Dedicated to the legacy of Edward Stratemeyer, author & founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate

Ghostwriting in the Mega-Books era

A recent article in The Atlantic gives some interesting perspectives on the role of ghostwriting the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in the era immediately after the Stratemeyer Syndicate was sold to Simon & Schuster in 1984.  

Examples of 1980s and 1990s Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books produced by the Syndicate (left) and afterward.

Examples of 1980s and 1990s Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books produced by the Syndicate (left) and afterward.

When the Stratemeyer Syndicate was a separate entity, they supplied the outlines to ghostwriters, edited the stories, and submitted them to publishers.  However, this changed when Mega-Books (and Byron Preiss for Tom Swift) took on the book packager role that was formerly filled by the Syndicate.  The writers were expected to supply their own outlines for approval.  In other respects, the packager edited and submitted stories to the publisher.  Mega-Books offered writers some guidance in the form of a “series bible” that gave recurring scene and character descriptions.  There are relatively few articles that detail the processes after the Syndicate.  

"Ghost Story" by "Tex W. Dixon" in Texas Monthly (Sept. 1995).

“Ghost Story” by “Tex W. Dixon” in Texas Monthly (Sept. 1995).

One of them is “Ghost Story” by “Tex W. Dixon” in Texas Monthly (Sept. 1995).  The author of the article, identified only as an Austin writer,1 describes his work on the Hardy Boys series with Mega-Books.  The text of the article is preserved on a fan site.

An interview with William “Bill” McCay also gives some details of work with Mega-Books for the Hardy Boys Casefiles series both as an author and editor.  Simon & Schuster was issuing larger digest-size paperbacks under the Minstrel imprint using volume numbers that continued the hardcovers.  At the same time they introduced the Hardy Boys Casefiles series with smaller pocket-size paperbacks for older readers.  For Nancy Drew the corresponding series is the Nancy Drew Files series.

Nancy Drew Conference program

Nancy Drew Conference program

At the Nancy Drew Conference in 1993 at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the Simon & Schuster editor quoted in the Atlantic article, Anne Greenberg, spoke at one of the sessions about producing the then-current books.  Mega-Books was still being used at the time though this would soon be phased out in favor of in-house development of the former Syndicate series.  With her was one of the “Carolyn Keene” ghostwriters, Ellen Steiber, who was given a weekend release from the confidentiality portion of her contract with the publisher.  They spoke of the challenges in keeping original titles and plots to avoid reuse of tropes like an adversary tampering with the brakes on Nancy’s automobile—again.  

The edited transcript of this session became three chapters in Rediscovering Nancy Drew as edited by Carolyn Stewart Dyer and Nancy Tillman Romalov.  The first of these chapters was chapter 7, “Fashioning the New Nancy Drews,” by Anne Greenberg.  The second omits identification of the ghostwriter and was chapter 8, “Assuming the Role:  Writing the New Nancy Drews,” by “Carolyn Keene.”  The rather interesting Q&A period following this joint presentation became chapter 9, “The New Nancy Drew Series:  Questions and Answers,” by Anne Greenberg and “Carolyn Keene.”  

Rediscovering Nancy Drew (U of Iowa Press, 1995), edited by Carolyn Stewart Dyer and Nancy Tillman Romalov.

Rediscovering Nancy Drew (U of Iowa Press, 1995), edited by Carolyn Stewart Dyer and Nancy Tillman Romalov.

Needless to say, Rediscovering Nancy Drew should be on the reference shelf for any person interested in the history of Nancy Drew.  It was prepared before NYPL materials were available to scholars.  However, the conference and what took place there, especially during the aforementioned session, were instrumental in placing the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records Collection at NYPL.  This helps to preserve the materials and provide access to interested scholars and Simon & Schuster, given its proximity to their offices.  There was a delay of several years before the materials could be accessed, however, until a donation2 from Chubb Insurance was made to process the business records.  The books, which did not get a donation, are still unprocessed and unavailable after some 20 years.

The new article from The Atlantic provides perspectives from long-time Simon & Schuster editor Anne Greenberg along with a ghostwriter from the Hardy Boys, Christopher Lampton, and Nancy Drew, Alice Leonhardt.3

As expressed by Anne Greenberg in Rediscovering Nancy Drew, the releases signed by ghostwriters in the Stratemeyer Syndicate era are legal contracts, even if they are very minimal, and deserve to be respected by both parties.  From a standpoint of maintaining interest from young readers, there are good reasons to keep the illusion of “Carolyn Keene” being a real person even though it is highly improbable that the same one could keep writing for more than 85 years.

Some ghostwriters have decided to step out from the shadows of “Franklin W. Dixon,” “Carolyn Keene,” and other pseudonyms.  At least during the Syndicate-era contracts, the greatest leverage they had was to simply not offer any more assignments to the writer if they were unhappy about their business details being revealed.  It is possible that the post-Syndicate contracts offer little more of a threat.  To these writers, listing one of their pseudonymous works is merely a line on a bibliography to indicate the size and scope of their writing career for future publisher contracts and perhaps history.

Notes:

  1. A recent post by Joe Holley revealed his role in writing this article.
  2. $75,000 was donated by Chubb at the request of several Stratemeyer Syndicate researchers who made a pilgrimage to NJ/NY for the purpose.
  3. Alice Leonhardt has also written stories as “Alison Hart” and “Ann Sheldon.”  The latter were in the Linda Craig series of Western-themed mysteries, a series originated by the Stratemeyer Syndicate in the early 1960s.  Her work on the series was for Simon & Schuster and the books were published between 1988 and 1990.
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Keeline

James D. Keeline has been researching Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate since 1988. He has written many dozens of articles and conference presentations on these topics and has several books in progress, including a Series Book Encyclopedia, a full biography of Edward Stratemeyer, and Stratemeyer Syndicate Ghostwriters. He has also edited and published several Stratemeyer texts in illustrated and annotated editions under the 24 Palmer Street Press imprint at Lulu.com.

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