Last month I posted here about Researching the Habits of Highly Prolific Authors for a book I’m working on. Black Gate reader John Hocking kindly suggested in the comments section that I read Hired Pens: Professional Writers in America’s Golden Age of Print, by Ronald Weber. I took him up on his advice and I’m sure glad I did.
This book looks at the careers of writing and editing from the nation’s earliest days until the end of World War Two. Weber shows us a parade of successful writers and editors — many well-known to this day, many more now forgotten — who found success in the ever-changing market for American popular periodicals.
Until the middle of the 19th century, American writers were hampered by the lack of international copyright laws. Newspaper and magazine editors filched English publications for free and saw no reason to pay homegrown talent. As the population grew and both American and British writers managed to get their governments to set up legal barriers to such theft, the market for American writing blossomed.
These writers certainly didn’t waste their time moaning about their lack of inspiration and hoping the muse would visit them. As prolific and successful Western writer Zane Grey said in a letter to a friend:
This morning I had no desire to write, no call, no inspiration, no confidence, no joy. I had to force myself. But when I mastered the vacillation and dread, and had done a day’s work — what a change of feelings. I had a rush of sweet sensations.
This is a common thread throughout the book. In example after example, we are shown that writer’s block is a myth and that writers should not — indeed, must not — sit around all day twiddling their thumbs. These writers worked hard.
A lot of writers and readers are saying we have entered a new pulp era, a repeat of those days when hardworking writers pumped out exciting fiction in large quantities while facing very tight deadlines. The old pulp era died long ago, and was replaced with modern traditional publishing. Under that model, writers usually only came out with a book a year, and if they did more than that it was generally under a pseudonym. Traditional houses seem to have been under the impression that “less is more” when it came to a writer’s output.
Readers disagree. They want more from their favorite authors, and they want it now. Those writers who have come to the top of the new indie publishing revolution tend to be those who write a lot, generally in series, and keep up a consistent quality. Some traditionally published writers such as Guy Haley are moving that direction too. In our interview with him, he talked about how he has to write five novels a year if he wants to make a living at his writing.
Even superstars such as James Patterson are getting in on the game. A post at Non-Fiction Novelist talks about how Patterson’s new project “Book Shots” fits perfectly into the pulp mentality. These thrillers and romances are touted as having lots of action and no padding, just like a good pulp story should. They’re all under 150 pages and cost less than $5. Plus there’s a whole lot of them.
I’m seeing a similar trend in online start-up publishers. My own body of indie published work, while doing OK, is not bringing me enough to live on, so I make up the deficiency by ghostwriting. This is a relatively new venture for me as I shift steadily away from nonfiction writing, but the trend I’m seeing is remarkable.
Ghostwriting always involves a strict written agreement not to take credit for a work, so what follows will by necessity be of a general nature.