Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Dime for Your Stories

By Suzanne Norquist

I write dime novels—or I would have in the mid-1800s. They provided cheap, fun entertainment to the masses, unlike more expensive, serious literary works. I would have been in good company with the likes of Louisa May Alcott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Many lesser-known and part-time authors also contributed to the genre. Financial compensation was attractive to a prolific author who could write one story after another quickly.
Erastus F. Beadle is considered the father of the dime novel. He had this to say about his project:

"The idea occurred to me in '59, and I began publishing in '60. The state of the book market was then peculiar. Everyone was publishing books with thick paper and wide margins—trying to see how little they could give their readers for a dollar or a dollar and a half. . .Everyone said [the dime novel] would fail, but it didn't."
A couple of factors contributed to the industry's success. One was the development of lighter, cheaper paper along with improved printing processes. Another was the literacy of the masses. Railroads aided in national distribution of the novels. Soldiers in the Civil War used the stories to stave off boredom as they waited in camp, and factory workers needed a diversion in their off time.

Many of the early stories centered around Indians. They branched out to include western adventures and romance. Detective stories followed later.

Dime novels weaved tales of dramatic adventures, ones that were too over-the-top to be true. They followed basic formulas, and virtue always won out. The exaggerated nature of the stories caused many to criticize the novels and the people who read them.
According to an 1885 newspaper article in the Pueblo Chieftain, a trustee of a library in Boston attempted to "cure" small boys from reading the novels. It's a "disease with its own poison." He created a scrapbook of boys who read the novels. Presumably, these boys performed stunts they’d read about and suffered the consequences. After studying the scrapbook, "[The boy] asks the person in charge of the reading room for a better class of books."

Lower-class Americans openly read dime novels. Those in the middle class read them too but were embarrassed to admit they enjoyed the mindless entertainment.

Women purchased romance and adventure stories. Though the majority of the authors were men, a number of them were female.
Authors wrote detective stories before the heyday of dime novels, but these books undoubtedly contributed to the budding genre. Dime novel detective Frank Reade was the first to use the word sleuth to denote a detective. Before that, the term referred to a bloodhound trained in tracking.

In the early 1900s, pulp magazines (made from inexpensive paper pulp) slowly replaced dime novels. The stories didn't really change, but the medium for sharing them did.

Like in the days of the dime novel, everyone longs for a good story. Since I write fun stories for the masses, I would have been a dime novel author in the mid-1800s.


”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

For a Free Preview, click here: http://a.co/1ZtSRkK

Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.

She authors a blog entitled, Ponderings of a BBQ Ph.D.


  1. Welcome. Thanks for sharing this post. We all need authors like you as well as authors who write bigger stories.

    1. Thanks. I'm happy to write things people want to read.

  2. Thanks for posting! "Dime Novels" demean the work any author does when they write a book. It doesn't mean you do less research, and brain cells needed to keep all those thoughts together are priceless! But I understand the concept and I'm surely glad that books became more available to the common man rather than just the wealthy. And thanks for writing all kinds of stories, short AND long.

    1. Thanks. I identify more with the ordinary people, so I'm happy to write what they would want to read, and back then, people wanted to read dime novels.