by Larry Kahaner
I have been waiting for an announcement like James Patterson’s “Book Shots” to cement my ongoing belief that the modern age of pulp fiction is upon us.
Patterson’s new book machine is producing novels “under 150 pages for under $5.” It promises: “Life moves fast–books should too… Impossible to put down. Read on any device.” The website also touts: “All Thriller. No Filler.”
The reason for this foray into modern pulp with their short-page count and compelling covers is obvious. Our attention spans are shorter, and we all carry our phones and devices around with us. But the idea is cleverer than that. These books are first focusing on thrillers and romances therefore adhering to the top two reasons why people read novels: entertainment and escape. These genres offer both–in spades, sweetheart.
As many of you know, I’m a fan of pulp novels. I relish the fast pace, the vivid language and colorful characters. These pulps (named for the cheap paper they were printed on) spawned a stable of fast-writing authors who were paid miserly and, in order to make a living, churned out books by the cartful. In between books they wrote serials and short stories for magazines like Black Mask and Argosy. They moved back and forth with ease.
The books were short, cheap, (yes, I mean inexpensive) engaging, had tons of action, and their lurid covers promised titillation. Ditto for the pulp magazines.
From these pulpster ranks came great writers like Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, L. Sprague de Camp, John D. MacDonald and Robert Heinlein. They honed their skills by writing fast and hooking readers even faster.
What I see now mimics the age of pulps. Online magazines have taken the place of physical magazines along with lots of writers who are writing lots of books. I especially see this in the indie book explosion where many authors produce books by the score charging low prices and even giving away free copies to entice readers to their later works.
But here’s the killer difference. Most of the modern-day pulpsters are not working for publishers who pay them a pittance. (I don’t know what Book Shots pays.) They’re taking a flyer on themselves, paying their own way into the self-publishing game and ginning up their own covers. They no longer need a jamoke with a printing press.
What happens next? Will we see world-class writers emerge from this burgeoning sea of modern pulp authors? Will publishing history repeat itself?
I certainly hope so. Between prolific indie authors and commercial powerhouses like Patterson’s Book Shots, everything is in place for a new generation of writers to pay their dues and take their place with the break-out pulpsters of the past.
Guest post contributed by Larry Kahaner. Larry is the author of more than 15 non-fiction books and has just completed a thriller. Check out his blog at The Non-Fiction Novelist.
Loved reading this post. Thanks for sharing it. It started out talking about Patterson, and I have some thoughts on him.
It’s weird seeing Patterson doing the television advertisements. To me, they are absolutely cheesy. Our relationships with authors are usually through the back cover of the book. If we want more, we seek it out on their blog, newsletter, or some other social media avenue. The television prompt is almost intrusive.
Then I go to Barnes & Noble and see an entire bookshelf dedicated to him with his name in giant letters above it. In my head I’m like, “Dude, enough – I get it. You are writing a jillion books.” I have friends who are writing one a year, maybe publishing one every two.
In the end, I get this sense of sleaziness about the whole deal. Are these really his books? Are they all ghostwritten? Is he just driving this giant marketing campaign? Is he just a snake oil salesman cherry-picking customers?
It pushes me out the doors of those big book stores and ushers me back into the mom and pop bookstores. It makes me want to search out more indie authors and read words by people who are still struggling and learning the craft. So in this way, I guess I should be thankful to Patterson and his never ending marketing dreadnought.
Well. End of rant. Again, this was a great post. It gave me a lot to think about (obviously).
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Thanks for the post! I love pulps. Spent a good chuck of my child/teen years reading them, and have become nostalgic for the years when books were shorter, more tightly edited. Say what you want about James Patterson, if this initiative is successful, it will be a very exciting time.
Ahem. Chunk, not chuck.
I, too, have pondered the return of pulp fiction, being old enough myself to remember it. I’ve viewed it with mixed feelings. Indie authors may be producing it now, but they’re still making a pittance, having to sell their work for 99c or even give it away to get it into readers’ hands. I guess I’m just really old-fashioned, but just as our language has taken a beating from texting and email, I’m afraid the value of truly literary work may be lost with this trend. The “instant gratification” mentality has taken over the book market as well. Quantity versus quality, but hopefully, as suggested, the cream will rise to the top.
Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner.
I agree wholeheartedly with Larry’s article. I teach creative writing classes at the college level, and I’ve been telling my students exactly what Larry’s saying. This really is a NEW DAY for writers who are serious about reaching readers. We no longer have to bow and kowtow to the big pub houses who seem to have lost their love for good writing in favor of their love for money.
We now have the opportunity to serve our readers with wonderful stories at a much faster rate than we could in previous years, waiting on the pub house to take a year or two to get out one book (after first requiring us to change thousands of words and several scenes, and to let them choose our covers). Writing is a great life now — even when it doesn’t make us a lot of money — because we can interact with our readers on our own schedule and initiative, and it feels terrific.