Author Topic: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?  (Read 4518 times)  

Offline K. A. Jordan

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Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
« on: February 07, 2011, 10:17:48 am »
I've been kicking this idea around for a year - shared it a bit, here and there. I'm going to toss it out for us to play with - just keep in mind that I have a dry, twisted sense of humor. So please keep in mind that my tongue is stuck in my cheek - and this is supposed to be fun.

The New Age of Pulp Fiction

Welcome to the New Age of Pulp Fiction courtesy of e-reader technology and digital self-publishing.
How many people remember the "Golden Age" of Pulp Fiction? Okay, maybe no one remembers 20th century history. I wasn't born yet, but at least I had heard of it. Just so the young'uns don't have to google it I'll post the Wikipedia definition of Pulp Fiction:

Pulp magazines (often referred to as "the pulps"), also collectively known as pulp fiction, refers to inexpensive fiction magazines published from 1896 through the 1950s. The typical pulp magazine was seven inches wide by ten inches high, half an inch thick, and 128 pages long. Pulps were printed on cheap paper with ragged, untrimmed edges.


The name pulp comes from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed. Magazines printed on better paper were called "glossies" or "slicks." In their first decades, they were most often priced at ten cents per magazine, while competing slicks were 25 cents apiece. Pulps were the successor to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines are best remembered for their lurid and exploitative stories and sensational cover art. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of "hero pulps"; pulp magazines often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters, such as The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom Detective.

Cheap stories often lurid and poorly edited easy to get, easy to discard; what does that sound like? The modern Indie e-book has been touted as the 'slush pile come to life' by the 'trade' publishing establishment.
 
I say the Indie Publishing masses could do much worse than embracing the label of 'Modern Pulp Fiction.'

Why not?

"At their peak of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, the most successful pulps could sell up to one million copies per issue."

Fiction novels for $.99 from Indie authors are very much like the 10-cent magazines. Your mileage or quality will vary greatly from author to author and book to book. Already there are lines drawn certain authors continue to sell books at a higher price. While others have their sales stall at the $2.99 break point.

Whether or not people actually read $.99 books is a good question. However, they do buy these books often thousands a month. In that case why should the author care if the book is read or not?

Cry all the way to the bank.
 
My point is a simple one the reader is going to decide. There is no reason for authors to be excited about the pricing of someone else's work. Pulp Fiction is the cheap entertainment for the digital age. (Read the Wikipedia entry. It will boggle the mind.)

Mind you, this is just one person's struggle to put the Indie e-publishing industry into some kind of context. We can pretend that this wonderful disruption of the staid and stifling publishing industry is END OF THE WORLD and the death of literature or we can look back to get it into perspective.

Kick back, have a drink and see if I'm onto something or blowing smoke.

Remember, the old Pulp Fiction writers made tons of money.
....

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    Offline bobavey

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #1 on: February 07, 2011, 10:27:20 am »
    Sounds reasonable to me.

    Offline JRTomlin

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #2 on: February 07, 2011, 10:31:32 am »
    I could live with that.
    I do not accept the Terms of Service which were instituted without notification. I do not consent to VerticalScope reproducing content I posted on this forum in any newsletter, website, or another forum. I've requested account deletion; however, the owners of this forum REFUSE to delete my content. Further, I repudiate any association with ads that are sexist, racist, and demeaning to women which are now appearing on this site.

    Offline K. A. Jordan

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #3 on: February 07, 2011, 10:39:58 am »
    Pulp Fiction II the Rise of the Penny Dreadful

    For my next trick I say that because we are merely playing with words trying to put the Indie e-publishing craze and the rollercoaster ride that is pricing into some kind of historical context.
    First a short history lesson, for that we shall go back to our friend Wikipedia for a definition of the "Penny Dreadful."

    "A penny dreadful (also called penny horrible, penny awful, penny number and penny blood) was a type of British fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing a penny. The term, however, soon came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction, such as story papers and booklet "libraries." The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap pulp paper and were aimed primarily at working class adolescents.

    For the sake of this argument, I'm going to say that the 21st century 'Penny Dreadful' is a full-length novel that sells for $.99 to $1.99.

    That doesn't mean the writer can't make money. Sell them puppies as long as they're hot. After all, if the author is making a couple grand a month cry all the way to the bank.

    Because that's not saying the next book won't sell at a higher price. We aren't making judgment calls about the writers just the books. If common wisdom is correct, the 'average author' will turn out five or more books (or a million words) before they 'break out' and their work takes a quantum leap forward.
     
    The writer can always move to the next level, a 'dime novel' sells higher $2.99 or a bit more. This may sell more copies of the first book. The point is that sales and income will rise at the higher price. I see authors all over Kindle boards planning how to make the transition to 'dime novels.'
     
    'Slicks' are the next step up, Mid-list writers will most likely find a home somewhere around the $2.99 to $3.99 level. They are recycling previously published work, already have fans and readers so they may start at $3.99 where the 'average jane' author will need to 'break out' to sell well at $3.99.

    Then there are the 'super-slicks' who have their own pricing structures. Some can sell short fiction at $2.99 for 10k words. Why not? They have the advertising budgets and turn out a professional product. They probably know who their readers are and have no problem targeting them in the most efficient manner.

    Remember, too, there are e-publishing companies who have a pricing structure by length that has worked for them for 10 years or more. There is no reason that they can't carry on. They have a professional products and hot markets like romantica/erotica.

    Pulp fiction Short stories & novellas that sell for $.99. Also a blanket term for any work self-published to an e-book vendor.
     
    Penny Dreadfuls Pulp Fiction novels that sell like crazy for $.99 to $1.99.

    Dime Novels Pulp Fiction novels priced from $2.99 to $3.99, written by Indie authors.

    Slicks Novels or backlist by Midlist authors self-published in the $3.99 range.

    Super Slicks Work by e-publishing companies that have their own price structure. Short stories can start as high as $2.99, for 10k words.

    So we have a series of terms to describe this mushrooming e-market, nicknames that look back fondly to the glorious Golden Age of Pulp Fiction.

    Long Live Pulp Fiction!
    ....

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    Offline intinst

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #4 on: February 07, 2011, 10:45:49 am »
    Only no name hacks wrote pulp fiction, you know, authors like Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, L. Ron Hubbard, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L'Amour, Jack London, H. P. Lovecraft, Upton Sinclair, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, Tennessee Williams...
    Does sound like good company to be in, and can very definitely see your point.
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    Offline David Wisehart

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #5 on: February 07, 2011, 10:51:52 am »
    Yes, I think you're exactly right. Many people, including myself, have been making this same analogy to the pulp fiction era.

    Dean Wesley Smith posted last week about speed of production, and likens the new era to the age of the pulps: "We are in a new golden age of fiction. The first golden age was the pulp age." You can read his excellent post here:

    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=3204

    David

    Offline K. A. Jordan

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #6 on: February 07, 2011, 10:56:21 am »
    EXACTLY! No Name Authors - making lots of money. ERB made scads of money from Tarzan.
     
    There has to be a fun way of using this - besides my telling people that I write 'Penny Dreadfuls' which just tickles me to death for some reason.
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    Offline Kia Zi Shiru

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #7 on: February 07, 2011, 10:59:39 am »
    On other writer boards I have found that over the past year epublishing has changed from being "just indie", being looked down on and seen as only those who can't make it trying it out, to a "publishing move/choice", meaning you either go the "traditional" way or the "ebook" way but both starting to be at the same level of respect, though only if you are doing well.

    I think overall it more or less brings us back to the end of the Victorian age when it comes to publishing, it is "open" once again. I see anthologies pop up all over the place, I see people sell short stories and novellas, meanings that were common in the Victorian era.
    I do think it is a good thing. Not everyone agrees with me but I think that because there is so much out there, more and more every day, at some point people will start to have to really compete. Standards will have to rise because there are more people out there that put works out that are of higher standard, and people will like those more than those full of errors in editing and other things. People will know what works are good and what works are bad, natural selection will take place. Or at least that is what I myself believe, but I mainly have experiences with FanFiction.com and FictionPress.com, because of the vast amount of work people will quickly drop a story when it is not written well enough.
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    Offline intinst

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #8 on: February 07, 2011, 11:06:53 am »
    EXACTLY! No Name Authors - making lots of money. ERB made scads of money from Tarzan.
     
    There has to be a fun way of using this - besides my telling people that I write 'Penny Dreadfuls' which just tickles me to death for some reason.
    Did pretty well with the John Carter Martian series as well.
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    Offline Edward C. Patterson

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #9 on: February 07, 2011, 11:26:43 am »
    Pulp fiction is pulp fiction. Indie inexpensive novels are inexpensive Indie novels. This need for authors who up-sell their books to equate pricing with quality is not only absurd, but reflect on a basic penchant to bloig instead of write. I say: "Get to your writing. Make us some more pulp."

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    Offline Will Write for Gruel

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #10 on: February 07, 2011, 11:36:18 am »
    Only no name hacks wrote pulp fiction, you know, authors like Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, L. Ron Hubbard, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L'Amour, Jack London, H. P. Lovecraft, Upton Sinclair, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, Tennessee Williams...
    Does sound like good company to be in, and can very definitely see your point.

    This is true, but if you've ever read any of the old pulps you'll find a lot of dreadful stuff in there. It's easy to cherry-pick after the fact.

    Back to the O.P., I agree. I've been thinking along the same lines. We're writing pulp fiction. One of the ways, probably the best way, to make it as an indie is to crank out the work. Quantity may outweigh quality as long as the quality doesn't drop below a certain level. In other words, you might be better off writing three books in a single year than a single book in a year and a half, even if that single book is much better than the three you could have written.

    I used to manage a bookstore many, many years ago. We carried the Harlequins. We had some customers who bought nearly every new Harlequin that came in. Quality didn't really matter to them -- there were clearly better romance books to be had. They wanted a new story every week. They wanted that story to conform to a pattern. They were after pulp fiction in the romance vein. 

    Offline Chris Northern

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #11 on: February 07, 2011, 11:50:52 am »

    There has to be a fun way of using this - besides my telling people that I write 'Penny Dreadfuls' which just tickles me to death for some reason.

    Nice that there are people here with the same sense of humour as me.

    Pre-print publishing was making a few copies for your friends. Somewhere else someone (sorry, I forget who) asks the question "what is good" and the obvious answer is "whatever readers read." Penny dreadfuls and pulp were popular in their day and, considering distribution issues, sold relitively well.

    How many times did I get rejection letters starting "Baring in mind that it's all terribly subjective darling... " well, it is, it always was and always will be. And none the worse for that. I'd be happy enough to be called a pulp writer and gesture to a good crew of fans waiting for my next piece of pulp. That would be fine. Just fine.

     
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    Offline intinst

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #12 on: February 07, 2011, 12:01:15 pm »
    This is true, but if you've ever read any of the old pulps you'll find a lot of dreadful stuff in there. It's easy to cherry-pick after the fact.

    Back to the O.P., I agree. I've been thinking along the same lines. We're writing pulp fiction. One of the ways, probably the best way, to make it as an indie is to crank out the work. Quantity may outweigh quality as long as the quality doesn't drop below a certain level. In other words, you might be better off writing three books in a single year than a single book in a year and a half, even if that single book is much better than the three you could have written.

    I used to manage a bookstore many, many years ago. We carried the Harlequins. We had some customers who bought nearly every new Harlequin that came in. Quality didn't really matter to them -- there were clearly better romance books to be had. They wanted a new story every week. They wanted that story to conform to a pattern. They were after pulp fiction in the romance vein. 
    Yes and these same writers produced some of the dreadful stuff. Not all or even most of their work was magnificent, oh but when it was, the reader got a real bargain, and the writer continued to hone his craft. Practice does make better, if not perfect. So, keep writing!
    A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed keeping rabbits.  Edith Sitwell 
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    Offline Terrence OBrien

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #13 on: February 07, 2011, 01:09:10 pm »
    Does anyone know how many copies a typical mid-list book sells? I've read about Stephen King, Dan Brown, and Danielle Steele sales, but what are sales for the average novel? Hard cover? Paperback? How many sales does Book #1 have to have for the publisher to put out Book #2? I don't have a clue about these things, but it seems like good data to have in evaluating how a eBook does.
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    Offline Alain Gomez

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #14 on: February 07, 2011, 01:14:43 pm »
    I agree that we are living in a modern pulp fiction era.  Rather exciting, wouldn't you say?

    Offline aaronpolson

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #15 on: February 07, 2011, 01:23:27 pm »
    Lots of good'uns came out of previous eras of pulp fiction...

    Offline daringnovelist

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #16 on: February 07, 2011, 02:30:28 pm »
    Rising up out of my sickbed to respond....(Sinus infection, don't ask.)

    Yes!  This is what I've been saying for a very long time.  And frankly a lot of other have too.

    The only difference is that I don't see ebooks as the new pulp -- ebooks replace the whole range of technology from the high end to hand-written.  What ebooks do is set loose every kind of publishing, which includes the pulps.  It also includes more limited audience niche markets from high poetry and literary prose, to more personal stuff like family memoirs and recipes, and books produced by a class of students for themselves and their parents.

    But pulp is what has ME all excited. 

    The thing about that is also that a century ago, pulp wasn't just pulp.  Every newspaper and magazine published fiction.  And the "pulp" magazines were not just lurid. There were magazines to hit all different genres -- romance, children's stories, travel, biography.  The blogosphere has brought back the kind of reading people used to do in magazine non-fiction.  And of course, many of them are turning blogs into books....

    It is definitely a New Golden Age.

    Camille
    (Okay that's enough excitement for now.  Maybe some soup...or just a nap.)

    Offline Edward C. Patterson

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #17 on: February 07, 2011, 02:35:42 pm »
    Who's calling my books Orange Juice? ;D

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    Offline K. A. Jordan

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #18 on: February 07, 2011, 03:50:23 pm »
    Wow, I go to the Dentist and the thread takes off!

    Seriously, I'm going to use the term "Pulp Fiction" to describe my work. It makes sense to me to give it a catchy label instead of "Independently Published/E-published/Self-published via Kindle, Nook and Smashwords" novel.
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    Offline Ricky Sides

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #19 on: February 07, 2011, 03:51:36 pm »
    Hi there,

    One of my readers actually referred to my books as pulp fiction in a review.  :) He also stated that he'd read all my books. Far from being insulted, I embraced the tag.

    I've given the matter a lot of thought. Fans of my audio book from Books in Motion are still waiting for book 2 of my peacekeeper series. Compare that to my Kindle books. Those fans have all 7 available. This is an exciting time for writers. I think the pulp fiction analogy is a good one. We are bringing the readers stories faster than the traditional publishers, just as those magazines did in their era. In this digital age, the traditional publisher can't compete with our ability to provide new content at the lower end price range. Their overhead is such that they have to charge significantly more for the products that they produce.

    Offline daringnovelist

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #20 on: February 07, 2011, 04:12:32 pm »
    Wow, I go to the Dentist and the thread takes off!

    Seriously, I'm going to use the term "Pulp Fiction" to describe my work. It makes sense to me to give it a catchy label instead of "Independently Published/E-published/Self-published via Kindle, Nook and Smashwords" novel.

    You know, I think a few of us have been referring to our books that way additionally, still talking about "indie publishing" as the method, and "pulp" as the genre.  But I do like the idea of moving on from "indie." Soon that will be all of us.

    And I think we could all benefit from identifying ourselves more by content.  "Indie Solidarity" is nice, but it doesn't help our readers find what they want within the large group, and as you pointed out, our pricing discussions and cover discussions (and even our "fights" with traditional publishers) are less useful because we have such varying goals.

    Me, I like the idea of talking about "The New Pulps" as like the SF community talked about The New Wave in the 1960s when sf moved away from the pulps.

    Camille
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    Offline Terrence OBrien

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #21 on: February 07, 2011, 04:56:46 pm »
    You know, I think a few of us have been referring to our books that way additionally, still talking about "indie publishing" as the method, and "pulp" as the genre.'

    I refer to mine as a book.
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    Offline K. A. Jordan

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #22 on: February 07, 2011, 05:03:01 pm »
    You know, I think a few of us have been referring to our books that way additionally, still talking about "indie publishing" as the method, and "pulp" as the genre.  But I do like the idea of moving on from "indie." Soon that will be all of us.

    Exactly! Jane Bookworm - though an avid reader, hasn't a clue what 'Indie' means. All she wants is something to read. Even 'women's fiction' doesn't really work - Publishers and agents know what it means - authors aren't sure - we are too busy writing the stuff to quantify it. Readers don't give a hoot about...That's not true, romance readers know to a percentage point of what the genre 'should be' - scratch that thought.

    Another thought is many of "Us" are moving into audio & paper publishing. Saying "I write e-books" sounds dull and boring - but saying "I write Penny Dreadfuls" has a wonderful ring to it.








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    Offline R. H. Watson

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #23 on: February 07, 2011, 05:13:44 pm »
    How many people remember the "Golden Age" of Pulp Fiction? Okay, maybe no one remembers 20th century history.

    I grew up reading Ace SF doubles. Cheap paperbacks taught me to love reading. I'm thrilled to be part of a new pulp trend. How about calling it e-pulp?
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    Offline daringnovelist

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    Re: Are Indie books the new Pulp Fiction?
    « Reply #24 on: February 07, 2011, 05:31:40 pm »
    You know, I think a few of us have been referring to our books that way additionally, still talking about "indie publishing" as the method, and "pulp" as the genre.'

    I refer to mine as a book.

    :-)

    (So you weren't the one who put it in the "thriller" category?  You don't believe in adjectives/genres?)

    Camille

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