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King leaves e-legacy; Stine’s ‘Room’ booms

IT MAY HAVE TAKEN A JOLT from Stephen King to send some of New York’s most hidebound publishers scurrying to publish their own books on-line. But for more than a year, a cadre of literary agents have been spearheading a movement to digitize the entire submission process.

The latest agency to enter the fray is AMG’s lit wing, Renaissance. Starting next week, Renaissance will post partial manuscripts and proposals for all of its submissions to clients worldwide on secure Web sites, with links to Renaissance news and announcements. The submissions will be joined to a bimonthly e-mailing that goes to domestic and foreign publishers and scouts.

Among the first submissions to be shopped on-line will be the first novel, “Rufinol and the Modern Art of Dating,” a pitch-black comedy about drugs and sexual abuse in Los Angeles by screenwriter Bennett Joshua Davlin.

The first e-mailing will also point readers to news of recent Renaissance sales, like David Ambrose’s “The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk” and the Free Press acqusition of Peter Brown and attorney Danny Abel’s account of the lawsuits brought against gun manufacturers.

The Web site Rightscenter.com has also proven a magnet for agencies seeking to avoid the messy process of shipping paper manuscripts to potential buyers. The site has grown at a remarkable pace since launching at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October.

There are now 10,000 titles in the Rightscenter database, which boasts 7000 users in more than 60 countries. This fall, Rightscenter will open a Hollywood office, and the company is in discussions with at least two major agencies seeking to license customized versions of the site.

“In publishing, it’s very attractive for an agency to save the money it would cost to make large numbers of submissions over great distances,” says Matthew Specktor, who runs the west coast office. “In Hollywood, nine times out of ten, they’re just trying to get them from Beverly Hills to Burbank. The big issue here is security.”

By using digital watermarks, Rightscenter will track every copy that’s downloaded, thereby eliminating most manuscript leaks.

Renaissance, by contrast, has already seen the benefits of submitting a manuscript to the largest possible number of buyers. Last year, in an earlier electronic auction, Renaissance shopped Susan Travers’ “Rendezvous with Honor,” about the only woman to join the French Foreign Legion, to hundreds of editors in nine countries simultaneously. Only two copies went out printed on paper, says Renaissance co-head Alan Nevins.

The chaos that might ensue should hundreds of editors suddenly clamor for a Renaissance submission isn’t a worry to Nevins. “We should be so lucky,” he says.

KING CONTINUES to make good on his pledge to rewrite the old rules of book publishing. Visitors to the writer’s Web site — ground-zero for downloads of his latest e-book, “The Plant” — were treated this week to something few publishers make public: sales figures.

In its first week on the market, the first chapter of “The Plant” was downloaded 152,132 times, with 116,200, or 76.38%, customers paying upfront. By King’s estimate, based on the logic that those who downloaded the first installment will take an interest in another ten, the book could eventually see 1.6 million downloads, at $1 a shot. Production and advertising costs amount to $124,150 thus far.

But the poster boy for e-publishing hasn’t forgotten the immediate benefits of the printed word. The new issue of the publishing newsletter, Publishing Trends, reports on “the techno-retro release” of his e-book sensation, “Riding the Bullet.” Despite King’s original pledge not to publish the book between covers, hard-copy versions in translation are suddenly popping up all over Europe. The translated editions reportedly won’t appear on-line.

LONG BEFORE HARRY POTTER ENROLLED at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, R.L. Stine ruled the children’s book market. 250 million copies of his Goosebumps paperbacks were sold before the series was finally discontinued by Scholastic last year. In 1996, the author was a cash cow for Scholastic, generating 17% of the company’s income — a situation that proved disastrous for Scholastic when the Goosebumps market abruptly collapsed a year later.

Now Stine is back with a new publisher and with his first series in six years. “The Nightmare Room,” out from Avon this month, will run in monthly paperback installments with an online companion story, “Dead of Night,” to appear on nightmareroom.com.

Parachute Publishing, which has long packaged R.L. Stine’s books, would not disclose details of the series, but called it “a modern ‘Twilight Zone’ featuring regular kids who find themselves in a world one step beyond reality.”

As the Goosebumps series petered out in the last few years, Stine seems to have cast around for a new direction and for some fresh ideas; his 1995 novel for adults, “Superstitious,” met with disappointing sales. His most recent book was the HarperCollins kids hardcover, “Nightmare Hour,” which was published on Halloween, 1999. Parachute confirmed it is close to inking a TV series deal for “The Nightmare Room,” and is mulling over various merchandise and promotional possibilities for the books.

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