In 1860 Irwin P. Beadle & Company started making cheap paperback books and selling them for ten cents each; about $1.80 in today's money. This was cheap enough for literate but unscholarly readers to afford, and opened up a new literary market. By the 1870s these dime novels were all the rage. They were usually dramatic blood-and-thunder adventures. They included mysteries, Cowboy and Indian adventures, romances, and rag-to-riches stories. They were sometimes reprints of existing works, but more often were original stories, which were often made into series. Beadle and Co. produced over 600 different titles, although other companies also produced cheap, exciting stories that were also referred to as dime novels.

Dime novels are akin to big little books and the Penny Dreadfuls, although the dime novels were a bit more drab in appearance.