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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XLIII Paperback Books

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XLIII Paperback Books

ON the news-stands are displayed hundreds, if not thousands, of paper-covered books, retailing at from ten to fifty cents. Many of them are merely re-publications of old books, upon which the copyright has expired. Others were written especially for this purpose.

The so-called dime or yellow novel belongs to this class. Comparatively few books of real character and merit, except those which have been published before, appear in paper form.

The books which first see the light between paper covers are usually written by what are known as "hack writers," most of whom produce improbable and inconsistent dialogue. Their only merit appears to be vested in the vast volume of their sensationalism and improbability. The writer may exercise but little care, and pay less attention to detail or to consistency. He may be said to write his story upon a roll of wall paper, and to cut the paper with a knife or ax when a sufficient number of words has been written.

I know of a few very able authors, and men of liberal education, who, for financial reasons, produce this sort of stuff.

The sale of these books is enormous, and even though the author may receive only a small royalty, it is probable that, in some cases, his financial returns are greater than they would be if he confined himself to a higher grade of literature.

One of the most prolific writers has produced a series of detective stories, which are unworthy of the paper which they spoil. He writes at arm's length, so to speak, and gives little attention to the formation of the plot or to the unraveling of his complexities. His books contain words, words, words. Yet he is a man of refinement and liberal education, one who could produce, if he would, high-class matter.

Another instance, which will interest the reader: Some years ago there appeared in one of the so-called popular magazines, a series of detective articles written by a writer unknown to literary fame. This writer possessed a remarkable insight into detective methods. His works showed unusual ability. True, some of his plots and situations were exaggerated, and there was a sort of coarseness to his work, which the critical reader could not avoid seeing; yet there was an undercurrent of remarkable talent.

The literary adviser to one of our leading book publishers called upon this author, and told him that, if he would carefully write his books, and not produce more than two or three a year, he would obtain for him strong literary recognition. The author puffed tranquilly at his cigar, and replied: "I don't want fame. Money's good enough for me, I can turn out several thousand words a day; get my money for 'em, What's the use of reputation? My way's the easiest way, and the most remunerative."

While ninety-nine per cent of the so-called yellow stuff, I use the term stuff advisedly, is a menace, and I believe that it should be suppressed, I must admit that a certain amount of talent is necessary for its production. Where this talent exists, I would advise the writer to sacrifice money for a good reputation. If he can succeed in manufacturing worthless matter, although there is a demand for it, the same effort given to producing real literature would probably result in a sufficient income to justify good work.