Pulp

Beginner’s Guide to Pulp an Amazon bestseller

Our new release, The Beginner’s Guide to Pulp Fiction, is the #1 New Release in Mystery Literary Criticism on Amazon this month.

You can order from the link above. Here’s aBy JONATHAN W. SWEET sample of the introduction from the book:

What is Pulp Fiction?

Pulp fiction got its name from the cheap wood pulp paper on which most pulps were printed. (This is also the reason many pulps have not aged well – the pulp paper is even more susceptible than higher-quality paper to brittleness and other aging.)

The term “pulp fiction” was often used to denigrate the quality of the writing in the pulps as well, becoming a short-hand for cliché-filled, poorly plotted stories. While there were plenty of those, there was also some great work done in the pulps. Many writers who went on to greater fame (more on that later) got their starts working in the pulps.

Pulps typically sold for a dime, making them affordable entertainment for the average working man that made up the bulk of the pulps’ audience. The pulps were published from 1896 to the 1950s. They were mass entertainment at a time before radio and television, and continued through two World Wars, the Golden Age of Radio and the beginning of television.

The first pulp was Argosy, revamped by Frank Munsey beginning in 1896. Argosy had been published since 1882, but it was in 1896 that Munsey shifted the magazine to all-fiction content and the paper to cheap pulp stock. Street & Smith was next with The Popular Magazine in 1903. With the success of those two, other publishers followed suit, with pulps typically becoming organized around a type of story or character, such as detective, romance or western stories.

The covers also became increasingly important. Pulps were famous for their lurid covers, with the stereotypical cover featuring a scantily clad damsel being terrorized by some evil scientist or frightening creature. It’s worth noting, of course, that there were plenty of covers that were more sedate.

The pulps peaked in popularity in the 1930s, with many selling more than 1 million copies an issue. Some pulps lasted for decades; many lasted for only one or two issues. Some publishers published hundreds of different titles over the years.

Pulps began to decline during World War II, when paper shortages forced publishers of all types to cut production. By the 1950s, most pulps that survived had switched to the smaller digest format still seen in a handful of publications today.

After the pulps themselves faded away, the term pulp fiction was also often applied to the mass market paperbacks of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that essentially replaced the pulps. This guide focuses on the actual pulps, not the later incarnations.

The original pulps are still collected and some have proven extremely valuable for their rarity or inclusion of an especially high-profile author. Many of the pulps have also been reprinted, both in small paperback formats in the 1970s and 1980s and more recently in full-sized reproductions complete with illustrations. Several companies offer high-quality collections of the classic pulp stories featuring even obscure characters.

There’s also been a resurgence in pulp writing, with the “new pulp” movement. Several publishers, such as Airship 27 and Pro Se Press, are publishing large amounts of new stories featuring new stories of old pulp characters and original pulp creations. The best creations in new pulp are honored every year with the Pulp Factory Awards.

From comic books to the superhero movies that dominate theaters to the serialized shows we stream on Netflix, the impact and influence of the pulps can be seen throughout pop culture today.

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