Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Paperback Writer

Regina very kindly took over my post last Tuesday (September 1) as I was caught up in back-to-school busy-ness and bringing my son to his freshman year of college. But in between the busy, I took a moment out to celebrate the release of Bewitching Season in paperback! This softcover edition includes an interview and a teaser for Betraying Season...look for it in your local bookstore!

Speaking of paperbacks…did you know that paperback books aren’t a modern invention?

Short books, political pamphlets, and collections of sermons were published starting in the seventeenth century…but two things happened in the 19th century to really launch the concept of inexpensive books: the steam-powered rotary press, and rail travel.

For most of the 18th and earlier 19th centuries, books were a luxury item (we talked about that fact here); you generally purchased the pages of a book and then took them to a binder to be put into a leather cover of your choice (no debates on cover art!) The introduction of steam-powered machinery gradually changed that: the mass printing of thousands of copies of books became a much easier and less expensive process than the old hand-inking and pressing process.

At the same time, railroads were becoming the norm for long-distance travel. The smooth motion of trains meant that one could actually read while traveling (can you imagine trying to read while jolting about in a stage coach or even in one’s personal carriage? Pass the sea-sick pills, please!) The explosion in rail travel therefore brought on an explosion in the number of people wanting to have something to do to while away the hours…and so the market for those inexpensive books that the new presses could make was born. Railway stations became the main distributors of these inexpensive books—it was so simple to pick up a "Yellow-Back" (so called for their brightly colored covers) or a "Dime Novel" or a "Penny Dreadful" or two when going in to purchase tickets. Most of these were tales of action and adventure and romance, though some more educational, how-to, and literary titles were also popular (Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility was released as a yellow-back in 1849)…not all that different from the paperback selections of today!

So here’s the fun part—to celebrate the release of my own penny dreadful, all commenters on this post will be put into a drawing to win a signed paperback of Bewitching Season. Comment away!

13 comments:

Sarah O. said...

I sometimes think about how books are a lot like architecture - it's the fancy expensive books (and buildings) that are more likely to be saved, while the books and buildings of modest people are the ones most likely to be lost to the dustheap and urban renewal. Poor paperbacks! Just imagine all those books published that might not have snuck their way into a library or archives or antiquarian's collection...

I just read the plot blurb for Bewitching Season. Sounds wonderful! I'll put it on my TBR list.

Ashley said...

Wow I didn't know paperback books were published as a response to the growing of rail transportation. It's kind of nice that the trains offered their passengers some kind of entertainment to pass their time even if the railroad did profited from it.

Marissa Doyle said...

Just to clarify, the rail companies weren't the publishers of yellow-backs...but train stations provided the outlet for sales. Just like the mini-Borders and Barnes & Nobleses that you see in airports today.

Dara said...

I really didn't know that's how books were published then. Interesting to see how things have changed!

Tricia Tighe said...

Thanks for the info. I learn things all the time on your blog. :D

You may have talked about this in a previous post, but why did they use the term "Penny Dreadfuls?"

Melanie said...

I didn't know this! It's definitely very interesting. Bewitching Season sounds like a great book. I've read some great reviews!

Marissa Doyle said...

Hey Tricia--Penny Dreadfuls were more or less just that--sensationalistic stories printed on cheap paper and sold for a penny--pulp fiction in all senses, if you'll pardon the pun. They were usually serialized stories, aimed at a working class adolescent audience though their appeal ended up being broader than that.

Rachel L. said...

If only you could buy a book for a penny today! I would would be so less poor...

QNPoohBear said...

A great teaser for when I take History of Books and Printing! I can read on trains, sometimes on planes but not in cars or buses! I can't imagine trying to read in a carriage.

ChaChaneen said...

I still lurve the feel of a hardback book. Nothing compares with that thrill of a new book. And I would lurve to have this one in my library, paperback and all! Looks like a keeper! I enjoyed learning about the process of binding the book. I didn't know that.

Joanna said...

ooh I have a wonderful Paper back novel I found at an antique store that was published in the 1890s I believe. It's called Estelle by Mrs. Annie Edwards and its a love story. I also have three other paper backs from 1908. I love reading Victorian and Edwardian novels.

I never knew about the Penny Dreadfuls I have heard about the dime novels though. To bad you couldn't pick up a new paper back for ten cents anymore lol.

Rachel said...

LOL Thanks for sharing your post on books/trains!

I want to say that there is a uni in the US or the UK that houses one of the largest collections of penny dreadfuls in the world. I can't remember the name of the uni to save my life?!?!?

Have a great Friday!

Marissa Doyle said...

Rachel, that is so cool! What a fascinating collection that would be to curate.