PicPocket Books to handle the development side of the app as my experience is in marketing and business developement. There are many options available now for people who have some technical skills.

What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome in the development process?
There was a huge learning curve for me back in January 2011 when the app was launched. I started sending out a ton of emails to App Review sites and it was well received by the top sites. Digital Storytime chose it as a Top 10 Educational iPad App and Lilsugar of chose it as a Top 10 eBook. Recently, AppStar included it in their Top 250 most highly reviewed apps in their new free app. It helps to do your homework and be persistant. Creating a good app is one thing – but quite another to market it so that people know about it!

Have you had much support during the development process (from family, peers, Apple Inc.)?
My family was happy for me as they knew it was a dream of mine to create a children’s picture book. This was a whole new market for all of us so they were just excited to see how things unfolded! In April of 2011 we made it into a book and it is available in Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.

What are your plans for the future? Will you be developing any more apps?
My company, Polka Dots Publishing, in conjunction with PicPocket Books will be releasing three more books this year including Penelope the Purple Pardner, Gerry the Giraffe and Clarence and the Traveling Circus.

My company is now offering marketing and business development consulting for authors and developers looking to increase their sales and presence through social media channels. You can read more about what we offer on my website!

We are really excited to announce that Penelope and Polka Dots Publishing sponsoring the Book Winners for the Mrs P Be-A-Famous Writing Contest that will start in September and children between the ages of 4-13 years old can enter the contest. The two winners will have their stories professionally illustrated and given a hardcopy. This year Julia Roberts is one of the judges and they are announcing the other two this summer. This is such an exciting time to be a writer as there are many opportunities to make your dream of creating a storybook app and/or book a reality!

What sort of feedback has your app been receiving so far?
It has been well received and I love to hear when parents tell me that their child really loves Penelope. It makes me so happy to hear that as I wanted to provide a strong (and fun) female character who likes to be adventurous and looking only to have a Prince rescue her.

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone considering creating their own app?
Do your research and talk to others in the industry. There are many options available now if you are looking to do it yourself. Or you can submit your illustrated stories to a company accepting new stories and authors. The sky really is the limit – just be persistent and provide a good product.