Fun Stuff,  On Writing,  publishing

Some Pulp Writers

Some Fun Names and Facts…

Since it was asked about talking about the old pulp writers and how some people liked that, I thought I would do a quick post on just a few of the writers who wrote a book a week for years at a time.

Yup, a book a week.

For years.

British writers this post. There were numbers of US writers as well, but the British during the final years of the pulp era and the start of the paperback era had some amazing writers working down in the trenches. (1948 to 1955 or so)

So I did some quick research of names I knew (and that I had books in my collection) and found just a few writers that for a number of years, often longer, wrote at least one novel per week.

The novels were all in the 40,000 to 50,000 word length, some slightly shorter. And they were across all genres. Many being hardboiled detective, a bunch of westerns, and a lot of science fiction. Often they were spicy as well.

Sometimes just one or two of these writers kept entire publishing companies going with their output.

And realize, they all wrote under many, many names. It is almost impossible to find full lists of these writer’s work. At this point, impossible. All records would have been long gone and the writers are all dead. But many of their pen names are known.

Also realize what makes tracking these writers so difficult wasn’t just their fantastic output, but their ability to make money more than once on a piece of work. (Magic Bakery articles coming up.) Many of their novels were in magazines of the time and then reprinted in paperback.

Maybe the most prolific for the longest period of time and across the most genres of all the British writers was John Russell Fearn. (He also sold a lot in the States to the Pulps.) No one really knows how many books he wrote, but he was known to write at least 7,000 words per day without missing, seven days a week. (Do the math.) For more than a decade.

R.L. Fanthorpe had a period of years where he wrote most of an entire publisher’s line (Badger) before he retired and went back to being a preacher.

Other names known for writing a book a week for long periods of time under a ton of names were John Jennison, Ted Tubb, Victor Norwood, and Dennis Hughes to name a few. Remember, these are the British writers.

A few fun ones…

Dail Ambler who also wrote under Danny Spade and other names was born Betty Mabel Lillian William. She was a reporter and a screenwriter, but for four or five years she wrote at the pace of a novel or so a week. One of the few women working at that pace in those days.

Of course, the most famous and one of the most prolific was Stephen Daniel Frances who started off as a publisher, needed someone to write for his company, decided to do it himself, basically, and fired up the Hank Janson name. He also wrote books under many other names along the way, but under Hank Janson he became famous, selling millions.

And that name attracted all sorts of attention in those prudish 50s era and the companies he owned, sold, and then wrote for were chased by the government and most eventually run out of business.

I have in my collection over a hundred Han Janson books in the original British editions and I don’t even begin to have them all.

Remember, these writers either all dictated or wrote these novels on manual typewriters. And some of them got rich, most just made good livings writing stories.

I just find it interesting that back then it was almost assumed by publishers that a writer could turn in two or more books per month. Sometimes one per week. And do that for years on end.

Some Thoughts…

As I have said over and over, modern writers are wimps. We have trained ourselves to be lazy, sloppy writers. The training, starting in school at young ages, is deep and hard to clear out.

But we now live in a new world of indie publishing, where readers matter. And productivity is king. Seems to me we might be seeing some writers unlearn all the crap we were forced fed.

I see writers working 60 hour a week corporation day jobs to pay the bills. Often we have to do that.

But imagine writing 7,000 words a day. With lunch break at my average of 1,000 to 1,200 words per hour (which includes a break each hour), I would need to spend six hours a day writing plus lunch.  About 42 hours a week.

Math is always brutal.

I went to Las Vegas, sat in a hotel room, and wrote a novel in five days while still playing in poker tournaments, talking with friends, and having fun. And I blogged in real time about it each day. That novel is now out called Ace High: A Cold Poker Gang Novel.

You can read it to see if the five days showed or not. (Keep your opinion to yourself, please. I flat don’t care, I’m writing the next book.)

So I know I can do it. And it was great fun.

I have yet to figure out why I don’t have that kind of fun all the time. Every week…

The writers back in the day weren’t afraid of all the things we writers today are afraid of. They had no training that stories had to be perfect, but they had to be nothing more than good stories readers would enjoy.

I for one am happy this new world is heading back in that direction.


  • Marsha

    I am both impressed and humbled by the pulp writers. If I become half the writer they were I’ll be over the moon.

  • Sheila

    I’m happy for this new world, too. It’s always inspiring to read about authors who could and did write more than a few words a day, not edit them to death, and be published and selling their work. There are a lot of people who flat out don’t believe it’s possible, and aren’t shy about telling you the work has to be crap, since it didn’t take years to produce.

    One of the best books I’ve read by a writer is Lawrence Block’s Writing the Novel. Very informative about the “old days” for writers, and a fun read all around.

  • J.R. Murdock

    Every time I see you do a post about the old pulp writers, I keep thinking you’re about to initiate a challenge for yourself to see how long you can keep up the output of a book a week 🙂

    I recently finished a book in 40 days. Weighs in at roughly 98,000 words. I just got back to writing this year after a two year hiatus. I’m now on a sixty day writing streak. I’ve finished one book. Nearly done with a second (that I am working on with a co-author) and should have a third done before the end of Lent if I keep up my pace of 2000-3000 words per day.

    I have a mentally demanding day job where I type in chat rooms all day and send a significant number of emails. I can type extremely fast. Most days I can hit my 2000 word goal in an hour. With the day job, family time, exercise, and general life, it can be tough to find that hour, but so far I am managing.

    My best day so far is 5400 words. I know if I could carve out more time to commit to writing, I would have a far better output than I currently have. It’s all about little sacrifices to get those little slices of time to write every day. If I could pull myself away from the news, I wrote a lot more 🙂

    Thank you for making me feel like I’m not an anomaly for writing quickly. When I tell other writers how much I’ve written so far this year, the reaction is usually envy and they wish they could write that much in a year and I did it in a couple months. I know if they committed to writing daily and treated this as a part-time job and not a hobby, they’d also have significantly higher outputs. Convincing them of that is the hardest part.

  • Michelle

    I got an education about British pulp writers by reading Michael Moorcock’s The Whispering Swarm. It’s a fictional version of his life, but the beginning section still deals with his fellow writers, starting his own Tarzan fanzine, getting published at age 16, and writing a ton of novels. Pretty cool stuff.