There are distinctions between a book with one or more sequels and something written in an effort to produce a series. One of the hallmarks of this is offering several titles at once to cause the reader to be invested enough in the characters that they will be eager to find the next volume even though it may be published moths or a year later.
Some articles about series books will take the examples of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and reach the incorrect assumption that all series, particularly all Stratemeyer Syndicate series, had a three volume “breeder set.”
Several Stratemeyer Syndicate series followed this formula of three books in the initial year of publication. The Rover Boys, personally written by Edward Stratemeyer, also had three volumes issued in 1899.
One of the first Stratemeyer Syndicate series, the Motor Boys, had three volumes published in 1906.
Other Syndicate series had varying numbers of volumes that were published at once to establish the series. Tom Swift had five volumes issued in the first year, 1910, and five more fore each of the next two years so that by 1912 one could have a respectable shelf of 15 adventures, spanning 30 inches (76 cm).
Before this, however, the Syndicate put out a news series with 10 volumes written quickly by Howard R. Garis and published by Cupples & Leon in 1909. The Webster series was a series of largely unconnected stories in an updated Horatio Alger Jr. style published under the name “Frank V. Webster.”
The Hardy Boys series had just three volumes published in 1927, all copyrighted on May 16, 1927, so it is a fairly clear example. The other “Franklin W. Dixon” series that started in 1927, Ted Scott, had three 1927 volumes with copyrights of August 10, 1927.
For Nancy Drew things are more complicated. Three titles were published at the same time on April 28, 1930. Then, a few months later, volume 4, The Mystery at Lilac Inn, was copyrighted on October 24, 1930. Volume 5, The Secret at Shadow Ranch, was issued on January 28, 1931. However, only the first three books, The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery were part of the “breeder set.”
Tom Swift Jr. had five volumes published in 1954 but only the first three were issued together on January 11, 1954. Tom Swift and His Giant Robot had an October 6, 1954 copyright date. Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster was a late book for the year from December 27, 1954.
The copyright dates may not reflect the date of printing or first sale but they are a date which can be looked up and used for comparison purposes. For books issued between 1923 and 1963 whose copyrights were renewed, the Stanford Copyright Renewal Database can be a help. If the U.S. work is outside this range of years or was not renewed, it is often well to do a Google Books search for the word “copyright” and the title in quotes. Most of the published copyright records are published and scanned to Google Books. The detail entries are the best, of course.
Another clue is the Library of Congress Card Number (LCCN) which is usually a two-digit year in the 20th Century followed by a hyphen and a sequential number. Books issued together will have numbers that are close together. Sometimes these numbers may be found on a Library of Congress search.
The phrase “breeder set” does not appear in Stratemeyer Syndicate or publisher correspondence yet seen. It is largely a collector term, intended to describe a concept. It is likely that the term was introduced to collectors who read Leslie McFarlane’s memoir, Ghost of the Hardy Boys (Methuen, 1976).
Other terms, such as pictorial cover, are also collector neologisms to describe books where the cover art is printed on the front cover. As it turns out, when the publishers referred to these, they were called “art boards.” Since the collectors were not familiar with this internal use, they devised their own descriptive term.
As he was writing the memoir in the early 1970s, he did a couple newspaper interviews and a 1972 radio interview for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He described a breeder set similarly to the way he did in Ghost:
The Hardy Boys series was founded by Stratemeyer and handed to me as an assignment and I did the first three volumes. Once again, this is how this sort of operation works. You don’t just publish one book in a new series; you do three books. All three books are published simultaneously. It’s sort of a scatter-gun effect. So then if the readers buy it, if the readers go along with it, if they like one they’ll buy the other two because every book refers to the other two books. If the breeders breed properly and sell well, then you go on to a fourth and a fifth—
Searches for “breeders” or “breeder set” in newspapers or books before this have not turned up earlier examples that are connected with juvenile series books. It is possible that it is a term used in publishing but does not seem to be so. Indeed, when it is seen, it is usually in connection with raising of poultry or livestock, suggesting that it may have been borrowed from that usage and applied to books where a continuing success was desired.
Naturally if earlier examples are found, please provide them.