Some of you on this list may have noticed that I was quoted in the New York Post regarding Stephen King's cessation of "The Plant". The quote, as it appeared in the NYP on 11/29/00, was as follows:
"But many of his fans - who now have paid $7 for a book that has no ending - were furious.
"I am saddened and angered at the crass commercialization of that incredible magic that occurs between writer and reader - a wonderful and special magic that King seems to have forgotten is the true spirit, the true heart of being a writer," said e-author Jim Farris.""
Well, this is a mistake. First, that quote was taken out of context (not suprisingly, as the original quote was taken from a very long post to the E-Authors list, email@example.com ). The prefacing sentence makes it appear as though I am a subscriber to his e-serial - and I am not. I read the first installment, thought it stank compared to his previous work, and didn't read any farther. Second, the quote appears to be a complaint about the money involved - and it is not. It is a complaint about King's attitude towards his readers. So, I intend to repeat (and rephrase for clarity) my original comments here, so that everyone on this list can understand how I feel about this situation.
Right now, I'm doing my own e-serial. Nobody has to pay to read it (though I encourage my readers to buy the "published" version of the books as they are released, and let them know that there's a couple extra musical compositions in the "soundtracks" for the "published" versions). I've been through hell with this series (I'm on my second publisher, in fact), poured a lot of sweat and effort into it, and had a much higher production schedule than "The Plant" ever had. Not only are my chapters the same size as his, they're coming out three times a week and with three musical compositions a week. I've promoted it like crazy, I've struggled to get the works reviewed, and basically put more effort into this than anything in my life except my marriage. But so far, after eight months of ceaseless labor, I have made exactly zero off all this work. Not one thin dime.
So why do I continue? If I'm making no money off this, why am I bothering?
Because of that unspoken promise Leta Nolan Childers (an internationally known romance author) has referred to so often - that promise between Writer and Reader, that promise to entertain, or to inform. I'm not going to stop now. You, my readers, love these stories (if you didn't, you wouldn't still be subscribed), and you all want to read the series to it's conclusion - and by God, come hell or high water, you will.
That, to me, is what being an author is all about. It's not all about the bottom line. It's not all about making a fast buck and then dumping a project so you can do other things. It's about that magical connection between the Writer and the Reader, that spell that falls over someone when they really get into a book, and lose themselves in the storyteller's words.
You can see it, when you watch someone else read an excellent novel. Try it yourself - hand a good book to your little nipper, or your spouse. Pick one of the greats, like Tolkien, or Heinlein. Then watch them read. It's an amazing thing. As the story envelops them, they are no longer even in your world - you can see it in their eyes. They no longer see you, hear you, or even are consciously aware you exist. Their mind has been transported to the fantasy world contained within the pages of that book, or on the screen before them. A spouse you've known twenty years, a person who thinks of you every moment of the day, is gone. Your child, someone you've known all their life, has vanished, transported to another world. It's true magic, I think - the magic of imagination.
And to reduce that magic to a simple equation of "Pay Me Or I Stop Telling The Story", then later say "Well, okay, you paid me, thanks much, but I'm busy so I'm going to stop for now"... I'm sorry, but I find I'm simply disgusted with the man.
I don't begrudge him the money - far from it. I hope to make as much money myself, someday, and I cheer him for showing that e-books can, indeed, be a lucrative field (well, lucrative if you're nationally-known, at any rate). No, I don't begrudge him the money - he's earned it, and he deserves every single penny. No, I am, instead, annoyed by the disdainful attitude he has for his fans, the sneering assuption that no matter what anyone else may say, his hard-core fans will take this kind of treatment without question, and come right back once he resumes the story, and start shelling out the dough again.
But that, my friends, was the context of my original comment. Most of all, beyond even the callous attitude King's decision shows, I find I am saddened, and even a bit angered. Yes, I am saddened and angered at the crass commercialization of that incredible magic that occurrs between Writer and Reader - a wonderful and special magic that King seems to have forgotten is the true spirit, the true heart of being a writer.
That was the context of my original comment. And more, you, the subscribers to this e-serial, can rest assured that I will never forget that special magic, nor will I ever reneg on that promise between Writer and Reader.
In an additional comment King put up on his website, he noted that since his original announcement, the "pay-through" amounts have dropped from 75-80% down to 40%. King wrote:
"Neither Marsha nor I can assign any particular reason for this precipitous drop off, it may be that people are stealing this particular installment simply because they know the story is going to stop anyway." - Stephen King, as posted at http://www.stephenking.com/sk_100900.html
Well, I think he's right. Now that he's announced he's going to stop, a lot of people are mad at him. He may, in the end, have shot himself in the foot because if this decision, and cost himself not merely a lot of sales, but a lot of readers. I think King just assumed his readers would accept his decision with a smile - and they aren't.
As I said before, however, this all boils down to attitude. King's basic attitude towards his readers was expressed very clearly in his first posting regarding The Plant on his website:
"If you pay, the story rolls. If you don't, the story folds... If response is weak, I (will) pull the plug after Installment Two... If You Have Other Questions... Don't ask em. You won't get answers. Marsha's swamped. So am I. Forgive me for being so blunt, but that's how it is. If You're Not Satisfied... You're out a buck. Or two. I mean, break my heart." - Stephen King, as posted at http://www.stephenking.com in July of 2000
As I wrote on the e-authors list back in July, this type of "pay up or shut up" attitude doesn't inspire warmth and confidence, really. No, quite the contrary - it leads many to believe King simply doesn't care, and is taking his fans for granted. Now, with his decision to close down "The Plant" to handle other projects he considers more important, leaving his fans with a half-finished story they've paid good money for, it seems I was right.
As I said on the e-authors list when the announcement of The Plant's closing first came down the pike, just by rough math, using his own figures for how many copies have "sold", he's grossed at least half a million dollars from this enterprise - and even if we assume that his two-person company with nearly zero overhead (Philitrum Press) cost him half of that, he's still pocketed over a quarter of a million bucks at one and two bucks a pop for each chapter.
I'm sorry, folks, but like I said before, for a quarter of a million bucks, I would finish a story I started, regardless of how busy my life got. He says he's too busy? I wouldn't be. For a quarter of a million bucks, I'd make time. Now he says people aren't paying? I'd still finish the story. Consider - it's been announced (elsewhere, not on King's site) that initial sales figures for part IV have over 40,000 downloads that were paid for. That's eighty thousand bucks, folks. For eighty thousand bucks, I'd keep writing. Even if we assume that Philitrum press eats half of that, that's still fourty thousand bucks. With that kind of money in my pocket, I'd keep on going.
But what's more disturbing about this, as I mentioned before, is King's total abandonment of the relationship that an author has with his readers. That promise between Writer and Reader, that promise to entertain, or to inform. As I said before, I'm doing an e-serial, myself - and I've yet to see a dime from it. Even so, I'm not going to stop now. You, my readers, love these stories (if you didn't, you wouldn't be subscribed). You want to read the series to it's conclusion, and by God, come hell or high water, you will. Money has nothing to do with it.
As I said before, that, to me, is what being an author is all about. It's not all about the bottom line. It's not all about making a fast buck and then dumping a project so you can do other things. It's about that magical connection between the Writer and the Reader, that spell that falls over someone when they really get into a book, and lose themselves in the storyteller's words. As Richard Wright (internationally-known author of the incredible horror novel Cuckoo) mentioned in one of his posts on this subject, King used to be a "Reader's Writer" - but those days, apparently, are long past.
This is not to say "Stephen King is a Bad Man". Far from it - I think, at heart, King's a very nice person, and he's still one of my all-time favorite authors (The Running Man is, I think, perhaps one of the best sci-fi stories ever written, and Christine I still pull down from the shelf to read several times a year, as I consider it a classic of horror). What has happened, I think, is that he's simply forgotten the basic relationship between Writer and Reader, lost that special magic that storytelling is really all about, and now simply takes his readers for granted. And if the pay-throughs have suddenly dropped, well... All I can say is that this may simply be a sign that his readers have come to realize King is taking them for granted. As such, this may, in the end, cost King far more than he ever anticipated.
So, having said all this, what, as subscribers and Readers, can you expect from this Writer?
Well, first, as I've said from the outset, "The Oerth Cycle" is planned to be four books in length. That means (barring me dying or something uncontrollable like that), you will get four books, and four symphony-length soundtracks. I will not stop for any reason short of illness, death, or computer failure. Even if I only had one reader, I would continue this work until all four books are released.
Are further books planned? Yes - but they're only in the planning stages.
So if I begin a second Oerth Cycle, when would it start? Probably about a year after the first one ends, depending upon reader response, because I need time to actually write them. Having discovered how difficult it is to produce the works the way I'm doing it now, I think I'd like to have any further Cycles completed and the soundtracks composed before I begin posting the chapters. Currently, I am writing one book while posting the previous one, and composing the soundtrack for each book as I post the pages - and that's an enormous amount of pressure. Typos creep in, and sometimes I end up with musical compositions I am less than pleased with, and end up going back and re-doing, then posting the updated music to the website. I want each chapter to be perfect, each book to be perfect, and I want it all to be perfect before it's posted. You, my Readers, deserve nothing less than the best. Thus, if you, my Readers, say you want to read another Cycle, then that's probably how I'll end up doing it.
What would be the plot of further books? Well, at this point, I don't know. The only thing I'm sure of at this point is who would be the "star" of a second Oerth Cycle. Remember the character "Little Tinker", Farrah's brother that Bootie gave birth to in the second book? Well, a second Oerth Cycle would be another series of four books, and begin about 15 to 18 years after the end of the first, and encompass events in his life, just as the first has encompassed envents in Merle's life. A third Oerth Cycle would encompass events probably 50 to 100 years after that, and a fourth Oerth Cycle would encompass events about 100 to 200 years after that. But, that's all I have on them, at the moment - exactly what I've just said. I have no plot outlines yet, no character descriptions, nothing.
So what would determine these decisions?
Why, you will, of course.
You, the Readers, will determine what happens. If you, the Readers, want to read more, you will. If you don't, then I'll work on other books, instead. That, to me, is what being a Storyteller is all about - telling the stories that your listeners want to hear. Everything else is secondary.
Published Professional Author and Composer