Stephen King's Online Novel 'The Plant' Dries Up

Author Stephen King will stop publication of his serialized, self-published horror novel The Plant after the next installment, he announced earlier this month.

He has published five installments of the novel so far, under a novel honor system whereby readers agree to send him cash (US$1 each for episodes one, two and three, $2 for the longer episodes four and five) in return for downloading the text from his Web site. He undertook to continue developing the story as long as at least 75 percent of each episode's downloads were paid for.

So far, 75 percent to 80 percent of readers have paid up, King said in a message to readers dated Nov. 9 and posted on his Web site Nov. 21.

Nevertheless, he will stop work on the serial in order to devote more time to other projects, including a novel he is co-writing with Peter Straub and two new conventionally-published novels, he said in the message.

The sixth installment of The Plant, to be published late next month, marks "the most logical stopping point," he said, in which the fates of several characters would be resolved "nastily" and "permanently."

Yet King holds out to readers the hope that his grand electronic publishing experiment will not itself come to a nasty, permanent end: "The last time The Plant furled its leaves, the story remained dormant for nineteen years. If it could survive that, I'm sure it can survive a year or two while I work on other projects."

The first installment has already become something of a collector's item since it was removed from the Web site. Readers anxious to catch up on the start of the story have posted messages in a forum on King's Web site inquiring where they can obtain a copy of the downloaded file.

Disappointed readers were quick to respond in the same forum to news of King's decision to suspend publication. One anonymous reader, also a writer, said King's online publishing move gives hope to writers that there will be a bright future for Internet publication -- but his decision to pull out had now "totally disillusioned the group that had put so much faith in him." Another said the withdrawal "gives a black eye to the phenomenon I was hoping this project would create -- a viable self-publishing system for authors."

The Plant is King's second online publishing venture. His first, a short story entitled Riding the Bullet, was published in March. More information -- and recent installments of the novel -- can be found at http://www.stephenking.com.

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