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The Pulps

The Pulps (1890s-1950s)

Made from the cheapest paper available, pulp magazines were among the bestselling fiction publications of their day, with the most popular titles selling hundreds of thousands of copies per month at their height. The pulps paid just a penny or so a word, so writers quickly learned that making a living required a nimble imagination and remarkable speed, with some working on several stories simultaneously.

Contemporary fiction writers can learn from pulp magazines the importance of a tight, character-driven narrative; the necessity of imaginative descriptions and how to immediately grab the reader with an action-filled lead.

Jack Byrne, managing editor of the pulp magazine publisher fiction House, wrote in an August 1929 Writer’s Digest article detailing the manuscript needs of Fiction House’s 11 magazines:

“We must have a good, fast opening. Smack us within the first paragraph. Get our interest aroused. Don’t tell us about the general geographic situation or the atmospheric conditions.

Don’t describe the hero’s physique or the kind of pants he wears. Start something!”

Readers can find pulps aplenty on eBay, as well as in anthologies such as The Pulps, edited by Tony Goodstone, and The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler.

Excerpted from the May/June 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, “Back in the Day,” by Don Vaughan.

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