The New Pulp Era

 

Are indie authors the pulp fiction writers of the 21st century?

That question came to me in response to a comment JazzFeathers made on my May 2nd post about indie author TS Paul. She wrote that it seemed to her the indie movement is “a new incarnation of the pulp magazines”. I think she’s on the money.

Before I start, let me emphasize that as a reader I find that most authors, the vast majority of authors, are average. They tell a decent story and that’s about it. It doesn’t matter if the author is published by the Big 5, small press, or is self-published.

We readers, I think, operate under the delusion that the big corporate publishers publish only good books. However, that’s not so. Why? Because most authors in their catalogs are mid-listers. Which means the publisher is taking a gamble on them that they might, possibly, maybe make a buck for the publisher. Most don’t and the publisher is not shy about giving those authors the boot.

The big corporate publishers are ruthless. The bottom line is king. Money, money, money.

The pulp era was a golden age for readers and writers. The pulp magazines were cheap entertainment and they proliferated like mushrooms after a rain. And every wannabe writer rose to the challenge to provide the magazines with stories.

We remember the giants. The Lovecrafts, the Howards, the Blochs. We’ve forgotten such as Seabury Quinn, Donald Wandrei, Frank Gruber, Carl Jacobi, Manley Wade Wellman, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman. And the list of the forgotten would go on for far too many pages.

But we don’t even have to go back as far as the pulp era to find forgotten authors. Who today reads E.M. Delafield, or Shirley Jackson, Pearl S Buck, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar, Jay Flynn, or Cornell Woolrich? None of them are bad. They’re just mostly forgotten.

Most writers are average; and, dare I say, mediocre? But that doesn’t mean they can’t deliver a decent and entertaining story. I still remember Stanton A. Coblentz’s Hidden World 45 years after reading it. I still remember Men, Martians, and Machines by Eric Frank Russell — a book I read in elementary school 50+ years ago. They still have a hold on my memory.

Today’s indie authors are the reincarnation of the pulp era writer. They write fast, publish often, and don’t care about perfection. Why not perfection? First, it doesn’t exist; second, it gets in the way of producing lots of decent work; and third, it gets in the way of making a buck. Indie authors are writing to make money. Just like Shakespeare. Although few authors anywhere reach the lofty heights of The Bard.

From a reader’s perspective, a writer’s being average isn’t bad. Those average writers produce the bulk of the fiction we read. If the book is decent, then we feel satisfied. I mean, how many movies or TV shows are stellar? Most are ho-hum to average. And a great many, let’s face it, suck.

As a reader, I love the indie revolution. I’ve discovered great writers out there. And I dare say not a single corporate publisher would have gambled on any of them. I’ve also discovered writers who didn’t inspire me and who I won’t buy anymore books from. The market does tend to weed out the chaff.

Conversely, I’ve gotten sick of being taken for a ride by the corporate giants. I won’t read anymore Lee Child. Uninspired and boring. The same for the Quiller novels. The first couple were okay. After that they’re all the same. I’m finished with Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Cara Black, and Sue Grafton. They started out great and quickly went downhill. The books are simply too expensive for the little they deliver.

This is a great time to be a reader. I love it. There are so many good books out there. Many of them quite cheap, making for satisfyingly inexpensive entertainment.

Instead of TV or the movies, read a book with your family, spouse, partner, kids, or a friend. Books truly are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

Oh, here is the link to Cinder — it is a #mustread!!

 

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It’s A Great Time To Be A Reader!

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Now is a great time to be a reader. With the advent of the Kindle, followed by the iPad and a host of ebook readers, we who love the written word, who love stories, are happier than a duck on a rainy day in California.

The choices available to us are, well, they might as well be infinite. We are in a bookstore or a library that never ends. We have all the free books we could ever want. We have bargain books beyond count. And the books just keep coming.

Somewhere I read 3,000 books a day are being published. Certainly I won’t want to read more than a fraction, but in the course of a year—that is 1,095,000 books published. Even if I were to attempt to read only 1%, that would mean I’d need to read 10,950 books or 30 books a day. Not possible, unless I was a speed reader in overdrive with the afterburners kicked in and I had nothing else to do in the day.

The choices are amazing. The indie revolution is a readers dream. The publishing world’s Big 5 hegemony has been broken by the DIYers. Anyone can now write and publish a novel or short story or a work of nonfiction. No longer is an editor sitting behind closed doors determining what we can read. The marketplace is like a ginormous bazaar and we the reader make the decision who we want to read, who we are going to support with our hard-earned dollars.

There’s no censorship either by some unknown editor, following some megacorporation’s rules. The megacorps have been defeated by the lowly indie revolutionary putting out his or her own ebook for sale on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Drive Thru Fiction, and a host of other sales sites — including one’s own blog, website, or social media platform.

The marketplace rules and corporations drool!

I’m a libertarian. That simply means the power and the rights belong to the people. Not the government with Comstock-type censorship or internet censorship, nor megacorps with their own agendas. We the reader, have the right to buy and read whatever we want as long as no one is hurt in the process. I repeat, it’s a great time to be a reader.

Recently, I read Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom, an indie author. Ms Croom’s novel provided everything I wanted in a mystery story. It was a satisfying read. By contrast, I started reading Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais. A Random House megacorp book. I so wanted to like Ms Black’s book, because I love private detective mysteries. Sorry Ms Black, even though you are supposed to be a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author, your book was boring and I set it aside, only partly read, for a rousing steampunk adventure by indie author Jack Tyler: Beyond the Rails. A great read. Like Firefly gone steampunk.

Who’s going to get my reading dollars in the future? I can guarantee you, it won’t be Ms Black. Now I might try another Aimee Leduc mystery in the future, but I will buy a used copy. My dollars going to the independent used bookstore and not to Ms Black or Random House megacorp. Or I might save my money altogether and go to the library.

Traditional publishing no longer has a stranglehold on what we can read. I read somewhere that less than 200 writers each year are accepted into the Big 5’s hallowed halls of officially sanctioned authordom. And notice most are passed over for the advertising money and their books are soon found on the remainder table.

In the wake of the Big 5’s collapsing market share, the small press is gaining ground. And that is a good thing. Competition is always a good thing. However, writer’s be warned: the small press is small for a reason. That reason is lack of money, financial clout. Be careful going with a small press. Make sure you can get your book back if they go belly up.

However, in spite of Barnes and Noble’s woes and the Big 5’s woes, they aren’t going away anytime soon. Which only means good things for us readers. And that is there are LOTS of books available for us to buy and read.

The Big 5, the small press, indie author/publishers are producing new books at a phenomenal rate and that is good for us. Power to the reader! It’s a great time to be a reader.

As always, comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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Craftsmanship

I was a reader before I became a writer and I do not recall when I have ever wanted to be anything else but a writer.

There is nothing I prefer to a good book. Because reading that good book allows me to experience a world I would not have otherwise been able to experience. For me, those experiences — virtual though they may be — are just as real as eating a sweet, juicy apple or touching dew on a leaf or feeling the misty fog on the skin.

As a reader, I demand craftsmanship from authors. I demand from them a world of quality, peopled by characters of quality. For my life is immeasurably enriched by that craftsmanship and I want my life to be immeasurably enriched.

And that doesn’t mean the book in my hand has to be great literature (whatever that is). But it does have to be an entertaining story, even if the author of that story is no longer remembered by the mass of readers. In the end it is the story that matters, not the one who wrote it. Just as it is the chair or watch or vase or painting that matters and not the one who made it.

“Sredni Vashtar” by Saki has been my companion for 50 years. “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken, the same. I have read The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien a half-dozen times and wept every time over Thorin Oakenshield’s death. I laughed all the way through The Diary of a Nobody by now forgotten George and Weedon Grossmith. And was so moved reading Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Hunt Collins (aka Evan Hunter/Ed McBain), some 50 years ago, the title and story have never left me — even though I forgot the author’s name. I now own all three paperback printings just to have the different cover art.

What distinguishes the above books from so much of what is self-published today is craftsmanship. Although the Big 5 have published their share of books lacking in this department as well. The above books were written by authors who cared to give us, the reader, a tale that was well-written — even in a 50 cent paperback.

I love the technology that has enabled everyone who wants to tell a story to get that story out to thousands of readers and maybe even make a buck doing so. But I also hate that same technology for it has unleashed upon the reader a veritable tsunami of cheap and shoddy goods.

The publishing industry is big business and I don’t like big business. It gives us uniformity instead of something unique and creative, because they can make money with uniformity. The unique and creative may not help the bottom line. The one thing in the publishing industry’s favor is it does cut down on the number of bad books published. Notice I wrote cuts down. The Big 5 publish plenty of bad authors and books because they make lots of bucks for the publisher. And in the end, publishing is a business — the point of business is to make money.

The reader, though, is also partly to blame for this tidal wave of bad writing. We are to blame because we read the stuff. We tolerate the bad writing. It is as though we are addicted to toaster pastries and have forgotten what a good bakery danish tastes like. When reviewers write the book needed an editor but that’s what we get with these Kindle books, there is something wrong with this picture. And what is wrong is the writer was lazy and we, the reader, let him or her get away with being lazy.

Or when a supposedly #1 Amazon best selling author doesn’t know the difference between telling and showing, we, the reader, have failed ourselves and that author by allowing that author to foist on to the world his or her bad writing. We the reader did not demand craftsmanship from the author.

I love the indie publishing revolution. I’m part of it. I love sticking it to big business and letting the marketplace decide. As a reader, when I look for an indie book to read I read the 1-star reviews. I don’t care about the 5- or 4-star reviews, because it is the 1-star reviews which tell me if the book is riddled with typos or is flat out poorly written. The 1-star reviews tell me if the author took pride in his or her work to have it proofread or bothered to learn the craft of telling a good story so I’ll remember it until the day I die. So I’ll remember the story long after I’ve forgotten the author.

We readers need to demand quality writing from authors. We authors need to take pride in our work and respect our readers and give them a well-crafted story. A story they may remember for all of their days, even if they forget our names.

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