Post by ***@acme.com
The indie boom and pulps: This is very much on point. If you look at
the history of the novel, in the 18th century it was low-prestige
light entertainment for persons who were literate and could afford to
buy or rent books.
I'm not sure, but I *think* as regards the UK, at least, that's not
altogether true. There was too much debate about how people should
live for any single arbiter of prestige to be effective, so although
there certainly were disputes between advocates of the novel and
advocates of sermons as late as Austen's time, I think you'd have to
go back to Defoe to get fiction as clearly "low prestige". Ann
Radcliffe's books are markedly literarily inferior to Frances
Burney's or Austen's, but they were sold in the same market, and when
after her death (admittedly, this is 1826) her unpublished work
appeared, it was in a fancy hardcover with all the imprimaturs of
In France, there's the additional issue of censorship. If the King's
mistress reads your book (heck, if she *writes* your book), but it's
banned, is it high prestige or low prestige?
I don't know even that much about fiction in other places at that
time, with the somewhat irrelevant exception of America.
Post by ***@acme.com
This low end flourished in the early 20th century in pulp magazines.
The latter half of the century was the era of the mass market
paperback, which was embraced at the higher end of the prestige range
as a supplement to traditional hardbacks, and at the lower end as a
replacement for pulp magazines. As a result there was not a discrete
division between high and low prestige fiction. Some useful
distinctions include books marketed by publisher rather than author
(e.g. Harlequin Romances and, to a lesser extent, Ace Doubles); and
books published exclusively in mass market paperback versus books
initially published in hardback.
With the indie revolution of about ten years ago, traditional
publishers of the low end of the prestige range became redundant.
Their value added to both authors and readers had been production of
the physical book and access to the distribution system. Both
suddenly became irrelevant. In theory they also added value through
the editorial process, but at this end of the prestige range they
hadn't added all that much value.
I think you're confusing at least three categories which in fact
a) mass market originals (the Ace Doubles were a down-market version
b) category fiction (your example of Harlequins)
c) sharecrops (an example you didn't give is "Sweet Valley High";
more on-topically, "The Destroyer")
I also think you miss something important about b) and c), which in
turn points to what value the publishers you think of as low-end in
Elsethread I got away with comparing the marriage market to the job
and housing markets, so I'll try that again here with respect to the
writing market. Look low in the job and housing markets, and one
thing that stands out is the extent to which people in them are
subjected to *discipline*. Uniforms, regulated bathroom and smoking
breaks, draconian punishments for tardiness; rules against visitors,
rules about bedtimes, rules about drugs or alcohol. You might think
writing would be different because discipline is mostly about
restraining the physical self, which is irrelevant in writing, but in
fact discipline is pervasive in the lower reaches of traditional
publishing. I don't have time to research this as fully as I'd like,
but it turns out I remembered correctly that in the 1980s as
Harlequin climbed the romance charts it had detailed rules for its
(I couldn't find anything similar from Mills & Boon's early years as
a romance publisher, before Harlequin bought it in 1971.)
As for "Sweet Valley High" (which I know about from much more recent
reading of another series credited to the same notional author,
Francine Pascal, this one spec-ficnal - "Fearless"), the ghostwriters,
who never got any kind of credit (in contrast to another ghostwritten
series of the time, "Animorphs"), wrote to outlines:
And if I had time and memory enough, I could go on. I can't remember
the series title of the military fiction I used to see used copies of
at less classy used bookstores - it isn't Gold Arrow, evidently - but
I'd bet that, and "The Destroyer", and yadda yadda ("Nancy Drew",
"Ellery Queen", um, "Perry Rhodan") all disciplined their writers.
And what that discipline was about was uniformity, which in turn gets
Post by ***@acme.com
It turns out that there is a small body of readers whose primary
leisure activity is reading genre fiction in vast quantities.
thing is, this was never major value added at the low end of the
prestige range. Kilgore Trout's fiction being used as filler for
pornographic magazines is a comic exaggeration, but not entirely
baseless. There is, and always has been, a substantial market for
essentially unedited fiction.
What market is that? It certainly is *not* the market for Harlequins,
or for "Sweet Valley High"; those markets weren't at all unedited,
though much of the editing was before, rather than after, the
writing, in the form of instructions to the writers. And if you
look into it, you'll find that the writers usually weren't obvious
slush pile candidates; they haven't all become famous Real Writers,
but they aren't crackpots, they're usually people who could write
well in school and so forth.
What commercial bulk fiction, category fiction, whether with the
relative respectability of named authors (Harlequin) or not ("Sweet
Valley High") - what all this offered was more *predictability*
than you could get in genre fiction, let alone literary fiction.
Predictability is a major value-add for the kinds of readers of
commercial fiction who buy in bulk, and it does *not* come naturally.
Truly unedited fiction in my youth was self-published, just as it is
today. And while you could get some respect if you really published
yourself - I probably knew about Jack Chalker in the 1980s, and
Charles de Lint was just getting started - and could get some indie
cred if you did so in a zine, most self-publishing I *thought of* as
self-publishing in those days was through vanity presses, and was
dismissed with contempt. Vanity publications weren't cheap, and
I can't imagine someone buying them in bulk.
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>