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The Plant

Philtrum Press


Updated March 7!

If you tried to type all this, you'd get PLANT-ers warts name is Zenith...

King Books
'Salem's Lot
The Shining
Night Shift
The Stand
The Long Walk
The Dead Zone
Danse Macabre
The Running Man
Different Seasons
DT: The Gunslinger
Cycle of the Werewolf
Pet Sematary
The Talisman
Skeleton Crew
DT2: Drawing of the Three
The Eyes of the Dragon
The Tommyknockers
The Dark Half
The Stand, Uncut
Four Past Midnight
Needful Things
DT3: The Wastelands
Gerald's Game
Dolores Claiborne
Nightmares & Dreamscapes
Rose Madder
The Green Mile
The Regulators
Six Stories
DT4: Wizard & Glass
Bag of Bones
Storm of the Century
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
Hearts in Atlantis
Blood & Smoke
Riding the Bullet
The Plant
Secret Windows
On Writing
Black House: The Talisman, Part II
From a Buick Eight
Rose Red
One Headlight
DT5: The Crawling Shadow

Mike Paglia -- Who helped me out at the earliest stages of the page, before it was even titled! The HTML wizard!

DiAnne Vandevender -- Who edited my book pages (yeah, like I paid any attention) and supplied some desperately needed pictures. Woo hoo!

Anders Jakobson -- Who edited my page and came up with the first couple logos (when we still had the old name.)

Terry Jamro -- whose expertise (and software) helped develop the current Charnel Hose Logo

Sarah Hinman -- Who developed the CH "button" and a previous logo

Shawn Hill -- Who just helped in all possible ways

Alex Maidy -- For the heads-up on the Lot and all the encouragement!

Bunny and Barrie -- Who (along with DiAnne) gave me the idea for selling out

Jim Cole -- Who helped along my page development and shaped some of my ideas about the newer books

Erin Cox -- From S & S, who has always helped me with ARCs and who was extremely nice on the phone.

Stephen Spignesi -- For both his friendship and ludicrously extensive knowledge

George Beahm -- A close friend who helps me in infathomable ways. Thanks for the floatplane!

Hans-Ake Lilja -- Whose list of stories (and frequent News updates) has been invaluable to my Uncollected page.

Michelle Revelle -- For SKEMERs and also for being my buddy.

Justin Brooks -- for so much info I have to spoon it out of my brain with a forklift

Michele Ballard -- For the spreading of my SKEMERs History and for the Hellooooo

Bob Ireland -- For the marquee idea and for driving me up to Bangor in '98

Bev Vincent -- For his continued support of Charnel House and constant "tidbits" that make the House better

Iowa Bob -- For not living in Iowa, and for the 300 gif.s.

Brian Freeman -- For his ideas, support, and love of BNL.

Stephen King -- For all of it. Thanks.

Background & News

In 1982, as an alternative to sending Christmas cards, Stephen King sent out a "chapbook" entitled The Plant, Part One. He published this through his brand new Philtrum Press (which would later publish the first edition of The Eyes of the Dragon, Six Stories and The New Lieutenant's Rap.) This chapbook was not available to the general public, just to friends and relatives on King's Christmas list.

Installment two came out in 1983; installment three was published in 1985 (King skipped a year to release Eyes.) Soon after the release of this third part, King stopped writing The Plant, because he had seen the film Little Shop of Horrors and realized that what he was doing was too close to that storyline. (For the record: I've read these three installments, and I've seen Little Shop of Horrors, and let me tell you: other than the eponymous character, nothing about these two works is similar.)

Since then, copies have surfaced on the secondary market for outrageous prices. They've become three of the collector's items to have, right up there with asbestos-bound Firestarter. But here, in June, 2000, King has announced something big: he may re-publish The Plant.

Stephen King is currently deciding whether or not to offer The Plant on the Official Stephen King Web Presence, which, in and of itself, is remarkably intriguing. But King has always been about innovation, and here's his deal: first, you've gotta vote one way or the other is he should release the book. And second, can he trust each person who downloads each installment to pay one dollar for the download? Not via credit card, mind you: via check or money order, through the mail. Wacky, yeah, but this is Stephen King.

He's made no promises to actually finish The Plant (although I sincerely hope he does), but I have voted, and if he does decide to gift us with The Plant in this version, I'll be sending my checks. Probably for $2, simply to make up for those who will not pay.

Read King's letter below, then click on the link in the table above to take The Plant survey. Help King fans around the world on this one: even if you don't vote for the President, vote for The Plant.

  • (Mar 07) Regarding the early installments of The Plant (from King's Official Site): "The Plant is furling its leaves for the time being while Stephen works on other projects. When the installments of Book 2 go online, we will also make Book 1 available again for those of you who missed it the first time round. If you would like to be notified when it comes back with new installments, please join the mailing list and we'll send you an email."

  • (Dec 18) Part 6 of The Plant is now available (with cover!) for free on the Official Stephen King Site. This completes "Book One" of this ongoing novel, parts one through six being entitled "Zenith Rising" collectively. Book Two will begin on the King site sometime next summer (according to the article King wrote for Time). Also available on the King site is the entirety of "Zenith Rising," which can be bought for $7.00, and this also includes the cover. Well worth the money spent on all parts, in my humble opinion...

    King's Letters Regarding The Plant

    (12-15-00) -->From Time magazine, regarding the temporary cessation of The Plant:

    How I Got That Story
    The novelist ponders the lessons he's learned from cyberpublishing


    In July of this year, I began publishing a serial novel at my website, The idea was one episode a month, pay as you go...and pay by the honor system. My inspiration was the newspaper vendors in New York City during the first half of the century. Many of those hired for the job were blind, because the distribs felt that even slightly dishonest people wouldn't steal from a blind newsboy. My experiment has far from run its course, but the first phase of it concludes later this month, when Part 6 of The Plant--by far the longest--goes up, this time for free.

    In the modest hoopla that has surrounded the publication of The Plant, very few media analysts bothered to talk about the story itself (possibly because they didn't bother to read it). The Plant happens to be about a voracious supernatural vine that begins to grow wild in a paperback publishing house. It offers success, riches and the always desirable Bigger Market Share. All it wants from you in return is a little flesh...a little blood...and maybe a piece of your soul. What made The Plant such a hilarious Internet natural (at least to my admittedly twisted mind) was that publishers and media people seem to see exactly this sort of monster whenever they contemplate the Net in general and e-lit in particular: a troublesome strangler fig that just might have a bit o' the old profit in it. If, that is, it's handled with gloves.

    The most dismaying thing I learned in the course of The Plant's run (a run that's not over but only lying dormant until next summer) is that there's a profound crevasse of misunderstanding between the smart guys of the business world and the talented goofballs who make entertainment in this increasingly entertainment-hungry society. Publishers, investors and media watchers see a venture like The Plant and say, "Ah, King is moving into e-commerce!" in the tones of 1940s newscasters relaying the news that Hitler is moving east. King, in the meantime, is thinking something along the lines of, "Hey guys! My uncle's got a barn! Let's put on a show!" It's a goofy thing, in other words. Not a business thing at all. Which, may I add, isn't the same thing as saying there's no money in it. Or cultural clout. Just ask the goofball who thought up Napster.

    Am I displeased with how things have turned out? Nope. I've had terrific fun working on The Plant, and so far it's grossed about $600,000. It may end up over a million (the figures will be posted on the website early next year, down to the last crying dime). Those aren't huge numbers in today's book market, but The Plant--pay attention, now, because this is the important part--is not a book. Right now it exists as nothing but electronic bits and bytes dancing gaily in cyberspace. Yes, it's been downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people, either in its various parts or in its entirety, and some readers may have printed hard copies (even decorated them like medieval monks illuminating manuscripts, for all I know), but mostly it's just an electronic mirage floating out there all by itself, like Samuel Coleridge's stately pleasure dome, with no printing costs, publisher's cuts or agents' fees to pull it down. Advertising aside (I did some, not much), costs are low to the point of nonexistence, and the profit potential is unlimited.

    Do Parts 1 through 6 constitute an entire novel? In the sense that there's a beginning, a middle and a resolution, yes. Readers will be as satisfied as they would be with, say, the first volume of a trilogy like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (not that I am claiming the same literary quality; never think that). Right now I'm returning to print publishing because I love it and because I have a contract to fulfill--two books remaining.

    Is there anything about the coverage of Steve's Excellent Adventure that bothers me? Probably the implication that by using the honor system, I was either displaying a naive belief in the honesty of my fellow man or (worse) indulging in a bit of electronic bungee jumping. Neither one. By offering the story in installments and promising to pull the plug if payments fell off, I felt that I had armed myself with a stick to protect my carrot. It worked, too. Part 5 payments fell steeply, but only after I announced the venture was nearing its end. I'm afraid that did bring on a certain amount of looting.

    The real test of The Plant's marketplace viability may come in late December and January, when Philtrum Press--my publishing company, which has offered books at odd intervals for almost 20 years--will e-market all six parts (The Plant, Book One: The Rise of Zenith) for $7, about the price of a paperback. And for that, my friend, you'll need your credit card.

    My mamma didn't raise no fools.

    (From The New York Times, a response to an editorial about the cessation of The Plant...)

    The Plant: Getting a Little Goofy

    By Stephen King

    In a December 1st editorial titled "King's Closure," the New York Times states, "…one reads Stephen King novels in a single gulp. Their chief effect is suspense of a kind that cannot be drawn out over months." Surely whoever wrote that particular opinion can't have much acquaintance with the Times's own bestseller lists. In 1996 I published a novel called The Green Mile in six installments, and the experiment was a roaring commercial success. At one point, all six chapbooks were on the Times paperback bestseller list at the same time, causing the folks who craft the lists to change their way of listing such endeavors (serial novels are now accorded only a single slot on the Times list, no matter how many installments they may include).

    John Saul later published a similar novel in six parts, and enjoyed similar success. Interestly enough, Jackie Collins's foray into the serial novel field was less popular, perhaps because it was not a suspense story. Contrary to what the Times editorial department may think, tales of suspense almost cry out for serialization. They don't call them "cliffhangers" for nothing.

    I learned a great many interesting things in the course of The Plant's run on the Internet (a run that's not over, incidentally, but only in hiatus). Perhaps the most dismaying is the profound misunderstanding most business people seem to have concerning how entertainment-which is mostly produced by talented goofballs-interfaces with the business potential they see (or think they see) in the web. One thing seems clear to me: what works on TV, in the movies, and in popular fiction doesn't work in the same way on the Net. A great many business ventures (and not a few fortunes) have already crashed as a result of that erroneous assumption.

    Popular entertainments have a place on the Net, but finding the most efficient ways to make them work is a trial and error process. Most people who invest big money in flossy entertainment websites are going to find themselves out of luck, out of dough, and scratching their heads. People who start out just to have fun-to goof around, in other words-are going to find some Napster-sized pots of gold. Profit never comes first, though. What comes first is something like, "Gosh, I've got an idea and my uncle's got a barn-let's put on a show!" There's a lot of available barn space on the Internet, and a lot of people are going to put on shows. I was delighted to be one of the first, and I'm not done yet. Goodness, why would I be? I'm having a hell of a good time.

    The Plant will end up grossing at least $600,000, and may end up over a million. These are not huge numbers in today's book market, but The Plant-pay attention, now, because this is the important part-is not a book. Right now it exists as nothing but electronic bits and bytes dancing gaily in cyberspace. Yes, it's been downloaded by a hundred thousand or so people, and some of them have printed hard copies (hand-bound them just like medieval manuscripts, too, for all I know), but mostly it's just an electronic mirage floating out there all by itself like Coleridge's stately pleasure dome, with no printing costs, publisher's cuts, or agents' fees to pull it down. Advertising aside (and finding the correct advertising venues for internet users is a whole other issue), costs are nonexistent and the profit potential is unlimited.

    I see three large problems. One is that most Internet users seem to have the attention span of grasshoppers. Another is that Internet users have gotten used to the idea that most of what's available to them on the Net is either free or should be. The third-and biggest-is that book-readers don't regard electronic books as real books. They're like people saying, "I love corn on the cob but creamed corn makes me gag." Since The Plant experiment began in July, I've had dozens of people come up to me and say that they can't wait to read the story…when it's in book form. They either don't go on the Web, don't go on it for anything but e-mail, or just don't think of reading online, even if what they're reading has been printed out in the privacy of their own homes, as real reading. To them, it's creamed corn. And it makes them gag.

    In this last fact, I see a tremendous opportunity. In truth, I don't believe the on-line publication of The Plant has done more than graze whatever potential it might have as a book. The two markets aren't quite apples and oranges, but there is still only a small overlap. In other words, we seem to have discovered an entirely new dimension to the sort of publishing which used to be called "first serial rights." Only instead of generating ten or twenty or perhaps even fifty thousand dollars for pre-publication print rights (in a traditional magazine like Cosmopolitan or Rolling Stone, let us say), we're talking about much bigger numbers.

    None of this is a bad thing or a good thing. Neither is any of it a sure-fire thing. Like the more traditional artistic endeavors, it's a goofy thing. A fun thing. Neither the sums generated nor the future of publishing is the point. The point is trying some new things; pushing some new buttons and seeing what happens.

    Steve's Comments:

    Post #1
    July 25, 2000
    Dear Constant Reader,
    Thanks for your response to The Plant! It's been great! These numbers aren't equal to Riding the Bullet-at least not yet-but our publicity campaign was almost non-existent. New travels fast on the web, however; it's the 21st century version of the jungle telegraph, and the number of downloads seems to be staying hot. Better still, the confirmed rate of payment by credit card is very strong-75% at least. When the dust settles, Marsha and I are hoping-quite reasonably, we think-for a pay-through rate of 85-90%. I should add that a good many non-payers appear to have been not readers but people in a bookstore who read a couple of pages and then put the book back on the shelf. We have been deluged with questions from the press about how we are doing. The short answer is that we are doing fine. We are going to give trend figures on July 31st, after this project has been running for a week. We don't anticipate talking to the press again until that time. The reason for this is simple: the people who drive this and are paying their dollars are the people who visit this web site, not the people who necessarily read The New York Times or watch CNN. Good or bad, you deserve the news first, you deserve to read it here, and that's the way it is going to play out. For the time being, just let me reiterate that this experiment seems to be working. I am delighted. Thank you. Tell your friends.

    Steve's Comments:

    July 25, 2000
    Post #2
    Here's the truth: When I made a decision to post the first two installments of The Plant, my hopes of success weren't very high. Publicly, I have always expressed a great deal of confidence in human nature, but in private I have wondered if anybody would ever pay for anything on the Net. It now looks as though people will, and I am faced with the real possibility of finishing The Plant. I don't think anyone wants to buy 5,000 word installments over a period of over 20 months, and my experience with The Green Mile makes me think that interest would fade, anyway. Therefore, what I propose doing is this: Episode 2, 6-7,000 words; Episode 3, 10-12,000 words. Download price in both cases would remain $1. Installments 4 through 7 or 8 would be much longer-perhaps as long as 25,000 words-and the download price would go up to $2.50. What do you think about this? Will it work?

    July 11, 2000

    To: Constant Reader/Constant Webhead

    Subject: The Plant Update

    Hey, this is Steve. Sorry I didn't get to the update when I said I would, but Philtrum Press consists of two people, Marsha DeFilippo and me. So cut us a little slack, okay? This shouldn't take too long, anyway. You don't have to be a rocket scientist, as they say.

    What It Is

    It's The Plant, an epistolary novel set in the early 1980s (before e-mail, in other words, and when even the fax was a fringe technology). It'll be presented in parts ranging from 5000 to 7000 words. The story is sort of funny and at the same time pretty gruesome (think Christine). I'm committed to publishing at least the first two segments. Whether or not I publish more depends.

    Depends on What?

    In the words of The Turtles, "You, baby, nobody but you." If you pay, the story rolls. If you don't, the story folds.

    How Much?

    Buck an episode. When Installment One appears, send me the payment-we'll give you all the how-tos then. My friends, we have a chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare. Not only are we going glueless, look Ma, no e-Book! No tiresome encryption! Want to print it and show it to a friend? Go ahead! There's only one catch: all this is on the honor system. Has to be. I'm counting on two things. The first is plain old honesty. "Take what you want and pay for it," as the old saying goes. The second is that you'll like the story enough to want to read more. If you do want more, you have to pay. Remember: Pay and the story rolls. Steal and the story folds. No stealing from the blind newsboy!

    What I Promise

    1. To publish the first 10,000 or so words of The Plant in two installments, no matter what. Installment One goes up on this site July 24th; Installment Two will appear August 21st.
    2. If response is good and the pay-through equals or exceeds 75%, Installment Three will go up in September.
    3. When Installment Three goes up, Installment One goes down.
    4. If response is strong, I promise to carry The Plant through to its conclusion. I won't leave you hanging, in other words.
    5. Above item is cancelled if I die.
    6. If response is weak, I promise to pull the plug after Installment Two.

    What You Promise

    1. To pay for each installment of The Plant, and to pay each time you download it. Look at it this way: you couldn't go into a bookstore and say, "I bought a copy of The Street Lawyer in here yesterday, so give me four more for free today." Get it?
    2. Not to print extra copies and sell them to your friends. If you want to print copies and give them away, I can't stop you (in fact I can't stop you from doing anything, which is the beauty of this thing-think of it as web-moshing). But don't sell them. Two reasons: first, it's against the law, and second, it's nasty behavior. Respect my copyright. As a writer, it's all I've got.

    What We'll Have

    Fun, fun, fun until Daddy takes the T-Bird away.

    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.

    Will It Work?

    My kids, who know a lot more about the Web than I do, say no way. My accountant, the fiscal hardass of all time, says he thinks it will. I don't know. All I know is I've got a hell of a good story to tell, and if you pay me I'll tell it.

    Is This The End of Publishing?

    Good God, no. I love my editors, and I like my publisher. I also like books. I'm a conservative on this particular subject and I love the smell of glue. But if I could break some trail for all the midlist writers, literary writers, and just plain marginalized writers who see a future outside the mainstream, that's great.

         I hope this answers your questions. Now go be good to someone, and remember: this ain't Napster. Take what you want...and pay for it.


    June 7, 2000

    Dear Constant Reader,

    In the early 1980s, I started an epistolary novel called The Plant. I published limited editions of the first three short volumes, giving them out to friends and relatives (folks who are usually but not always the same) as funky Christmas cards. I gave The Plant up not because I thought it was bad but because other projects intervened. At the time I quit, the work in progress was roughly 25,000 words long. It told the story of a sinister plant-sort of a vampire-vine-that takes over the offices of a paperback publishing company, offering financial success in trade for human sacrifices. The story struck me as both scary and funny. Now it has occurred to me that it might be amusing to put it up on this web-site, in installments of 5000 words each…something like that, anyway. If this idea interests you, will you e-mail the website and say so? By the same token, if it sounds like a bad idea, will you tell me that?

    I admit that I have another agenda. I was intrigued by the success of "Riding the Bullet" (stunned would probably be a more accurate word), and since then have been anxious to try something similar, but I've also been puzzling over issues of ownership when it comes to creative work. On one hand I applaud Metallica's decision to try and put a few spikes into the big, cushy radial tire that is Napster, because creative people should be paid for their work just as plumbers and carpenters and accountants are paid for theirs. On the other hand, I think that the current technology is rapidly turning the whole idea of copyright into a risky proposition…not quite a joke, but something close to it. It took hackers only forty-eight to seventy-two hours to bust the encryption on "Bullet" (as Tabitha says, spending invaluable hours to obtain an item that sold for $2.50 and was at many sites given away).

    Being something of an optimist about my fellow creatures, I have the idea that most people are honest and will pay for what they get. I'm therefore willing to try selling The Plant on an honor system. Episodes would not be encoded. If you wanted to download the stuff to your printer, you could do that. But you gotta kick a buck; a dollar an episode seems fair enough to me. If it seems fair to you, e-mail the website and say so. If it seems heavy, say that. My purpose here isn't to skin anybody but to have some fun and try out a concept so old it may seem new; call it "honesty is the best policy."

    There's only one small catch. If there are 50,000 downloads, I should get something like $50,000. Of course it won't be that much, because there are always going to be cheaters and chintzes in the world (and for some reason they seem to live longer than the rest of us, God knows why). But I could live with a ratio of nine honest folks for every chiseler. Maybe even eight. But I do think you should be able to print what you read, and pass it on if you choose, the same way you might pass on a book you bought to a friend. You may not sell copies, however.

    So tell me what you think, keeping in mind that The Plant is an unfinished work (although I reserve the right to continue the story, and to continue posting further installments, if the feedback is positive) and I can't gaurentee you an ending, either happy or sad. And I reserve the right to cease publication if a lot of people steal the story…but I just don't believe that will happen. I mean, we're talking a buck a pop here, right?
    Best regards,

    Stephen King

    25 August 2000

    Dear Constant Reader,

    For those of you who are interested, here's an update on The Plant as of late August. I judge Part 1 as a considerable success, both in the number of downloads and in the pay-through. The situation with Part 2 is less clear. For one thing, a number of people have experienced problems getting connected and successfully downloading the story. These are technical problems which are being worked out, and all I can say is that if you have had problems, keep trying...and remember what one E-book executive has said: Where we are with this new form is roughly analogous to where the automobile industry was in 1908. In other words, if you are having problems getting the engine started, keep turning that crank.

    We are seeing two potential problems with Part 2. First, while downloads remain strong, we have little doubt that the total number is down slightly from Part 1. This may be because people don't like the story; it may be because there has been far less publicity and media interest. As the author of the story, I naturally prefer the second possibility. In terms of continuing, this is not a problem. Based on the ground rules I set down at the outset, my job is to continue even if only 800 people download every episode-as long, that is, as 75% of those 800 people pay for what they are getting. The real problem is that we at Philtrum are beginning to see a widening disparity between downloads and payments. There is undoubtedly some thievery and bootlegging going on, but Marsha and I believe the real problem may lie elsewhere. It appears to us that some people are downloading two and even three times to different formats-to the Palm Pilot say, and also to whatever Microsoft uses. This may be based on a simple misperception. Let me put it this way: you couldn't go into a bookstore and say, "I want you to give me the paperback version and the audio version of this book free because I bought the hardcover." As simply as I can put it, you must pay for what you take every time you take it or this won't work.

    As for the story itself, I have gone back to work and have written another 50,000 words. I am now all set to publish episodes of The Plant in September, October, and November. All I am guaranteeing, however, is Part 3 in September. After Part 3 is published, we will make a go-no go decision based on the pay-through.

    I have been asked by a good many people about the fate of The Plant if the on-line experiment fails. All I can say is that while I love the new stuff, I have a great many other commitments, and the chances of it being finished or published in the near future would be slim. With the Internet to drive matters, the show will go on. If, however, the numbers don't support continuing the story, I will have to cease. The eventual decision doesn't rest with me; it is floating around somewhere out there in cyberspace.

    One thing I almost forgot, and that is the issue of pricing. Installments one, two and three are going to be available for $1. Further installments up to 8 will be available for $2 each. In other words, you complete financial liability for the first 8 installments of this story will be $13 or about the cost of a trade paperback or a hardcover novel offered at 40% discount in a chain bookstore. Any parts beyond 8-which would be the balance of the story, would be posted free.

    We have also had some complaints about the cost of ink and paper. On that subject, I have just two words: oh, please. One would think the books people bought in book stores were printed on air or that the cost of ink, paper, binding and boards were not included. As Internet readers---en as printers-buyers of The Plant are being spared these last two expenses. In closing let me quote science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein: TANFL, that stands for There Ain't No Free Lunch.

       In closing I just want to add that I appreciate all the support you have shown me thus far, and to add that the profit-motive was never the principal force driving this amusing exploration, and that is not what's driving it now. We are exploring a new continent, that's all, and so far it has been fun.