A new kind of publishing: Time Traveler Tours makes its debut

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. But then I realised that those of us trying to live by our art must act as our own little businesses – in contrast to, say, Michelangelo’s age, there are few patrons like the Medicis today.

As an author and a teacher, I have long been interested in the intersection of history, story, youth, and new technology. I am motivated by the simple truth that many young people find it difficult to grasp the distant past. They find history boring. They bridle at the suggestion that they might spend quality time at a museum with their family. With my writing, I strive to help them discover the excitement of history by marrying the power of story with the magic of the touchscreen to create portals to the past. 

I never thought of myself as on the “cutting edge” either. But that's the kind of language being used to describe Time Traveler Tours & Tales, my start-up publishing venture that aims to hitch the best storytelling onto the latest digital technology to Turn History On for young people.

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but then I realised that all creative people are.

My journey began in 2006. I resolved to write an interactive book of the history of Paris for MG and YA audiences. But when I tested the first chapter on a school group of 13- and 14-year-olds, they insisted it would make a better app than a book. 

Creating that first StoryApp was closer to self-production than self-publishing. I not only wrote the story, I sourced the art, performed and engineered the audio. I even translated the story – it took two years. The resulting product was a bilingual creative nonfiction history of the French Revolution narrated by a murderess; embedded within the tale was an interactive walking tour of her Paris. 

It was like nothing ever seen before. That turned out to be a double-edged sword: it met with critical success, garnering several awards, but it was a commercial flop.

It turns out, though, that I was on to something. Teachers found the app a compelling way to engage young people. The first-person narrative allowed them to explore yesteryear in the company of one who was there. History was no longer just facts in a textbook. 

Educators call it “Place-Based Education” – learning through the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular location. 

Many were keen to share the story with their students, even those unable to travel to Paris. I adapted the creative features in the app and republished them across other formats: StoryAppTour for educational tourism; interactive books for iPad as classroom companions; and a print book for those interested in exploring the past through art, story, and critical thinking games at home. 

Authors of historical fiction were also intrigued by the prospect of expanding the audiences for their genre. A year ago, Mary Hoffman, author of Amazing Grace and the Stravaganza series, pitched me an idea for a StoryAppTour and Title Suite in Michelangelo’s Florence based on her novel David. I resolved to transform the concept into a digital publishing startup, Time Traveler Tours & Tales, with Mary as our launch author.

I am thrilled and honored to be working with Mary to produce In the Footsteps of Giants (2016). The support we have received for this venture has been overwhelming. 

We Kickstarted the company just this week, on Tuesday, 19 May, with a grand party in New York City, hosted by picture book author and Founder of KidLit TV, Julie Gribble.  

Within only 38 hours of launch, 38% of the campaign goal had already been pledged. 

SCBWI-BI stalwart Candy Gourlay pitched in her time and talents to create our amazing campaign video. Check it out here.

Bridget Strevens-Marzo donated a portfolio review as a reward, and 

John Shelley offered us the use of the cover art for Stone Giant (2014) to promote the Kickstarter, with the permission of Charlesbridge Publishing.

A fourth launch party – preceded by events in Paris and Nice – will be held in London on 9 June, hosted by Michelle Lovric.

Three formats for Footsteps of Giants
With Time Traveler Tours & Tales, we aim to Turn History On and turn kids onto history. We offer a new opportunity for authors and illustrators wishing to publish, across digital and traditional formats, interactive histories that bring the past to life in a variety of contexts: home, school, museum, and even the family holiday.

The road has been long and slow. There’ve been many times along the way when I wanted to stop. Even give up. But the enthusiasm and support of such folks as Mary, Candy, Bridget, John, and Julie, among many, many others, has buoyed me and kept me going. 

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but then I realised that all creative people are. We are our own businesses. Working together, we make magic happen.

Sarah Towle

Sarah blogs about writing, app development, tech in education, and digital publishing at www.sarahtowle.com. She has presented at industry events in Europe and North America, including SCBWI FR, SCBWI Europolitan, SCBWI LA, NE SCBWI, and O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing. She can also be found regularly in International Schools around the globe as a guest teacher and lecturer. She will be speaking at the SCBWI-BI Winchester conference in November 2015.

Sarah’s debut StoryApp, Beware Madame La Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour Of Paris, is a bilingual treasure hunt to the French Revolution guided by murderess Charlotte Corday. Launched in 2011, it was followed by interactive eBook and print editions, in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

In the Footsteps of Giants by Mary Hoffman will launch in 2016 with the successful completion of the duo's Kickstarter campaign to raise production costs. Check out the campaign video by Candy Gourlay here.

Sarah’s second title, Legend Of The Plant Hunters, will follow Mary’s. Stories of the American Revolution and Civil War, Roman London, and WW II Amsterdam are also in motion. TTT&T is open for submissions. View guidelines here.

Mary Hoffman

Mary Hoffman is the published author of over a hundred books, mainly for children and teenagers. Her Stravaganza series has been translated into 28 languages, and the Amazing Grace series has sold over a million and a half copies. She is well known for her historical fiction, such as The Falconer's Knot and Troubadour, and is thrilled to be working with Sarah Towle on In the Footsteps of Giants, which is based on her novel DavidThe new StoryApp will take teenagers round the city of Florence, with a fresh eye on Michelangelo's masterpiece. Her next novel, Shakespeare's Ghost, will be published by The Greystones Press later this year. A graduate of Cambridge University, Mary has an active online presence on Twitter and Facebook, and blogs at Book Maven Mary, The History Girls (a group blog of historical fiction writers), and her own website Mary HoffmanShe has three children and lives with her husband in West Oxfordshire.


  1. This is fascinating. Well done!

    1. Huge congratulations! Well done and good luck!

  2. This is really exciting Sarah, I know you've been working like mad on the preparations. The very best of luck with it's success!

  3. Thanks Gill! It's been a crazy ride. But fun!

    Thanks Candy & John! Couldn't have done it without your input and support. That's exactly what makes this ride fun!


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