Friday, February 15, 2008

Cell Phone Novels, Oh My!

Cell Phone Novels: An article in a recent New York Times talks about the suddenly popularity of cell phone novels in Japan. Did I read that right? Novels on cell phones? Oh my!

It seems that by the end of 2007 half of the best selling novels in Japan were written on the cell phone. Unbelievable!

In our Dallas Area Writers Group (DAWG) meeting a few months ago the Betsy Haynes, author of 76 juvenile novels talked about trends in the juvenile genre in America. Have you noticed that the US always seems to be behind the rest of the world in cell phone use? But, we may be catching up. Betsy showed a recent US juvenile novel that was written in the style of cell phone conversations – and it turned out to be very popular. Who'd a thunk?

Back to Japan – what makes these novels appealing and successful? First of all, old bald people like me don't read them and don't want to read them. They appeal to a particular group of people – mostly young girls whose eyes still function correctly. It’s long been known that most US books are purchased by women. I suppose it’s the same in Japan.

These cell phone novels, often typed into the cell phone using amazingly fast thumb typing techniques aren’t your run-of-the-mill novels. Now there's a surprise! They use short sentences, brief detail, special emoticons and special characters that, if you’re not familiar with cell phone dialog, will make little sense to you.

According to the article, most young Japanese your women don't relate to the long complicated sentence of “normal” novels . They are told in quick simple and sometimes partial sentence full of cell phone abbreviations. Plus, because the authors of these cell phone novels are in their same generation, the stories are about things they're interest in – angst, teenage love, sex, rape, parental problems, coming of age, broken relationships, and so on.

Sounds like episodes of Desparate Housewives.

Another interesting aspect of the Japanese experience is how certain novels rose to the top. It seems that over a million of these cell phone novels were uploaded to computer web sites. The stories that were good were read most often. A few great stories were read by thousands of readers, and from these top novels, printed versions were hatched by publishers who then sold lots of copies – enough (as I said earlier) to make 5 of the top 10 novels of 2007 of the cell phone genre.

Okay, fellow wordsmith, what can we learn from this phenomenon? Chances are, unless you are under 25 (and more likely under 21), you’ll have a hard time jumping onto the cellphone novel bandwagon unless you have the ability to think like a 16 year old girl. (That would hurt my brain!)

On the other hand, publishers are starting to turn their focus (and checkbooks) toward this type of writing. And as we know -- money follows success. The NYT article mentioned that some of the cell phone novelists have opted to start using a computer to compose their works, but still using the cell phone jargon. Its obvious that from a million novels (that's what the article said--hard to swallow) , a few talented story tellers would rise to the top.

My prediction is -- look for a spate of US teenage oriented “cell phone” novels appearing in the next few years. It’s unclear to me what other types of books might take a lesson from the cell phone novel success – biographies? textbooks? “Cliff notes?” how-to books?

Do you have a clue? You may be the one sitting on the next dynamite keg of an idea.


Orangehouse said...

I have experienced an interesting communication phenomenon using instant messaging on a computer. Because of the delay in typing responses, I have seen a certain overlapping of conversation that is followable, but unnatural. Let me illustrate with an example between two people, A and B.
A: What are you doing tonight?
B: Bob and I are going to the movies.
A: Me too! What are you going to see?
A: (typed before B can respond to the last question) Have you heard about the new movie with Tom Hanks?
B: (responding to A's text two steps back) You are? We're going to see the new Pixar movie.
A: I saw the Pixar movie last week.
B: Tom Hanks has a new movie?

You see, the normal volley of conversation is delayed by the typing time, so much so that the conversation threads sometimes loop around on each other like a fast runner "lapping" a slow runner on a circular track.

I have thought that might be interesting in a book, though it could be hard to do well.

Bald Writer said...


Sounds like a funny idea for a comedic scene -- similar to the banter that happens in a script when two people are talking about different things -- and they don't know it, but the audience does...