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Come writers and critics

Who prophesize with your pen

And keep your eyes wide

The chance won’t come again. . .

For the times they are a-changin.’

–Bob Dylan

The times are changing. Remember when pulp fiction was a thing of the past? When  pulp junkies in search of a cheap fix had to scour the moldy shelves of used book stores for crumbling copies of withered magazines?You could hardly find anything new in pulp, because editors and publishers weren’t interested in publishing it. You had to settle for the few vintage collections that came out occasionally.

And remember when, if you were a writer and wanted to get published, you either had to send it to an agent or submit it cold to a publisher? The Catch 22 was that if you didn’t have an agent, no publisher would accept your work, and if you hadn’t been published, no agent would represent you. And your chances of getting published largely depended on whether you were willing to write the kind of fiction the publishers were buying.

The point is that your choices and options as both reader and writer were limited by the powerful few who controlled the publishing business. They dictated what could be profitably written and what people could spend their money on. But not any more. It’s all changing. There’s been something going on in the publishing business the last several years, and it’s nothing less than what I’ve been calling a Neo-Pulp Electronic Revolution.

It began in the 1990s, when a few pioneering individuals decided they wanted to independently write and publish the kind of fiction they wanted to read and write, but wasn’t being offered by the mainstream.

Back in 2007 when I was reading slush for Raygun Revival (RGR), we had a discussion on the forum about the emergence of a new kind of fiction that was showing up on the internet. Raygun was an e-zine devoted to space opera. While some considered space opera a term of disparagement, the RGR folks embraced it and proudly waved their rayguns high.

Pulp and Dagger Fiction

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At the same time that RGR was turning out its on-line issues, there were other pulp e-zines appearing on the ethernet. One of the first to appear was in an online magazine called Pulp and Dagger Fiction, started in 1998 by Jeffrey Blair and D.K. Latta. Their e-zine featured all the pulp genres. Horror, jungle tales, space adventures were all included. I don’t know if it was the first such publication, but it was one of the early ones, and others soon followed.

Most of them were produced by people working on desktop computers at home in their spare time. They made little or no money out of it. They worked for the sheer love of writing and publishing the kind of stories they loved to read but couldn’t find anywhere else.

There was a difference though, in the pulp being presented by these publications. While inspired by the original pulpsters, there was also a modern influence that came from contemporary sources.  Raygun Revival, for example, was as much influenced by Firefly and Star Wars as it was by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars stories, or Flash Gordon. And the writing was more up-to-date, more suited for today’s reader, who won’t settle for the plot formulas and paper-thin characters of the past.

Unfortunately Raygun Revival and Pulp and Dagger are no longer with us. The lifespan of publications built and maintained by people who work for the love of what they’re doing, rather than monetary gain, is not long. But their pioneering efforts have had far-reaching influence. There are now numerous pulp e-zines and even more small presses that focus specifically on pulp genres. Small, independent publishers specializing in horror, crime, western, space opera– all the kind of thing you used to find on the corner newsstands of the past in a 10 cent magazine– are all busy. 

The Self-Publishing Explosion

But perhaps an even more important part of the Neo-Pulp Electronic Revolution is the explosion in self-publishing as an easy and profitable way for newcomers to break into print. Writers no longer have to go through the frustrating process of trying to find an agent or a publisher. They can do it themselves at home on their laptops.

Seige at Rio Muerto ebookMore and more new writers are going this route and they are being encouraged by some of the bigger names. Lawrence Block, for one, advised on his blog that anyone just starting out should not bother with agents and editors, but instead do it themselves. Dean Wesley Smith has long been an advocate of this approach. Some best-selling authors are turning their out-of-print novels into self-published e-books.

I was formerly of a mind that self-publishing was nothing but a vanity trip for wannabes. It may still be that to some degree. But self-publishing is also a way for a serious writer to take control of his own destiny. I took the plunge with my novel Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto, which was excerpted here on Amazing Stories. It has been a very rewarding experience and I’m happy to say that Vampire Siege is doing well, consistently remaining in the top 100 Western Horror Kindle Best Sellers since October.

The old publishing paradigms have been shattered forever. It was the internet and desk top publishing and the dedication of people who worked for the love of it that ultimately has made the Neo-Pulp Electronic Revolution possible. Who knows where it will all lead or how long it will last? But one thing is certain. Like the song says, times are changing. There’s excitement in the air. Welcome to the revolution.

There’s a battle outside/And it’s ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows/And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’.

(This blog also appears on the Amazing Stories Magazine Website.)

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