Westward Ho: an e-book about the Oregon Trail
Grown-ups are the ones who performed most of the important elements of American history. But there is one part of the United States’ national story where children participated right along with their parents. The Oregon Trail.
As a child growing up in Chicago, Melanie Dundy was fascinated by the spirit of the Oregon Trail. “I was amazed that children took part in this important part of American history,” said Dundy. As an adult, Dundy expanded this lifelong interest into an e-book about the Oregon Trail titled West To Oregon With Ollie Ox!
Taking control by self publishing
The book came about when, as a grown-up Dundy continued to be compelled with the “westward ho” concept. She wrote the storyfrom the point of view of Ollie Ox, one of the wagon's oxen. Becoming picked up by a national print-book publisher, however, is a difficult process. Dundy said, “In this day and age it’s nearly impossible” for those without connections in the publishing world. But she realized she didn’t need a national print-book publisher to share her tale with the public.
After writing the text, and doing significant research “to make sure all the facts are right,” Dundy created the book’s layout in InDesign, “because they have automatic conversion to ePub, which can then be uploaded to Amazon or Nook.”
The e-book process
The most difficult part of the e-book process for Dundy was getting approval for the photos. She searched the images online then wrote to the owners of the copyright. Many of the photos’ owners were Oregon Trail interpretive centers who simply provided permission of use of the photos. Other photos had to be purchased. Dundy commissioned an illustrator to create drawings for the elements of the book she could not find photos for, such as the images of the oxen.
One of the positive aspects of e-book publishing is that the text can be revised. Dundy said that the story contained a detail about a woman making soap on the trail. But a reader, someone with specific expertise who worked in an interpretive center along the Oregon Trail, said that there little time for women to make soap while traveling and probably rarely occurred. “So I took it out,” said Dundy. She revised the text and reposted the story to the online stores. “If someone purchased the older version, they can download the newer version at no cost,” she said.
“I”ve always been writing,” said Dundy. She studied writing in South Illinois and at the University of Iowa. She also wrote for the Houston Chronicle and has written several other e-books, including The King Who Lost His Crown, Littke Bucket Beach Hat, Does God Make Mistakes, and Forests For All.
This picture book is meant to be shared in schools. “I knew what I wanted the kids to learn,” said Dundy. She markets the story to teachers and is happy to spend time explaining to educators the steps of projecting the story onto electronic whiteboards so they can share the book with the classroom.
Marketing the book among educators
Dundy’s advice to other aspiring e-book authors is, “Get ready to really market it.” Dundy's marketing efforts have focued on the audince of readers interested in the Oregon Trail.
She reaches out to fourth grade teachers in the states along the trail. She also has relationships with interpretive centers along the trail. She has created an extensive web site that contains many of the photographs included in the story. “Just putting your book on Amazon doesn’t mean it will be noticed,” Dundy said.