The Mystery of “Nancy Drew” and the Author that Never Was

The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift were all the product of one man, Edward Stratemeyer, a New Jersey author who wrote more than 1,300 books and eventually founded a syndicate of ghostwriters who pounded out juvenile mysteries based on his instructions. Thus book syndication was born. They were referred to as “book factories” and were extremely profitable.

Stratemeyer conceived the syndicate when his Rover Boys series proved so popular that he could not keep up with the demand for more books. He corralled a stable of hungry young writers, and in 1910 they were producing 10 new series annually. Each writer earned $50 to $250 for a manuscript he could produce in a month, working with characters and plot devised by Stratemeyer. He would review each completed manuscript for consistency and publish it under a pseudonym that he owned — Franklin W. Dixon, Carolyn Keene, Laura Lee Hope, Victor Appleton. Each book in a series mentioned the thrilling earlier volumes and foreshadowed the next book. The formula worked so well that when Stratemeyer died in 1930 his daughter continued the business; when she died in 1982 the syndicate was selling more than 2 million books a year.

This sounds cynical, but it worked because Stratemeyer had a sympathetic understanding of what young readers wanted. “The trouble is that very few adults get next to the heart of a boy when choosing something for him to read,” Stratemeyer wrote to a publisher in 1901. “A wide awake lad has no patience with that which is namby-pamby, or with that which he puts down as a ‘study book’ in disguise. He demands real flesh and blood heroes who do something.”

Writing books. I am obviously doing it wrong.

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