In August, Stephen King published “A Face in the Crowd,” which he co-wrote with Stewart O’Nan. The short has decent reviews and a story about a man who sees someone (someone eerie!) he recognizes in the stands at a baseball game. But what’s most significant about “A Face in the Crowd” is its cover, which looks like this:
But baseballskulls aside, the e-short is the latest in the legendary writer’s history with digital publishing, one that began in 2000 when “Riding the Bullet” was published. The novella was released by Simon & Schuster for $2.50 (it’s now $3.99) and sold over 400,000 copies in the first 24 hours, prompting this headline: “PDF eBooks are Here to Stay.”
PW‘s review was glowing, both about the story and about the possibility of having a book in cyperspace:
E-publishing takes a giant step with the release of this grandly entertaining ghost story. Not only is it the first original e-publication by a megaselling author, but it may be the most accomplished work ever to appear only in cyberspace–and it’s available through an unprecedented number of vendors and platforms.
Also in 2000, King started writing The Plant, his unfinished epistolary serial novel composed of six installments. King has stated that he’s just run out of ideas for the novel, but also that he’s made over half a million dollars from what he called his “e-book experiment.”
The novel was also notable because King put the book on his website unencrypted and allowed readers to pay $1 on the honor system. King stated that if the percentage of paying readers fell below 75%, he’d drop the project altogether. About The Plant, King said: “My friends, we have the chance to become Big Publishing’s worst nightmare.”
King went on to publish other e-book exclusives, including a few titles with his son, Joe Hill (see In the Tall Grass and Throttle). But the story takes a strange turn in 2009, when Stephen King published “Ur”, which is about…a Kindle from a parallel universe.
The Kindle (which is pink–showing that it’s fantasy because everyone knows all Kindles are white) has a “UR” function, allowing it to search for data in other universes. It turns up new Hemingway books and also that an alternate world was destroyed when the Cuban missile crisis escalated into nuclear war. King said about “Ur”:
I realized I might get trashed in some of the literary blogs, where I would be accused of shilling for Jeff Bezos & Co., but that didn’t bother me much; in my career, I have been trashed by experts, and I’m still standing.
But perhaps the weirdest wrinkle in Stephen King’s e-book history isn’t King himself, but Steven King–a self-published writer with a number of horror titles on Amazon. Criticized on the product page for his book Tit For Tat for posing as Stephen King and tricking people into buying his book, Steven King’s author page (as of September 18) had this to say:
IMPORTANT NOTICE!!!!! STEVEN KING is changing the name on his books to STEVEN CROWN.
After reading a review where a reader mistook SteVen King for StePHan King, the author has decided to start changing the name on his covers to Steven Crown. ALL books should be switched over by Thursday September 20th, 2012. That should avoid readers making any accidental purchases. It is not intentioned that even one reader be mislead.
Steven King has just celebrated his thirtieth birthday, and is living his dream of being a writer in his downtown Toronto loft. Steven continues to look for his life partner, and considers Tit For Tat his crowning achievement, taking 1 year to write. He hopes one day it will become a major motion picture.
He is fortunate to work as a ghost writer for three publishing companies, churning out best sellers. He graduated from the University of Toronto. His hope is to spend the rest of his life writing, next to a woman who will spend the rest of her life reading.
Crown’s books have only been on Amazon since July 2012, and though most of them have the imposter criticism, Tit For Tat isn’t selling all that badly–it’s ranked higher on September 18 than For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Bell Jar, and countless more books of better quality with the word “bell” in their titles.