It may seem a bit peculiar to write an article about the decline in reading for a site that has done so much to promote the works of writers past and present. Most assuredly, regular visitors to this site are readers. Unfortunately, they are the exception and not the rule in the present day.
During the pulp era, writers were sometimes referred to disparagingly as the Penny-a-Word Brigade. Flash forward to the end of the second decade of the 21st Century and you’ll find far too many pulp writers who would salivate at the thought of earning a penny a word for their efforts. Far too many receive no financial compensation at all, some do not even receive comp copies of their own titles.
The purpose of this article isn’t to disparage small presses that are labors of love for publishers who regularly soldier on year after year failing to turn a profit. When you are a small operation, economies of scale aren’t even a concern. You could publish two dozen titles a year and still lose money. Paying writers or artists is not always possible for those who are in it for something other than financial return.
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.
Novellas (usually considered to be 20,000 — 50,000 words) are notoriously difficult for authors to place with publishers, which is unfortunate because it’s a wonderful length for genre stories. Sword-and-sorcery, science-fiction adventure, hardboiled crime, and horror stories all lend themselves to lean, compact novellas.
Most short fiction markets top out at about 5,000-7,000 words, though, due to the practical considerations of available space in the publications, as well as available editorial reading time. Stand-alone novellas struggle even more.
Digital printing has eliminated the technical issues of shorter print editions in last-generation printing presses, but the length is unfamiliar to readers (who often are hesitant to pick up a smaller book).
This is compounded by pricing issues. A book needs to provide the publisher a certain margin of profit. However, a novella can’t be priced in the same way as a novel that offers two or three times as many pages.
This means it’s tough to price a print novella in a way that makes editing, layout, cover design, and publishing economically viable.
Some publishers have taken to releasing novellas in limited, collectible editions — a good route if the author already has an established following, but a harder sell for emerging authors.
Robin Riopelle is the debut fantasy author of the novel Deadroads, released by Skyhorse Publishing’s newest imprint, Night Shade, in April of 2014.
The publication of her first novel was a bit more stressful than it normally would be, because her original publisher, Night Shade Books (NSB), teetered on the edge of bankruptcy a year ago, just as the novel was about to be released.
So, just to start with the basics of the story, when did you write Deadroads, what is it about, and what was the process to sell it to Night Shade?
Deadroads was written fairly quickly about 3 years ago. I was inspired, I guess you could say, really intrigued by the connection between Acadian and Cajun cultures.
I’ve always liked darker fiction and I have always written stories with an element of magic, but not capital M magic. Supernatural elements in my stories need to feel organic and slight. Deadroads is about a fractured family with roots in both Louisiana and New Brunswick, and about how they come together while trying to find out what killed their father. Of course, a larger and more ominous mystery about their parents’ past is revealed.