Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cell phone novels in English?

There's long been a cell phone novel craze in Japan, and I've been rather fascinated by them. These are books written on cell phones, meant to be read on cell phones. Not even big iPhone or DROID screens, but on those little phone screens. Now, I know I'm the guy who loves gadgets and ebooks and all that, but this is one of those things I've never understood. And, I never thought they'd come to the English-speaking world. But lo and behold, I see an annoucement on Publisher's Marketplace the other day: "Joseph Nassise and Jon Merz's THE CERBERUS PROTOCOL - Book One in the HELLstalkers series, claiming to be the first English thriller series written exclusively for mobile phones..."

Is this the future of the novel? I don't know. From the partnership agreement with Vodaphone, this doesn't seem like something that'll be in the US straight off the bat. I wonder how it'll be distributed and how money will be made, and I wonder how large the audience will be. I'll be watching this one closely!

What do you think? Would you read some sort of serialized novel on a small screen? Would you pay for it? Or would you sign with a particular carrier to get such exclusives? Anyone want to try writing such a thing?



  1. I can absolutely see this catching on; some people seem to be physically attached to their phones anymore and attention spans have fractured.

    Myself? I wouldn't read it or buy it installments. I did sign up to an online 'reading club' through my library that provided a page or so of a book at a time by e-mail, and I found it frustrating--once I start reading, I want to read! I'd rather be absorbed in the story for a longer time.

    On the other hand, *writing* one of these sounds like an interesting challenge. You'd really have to pull the reader along not just page by page but line by line, to ensure they 'tune in' again the next day. Hmmm.... I'd like to try it, I think.

    I'll be interested in seeing how it goes.

  2. You are always on top of the latest with thoughtful comments. Read about the craze in Japan. Some orthopods will become rich dealing with the required hand surgeries. Cell phones novels may catch on here with the digerati but perhaps not with avid readers. If so, opthamology would also be a good career choice!

  3. My computer screens at home keep getting bigger and bigger, so no way would I plug into a teeny tiny screen to try and read a . . . NOVEL? Uh, no.

  4. I agree with Susan. Writing one of these things sounds interesting; not that I would want to do it. But reading one...I'm pretty sure staring at a large computer screen all day is ruining my once perfect eyesight. I can't imagine reading anything longer than a 160-character text on a small phone screen.

    There likely will be a market in the US for this format. However, I think its success will lie in certain genres like flash fiction, sci-fi, or fantasy. I'd be surprised to see a literary fiction title done this way.

  5. Thanks for the comments! I read a whole novel on my iPhone, which wasn't a bad experience. Any smaller than that and I'd be squinting, I think. But I'm curious what these books read like, and how they differ from traditional novels. New formats are exciting, even if they may not be my cup of tea.

    - Michael

  6. I have Japanese friends who claim it's great to be able to read stories and books on their cell phones -- that it saves them from carting around heavy bags full of books. I can hardly stand reading text messages on my mobile and can think of few things I'd less rather do than read an entire book on one.

    But if I pull out a cell phone around my students (who find reading anything, in any language, excruciating if it's on paper), they are suddenly all eyes, and my kids spend half their lives on their laptops and mobiles. So cell novels may well be the wave of the future.

  7. I might take a look as long as it doesn't read, 'I'll c him 2moro so don't u b l8'.

  8. My first thought was being stuck in the doctor's office or somewhere I wasn't expecting to sit for a long period and whipping out my phone to read a book.

    When I wait in the car line to pick up my children I am bored out of my mind and spend that time texting or checking the news on my phone. I can totally see this happening.

  9. I don't even like *talking* on my phone...

  10. Interesting concept, but I don't think reading them or writing them are for me. I'm still trying to get used to reading on my iPhone - and even then I miss the feel of the actual book.

  11. I would probably read a "novel" on my iPhone. I downloaded an app with F. Scott Fitzgerald's short, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and read it on my iPhone. I also love following writer @avary on twitter who only tweets, I'm assuming, work he's writing. But would I pay for it? I would consider it, for a nominal fee.

  12. Michael,

    As one of the two guys writing this series, I thought I'd answer some of your questions.

    Distribution in Europe will be through Vodafone's customer portal, through various bookstores online, and through physical terminals that will be placed in bookstore chains from which the customer can download the novel via the Bluetooth capability on their phone.

    Distribution in the US and the UK, which begins Dec 1st, by the way, will be in similar fashion, with Verizon as the partner instead of Vodafone (or rather, in addition to Vodafone, as Vodafone is Verizon's parent company)

    We'll be releasing the story in serial format, with the first episode (about four or five chapters worth) being free to introduce readers to both the form and the storyline.

    So - what else can I tell you?

    J. Nassise

  13. I presume these novels have already been written in their entirety and are being squirted out on a daily basis. Let's hope that's the case. We wouldn't want there to be another unfinished "Mystery of Edwin Drood" to happen. Another question: are these novels vetted or edited at all, or are they just uploaded directly to whomever is distributing them?

  14. Joe:

    Well, if you'd be comfortable talking about the money ...

    Or the specific challenges; how do you approach this as a writer? Plot issues? Use of dialogue?


  15. Thanks for visiting the site and answering questions, Joe! And, of course I have more questions: Will this be available to only Verizon customers?

    Will it work on any handset?

    If readers want to continue reading past the free chapters, who will they pay (and how, that depending on the who, that might be obvious)?

    This isn't your first book; what made you go this route with this one?

    I could probably go on all day, but this is a good start. Thanks for discussing here on the blog!


  16. Happy to answer questions, folks.

    Yes, they are written just as we (Jon Merz and I) write our other novels - on the PC or Mac. The idea of writing on one of those phone size keyboards gives me nightmares!

    The books are self-contained java apps so they will work on about 85% of the handsets out there right now. Phone specific apps are being created for certain operating systems such as the iPhone, but the plain vanilla versions will work just as well.

    They are not restricted to Verizon customers at all - they will be available for purchase at other sites around the web. The distribution deal with Vodafone and Verizon simply introduces them to a certain set audience to start - and those customers get the added benefit of having the cost of the books simply added to their cell phone bill. But this is by no means meant to restrict availability to other readers on other networks.

    After the free chapters, readers can buy the next installment for a small fee - anywhere from $1 to $9.99. Most of the serial novels will be roughly 6-8 episodes of $2 each. So you'll be paying somewhere around $10-$15 for the entire book. Once the serialized release is completed, the books will be available to purchase in their entirely for one price.

    No, this isn't my first book and in fact I have two other books coming out the same month -one in the States and one in Germany. I went this route because it a) seemed interesting and b) a way of reaching a broader audience that might not be familiar with my work to any degree.

    Yes, the novels are vetted - in the case of the backlist by the editors at my previous publishing houses and in the case of this new series, by an independent editor. Blackbetty is currently partnering with publishing houses to provide a digital platform for pre-existing works so for this initial phase they don't have inhouse editors. As they grow next year and beyond, they would like to move into publishing original novels. (This one I'm doing is kind of a special case for them as part of their launch.)

    With regard to how Jon and I approached this as writers - we wanted to be conscious of length (we're looking at 75K and not 125K) and of content - too much exposition and descrptions might bog down the reader in this format. We're shooting for a lean action oriented story with a lot of cliffhanger moments to help the serial nature. We're both genre writers, so that's what we tend to lean toward anyway, so it wasn't a difficult challenge to meet.

    We'll also be building an online portal to accompany the story, with additional background information, video messages, HELLstalker missions for those who want to help promote the series, and the like.

    And I'm happy to say that if the first volume works out as well as expected, we'll be doing several others in the same series.

  17. It may catch on, but I don't think books will ever be just exclusively for cell phones. There will always be other outlets for them.

    I don't think I'd read one on my cell phone; then again, I pretty much only use my cell for the occassional phone call and some texting.

  18. As the other author writing this series with Joe, I thought I'd chime in and say that this represents another exciting venue for our writing. It's one more means of delivering our content to end users who might prefer to read our work on cell phones. And frankly, that's what it's all about - getting our words in front of people regardless of the platform by which they choose to read them.

    Now for me personally, there's nothing like a book to curl up with, but at the same time, I'm all about making sure that our readers can get their fix however they want it. And if they choose to read on a cell phone, who are we to deny them that pleasure? :)

    Between Vodafone and Verizon's publicity drive for this project, we're looking at getting our names in front of 250-350 million customers initially. What author or publisher would shy away from that sort of exposure? Especially in these darker publishing days? Certainly not us! (Now obviously, these aren't guaranteed sales by any means, but the potential is simply incredible!)

    Joe and I are both seasoned, professional authors with many novels under our belts. This definitely isn't vanity publishing taken to the next annoying extreme; rather it's a technological evolution for a certain demographic of readers. Do I think all books will one day be read on cell phones? My god, I hope not. But do I think there's a ripe market segment out there anxious to read exciting adventures on their handhelds? Yep. And as any savvy business would look to penetrate that market, that's exactly what Joe and I are doing here.

    Our goal is to make sure that HELLstalkers delivers an exciting, compelling adventure to everyone who reads it - whether on a cell phone or in a traditional printed book, audio book, or some other gadget we haven't dreamed up yet.

    Be well all!

    Jon F. Merz

  19. The mistake I seem to see in this article is the idea that the Japanese Cell Phone Novels and this mobile novel you mention are similar. This could not be further from the truth.

    Cell Phone Novels are at their core, FREE. You do not pay for them. They are written by Amateurs (usually yet to be Published), and read as they are written. They can be read on either a phone or computer. While I have not read the novel in question, it is most likely written in a traditional length. While on the other hand, Cell Phone Novels are usually written in the first person and in short bursts that fit neatly inside a cell phone's screen. They also have a messaging or comment system where readers and writer can interact.

    How do I know? Well, I write one.

    My cell phone novel, "Once Upon A Christmas Wish..." is currently the second most popular Cell Phone Novel in English.

    If your curious as to what a Cell Phone Novel is, check it out:

    But your right, how would you make money off something if its free?

    Well, the idea is that if your story becomes super popular, gaining view numbers in the big digits, it will attract Publishers who see potential in buying the rights to publish the novel. Also, on where my story is hosted, the site runs Contests where writers get a chance to win $1000 and an agent to represent their novel.

    In Japan, such contests have offered up to $100,000 as a prize (including instant publication). lol

    Hope I've helped explain some things.

    If you have any other questions, I'd be glad to answer.

  20. Hi, thanks for the coverage on cell phone novels! Like matt, I am a cell phone novelist.

    I am a university student and actually the first true cell phone novelist in North America, going by the pen name of Takatsu. Over the course of 2 years, my novel, Secondhand Memories ( has gained fame with readers all over the world and has become the first and most popular cell phone novel in North America. In 2009 it won numerous awards and is heading towards publication when it is complete. Just recently it was featured in an English textbook in Japan and will be used as part of an exercise for students in Japan. is the first site in North America that has been designed with the concept of cell phone novels in mind back in 2008. We have been working to bring this phenomenon to North America for a while now. I am extremely excited about this movement and believe it can revolutionize the writing and publishing world. It truly is a remarkable new concept and in my opinion it may transcend current forms of literature. Please read the link provided below for more information!

    For more information about what cell phone novels truly are and where they came from as well as what is the truth behind its movement into North America please see this link:,-What-They-Are-and-more/5579/1



  21. good post beautifull

    runescape gold|wow gold kaufen|diablo 3 gold|Swtor Credits