Pulp Fiction II – the Rise of the Penny Dreadful

For my next trick – I say that because we are merely playing with words – trying to put the Indie e-publishing craze and the rollercoaster ride that is pricing into some kind of historical context.

First a short history lesson, for that we shall go back to our friend Wikipedia for a definition of the “Penny Dreadful.”

“A penny dreadful (also called penny horrible, penny awful,[1]
penny number and penny blood) was a type of British
fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing a penny. The term, however, soon came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction, such as story papers and booklet “libraries.” The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap pulp paper and were aimed primarily at working class adolescents.[2]

For the sake of this argument, I’m going to say that the 21st century ‘Penny Dreadful’ is a full-length novel that sells for $.99 to $1.99.

That doesn’t mean the writer can’t make money. Sell them puppies as long as they’re hot. After all, if the author is making a couple grand a month – cry all the way to the bank.

Because that’s not saying the next book won’t sell at a higher price. We aren’t making judgment calls about the writers – just the books. If common wisdom is correct, the ‘average author’ will turn out five or more books (or a million words) before they ‘break out’ and their work takes a quantum leap forward.

The writer can always move to the next level, – a ‘dime novel’ sells higher – $2.99 or a bit more. This may sell more copies of the first book. The point is that sales and income will rise at the higher price. I see authors all over Kindle boards planning how to make the transition to ‘dime novels.’

‘Slicks’ are the next step up, Mid-list writers will most likely find a home somewhere around the $2.99 to $3.99 level. They are recycling previously published work, already have fans and readers – so they may start at $3.99 where the ‘average jane’ author will need to ‘break out’ to sell well at $3.99.

Then there are the ‘super-slicks’ who have their own pricing structures. Some can sell short fiction at $2.99 for 10k words. Why not? They have the advertising budgets and turn out a professional product. They probably know who their readers are and have no problem targeting them in the most efficient manner.

Remember, too, there are e-publishing companies who have a pricing structure by length that has worked for them for 10 years or more. There is no reason that they can’t carry on. They have a professional products and hot markets like romantica/erotica.

So we have a series of terms to describe this mushrooming e-market, nicknames that look back fondly to the glorious Golden Age of Pulp Fiction.

Pulp fiction – Short stories & novellas that sell for $.99. Also a blanket term for any work self-published to an e-book vendor.

Penny Dreadfuls – Pulp Fiction novels that sell like crazy for $.99 to $1.99.

Dime Novels – Pulp Fiction novels priced from $2.99 to $3.99, written by Indie authors.

Slicks – Novels or backlist by Midlist authors self-published in the $3.99 range.

Super Slicks – Work by e-publishing companies that have their own price structure. Short stories can start as high as $2.99, for 10k words.


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