I’ve been saying for some time that we’re not competing for consumers’ reading dollars; we’re competing for their entertainment dollars. They can buy entertainment in many forms, from going to the movies, to buying a DVD or video game, to going out to eat, to whatever. We need to provide something so compelling that they choose to spend their dollars on our books, rather than something of greater interest or value to them. Also, because economic times are hard, there are fewer entertainment dollars available, and consumers are seeking to spend them in the most cost-effective way possible.I'll add an extra dimension to both sayings: time. Joe loves his Call of Duty, and Jane, her Facebook. And, as politics moves from a spectator sport to one of the full-contact variety, Twitter gains an appeal. Writers will need to create something to draw Joe and Jane away from their entertainments of choice. Pulp has an advantage here, as the exoticism and action of the pulps, no matter what topic or genre, have held the attention of readers for decades.
One catch with time, however, is picking a story length. Short stories, once the mainstay of fiction, have been looked down by some as not providing enough story to justify the time. Strangely enough, this attitude even extends to the slush pile of fan fiction, where the only cost to the reader is time. Likewise, epics full of doorstopper books of endless pages can be imposing, scaring away readers. As the ebook market matures, there has been a rebirth of interest in the novella and short novel (30,000 to 60,000 words), or the average length of a hero pulp novel.
I recommend the Maxwell Saga. A mixture of the western and the space juvenile, it offers a rare example of a compelling straight arrow who, through his competence and hard work, starts from nothing yet grows successful in his profession as a naval officer. For the action addicts, the Maxwell Saga is more space opera than Horatio Alger story. For fans of the exotic, Steve Maxwell's continued dealings with the Chinese Triads have become the most compelling thread throughout the five book series. Start with Take the Star Road.