The e-Book Phenomenon

By Cate Masters

You say you want an evolution? In a kind of literary Darwinism, stories are evolving as publishing continues to evolve, further driven by emerging technological advances. Sony’s eReader and Amazon’s Kindle make e-books portable and more convenient. As other brands enter the market, hopefully the price will come down, but I recently read a good argument for Netbooks – they’re about the same size as e-readers, and you get more bang for your buck. I can see them playing a huge part in replacing bulky textbooks for students – a great plus for the environment.

I understand the argument for going digital at home, too, though I love print books – walking into a room with a bookcase jammed with books feels like walking into a roomful of friends. On the other hand, since we moved two and a half years ago, I still have ten boxes of books still waiting in my closet to be unpacked but sadly, I have nowhere to put them. And the thought of ever moving again–oy.

Now that Lexcycle and Kindle are offering e-reader apps for iPhones, readers have even more flexibility in reading e-books. GalleyCat said iPhones will be a huge player in the digital book market, especially as more developers such as Scrollmotion enter the game.
iPhone apps are definitely suited for graphic novels, or books such as the “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs" anthology, which Amazon ranked 532 as of 4/1/08. Great stuff to fill down time during commutes, or standing in line at the store.

GalleyCat also noted authors on Twitter broke ground in 2006 with six-word stories, followed up by Wired Magazine’s six-word scifi contest. Eileen Gunn’s made me smile, as did Alan Moore’s and Charles Stross. And Margaret Atwood’s made me laugh, but she is a master of words – and having read most of her other work, filling in the blanks is devious fun. Okay, they were all great, but can blurbs truly be called stories? Flash fiction condensed to a whiff of its essence, and the reader’s imagination must fill in the blanks. But can that kind of writing stay with you like a good story?

In Japan, cell phone novels have made the bestseller lists for several years, according to the New York Times article, “I Heart Novels”. That completely surprised me. I’d never heard of cell phone novels, but apparently the genre, known as ketai, has been around since 2003. In the 1990s, e-books were touted as the next huge thing, but fizzled. When the economy tanked, sales of print took a nosedive (with the exception of romance and a recent comeback in Europe) but e-books rocketed up like a skateboarder on a halfpipe.

The International Digital Publishing Forum said e-book sales for August 2008 were up 83% over the previous August. That’s a huge leap. And a fun ride for writers like me who want to ride that wave. E-presses are much more receptive to authors than the Big Publishing Houses. And more new e-press sites spring up every month. Publishers have begun to catch on. In early March, Thomas Nelson said it would make its books available in all formats for one price. Hmm. A good thing for consumers, but with e-book piracy an increasing problem, is this a good thing for authors?

Also earlier this month, Barnes and Noble purchased Fictionwise for $15.7 million, and B&N will start an e-bookstore. Supposedly this is good news for e-book readers, but again, is it good news for writers? I’d hate for e-presses to become so elite as the print pubs. If you’ve ever sat through a timed pitch session at a writer’s convention, you know the anxiety involved. E-presses allow for all lengths of stories, something print pubs just can’t accommodate. But every story isn’t a novel.
So why is all this important to me? Well, last week, I had my first release from The Wild Rose Press called Seventh Heaven, set in my hometown during the 1960s. I have seven other stories, including two novellas, contracted with various e-presses due to release this year, too, so it’s a pretty exciting time for me. I’ve had various web zines publish my short stories before, but e-presses are a paying gig – and everyone likes to be paid for their hard work.

I’d love to hear from readers – what’s your take on e-books? Will the new e-readers influence you to buy more e-books?
Contest time!

To celebrate the release of Seventh Heaven, I’m giving away a PDF copy to someone who can tell me who the hero’s named for. The answer is here. Email me at with the answer, and I’ll pick someone at random. You have all weekend to enter – I’ll post the winner here on Sunday at 7 p.m. EST.

The author of four novels, Cate Masters’ short stories and flash fiction have appeared in various web zines and press sites. Visit her online at or or friend her on Facebook.


  1. Hey Cate

    Congrats on the release! True that there's been lots of stuff happening in the e-press world lately, you covered them really nicely here.

    True also that the cell phone novel is breaking all records in Japan. The most astonishing is that it is also breaking through cultural and class barriers in a Japan that clung to its class system with a vengeance.

    Personally, I would love to have textbooks in digital format. Prolly won't be easy to make notes there as in a paper book, but we all adapt, don't we?

    If only all countries could align themselves to new technology. Even now, the Kindle seems to be only available in the US, and you cannot download from other countries either.



  2. Hey Z! Good to hear from you. I agree about the technology aspect, and hopefully devices such as Kindle will soon be universal. I worry that, like music, the format will try to outdo itself and change too often, forcing people to constantly upgrade. (I barely upgraded my music to CDs when the format changed to MP3s *sigh*). I'm curious to check out those cell phone novels!

  3. 'E-books rocketed up like a skateboarder on a halfpipe' - LOL! But I found this much funnier:

    'I still have ten boxes of books still waiting in my closet to be unpacked but sadly, I have nowhere to put them.' - have you been peeking into my apartment...?

    Congratulations on your new release. I definitely love e-books for the freedom it gives authors to tell stories set in any time or place, not just regency England or contemporary Texas.

  4. Terrific article Cate! and Congrats on your new e-book! I too worry about the constant changing technology - I mean we don't want to have to be forced to buy e-book readers every six months just to keep up with changes - that's not fair to the consumer either. But it's a brave new world isnt' it! ;)

  5. Thanks Julia and Joanna! Yes, to quote another Sixties icon, the times they are a'changin'.
    Julia, my husband has been promising me he's going to build me a new bookcase. I've waited two years, I guess I can wait a little longer!
    And if you look at the graphic for ebook sales, it actually looks like a halfpipe! LOL

  6. Seventh Heaven sounds fantastic!! I am buying more ebooks, I just wish I had an ereader. I am going to have to break down and fork out the money for one. If I had one (one of the newer ones) I would probably buy many more ebooks.

  7. Great post Cate. I've been following the rise of e-books but have yet to get a reader. I've downloaded a couple in PDF format in the past and noticed they had some kind of protection on them. The can't be printed out, which I guess is a security feature against "sharing" them with others.

    Congrats on your new e-book and all your upcoming releases.


  8. Congrats on the release, Cate!

    I am published in e-book and print form and I think having the choice of both mediums is wonderful and I hope both industries thrive.

    With my indy-published book DARK NEST, my e-book royalties are much better than print royalties, and who doesn't love the fact that it's more affordable to buy an e-book? E-presses allowing for all lengths of stories is a good point, too.

    But being the Victorianaphile that I am, I can never give up the tactile book. :)

    Interesting to see what the trends and industry future will bring...

  9. Lol Cate. My biggest worry if my PC crashes is that I'll lose all the music I downloaded.

    I know what you mean about the boxes of books. I still have some from our last move, and I'm not counting the other dozens I left at my mum's place when I left there!



  10. Thanks, Judy! I'm hoping the ereader prices lower soon, I'd love to have one too.
    Thanks, Jaclyn! I think the larger pubs like Harlequin add security features to their electronic versions but smaller pubs either haven't figured it out or can't afford it. A few of my publishers have found their stories on illegal sites, which is distressing.
    Thanks, Leanne, and congrats on your release, too! I agree, I love the feel - and presence - of books, too. I'm glad more epresses are issuing print, but as you say, it drives down the royalty for the author.
    Thanks for stopping by, everyone! Don't forget to enter the contest!

  11. Wow and to think there was a time that we didn't even have calculators.

  12. Divas - I have awarded our group blog with the Sisterhood Award. Joanna, drop by my place and pick up the award.

  13. Yes, Mary, it's definitely not your mama's books any more!
    Cool, Julia! I feel like singing We Are Family!

  14. I'm going to really miss paper books, the way they smell, the way they feel, how relaxing it is to read one after a long day staring at a screen. But I guess that makes me old-fashioned (and I'm only 31). I can see the inevitability (and many of the benefits) of books going 100% digital, but it's still heart-breaking to me.

  15. I agree, Jordan. I hope they never disappear entirely. There's something endearing about dog-eared pages - that just can't happen with ebooks!

  16. Thanks again to all who commented and entered the contest! I put everyone's name into a bowl and my daughter drew out (drum roll please).... Judy Cox!
    Congrats, Judy! Hope you enjoy it! I will email you shortly. If you don't receive it, please let me know.

  17. Thanks!!! I got it. Can't wait to read it.

  18. Coming late but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post!

    I just recently received my new Kindle and I love it. Like you, I will always love the warm snuggly feeling of entering bookstores, but so many stories are coming out in e-press! And we have multiple bookcases overstuffed and stacks of books with no place to store them.

    I knew I was in love with my e-book reader when I went out for a dinner by myself with my trusty Kindle. Instead of trying to hold a book open, I just set the Kindle next to my plate. I could enlarge the font and press a button to flip a page.

    Fabulous! Now I'm hooked.

    Thanks again!


  19. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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