Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Dime Novel History

Do you rush out and buy the new releases every month? Do you scour author’s pages and publisher’s sites, looking for the next titillating book to buy? If you do, perhaps you should thank those authors that wrote Dime Novels so many, many years ago.

You see, dime novels were the predecessor of today’s mass market books! The most famous ones, published by Beadle were small booklets with wrappers (covers) of bright orange and a wood cut print in black. They sold for the lofty sum of 10 cents a piece.

There were also nickel novels. These had no wrappers (covers). They were basically broadleaves, printed in small type with two to three columns on a quarter page. Obviously, they sold for a nickel a piece.

Dime novels usually had 70,000 to 80,000 words (which, incidentally is about the total of my first book) and nickel novels had only 35,000 to 40,000 words. I am thinking a full length book and a novella would be great definitions of them.

But do you have any idea of the author’s of dime novels? Or readers?

Beadle sent bushels of its novels to the frontlines during the Civil War! When the troops received their supplies, they also had a great selection of dime novels to choose from.

Abraham Lincoln was a voracious reader of dime novels, his favorite supposedly being Seth Jones, The Captives of the Frontier. This particular book was published in several different languages and sold six hundred thousand copies! Can you imagine?

And about those authors-did you know they wrote under several different names (pseudonyms) to keep readers from learning just how many they wrote? For instance, Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, author of over 100 Buffalo Bill stories, typically wrote a story a week. That boggles my mind. And Colonel Ingraham sometimes made as much as $200 to $300 a book. I imagine if you really good at math that this would translate to quite a lot today.

Now, are you ready for the list of author’s that started out writing dime novels?

Here’s a few that I found:

Louisa May Alcott, Horace Greely, Henry Wadsworth, Longfellow, Upton Sinclair, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Impressed yet? I am.

Here’s a few fun facts I found while researching them:

Beadle’s novels were highly patriotic and very heavy on adventure and romance.

The first ever published was wrote by Mrs. Ann Stephens. It was titled Malaeska. It was about a Native American woman who loses her father and her white hus
band and sets of to search for her missing child.

Novels about Frank and Jesse James were banned by the Post Master General.

James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales were initially installments in a series of dime novels.

Fascinating, isn’t it?