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Stephen King's Wild e-Ride: Review
-- 3/14/00
Review and Q&A with literary agent Ralph Vincinanza

Published in a special edition of PW Daily, e-mail newsletter (www.publishersweekly.com/pwdaily.asp)

Riding the Bullet

Stephen King. Scribner and Philtrum Press, $2.50 (66p) ISBN 0-7432-0467-0

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. The story is vintage King. Narrator Alan Parker, 21, learns that his beloved mother has had a stroke and hitchhikesthrough rural Maine to see her. On the way he's picked up first by ahorrid old man, then by someone far more awful: a dead young man who offers him a terrible choice. The simple, potent prose skims along spurred by high suspense. The atmospherics roil like a classic nightmare: a moonlit graveyard, howling wind, rising mist; but King spins them with a wicked modern touch--the dead man drives a Mustang, and as the corpse pulls on a cigarette, Alan sees "little trickles of smoke escape from the stitched incision on his neck." When Alan makes his choice, the story deepens as King taps horror fiction's particular ability to illuminate the terror of the human condition. Anyone concerned about King's writing abilities afterhis near-fatal accident can relax. This genuinely chilling, haunting tale finds his talent--and the state of e-publishing--in the pink.

PW Talks with Ralph Vincinanza

Ralph Vicinanza is the literary agent who arranged for the e-publication of Stephen King's Riding the Bullet.

PW: Why is Stephen King publishing an e-book?

RV: We had planned, in 1999, on my doing a deal for the electronic publication of a bridge story between The Talisman and that novel's sequel, which Peter Straub and Stephen King are writing now. I think we'll still go forward with that. But I would like to see that done closer to when the book will be published, which probably won't happen until mid-2001. So I said to Steve, "It would be nice to get an idea of what this market is like now." He said, "Let me think about it," and then he came back the next day and said, "I think I have a story that's perfect for this." I thought it was a really good story in terms of subject matter, but also in terms of length.

I didn't want something that would overwhelm the reader, and its length is one reason why we were able to put such a nice price on it.We don't want the price to be any kind of a barrier--and there were no production costs.

PW: It's no surprise that it's Stephen King who's the first really high-profile author to publish electronically. But it is a bit surprising to see S&S involved. Why didn't he go to a bona fide e-publisher, or publish the story on his own?

RV: That was my call. I have been taking meetings with a number of e-book publishers and people who have Web sites. Stephen King has credibility. Stephen King has a huge readership and a cachet all his own. He's a brand name. Many of these companies are new companies--even the ones that have considerable financing are new companies. If Stephen King chose one over the other, that would give that one an imprimatur that may not bedeserved.

We don't know how this technology is going to pan out.There are lots of people who would pay enormous amounts of money to attract King to do business with them. I have been in meetings where CEOs have said to me, "We will give him 40% or 50% of our stock just to have a regular business with him." But that's not what we were interested in. We were interested in being published electronically in all of the various formatsavailable on all of the various platforms. And S&S has been very aggressive in pursuing relationships with these people.

It's important that people don't allow their paranoia to get the best of them. Electronic books and downloading from the Internet is a new and exciting way to present writers. I don't think it's going to destroy the publishing industry. It's very much like the development of themass-market paperback. Hardcover publishers went crazy back then, thinking, "Oh myGod, we're going to be run out of business." You were going to have the same books out there for very cheap prices. But that's not what happened.

PW: But there is a major difference. Now any author can go and post material online, for almost cost.

RV: The problem with any author publishing on the Web is, how do you get readers to go to that Web site? I think that publishers will remain very important as portals, saying, "We offer books by...."

Authors like Stephen King and John Grisham and Tom Clancy are in a unique position in the sense that they are portals themselves. It won't surprise anyone to hear that these men, through their writing, have earned enough money to buy publishers if they really wanted to do it themselves. I don'tthink Stephen King wants to be a publisher. I think that, if he'd wanted to, he would have been able to buy Putnam several years ago, and not have Pearson buy Putnam.

PW: Riding the Bullet is encrypted so that it not only can't be copied, itcan't be printed out. Why?

RV: On the Web, you can download material, copy it and send it to hundreds of people. The purpose of the encryption is that, when the material is downloaded, if I try to send it on to someone else, or have somebody download it into their own e-reader or Palm, or to print it out, the file will know that it's been downloaded already, and will corrupt.

PW: I wonder how long it will take before the story appears illicitly on the Web. Because you know someone can have it on their Rocket and type it from there on to their laptop.

RV: You can do that with a short story now. And people have. The law eventually will have to monitor activity like that. But right now, for somebody to sit down, and to spend an hour or two typing it, rather than spending $2.50--I wouldn't get that.

We want everybody involved with electronic books to enjoy this. I think it's going to be a tremendous boost in the arm for this industry.

--Jeff Zaleski
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