Monday, June 9, 2008

OPEN LETTER TO STEVE JOBS

By Celeste Fine

Dear Steve Jobs,

Yes, we are all excited about how fast the new iphone is!! And it’s cheaper. Yay! But please, please whip me up an ereader (and could it also have the internet and my Outlook calendar?). I promise people still read books, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and their own documents. It doesn’t even have to be called an ereader: call it the iphone and make the ereader an application for all I care! Just please, please give me something portable that I can read and write on!

Over the past year, I have been on a quest for the perfect ereading device. I have had visions of my scouring the world of electronics and uncovering the golden ereader: perfect size for my tiny hands; let’s me edit and email; touch screen; impressive battery life; memory, oh does it have memory for all of my manuscripts and queries. I have imagined my importing some obscure contraption you can only find through hearsay from a guy who knows a guy who works in the depths of North Korea or finding parts I can order online from around the world and are welded together like a transformer by some NYU graduate student. I imagine my heading to a publishing party after work, no dirty, heavy manuscript bag to pile with the others taking up three or four seats at the table. A few people would bring up the Kindle or Sony reader, and I would smugly pull out my perfect little reader tucked away in my purse, glowing like the Pulp Fiction briefcase (yeah, you want to know what was in that briefcase—my ereader, suckers!!)—a device no one knew existed or ever thought to use as a reader. People would see me reading on the train and wonder, what is that wonderful toy?

The thing is, I am not one of those people, who has read everyone of your Apple development packs or subscribes to Wired or any of that. I have the electronic foresight of a mild-mannered consumer. So what I want in laymen terms:

Size does matter: I want it to be about 7” by 3” and be all screen. It should fit in my purse and be able to be held securely in one hand. I could deal with one the size of a notepad, if it were light, and I could Velcro it into a trapper keeper, because I love trapper keepers. They keep things so neat and tidy. Ever thought of an itrapperkeeper, Steve?

Screen: I don’t care about the special ink screen. I already do the majority of my reading on a computer screen. And just as I was willing to give up the sound quality for my mp3’s, I’m willing to give up paper quality for the mobility and convenience of not having to carry hundreds of pages. I just want it to be about the same size as the device, so it is readable, and I would love to have a touch screen, like the iphone.

Memory: I want to be able to store at least 4 manuscripts at a time. More is even better. PDF’s would be great, but most of what I read is Word and I usually bring home 4 manuscripts/proposals at a time. I am sure there are more technical ways to discuss memory capacity, but in my world, this is how I measure memory.

Applications: I want to be able to edit these manuscripts since a good portion of my reading is interactive (not in the computer sense but rather the editing sense) for projects I am going to sell or have already sold and are getting in shape for delivery. So I want Word. I want email too, but if I had to plug the device into my computer and download the manuscripts, I could make do with that. And I would love the internet, so I can look up information for the proposals I am editing. But again, I could live without it.

Steve, I’m not haphazardly begging you for an ereader. I have enlisted help from some friends—some members of the Facebook generation, Mac heads, other agents, publishers from Scandinavia and beyond—to research the competition that is out there already, and there is so much room for you to come in and clean up. We have visited tons of stores and sites around the globe and scoured ebay. Here are some sound bites from along the way:

The Kindle: Let’s be real, Steve. It is so lame looking and retro (in a bad way). I just can’t believe in a million years that this is the best technology we can come up with. It is so Beta in a VHS world. (1.)

Sony E-reader: Philip Sane, our fabulous co-agent, swears by the Sony ereader if you don’t want to look at PDF documents, which are troublesome to convert. Maybe it’s my own prejudices, but I’m not hugely confident that Sony is at the cutting edge of these ereaders. And you can’t write on it. Why can’t I write on it?

The Iliad Ereader: I really like this one. It’s a lot more expensive, but the reviews are tremendous. But it seems like the writing function, which I love, is a little too Palm Pilot, but maybe I’m wrong. I’m leaning toward this one though.

The Tablet: For months, I was convinced I wanted a tablet. A little bigger than the ereaders, in the same price range, but the touch screen and editing potential would give me a lot more of what I want. But when I played with them at the store, I left feeling unsatisfied. They were just too big and kinda annoying to maneuver.

BUT THEN, Steve, on a site called www.techcrunch.com, my techy friend found something totally cool: Next Generation OLPC.
(2.)

Steve, could you make me one of these please—but iphone the heck out of it! Right now I’m rooting for Bill Gates, but if you make this for me, I promise, I promise I’ll trade in my PC for a Mac.

Best wishes,
Celeste Fine

1. Laney Becker just got the Kindle for Mother’s Day, and since she and I share an office and her first blog ever was such a hit, I thought I would bring her back for a guest appearance:

Me: Hi, Laney! How do you like your Kindle?

Laney: I love its portability. I love, love, love that I can transfer submissions from my laptop to my Kindle so I can read electronic manuscripts anywhere and everywhere...including outside in the bright sunlight! I love the fact I can easily access amazon.com and download the first chapter of most books to sample for free.

Me: Any complaints?

Laney: I HATE the fact that there's no place along the side of the kindle that I can grab without turning a page. This is a *huge* design flaw IMHO. I'm still a little confused about how to take notes, access them, etc., and how to get the most out my Kindle, but that's just me. It's too expensive and am afraid someone is going to swipe it on the subway.

Me: Thanks, Laney. And congrats on the auction for Naseem Rahka’s new upmarket debut novel!


2. One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) founder Nicholas Negrponte unveiled the design for the foundation’s second-generation laptop, which isn’t really a laptop at all but a double-screened, fold-up electronic book!! And it is supposed to cost $75!!! The press release was only last week, so I don’t know much yet (would love to know if you know anything more about this device’s capabilities—I’m nervous there is no memory on it). But it’s not going to be available until 2010!! But there must be one—where is that one that little boy is holding?!! I must have it!! I just must have it!! Maybe the developers want some people to test it out?

3. If anyone has any thoughts on other devices that I should look at or how right or wrong I am about the Kindle, the Sony ereader, or the others, or any ideas on how I can get this fabulous OLPC today, please, please let me know.

4. Some other interesting readers: Hanlin V3 (mostly because I love this guy's accent) and the Livre.

29 comments:

disdainfulsoul said...

With the amount of memory able to be packed into small items nowadays, it should be easy enough to give you plenty of space for all your manuscripts.

If I were to be (very) generous and say a PDF manuscript was 5mb, there would be plenty of space on something which had, say, 1gb (1000mb) of space. And even if you only had 500mb of space (less than a CD-ROM), that's still plenty of space for your 4 or so manuscripts.

folio literary management said...

Thanks! Very helpful, Disdainful Soul.

hldyer said...

On a slightly related tangent, is there any roll for an author seeking representation to offer manuscripts in formats compatible with these electronic devices?

I ask because I recently learned how to make a formatted ereader book out of my manuscript, so I can keep it on my palm pilot.

I suspect some agents might prefer submissions that way for easy reading, but suggesting it seems geekier than probably advisable.

So, is that something you as agents would be interested to know was an option? Or should I keep my geeky trap shut? *snort*

folio literary management said...

Hi Hldyer,

There are definitely a lot of interesting publishing opportunities for electronic text. We should discuss further since Folio is aggressively pursuing erights and new media for all of our clients. Drop me a line.

Best,
Celeste

hldyer said...

Celeste Fine wrote: We should discuss further since Folio is aggressively pursuing erights and new media for all of our clients. Drop me a line.

You've got mail. :)

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Damn, now I'm gonna have to get serious... really, and I done my level best to avoid adulthood and all its' nonsense...(Ask my wife!

90 days ago, or thereabouts, I was approached by Amazon as regards my picture book, (which sells on their site, and has for some time now), inquiring if I'd like to make PYXX, (my title), into an e book. The book is OP but it's still selling - not big numbers - after a pub date of 1989. They have cheap ones, from pennies to collector's prices - highest I saw was $380.00.
Now, since the book's OP, all rights reverted to me, both story and illustrations. I have all the illustrations in pristine shape. But, I get zippo from the above selling activity.
So, I go check out Amazon's ebook type things and its' Kindle... And email them. Amazon answers, sorry sold out of Kindles, but we're making more and BTW do you own COPYRIGHT.
Well, now this ole' turnip head spun 'cause they said the magic word - COPYRIGHT!
Yes, I own Copyright and I ain't about to give it up, share, sell or license it unless I know what kinda pig pen I'll be in! And, since I own Copyright, I want the Big Pig's share if I do... (or I'll huff and I'll puff and blow yer house down)! Hell, I got nothin' on my side 'cept bluster anyway.
So, folks, there it sits. Should I jump into this knowing there's probably not much $$$ in the ebook, but hey, I can dream big, don't cost no more, what if it gets popular. Then there's T-shirts, kid's sippin' mugs, PYXX games, etc, etc. Plus I have weird and commercial Middle Grade pics and stories sittin' in the wings awaitin' birth.

Digital rights and the conduit for these rights with appropriate recompense was paramount in the recent WGA Hollywood writer's strike. Interesting times...

Timely post, Celeste. Thanks for the heartburn!

http://www.jacketflap.com/profile.asp?member=PYXX

Haste yee back ;-)

folio literary management said...

Dear Haste Yee Back,

They were asking if you own the copyright to make sure you weren't peddling someone else's wares.

Erights are still being negotiated and there is a lot of wiggle room and options still, but standard erights with a publisher is a 50/50split to give you an idea of what ball park is appropriate when you consider eformats.

Also, it is way too hot in NYC right now.

Best,
Celeste

lily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lily said...

In regards to the ereader, our dear friend Steve Jobs once said "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore... The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."

Teach him a lesson Ms. Fine!

--The previous post was edited to correct a typo. Further proof that when our ireader is developed it must have an edit feature.

Sherry said...

A-men. As a writer and avid reader, I've been desperately searching for a way to combine everything so I'm not constantly carrying around a laptop, pen and paper, and a novel or two, just in case. I've resorted to using my hp Pocket PC which is good for writing, but not great for reading, as it only recognizes Word. An e-reader with multiple reading formats, and one I can use to also write would be most perfect.

folio literary management said...

But I bet more people read that quote from Steve Jobs than heard it.

Lily, do you have a reader?

Celeste

folio literary management said...

Sherry,

Which HP pocket PC do you have?

Best,
Celeste

hldyer said...

Incidentally, formatted as an .pdb ebook, my manuscript (325 pages in TNR 12 font) is 258 KB.

Yes, with a "k". (The MS Word document is just under 4 MB.)

You could fit a crapload of manuscripts in .pdb format on almost any device.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Miss Celeste,
Two items... (if ya feel a might bit seldom and peekid from the heat, open all yer windahs and take the front door off its' hinges - cool ya right down, it's called Arkansas Air Conditionin').

Now, as I read more adventures of the Ebook I see some folks object to 'em sayin,' "they lack the *smell* of a new book"... So, I invented the "New Book Spritzer." Ya push a button on the Ebook and out comes a nose full of New Book Smell.
For pic books and Middle Graders... I got yer chicken smell, cow smell, pig smell, barn smell, hay smell, lunch smell, plain ole' hard work sweat smell. Well, ya get the idea. It's like electronic scratch and sniff. I sell refills and I imagined up all kind a stinks!

Haste yee back ;-)...Thinkerupper!

jeanoram said...

E-readers, whatever...I loved all your little goofy links. :)

folio literary management said...

Dear Jeanoram,

Thanks for checking them out.

Best,
Celeste

sherrypeters said...

(previously posted as Sherry)

I use the hp Jornada which I bought back in 2002 or 2003. It still works great as a palm and mini computer. I also have the protable fold-up keyboard which makes it into more of a laptop when I have time, but isn't so much fun taking through airport security. Gets my bags checked every time.

Laney said...

Silly me! And here I thought Celeste and I were merely having a chat about my Kindle -- when in fact it was really an interview. The lesson learned: I will preface all remarks to Celeste with, "We're off the record, right?" But seriously, I really do love being able to read manuscripts on my hand-held device. It beats lugging around heavy manuscripts, and it's much easier to curl up with than my laptap. So, while there are some issues with the Kindle, as a concept it's working for me -- big time!

Amie Stuart said...

That fold-up e-book is DROOLWORTHY! *sigh* And I agree w/you...the Kindle is as you've said Beta or maybe even VHS in a Blue Ray world. And Sony...the Sony is nice (my agent swears by hers) but I worry about the proprietary-ness of it. (Yes I know that's not really a word). I bought a Sony MP-3 player and was NOT happy when I found out it had *issues* with WMA formatted songs (of which I had many downloaded but couldn't get in my MP-3 player GA). I do NOT want to run into that sort of problem with something as expensive as an E-reader.

folio literary management said...

Thanks, Amie. I thought I read something about how you download Sony stuff from a sony website--does anyone know if you can download from amazon onto the sony reader?

green_knight said...

I have an Asus Eee, which is rumoured to come out eventually with a bigger screen. It's about the size of a hardback (but lighter), has a nice long battery life... and it's a fully fledged computer. Decent sized keyboard (I preferred the Psion's, but never mind), Open Office, USB and SD card ports, wireless, ethernet - granted, it has a processor that could be sitting in a three-year-old computer, but it's fast enough to do everything I want, and small and light enough that you can use it on a bus or standing in a queue. For me, it's a perfect solution.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Celest, or anyone...
I can see the value of Kindle-esque type devices as an agent's tool... sure beats carrying bag-fulls of hard copy submissions.

But, what's your best guess as to what Ebooks will do for and against the publishing industry in general? Anyone wanna go on record?

The more I delve into this, the more ying/yang I see.

Haste yee back ;-)

Celeste said...

Dear Haste Yee Back,

I think these readers provide another channel to reach readers--I think it is all very, very good for books.

Best,
Celeste

hldyer said...

Dear Celeste,

In response to your comment that I should drop you a line, I sent an email to the address noted on AgentQuery. I couldn't find an address for you on the Folio website.

In case that was not the correct address at which to contact you, here is mine: HeatherLDyer at gmail.com

Thank you,
Heather

greengranite21 said...

Celeste needs something to hold queries... wait, does that mean you're open to queries again, Celeste? Or are you just talking about the queries you get from referrals here?

Muse said...

I loved this post. This is exactly what an electronic book should be.

As for what you are trying to do, I currently use my IPhone for on-the-go document reading, editing, commenting, etc. I use iZoho, an IPhone version of Zoho, an online office suite. The best part about Zoho is that I don't email documents. I add collaborators or readers through Zoho. (Their documents export cleanly to both Word and OpenOffice.)

Stace said...

I don't even have a mobile phone let alone an iPhone but there's lots of talk on the internet about the iphone's e-readers; Stanza is a big one (a third party application.) You can download it free onto the iPhone, apparently. I'm interested to hear if anyone here has used this... But the iPhone is definitely a good test; if nobody reads on the iPhone they're not gonna read on the ugly Kindle or whatever, I'm guessing!

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