Writers Workshop: RocketBook Flashback

A reader asked me when I had my first encounter with E-Publishing. It was way back in 1998, and it involved an E-Reader that no longer exists, the Rocketbook.

Back then, I had just signed a contract for a fiction novel with a very new, very forward-looking publisher. At the same time, NuvoMedia announced the Rocketbook, an E-Reader that cost $500 and was supposed to be targeted at the so-called “massive market” of potential E-Book devotees. Take a look at the photograph of the Rocketbook. Do you remember it?

This new Rocketebookgadget was massive, and it was expensive. It weighed in at 1.25 pounds, had a screen that was often difficult to read, didn’t have great battery life by modern standards, and had only 4MB of flash memory. That was enough to hold about 4,000 pages of material. There was a “pro” version available for more money that offered 16MB of memory and could hold as many as 40 books. By today’s view of the world, this wasn’t much to crow about but, hey, it was a very new, forward-looking foray into what would become a ubiquitous tool for readers. At the time, it had only one competitor called the EB Dedicated Reader (by SoftBook). The RocketBook was thought to be the best, the next sure-fire, must-have gizmo.

The publisher converted my book to the right format and got it stuffed into the RocketBook. The novel ran about 100,000 words, so everything seemed to work out nicely. An open house/marketing gig was set up in San Francisco and the public was encouraged to visit and taste this new treat. I was invited to sit on a three-person, open panel discussion of the modern wonder, from the writer’s perspective, of course. The event was fun and pretty well attended.

Well, the story does not have a happy ending. The RocketBook struggled on for the next five years and finally died. It never took off. It was too far ahead of its time and it just wasn’t sufficiently easy to use or light enough to be considered truly portable. But, that darn device was sure a lot of fun. I only had one E-Book stuffed into my RocketBook, and it was my own. There just wasn’t a lot of material out there. By 2003, the RocketBook was a memory. Mine lies sleeping, mostly forgotten, somewhere in my attic.

Thankfully, my novel lived on because it was originally published in the traditional way. The RocketBook took the other path. However, I remember being thrilled with the RocketBook because it opened up all kinds of possibilities and helped me see the future of publishing. I don’t think about the old behemoth too often but, when I do, my memories are happy.

The moral of the story for writers is to keep looking forward. Technology is fantastic and evolving so quickly that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up. But, keep up we must, if we are to maximize our opportunities to get our work in front of others.

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