Saturday, 27 June 2015

From the pulps to the slicks - A letter to the Saturday Evening Post from the Argosy magazine's editor

Many authors made sales to the pulp markets before appearing in the slicks. Usually neither they nor the magazine editors paid much attention to their prior work and did not trouble to call them out. The letter below must have spoken for many pulp magazine editors, surely.

This letter originally appeared in the letters column (KEEPING POSTED) of the Saturday Evening Post dated 24 May 1941. I liked both the sting in the tail of this letter and the attitude of the Post in publishing this without comment.

Letter of the Week
HERE is an open letter to Keeping Posted from the editor of Argosy, reprinted from that magazine :
We were both proud and happy to notice the recent debut (with Blood on the Moon, K. P.) in your magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, of one Luke Short, a writer of Western stories.
Our delight in this undertaking, however, was somewhat soured when we turned to your always edifying Keeping Posted page. There, in an introduction to biography of Mr. Short, we discovered the following discouraging query: "Where, we asked ourselves," you asked yourselves, had this Luke Short been hiding himself, his cayuse and his six-guns?" For your information, Mr. Short, up to the very moment of your dazzling recognition of his hidden talents, had been hiding in precisely the same place that has harbored so many of your other writers—men like Richard Sale, Borden Chase, Allan R. Bosworth, Albert Richard Wetjen, Richard Howells Watkins, Karl Detzer, L. G. Blochman, and considerable company. Not to mention C. S. Forester. (Surely you must have heard of Captain Hornblower.) The place we refer to is the pages of the Argosy.
Mr. Short, for instance, has sold us two serials and a great many short stories. A substantial number of readers admired and praised his work. Among them are conceivably several thousand who read both your magazine and ours. How do you think they are going to like your thesis that until they came upon Mr. Short in your book neither he nor they had any existence? But that, of course, is your problem.
Assuming for the moment that, until Mr. Short's manuscript arrived like an unheralded bombshell on your busy desk, you had never been aware of his previously published work, still we find you a little ungrateful. Perhaps it is mere egotism on our part, but we like to think that the Argosy played a part in the development of the writers we have mentioned. It might be quite possible that the work they did for us helped them to be worthy of you.
But this was intended to be congratulatory, not reproving, so we rejoice in Mr. Short's new eminence.
And we hope you will cherish him as we do. We even hope you got as good a Short story as the ones we printed.
Your ever-loving, if nonexistent, co-worker,


  1. It's ironic that back in 1941 the slicks were considered to be so much better than the pulps. They paid several times the miserable 1 to 3 cents a word rate that the pulps paid and they used a far better quality paper. All the authors wanted to be a success in the slicks.

    However now we see that very little is really worth reprinting from the slick magazines, especially when compared to the recent fiction being reprinted from the pulps. We live in the The Golden Age of Pulp Reprints while much of the slick fiction remains buried mainly because the slicks also had a basic formula that they followed. This formula is very dated by today's standards.

    Rightly or wrongly, many of the slick editors thought that the majority of their circulation was comprised of women readers and they thought that these female readers wanted a heavy dose of romance in the fiction. Or as Arthur Sullivant Hoffman, editor of ADVENTURE, called it: women's interest fiction concentrating on such subjects as love, romance, and other subjects the editors thought that women might be interested in reading.

    Actually The Saturday Evening Post was one of the titles that did publish westerns and mysteries but so many of the other slick magazines were slanted toward the women readers. Pulps are often criticized because of the formulaic fiction but the slicks also suffered from this fault, perhaps even more than the pulps.

    One classic example is Fred Nebel who dismissed his pulp work in BLACK MASK and DIME DETECTIVE and actually thought his slick fiction to be far better. I've read much of his non-pulp work and it is not impressive at all. It certainly is not being reprinted.

    1. I agree with you, Walker, that formulaic writing is hard to retread today, whether it is from the slicks or the pulps. But I don't want to dismiss the slicks too harshly- both Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post included westerns and mysteries as well as humor, an important genre. I enjoy the Glencannon and Alexander Botts stories from the SEP

    2. I've read many stories in the Glencannon and Alexander Botts series and I would have to say that the Glencannon series is one of my favorites. Hilarious stories that are available easily in hardcover reprints. I managed to track down a large painting by Harold Von Schmidt showing Glencannon meeting Tugboat Annie.

      The author Guy Gilpatric, killed his wife and committed suicide over what some say was a mistaken diagnosis of cancer. A sad tragic end for an author of such a funny series.