For most writers trying to make it online, the hardest part is
creating buzz about their work. The exception is Stephen King, who
today is scheduled to take another well-publicized "byte" out of the
future of publishing.
The bestselling author is taking his words directly to readers,
posting the first installment of a novel, "The Plant," on his Web
By entirely bypassing the publishing industry, Mr. King hopes to
strike a blow for artistic freedom. "My friends, we have the chance
to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare," he writes on his site.
King's high-profile status makes his Internet "experiment"
unique. But his latest effort highlights how a growing number of
authors - and musicians and filmmakers - are avoiding the
stranglehold of media conglomerates and heading straight to
consumers via the Web.
The trend, to be sure, doesn't herald the end of traditional
publishing. But the development promises to diversify the hidebound
book industry - offering more choices for readers and a creative
outlet for artists who thought the industry would never let them in
the theater door - let alone in front of the spotlight.
"People can live very comfortably self-publishing online
themselves if they are willing to do it full time," says Angela
Adair-Hoy, an e-book author who makes more than $5,000 a month on
her self-help titles (and coincidentally lives down the road from
King in Maine).
Following in the footsteps of self-publishing pioneers like Ben
Franklin and W.E.B. DuBois, authors are actively pursuing
alternative ways of publishing. They are creating their own Web
sites and using e-mail and publishing-service sites to get their
works to the public more quickly and with less formality than if
they went through a traditional publisher.
For example, while she's not as well known as King, author Lynn
Thomas is using the Internet in the same way.
Ms. Thomas's "How to Make & Market Gel Candles That Sell Like
Wildfire!" has been downloaded by more than 600 readers since she
made it available online in February. Those are hardly bestselling
numbers, although quite successful by e-book standards. But Thomas
is excited at the prospect of having reached readers as far away as
China, and with e-business in general. "I feel like I'm more in
touch with the reader -it feels more congenial."
For folks who aren't confident they can go it alone, a handful of
publishing-service sites, Xlibris.com, iUniverse.com, and
Mightywords.com, have sprung up. For as little as an e-mail or as
much as several hundred dollars, these sites turn anything from a
speech to a novel into an e-book or a title that can be printed on
demand. While skeptics deride the sites as the cyberequivalent of
vanity presses, a way for the talentless to feel vindicated, they
see themselves as equalizers.
"All we're about is trying to provide every author with a decent
opportunity to succeed - a fair chance at the well," says John
Feldcamp, head of Xlibris in Philadelphia. Mr. Feldcamp estimates
that, of the aproximately 1 million authors in the US, about a
quarter are dabbling in online activities. He says he has 25 new
authors sign up each day, and has corresponded with 20,000 authors
about the site in the last few months.
"For someone who is not a professional author, I think that e-
publishing is perhaps their best avenue," says Mick Curran, a TV
scriptwriter in Pasadena, Calif., who co-wrote an e-novel available
Spotting a business opportunity (or perhaps unwilling to run the
risk of being muscled aside), traditional booksellers are already
dipping their toes into the world of online publishing.
Xlibris announced this spring that Random House is now a partner,
and iUniverse and Mightywords both have arrangements with Barnes &
Noble.com. iUniverse recently announced it will work with IDG Books
in an experiment that will allow readers to purchase individual
chapters of its "For Dummies" how-to books and Frommer's travel