From the New York Times:
"TOKYO – Until recently, cellphone novels – composed on phone keypads by young women wielding dexterous thumbs and read by fans on their tiny screens – had been dismissed in Japan as a subgenre unworthy of the country that gave the world its first novel, "The Tale of Genji," a millennium ago. Then last month, the year-end best-seller tally showed that cellphone novels, republished in book form, have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it.
Of last year's 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.
"Will cellphone novels kill 'the author'?" a famous literary journal, Bungaku-kai, asked on the cover of its January issue. Fans praised the novels as a new literary genre created and consumed by a generation whose reading habits had consisted mostly of manga, or comic books. Critics said the dominance of cellphone novels, with their poor literary quality, would hasten the decline of Japanese literature.
Whatever their literary talents, cellphone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of.
One such star, a 21-year-old woman named Rin, wrote "If You" over a six-month stretch during her senior year in high school. While commuting to her part-time job or whenever she found a free moment, she tapped out passages on her cellphone and uploaded them on a popular Web site for would-be authors.
After cellphone readers voted her novel No. 1 in one ranking, her story of the tragic love between two childhood friends was turned into a 142-page hardcover book last year. It sold 400,000 copies and became the No. 5 best-selling novel of 2007, according to a closely watched list by Tohan, a major book distributor.
"My mother didn't even know that I was writing a novel," said Rin, who, like many cellphone novelists, goes by only one name. "So at first when I told her, well, I'm coming out with a novel, she was like, what? She didn't believe it until it came out and appeared in bookstores."
The writers are not paid for their work online, no many how many millions of times it is viewed. The payoff, if any, comes when the novels are reproduced and sold as traditional books. Readers have free access to the Web sites that carry the novels, or pay at most $1 to $2 a month, but the sites make most of their money from advertising.
Critics say the novels owe a lot to a genre devoured by the young: comic books. In cellphone novels, characters tend to be undeveloped and descriptions thin, while paragraphs are often fragments and consist of dialogue.
“Traditionally, Japanese would depict a scene emotionally, like ‘The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country,'” Mika Naito, a novelist, said, referring to the famous opening sentence of Yasunari Kawabata’s “Snow Country.”
“In cellphone novels, you don’t need that,” said Ms. Naito, 36, who recently began writing cellphone novels at the urging of her publisher. “If you limit it to a certain place, readers won’t be able to feel a sense of familiarity.”
Written in the first person, many cellphone novels read like diaries. Almost all the authors are young women delving into affairs of the heart, spiritual descendants, perhaps, of Shikibu Murasaki, the 11th-century royal lady-in-waiting who wrote “The Tale of Genji.”
“Love Sky,” a debut novel by a young woman named Mika, was read by 20 million people on cellphones or on computers, according to Maho no i-rando, where it was first uploaded. A tear-jerker featuring adolescent sex, rape, pregnancy and a fatal disease – the genre’s sine qua non – the novel nevertheless captured the young generation’s attitude, its verbal tics and the cellphone’s omnipresence. Republished in book form, it became the No. 1 selling novel last year and was made into a movie.
Given the cellphone novels’ domination of the mainstream, critics no longer dismiss them, though some say they should be classified with comic books or popular music.”