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Stephen King halts his online novel

Author calls it quits - for now

Author Stephen King will stop publication of his serialised, self-published horror novel The Plant after the next instalment.

He has published five instalments of the novel so far, under an honour system whereby readers agree to send him cash ($1 each for episodes one, two, and three, $2 for the longer episodes four and five) in return for downloading the text from his http://www.stephenking.com.

King said he would continue developing the story as long as at least 75 percent of each episode's downloads were paid for.

So far, 75 percent to 80 percent of readers have paid up, King says in a message to readers dated 9 November and posted on his Web site 21 November.

Nevertheless, he will stop work on the serial in order to devote more time to other projects, including a novel he is co-writing with Peter Straub and two new conventionally published novels, he says in the message.

The sixth instalment of The Plant, to be published late next month, marks "the most logical stopping point," he says, in which the fates of several characters would be resolved "nastily" and "permanently."

Yet King holds out to readers the hope that his grand electronic publishing experiment will not itself come to a nasty, permanent end: "The last time The Plant furled its leaves, the story remained dormant for nineteen years. If it could survive that, I'm sure it can survive a year or two while I work on other projects."

The first instalment has already become something of a collector's item since it was removed from the Web site.

Readers anxious to catch up on the start of the story have posted messages in a forum on King's Web site enquiring where they can obtain a copy of the downloaded file.

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