It is a reasonably undisputable fact that HP Lovecraft is more well known now than his most of his literary contemporary’s from the golden age of pulp scifi/fantasy magazines back in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Indeed, were you asked to name any of those contemporary’s, beyond those who were already famous writers at the time who’s shorter works occasionally got serialized in magazines like Poe, Wells and a few others, I suspect you would struggle. There is however one writer who made his name in magazines in the same era who’s name is recognizable and who’s work many could name. Ron E Howard.
Howard and Lovecraft were not just rivals for the attention of the editors magazines like Weird Tales, they were also close friends. Indeed it was often Howard in the early days pushing editors to consider Lovecraft’s work for publication, after Lovecraft first came to his attention with ‘The rats in the walls‘ . Howard was easily the bigger name at the time and remains so after both of them died within a nine months of each other (Ron E Howard died first, a loss which devastated Lovecraft.)
On the face of it, purely from a literary point of view, its odd that Howard was more successful than Lovecraft. The bulk of Howards work was centered around heroic fantasy, a genre he more or less invented with King Kull, Solomon Kane and most famously Conan the Barbarian. While these were undeniably successful, and Howard was extremely prolific, no one could accuse him of pushing boundaries in the way some of Lovecraft’s fiction does.
If the editors of Weird Tales and other pulps were interested in stories that were different and unique then Lovecraft should have held more appeal than Howards mainstay of macho sword wielding barbarians rescuing a string of nubile scantily clad priestess from the clutches of a foul magicians and giant snakes… But Ron E Howard, also wrote under a number of pen names, including Sam Walser who wrote exclusively for ‘Spicy Stories‘ a pulp mag that specialized in what for the time was soft core pornography, in short he knew his audience, knew his editors and more importantly knew how to get on the covers of the magazines. As it ever has, in the 1920’s and 30’s sex sold magazines.
And there was the reason Ron E Howard successfully made a living as a writer while his close friend Howard Lovecraft failed to do so. Howard wrote cover material…
Meanwhile Lovecraft’s blend of Cosmic Horror never really held the same graphic appeal as far as editors were concerned so even at his height in the mid to late 30’s seldom graced the cover of the magazine itself. So Lovecraft even at his best never commanded the fees his friend Howard could collect for run of the mill stories, which is why (along with ‘Spicy Stories’) one of them made a good living out of writing and the other didn’t.
Which just go to show, nothing much changes, it’s not what you write that matters, but the amount of clothing the girl on the cover will have that matters to publishers, and if you want to make a living as an independent writer, write erotica…