Monday, September 12, 2005

A Mystery for Writers

The air tingled with excitement the day this box came into my home.  While it was many years ago, it seems like yesterday when my aunt revealed a box of mysteries she had purchased at a garage sale. My aunt loved to frequent these sales and gained an expertise in antiques frequently picking up a bargain or two. Normally I had no interest in these purchases but today it was books and I was thrilled.

When I opened the box, I discovered it was filled to the brim with Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift books. These books provided hours of entertainment as I read each of these series and went to the public library to read other books in these series. Yes the books were simple plot-driven and on a formula but they are much loved books.

About ten years ago, I met a children’s writer who had written several of these Nancy Drew books. That chance meeting exposed me to a different part of the publishing business which few writers seem to understand. It’s called book packagers. This author ghostwrote her books under the name Carolyn Keene (or the author of the Nancy Drew books). I hate to burst anyone’s ideal here but many different writers wrote those books. 

When I read the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, contributing editor Sandra Tsing Loh reviews a new book from Melanie Rehak called Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

While I’ve not read Rehak’s book (yet), here’s a brief quote from Tsing Loh’s review about the creator, “Nancy Drew has remained so popular since her arrival, in 1930, and answers the question Who was the mysterious Carolyn Keene? Given her brainy if virginal nature, it's perhaps fitting that Nancy Drew burst full-grown, Athena-like, out of a father’s head. He was the children’s-book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, whose expertise at the time—he wrote and published juvenile fiction for forty years, much of it under the auspices of his syndicate of writers and editors—was almost Alan Greenspan—esque. He’d discovered, for instance, that writing under pen names such as Arthur M. Winfield and Laura Lee Hope actually boosted sales. (For the curious, Stratemeyer’s Carolyn Keene began life as Louise Keene.) Also, he was not averse to throwing ever new leading characters against the wall and seeing who stuck. Aside from the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins, Stratemeyer’s somewhat incestuous if lesser-known brainchildren included the Rover Boys, the Blythe Girls, the Outdoor Girls, the Motor Girls, Ruth Fielding, Doris Force, and Perry Pierce. As Margaret Penrose he had a promising start in Dorothy Dale, but upon Dorothy’s engagement sales immediately tanked. It was a mistake his syndicate would not repeat. In September of 1929 Stratemeyer pitched a new series, featuring “an up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful, and full of energy.” Her name would be Stella Strong, Diana Drew, Diana Dare, Helen Hale, Nan Nelson, or Nan Drew (which the publishers, Grosset & Dunlap, eventually lengthened to Nancy).”

Many writers want to know how to write these books.  To be involved in this portion of publishing, you need to learn to work with packagers. If you follow the link, Jenna Glatzer provides some great basic information about this area. In many ways, it’s like other areas of book publishing. You have to connect with the right person at the right time.  You will notice in this article, the book packager has the idea for the book and hires writers.  Because you didn’t originate the idea, normally the packager pays the writer a flat fee for the writing. There are many different types of books which are produced through this method. Some times these books are ghostwritten with no credit to the writer and other times the writer’s name appears on the cover. It depends on the packager.

Mystery solved. While these books had many different writers, I still loved the reading experience of these books.

2 Comment:

At 9:33 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington Left a note...

The whole idea of the Stratemeyer Syndicate is a fascinating story. A few other books worth reading about it are:

The Secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate by Carol Billman.

The Ghost of the Hardy Boys by Leslie McFarlane.

Rediscovering Nancy Drew Edited by Carolyn Stewart dyer and Nancy Tillman Romalov.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Darlene Schacht Left a note...

I guess it's not quite the fame you'd expect from the author of a Nancy Drew book. I'm surprised, but I've learned something new.


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