Write Fast, Publish Hard: Indie Publishing and the New Pulp Era

Whether you’ve hung out here for a while or whether this is your first visit, you will have noticed that I called my imprint “Pegasus Pulp” and that our tagline is: “Pulp with a Literary Sensibility”.

So what’s behind that name? Allow me to quote from the Pegasus Pulp FAQ:

2. Why “Pegasus”?

Because there is a Pegasus on the Buhlert family crest. Besides, the Pegasus is associated with the muses in Greek mythology.

3. Why “Pulp”?

Because I’ve always had a lot of admiration for the pulp writers of the first half of the twentieth century. They wrote incredibly fast, often under not very good conditions, in any genre imaginable. And while a lot of what they produced was crap, the best of the pulp era is still reprinted and read seventy or eighty years later. Not bad for disposable entertainment.
What is more, I feel that this new frontier of digital publishing has a lot in common with the heyday of the pulps in the 1920s to 1950s. Suddenly, it’s possible to write at any length, in any genre and perhaps even to create new genres without having to worry about the marketing concerns of the big publishing companies. Plus, digital publishing is fast, writing, polishing and publishing can be done in a matter of days or weeks.

I’m obviously not the only one who views this brave new world of indie writing and publishing as a return of the spirit of the pulp era where stories and novels were written fast and in a bewildering array of genres. In the pulp era, zeppelin stories and railroad romances* were viable genres that had whole magazines dedicated to them.

Hence, Damien Walter writes about the return to the spirit of the pulp era and the new pulp fictioneers at the Guardian. The article lists Harlan Ellison (though does it really matter with how many people he’s slept?), Jack Vance and Philip K. Dick as examples for the old spirit of the pulps, even though all three operated mainly at the twilight of the pulp era. Damien Walter also gives a shout-out to Plotto – The Master Book of All Plots, a pulp era plotting aid by William Wallace Cook. It’s probably no accident that Plotto has recently been reprinted. I ordered my copy two months ago and am waiting to deploy it once my well of ideas runs temporarily dry.

The examples of modern pulp writers Damien Walter gives are mostly traditionally published authors like Adam Christopher and hybrid traditional/indie authors like Chuck Wendig. Both are good choices, too, since they are definitely pulpy writers. Walter also goes into self-published authors reviving the spirit of the pulps at the end of the article and invites recommendations.

British thriller writer Matt Lynn goes one step further and draws a clear connection between the new pulp fiction and the rise of e-books.

Paul Jessup’s article/manifesto on pulp surrealism also touches upon the rebirth of the pulp era, though Paul Jessup is known to be no fan of the whole indie publishing movement, because it’s too commercially minded for his tastes.

One thing that set the pulp writers of yore apart from their more “literary” brethren was that they were prolific and they were fast. And a notable effect of the rise of e-publishing is that writers are writing more and releasing books faster. Partly this is because the production lead times for e-books are shorter, particularly if you do everything or at least most things yourself. Pegasus Pulp published 16 books so far in less than a year and I hope to release at least one more book until our first anniversary in July. Of course, all of those books are short and most are backlist reprints, but some are also brand new stories. And I’ve noticed that I’m writing more, ever since I started indie publishing, because all of a sudden every story idea, no matter what genre and how out there, is viable.

But according to this New York Times article, even traditionally published bestseller authors are feeling the pressure to write more than one book a year. The article caught a lot of flak for the following unfortunate quote about the writing schedule of Lisa Scottoline, writer of legal thrillers:

Ms. Scottoline has increased her output from one book a year to two, which she accomplishes with a brutal writing schedule: 2,000 words a day, seven days a week, usually “starting at 9 a.m. and going until Colbert,” she said.

I must confess when I first read that bit, I rolled my eyes. Now I’m not entirely sure when Colbert airs, but since it appears to be some kind of late night show, I suspect it’s around ten or eleven PM. Which means that Lisa Scottoline writes 2000 words in thirteen to fourteen hours. And the article does not indicate that she does anything else in those thirteen to fourteen hours such as work a day job, take care of young children or elderly relatives, etc…, though it is of course possible. Just as it’s possible that the New York Times misquoted Lisa Scottoline. And while 2000 words per day is not bad, it can hardly be called brutal, particularly considering that she has thirteen hours to achieve that goal.

Compare this to pulp and magazine writer Walter B. Gibson, best known as the creator of the Shadow who in the heyday of the Shadow wrote a 60000 word novel every two weeks and ended up writing a total of more than 1.6 million words in 1932. Now that’s what I call a brutal writing schedule.

Urban fantasy writer Harry Connolly responds here and says that writing isn’t easy and that not all writers can be fast. Which is completely right – not everybody can be fast. But very, very slow writers will likely have problems, unless they are George R.R. Martin or Thomas Pynchon. Another urban fantasy writer, Lilith Saintcrow responds to Harry Connolly here. Meanwhile, Kristine Kathryn Rusch explains the reasoning behind describing 2000 words a day as brutal.

As for myself, I usually shoot at 1000 words per day, including non-fiction and academic writing (otherwise the PhD would never get done) and revisions, but excluding translation work (somebody else’s words, not mine) and blog and forum posts (if I counted those, I’d never write anything else). I wouldn’t call that schedule brutal and I could certainly write more, if I ditched the school and translation work. What is more, of late I’ve noticed that my overall wordcount is going upwards and that I’m overshooting my 1000 word goal almost every day. So I’m definitely writing more and writing faster and that’s largely because I know that I have a surefire market for everything I finish and because I see that my stories sell – well, some of them at least.

So yes, we’re definitely seeing a return of the wild spirit of the pulp era. Only that this time around, the writers are calling the shots.

*I’ve already written a zeppelin story, now I must do a railroad romance one day.

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12 Responses to Write Fast, Publish Hard: Indie Publishing and the New Pulp Era

  1. Pingback: A Pulp Post | Cora Buhlert

  2. Romance writers have been “prolific” forever — long before ebooks and indie publishing emerged as legitimate forces. The Harlequin/Silhouette authors were expected to produce three to four books a year — admittedly, they’re short books, around 60K, but they’re full, complete novels, nonetheless.

    When the mid-list collapsed in legacy publishing ten years ago, most popular fiction authors found income in the ebook market, and they discovered that the faster they produced titles and a permanent-sales-producing backlist, the better. These authors (myself included) were sometimes writing and releasing a title a month, of various word counts, from 10k up to 100K.

    Now that indie publishing has released me and countless (pun intended) other genre fiction authors from the tyranny of release dates and publication “spots”, we may well publish and produce faster than that. The only thing slowing us down is technicalities: Having to pay for covers, format the ebooks, and all the other support and production tasks we didn’t have to do before.

    “Prolific” is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I’m always on the hunt for methods to increase my output. I have a day job, I have released five titles this year, and I’m still not satisfied with the rate I’m producing. Isaac Asimov and Kathleen Lindsay (romance author who wrote 903 books…and also lived in Western Australia for a time) are my personal heroes.



    • Cora says:

      Good point about romance writers, particularly category romance writers. They were prolific even in the era of one book a year.

      Those writers who managed to be both fast and good have always been my heroes as well. I’m a longtime Asimov fan since my teens, though I’ve never heard of Kathleen Lindsay until now. I will have to check her out – 903 books is really amazing.

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