About this project
Inexplicably, you find yourself at a new Kickstarter project. This one appears to be for a series of 10 multi-path e-books in easy English.
Fully illustrated... in color... by experienced authors... great rewards... "Hm... it sounds too good to be true," you say to yourself. "Maybe it's a trap?"
You hesitate. What if you click that pledge button, only to find yourself suddenly trampled to death by an angry herd of rampaging rhinoceros? Can you take that chance?
If you choose to learn more about the Atama-ii series, scroll down.
If you would rather risk the rhinoceros herd, click on any reward.
You are safe--for now!
In the distance, you hear the herd of rhinoceros heading toward some other unsuspecting Kickstarter campaign. Those poor suckers, you think. If only they weren't stuck in such a linear narrative!
But what's this? You look down to see an urgent yet carefully edited plea for help...
The Atama-ii Books series is being developed from the ground up by authors and teachers who are passionate about reading--and about having fun.
The stories combine all the enjoyment of traditional 2nd-person multi-path stories with the accessible language that developing readers need, all in a high-quality package that appeals to adults as well as to adventurous kids.
Atama-ii means “smart” in Japanese. We chose this name because we believe that the choice-making aspect of interactive fiction is a great way to foster critical thinking, and because reading itself is an activity which makes us smarter.
And, okay--also because Atama-ii Books makes a nice pun on “e-books”!
Here are some highlights and features of the series:
1. Produced by an experienced team of writers and editors. The Atama-ii team includes the series editor and several adaptation writers from the Choose Your Own Adventure graded reader series by McGraw-Hill. Collectively, we have hundreds of professionally published materials under our belts and tens of thousands of hours teaching reading in the classroom. Check out our bios below.
2. Stories that are easy--but not dumbed down. The language level of the series is suitable for beginners, yet it's never insulting to their intelligence; this is definitely not "see Spot run" level stuff. Likewise, the story plots are easy to follow, yet interesting enough to engage readers of any age from 10 to 100. Our guiding principle is to make things simple, not simplistic.
3. Beautiful, full color illustrations on every facing page. Our illustrator, Alice Carroll, is a talented and experienced artist. However, the art isn't merely for decoration; its real purpose is to help less-than-fluent readers understand and follow along the events of the story. Each illustration is carefully considered to make the story clearer.
4. A consistent structure. All titles follow the same strict pagination and branching guidelines, as illustrated below. This will not matter for individual readers, but it is helpful to teachers who might want to base group reading or discussion activities around the stories.
5. Pedagogically sound. Our authors are all especially committed to the idea of Extensive Reading. ER is an approach in English language teaching in which learners are encouraged to read massive amounts of text, but at an easy level and on topics and genres of interest to them. This way they not only develop fluent reading skills, but they also learn to enjoy reading, becoming lifelong autonomous learners over time.
If you are a teacher who already uses ER or graded readers in the classroom, the Atama-ii Books series will fit into your program at about the 300 headword and 2,500 running-word level (comparable to Oxford or Cambridge Starters, or to Penguin Easystarts).
If you are not a teacher, or don't know what any of this means, don't worry--you don't need to. Our stories are just as much fun to read outside of a reading program!
We have a team of authors already at work. We have all the big editorial decisions made. We have our production workflow set out. We even have one or two stories just about finished.
So why do we need your help?
Because illustration, layout, and various production costs come to about $1,000 per title. If we meet our $10,000 goal, it means that we will be able to produce ten titles throughout most of 2014.
The plan is to launch the first three titles on January 1st, then one per month after that. By the end of 2014, we hope that the series will have become self-sustaining. If that happens, we will continue producing new titles indefinitely.
Your support will help us to get that first run of ten titles out the door!
Here's some of the industry media attention we've gotten so far. If you have a blog post or news item we missed, please let us know.
Marcos Benevides, series editor and lead author
Marcos Benevides is a teacher, writer, and editor of English language teaching materials. His most recent role was as series editor and lead adaptation writer for McGraw-Hill's Choose Your Own Adventure (*) graded readers, a project which he initiated and steered from concept to implementation.
Over the years, Marcos has written for publishers big and small, and even picked up a couple of big industry awards along the way. Below at right, he is pictured accepting an award from HRH Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace in 2010, for his co-authored book Fiction in Action: Whodunit (Abax). Whodunit was the first commercial ELT book published under a Creative Commons license.
Whodunit also received the British Council "ELTon" Award in 2011, becoming only the second title ever to win both awards. In the ELT biz, that's like winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes... and then the Academy Award for Best Picture as well!
Marcos has learned a lot from writing for publishers over the years, but he has also come to realize that he can do more, better, and faster on his own. The Atama-ii Book series is his first foray into 'indie' publishing.
(*) Yes, adapted from THAT Choose Your Own Adventure!
The author team
Our author team includes many experienced authors and teachers from around the world. At the moment, we have stories in production by Andy Boon (Discover the News textbook, various graded readers), Mark Firth (Choose Your Own Adventure graded readers), Ramy Habeeb (founder, Kotobarabia publishing house), Lesley Ito (We Can! series; Choose Your Own Adventure graded readers), Ted O'Neill (Choose Your Own Adventure graded readers), Paul Raine (TEFL Journey blog), Chris Valvona (Widgets: A task-based course in practical English; Choose Your Own Adventure graded readers), and more.
Would YOU like to write for us? Contact Marcos for our submissions guidelines.
Alice Carroll, illustrator
Alice Carroll studied linguistics and Japanese language at university, but has since then followed her other passion to become a professional illustrator. Her major clients have included the Australian National University, National Portrait Gallery, and art marketplace Redbubble.
Most recently, she illustrated the story-based Question Quest language card game (R.I.C. Publications), which involved imagining an entire fantasy world and cast of characters, and producing hundreds of detailed color drawings.
We think her portfolio really speaks for itself!
Here's a quick key to the pledge rewards:
$2 to $20: Just the e-books, and our thanks!
$50: All e-books + 1 signed limited edition printed book + 1 original signed illustration + acknowledgement as a supporter. Best no-frills option!
$75: For teachers. All of the above + a classroom license for 10 devices.
$100 and up: All of the above, plus various levels o' bling. Check out the pledge categories for more! (And feel free to suggest additional ideas.)
Regarding the classroom licenses: If you are not a teacher and don't need them, why not donate them to a teacher friend, or a school in your area?
OK, let's be serious for a moment.
The educational publishing industry is going through some big changes. Some are pretty exciting, such as the new tools afforded by technologies like tablet computing, social networking, and crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter. Other changes, however, are not so good.
Some corporate publishers are taking this opportunity to 'streamline' their business models. It means they are switching to a top-down model of production from the traditional partnership model that authors used to enjoy. In many cases, this cancels out the creative role of the author, and creates a new class of paid-by-the-word materials writer who is not necessarily committed to the quality of the finished product. This approach also threatens to kill off smaller and medium-sized projects--much like a switch to 3D mega-blockbusters has essentially killed off small big-studio movies.
Educational materials have been big business for a while, but now many corporate publishers are being rewarded with massive contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars to standardize curricula and 'assessment solutions' for short-sighted boards of education around the world. The industry feeding frenzy around the new Common Core standards in the U.S. is just one example of this. Simply Google "Pearson" and "Texas" to see what we mean.
We believe education cannot be standardized, and that it benefits from committed individual teachers and materials writers who are fairly compensated and believe in what they do. That is why we are launching Atama-ii Books, and why we pledge to offer uncompromised quality and the best compensation rates in the industry. Because we care, and because we want our creative team to care too.
Our aim is to provide a space where educators can create and innovate, sharing in both the risks and the rewards of their efforts. Because that, not streamlined corporate profits, is what can ultimately benefit learners.
So join us.
If you are an aspiring author, write for us. Or simply support this Kickstarter project. Let's show the educational materials industry that there is a better way, where everyone--especially learners--can win!
Risks and challenges
As things stand now, we have three stories just about finished and ready for illustration. Several others are in various stages of completion. In fact, we're actually a little ahead of schedule, only slowed down by the cost of getting the books ready for publication.
The potential risks we foresee include authors missing deadlines, illustrations taking longer than expected, or unforeseen difficulties in the layout, printing, or distribution processes. However, based on our past experience with many other projects, we're confident we've got a solid plan and contingencies set out.
We have also researched many other Kickstarter publishing projects in preparation, and it seems that the gamebook genre (or "interactive fiction", "pick-a-path", "choose your own..." etc.) has been doing fairly well. So, cautious optimism there.
In the very worst case scenario, perhaps a title or two could be delayed by a couple of months; however, at this point, we feel there's very little chance the whole project could fall apart.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Nope. It's called a "pledge" because it's a promise to pay, IF the project reaches its goal. If it doesn't, your account will not be charged at all.
The Atama-ii series is leveled to roughly match Oxford and Cambridge "Starters" or Penguin "Easystarts" in terms of reading difficulty. By Extensive Reading norms, they 'weigh in' at about the 300 headword and 2,500 running word level.
Also important for readability, all Atama-ii titles will include one full-page color illustration per 115 words of text, i.e. one per page, which is more than most other series.
*Note: The examples on this Kickstarter page are not entirely controlled for lexical difficulty yet.
The short answer is: We recommend our titles for ages 10 and up.
The longer answer is that everyone has their own idea of what is and isn't suitable, and at what age. Our primary goal is to write interesting stories which are not 'dumbed down', and which could essentially be enjoyed at any age. One of our target markets is adults who study English as a second language. But yes, we do try to remain kid-friendly as well.
I like to use the PG film Raiders of the Lost Ark as a general guideline in my mind as to what should and shouldn't be allowed in the Atama-ii series. There's some gunfighting, some scary situations, a few deaths, a kiss here or there. However, nothing is gratuitous, and it all serves to move the plot along. It's a film that a 10 year old or a 45 year old can equally enjoy. Most importantly, the story doesn't insult anyone's intelligence by, say, pretending that Nazis didn't exist, or that adventurers in the 1930's didn't carry guns.
Actually, the Motion Picture Association's film ratings are not a bad way to consider what we (generally speaking!) do and don't allow in our titles. Think of our titles as PG-rated (parental guidance suggested; for example Star Wars, E.T., Harry Potter, etc.) rather than G-rated (for example, Sound of Music, Toy Story, Mary Poppins, etc.).
Actually, you can run the free Kindle and iBook apps on most devices, including tablets and computers. We are looking into other formats to publish on, but to keep things manageable, we're starting with Kindle and iBooks first.
One priority is to ensure a high-quality reading experience for all readers, which means controlling for font size, pagination, resolution of the illustrations, etc. But yes, in principle, we will eventually have the books available in as many formats as possible.
Testing on various devices next on our to-do list. We expect no issues with mini tablets, as the books have a small amount of text per page (about 100 words) so should be readable even in landscape orientation on those devices. As for phones, the reader will surely need to use portrait orientation, meaning that the illustration will always come on a page preceding the text. Not our intended optimal way to read these, but it works.
The screenshots show lines like 'turn to page X'; how does the concept of 'page X' work in an ebook?
The short answer is: The screenshots you see here are not the final version. Those will indeed read something like, "If you open the door, click here" rather than "turn to page X"
The longer explanation is: It's true that the concept of pages doesn't apply to ebooks, since they reflow depending on the size of the screen and the font. However, page numbers are important in the writing and editing process (and will be useful again later if we produce print versions) so we need to put them in... before we can remove them again for digital!
That will depend on how much interest we generate now. The problem with print is that there are a lot more factors to consider, including higher costs for printing, shipping, storage, and more.
We are, however, planning to have a limited print run available by next summer. This will mostly be used for promotional purposes (and to fulfill pledge rewards) but the process should give us some sense of whether print books will be feasible.
I've tried to find what a Kickstarter charge looks like on a credit card statement, but I've had no luck. It will surely read "Amazon" as they're the ones who handle the payments. One potential problem is that there won't be an associated ISBN on the initial Kickstarter receipt (the eventual books you receive will have ISBNs, of course).
To be totally honest, I'd personally hesitate to use official funds for a Kickstarter, unless you've got a clear OK from your boss beforehand. If we hit our target, the series will be officially listed for sale in January, so it's not a long wait.
If you do decide to chance it, I'd be happy to send a receipt from Atama-ii Books verifying that you have indeed pre-purchased X number of books from us.
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