Thursday, May 23, 2013

So Why Pulp? Formula #40

What If We Didn’t Call It ‘Pulp’?

There’s been a bit of a debate going on lately amongst the rank and file of modern pulp writing enthusiasts as to whether the moniker ‘New Pulp’ is viable or possibly even a detriment to book sales. I find it kind of interesting, since some of the folks turning their backs on the term were the first to embrace it. Heck, New Pulp as an appellation was coined by a bunch of us sitting around in the after hours of a convention, not wanting to let go of that cozy camaraderie. Now they want to change the playing field on me.

I’ve sat out on this debate up until now, having my own turbulent thoughts on the subject, which I wanted to put in order before I made any kind of judgment call. So having mulled it over, my conclusions kind of follow that infamous line from Romeo and Juliet: A rose by any other name, would smell as sweet. And conversely, manure, no matter what you call it, still stinks. The bottom line is, the content sells, not the name. So if you’re putting out books you believe people really want to read, they’ll buy them as long as the price is reasonable, the format is accessible, and the stories are enjoyable. If the stories are terrible, the books aren’t going to sell, no matter what you label them. Before we start calling ourselves something else—like ‘genre fiction writers’—we’d better make sure we’re not wrapping up and re-gifting the same old holiday fruitcake in fancy new paper. You might fool a few people for a while, but the consumer public, which has the attention span of a gnat coupled with the memory of the most ponderous pachyderm, is not going to forget being lured into buying something that turns out to be yesterday’s leftovers, even on a silver plate with a fancy side garnish. Something has to change if we want upwardly mobile sales; something more important than what we call what we do.

Now let me say this up front, I am not here to chasten, vilify, or any way insult my New Pulp writing and publishing peers. Most of you are friends or at least friendly acquaintances, and I have the utmost respect for how hard you work at what you do. I’ve been very grateful to have been embraced as part of this indie community of authors creating action adventure stories with larger-than-life heroes and bringing them back to the reading public without Madison Avenue trendiness dictating what we offer. I’m proud of each and every one of you; you’re like part of my extended family. That said, I’m not going to mince words if I think we’re headed in the wrong direction. While I’ll acknowledge the sagging economy isn’t helping anyone, I don’t think the primary issue with dismal sales of New Pulp books has anything to do with what we call our work. We’ve missed a fundamental reason why sales aren’t moving out of the fanboy nostalgia/convention circuit into a more mainstream market. I’m going to put it bluntly—the average reader doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the pulp of yesteryear. They want stories that excite them today. The more you serve up what pulp used to be, the narrower and more pigeonholed your buying market becomes.

Now if you’ve got supportive sales and are happy and comfortable with a day job while doing this kind of writing or publishing as a spare time labor-of-love; then hey, more power to you! I totally understand, and I’d be the first one to cheer in your corner. I have tremendous respect for the grand pulp tradition that came before me. Some of those writers went on to make the big time, and others labored in obscurity behind house names and generic branding while feeding families and keeping body and soul together at a time when the world around them was reeling from economic hardships and the threat of war. Via their work, they all brought to life an inexpensive escape mechanism for a reading public that was inundated with daily bad news. But we have to realize, we live in a far different age than those pulp pioneers. This isn’t the 1940s anymore, because the world is far more accessible and diverse via all those electronic gadgets we’ve been snapping up over the last 70 years, and the overall education level of our readers has risen too. We can’t keep churning out the same old stories the same old way, and expect them to magically find a new audience. It doesn’t matter what you call the stuff you’re writing; what does matter is that readers enjoy it enough to start an underground grassroots buzz, so that others come looking for your work.

We’ve got to get readers excited enough to continue talking about what we sold them. The best way to do that is to pay attention to what they’re reading, watching, and discussing in popular entertainment, and write to that. If you take a hard look at what Classic Pulp accomplished, it had nothing to do with trying to fit some mold of what pulp should be. In those days, they were selling stories people wanted to read at that time, not trying to emulate styles and plots that worked three generations before. Oh, there was a lot of copycatting, but mostly to ride on the success of some lucky contemporary who hit a nerve with the buying public. If New Pulp, or Genre Fiction, or whatever the moniker-du-jour might be, is going to not only survive but thrive and endure, then we’d better start thinking about writing as a business that sells to a general audience. There might be niche markets for 78 RPM vinyl records, rotary dial phones, and 5-1/4 inch floppy disks, but you’re going to have to work super hard to make a living selling them.

Look, if I had all the answers to what makes people pay to read something, I’d be supporting myself writing. I’m not, at least not yet; but I have listened carefully to the feedback I’ve been getting. As a New Pulp insider, I can see where the problems are between what readers want and what we can afford to give them. We don’t have as much of an inexpensive product as our pulpy forebears did, because while the technology exists to make cheap paperless copies, not everyone who loves to read is on board with that yet. In the meantime, our dead tree and ink versions are a bit pricey—especially when indie companies are churning out something every month of the year. People tell me they don’t want to pay $15-$20 every six weeks for relatively short paperback books written by authors they aren’t familiar with. New Pulp books are most often soft cover and relatively lightweight on page count; both to keep the pace of the plot intense as well as the actual book price reasonably affordable. Yet there is a perceived value balance between purchase cost and length of the tale. Readers are telling me they’d like a bit more meat for what we’re charging, and I’ve been thinking hard about how that can be handled. No one has said a word about whether what I do is called ‘this’ kind of writing or ‘that’; they just want a good story that draws them in and lasts long enough to feel like what was paid was worthwhile. And if there is a sequel, they want to read it before they forget what happened in the first book. Eight months to a year seems to be the sweet zone for that.

Another thing I’ve been thinking heavily about is not competing with myself for readers. Because of recent health issues, I’ve had to slow down my writing pace and leave the keyboard to become more active, which means taking on less projects overall. I don’t see where my readership has suffered one way or another. I’d like to think that with the less hectic pace, the quality of my writing has improved. What it has done, is help me see the difference between being part of a multi-author anthology and a book of multiple short stories written solely by me. While my anthos haven’t caught on as well as my novels—mainly because I have a more regional following and people say they are confused as to what book is a sequel to another—the feedback I’m getting has been encouraging. Outside of my area, I’ve done far better in mixed author work, where my co-writers have some New Pulp notoriety that helps sell copies that contain one of my stories. There the reviews have been very positive. That tells me I am giving people what they want and expect in an interesting read. Once again, the fact that whatever I was involved in was or wasn’t called ‘New Pulp’ had little to do with it. Even when I’m writing to a protocol set by others, my own style tends to come through and I’ve slowly been adding fans. I’ve always insisted on writing the kind of stories I love to read, and that’s one of the things that seem to be working for me.

No, I don’t think what we call our writing is keeping us from reaching a broader market. If New Pulp wants to grow, it has to become what today’s reading public wants it to be. We called it ‘New Pulp’ because the basic underpinning is fast paced, action adventure stories that are reminiscent of the days of yore, when a ‘guilty read’ could chase away the troubles of the time. There’s plenty of need for escapism in this far too complex world, but not all of it has to hearken back to formulas that worked way back when. Maybe today’s reader wants more complex and vulnerable characters in either contemporary or genre comfortable settings with a plot that has unpredictable twists. Let’s give it to them then, and forget about what we’re calling it this year.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

PRESS RELEASE: New NEW PULP Magazine STAR ADVENTURER launching, seeking submissions.

Star Adventurer is a neo-pulp online magazine that hopes to entertain, and promote the work of new writers.  We are currently looking for original Pulp Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror stories of 1000-2000 words. Think Flash Gordon, Conan the Barbarian, Psycho, The Shadow, Allan Quatermain, Heavy Metal Magazine etc…, Lurid is good! KILL OUR READERS WITH ADRENALIN!!!

Main Site:
Submission Guidelines:
Twitter: @StarAdventurer

Thursday, May 9, 2013

New Pulp Publisher Seeking Submissions

Pulp Mango a new publisher jumping into the pulp fiction scene is calling for submissions from authors and artists. TO find out more, surf over to their site:

So... Why Pulp? - I Bet There's an App For That!

These days, it seems like we’re doing everything on our mobile phones but making toast. Or maybe that’s possible and I’m just behind the times, because I only use my cell to make calls. Still, I do depend on it, and with all the applications that you can possibly add, I can see why people are increasingly spending time staring down at that little screen.

As New Pulp writers and independent publishers, this is a significant situation, because so much information is being shared via handheld devices that we’ve got to be on top of the trend to access a more broad-based market. Pulp in its heydays was highly visible on street corner newsstands, where the brightly colored, sensationally designed covers were sure to catch the eyes of people passing by. That was state-of-the-art advertising because newsstands and drug store magazine racks were where people went to buy inexpensive reading material. If you want to sell books, or at least let people know where they can find your work, you have to get their attention where it is primarily focused; and right now, there is a lot of interest in what mobile phones can do. Since even the simplest models have internet access, we need to take advantage of that capacity and put our ads and offerings where they can be seen. You can conceivably learn about what a publishing company sells, read an excerpt, see an interview with a favorite author, watch an advertising trailer, browse the catalog, click to buy something, and download a book—all within a very short period of time and without even getting off the couch. If you don’t mind squinting, you can even read the book right there on the phone. Eventually, we’ll even have audio versions streaming through your earbuds. It’s a brave new world!

As someone who straddles the line between the Industrial and InfoTech eras, I understand how daunting and downright confusing some of this electronic wizardry seems. I’m not very quick to embrace the latest and greatest gadget either, though I do understand the appeal, as well as what promise that holds for me as a writer. We stand on the verge of an age when all our major ‘necessity’ purchases—houses, motor vehicles, appliances, etc; will be designed with sophisticated integrated functions. In time I think even small appliances will hook into an IT grid, where you can warm the oven and chill the drinks from your cell phone or vehicle monitoring system as you leave the office. We’re slowly seeing changes in the medical and education fields, where computers and handheld devices are playing a far more significant role in teaching and diagnostics. Yeah, it’s a database world, and for us independent authors, that’s turning out to be a good thing. My books, and information about me as an author, are only a Google or Bing away. I’ve had people scan my covers on their cell phones and email the information to a far off relative or friend who might really enjoy one of my stories. Being an easily searchable entity online has helped me sell a lot more books than I otherwise would have. So while I may not have fully signed on to the age of ‘apps for everything’, I have embraced its potential. It’s a very savvy way of marketing to a far broader audience than I could ever reach without the internet and all those gizmos that give us access just about anywhere we roam.

I often hear from people who are fed up with this plugged in/tuned out world that they only like to read real books. 

Well, digital books are real books; it’s just that they are not made of dead tree fiber. However, I don’t believe printed paper between colorful covers is going away anytime soon. There’s a certain cachet to actually holding a book in your hand and manually turning the pages. A print book doesn’t have low batteries or a glaring little screen. It doesn’t interrupt you with a text message. It’s perfectly capable of being read in full sun on a beach, and as long as it doesn’t get rained on or dropped in the water, it’s fine. Book reading is a very quiet and peaceful hobby, and I think most of us that still love to hold a hardcover or paperback in our hands, also love owning them, because our shelves are bursting and there are stacks throughout the house. No, books aren’t a dying format just yet, and neither are authors. Oh sure, there will be writing apps eventually (if not already) where you can create a story from answering multiple choice questions and let the bot throw it together for you. But no machine can beat the human brain at creative thinking, so we’ll still be writing the old fashioned way—from mind, through fingers on the keyboard, to the page. That’s not going to change anytime soon either. There will continue to be actual printed versions of popular books, though I don’t believe they will have the prominence they once enjoyed.

What we’re supposed to be doing here is expanding the way writing is delivered to the customer, not just replacing one facet of publishing with another. That’s probably the reason the music industry has had so many hiccups over the last 35 years or so. As tapes started to supplant bulky LP albums, and then CDs all but wiped them out, only to be replaced by MP3 downloads that take no space at all, the equipment to run them also underwent a transformation and downsizing. Today’s music playing devices take up a lot less space, and they have become imminently more personal in nature, to the point where you can take them out jogging, to work, or to the library, and have a quality listening experience. You can plug your music device into your car for the commute, you can sample and shop while you listen, and download something as a ringtone to your cell phone. Like pulp and print books, LP albums never completely went away, though they are far from the norm anymore, and record stores have become a thing of the past. Finding a turntable to interface with today’s USB driven equipment is a bit of a hunt, especially for those who don’t have internet access or experience. Since not everything has been reissued in either CD or MP3 format, people do cling to that trusty old vinyl. Records are often a collector’s market.

The music industry has been slow to catch on to this downloadable age, but they’ve been coming around more lately. Let’s hope the rebound effect of that sudden awakening doesn’t abruptly shut out those who didn’t jump right into the new technological advances. While the holdbacks are also missing out on the incredible amount of free music and sampling you can do with electronic access, they deserve to be served in whatever format is preferred. There’s also been a lot of lost royalties through music sharing sites online and unregistered burnable copies sold for drastically reduced prices, and that’s something that will be a problem with digital books as well. We in the New Pulp world need to pay close attention to what happened in the music industry and plan accordingly. Authors and artists deserve to be paid for their hard work; publishers deserve compensation for their investment. There has to be serious thought given to regulating piracy.

One of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen is electronic book lending. Amazon does this with their Prime customers who have Kindles and I think that is a step in a positive direction for libraries in general. It certainly would be a great way to introduce books that would not normally get purchased for lending without tying up shelf space or adding the extra manpower and hours to properly display them. One of the hardest things I’ve found with getting my books into local libraries in the rural areas I live in is because of funding and hours of operation, no one has had time to review them. I’d be thrilled to make a few cents here and there on limited term downloads just to broaden my reader base. That is something which is going to take off over time, as even our beloved wireless doodads become overloaded with resident books. Checking out an electronic book is the least expensive way for a reader to become familiar with a new author or publisher. I’m sure the independents won’t make the same mistake as the big publishers—with their far more bloated overhead to compensate for—and price E-copies ½  to ¾ of  the cost of buying a physical copy. That’s preposterous!

One of the nicest things about books stored electronically is that they don’t take up any real physical space. I do some thrift store, yard sale, and flea market shopping with family and friends, and one of the things we’re after is used books that were donated in good readable condition because people were tired of having them around. Often we find beloved work that is no longer available in print. We’ve already seen a movement in the Pulp world to get old stories out of mothballs and present them to a new generation. Even in general fiction this is happening, with many classics in the public domain being offered as downloads at very low prices or even for free. I’ve snatched up entire collections that way. I’m also heartened with by the willingness of New Pulp publishers to revive enduring and cherished public domain characters with additional tales. Talk about a bridge across the generations! New Pulp has its fingers on the pulse of the future with its feet firmly planted in the storytelling traditions of yesteryear.

So yeah, go get those apps! We’re going to give you content to read, whether it’s fiction, book trailers, teaser snippets, author interviews, or online panel discussions. We’re New Pulp, and we’re doing things a brand new way, while still delivering the exciting action/adventure fiction you’ve always enjoyed. I doubt there’s an app that does that better than we can, but if there is, we’ve likely already got it.