Upton Sinclair is probably best known as the author of The Jungle, a novel he wrote to draw attention to the living and working conditions of factory workers. Its depictions of what went on inside the meatpacking industry were its legacy (to the annoyance of Sinclair). But before becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Upton Sinclair – like many other writers – wrote pulp fiction.
Pulp magazines were fiction magazines created expressly as entertainment for working-class people. (They get their name from the cheap wood pulp paper they were printed on.) There were many varieties of pulp fiction – science fiction, detective stories, mysteries, westerns, horror stories, superheroes, and so on. But the pulps are most often associated with its more sensationalistic stories, as well as sensationalistic cover art. The “spicy” genre of pulp fiction featured damsels in distress pouring half-naked out of what’s left of their clothes, in the clutches of human or un-human predators!
Pulp publishers thrived by keeping everything cheap. In addition to keeping their printing methods and paper cheap, they paid authors as little as possible. One advantage, though, was that pulps paid upon acceptance instead of on publication. This made them appealing not just to beginning writers but to well-known writers who needed fast money.
Pulp fiction reached the height of its popularity during the twenties and thirties. World War II marked the beginning of its decline. Paper shortages because of the war made it more expensive to make, and after the war, it faced competition from other forms of popular entertainment. One of these was comic books, which some see, perhaps, as the natural heir to pulp.