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

Ghostwriting in the Mega-Books era 3

The Stratemeyer Syndicate was working to produce books that would sell for many years.  This meant that there was an avoidance of brand names and slang and popular culture items which would tend to date the stories.  Even World War II was largely unmentioned directly for the titles produced during the war.  Uncle Ned of the Dana Girls or Ned Nickerson in Nancy Drew might be “away” for a wartime story but their actual whereabouts were not specified.  Even something like the war would eventually end and they didn’t want to create stories that were hard to sell in a couple years.

The Mega-Books offerings were much more products of the moment.  Movie and music titles could inspire plots and book titles.  Even the news of the day could be used for some stories.  These paperbacks were issued several per year, monthly for the Files / Casefiles and bimonthly for the digest series.  As popular paperbacks in a long-running series, it was expected that not all of them would stay in print unlike the hardcover series from Grosset & Dunlap where a given title could be sold for decades.

Like the Syndicate’s prohibition on slang, though, there were guidelines about the use of swear words, even ones that might seem tame and OK for television.

In one of the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys Super Mysteries books, there was a lot of objection by readers when Nancy Drew uttered “damn” to herself in Gold Medal Murder (2010).

This incident was a large topic of discussion among the adult fans of Nancy Drew and other series books who participated in the Yahoo Groups and Facebook forums at the time. The Simon & Schuster editors stated that it was a mistake and not a conscious effort to alter the character as it had been presented for some 80 years.

Some early Hardy Boys stories of the 1920s included plots that featured smuggling of opium.  However, by the late-1940s the publisher rejected a plot with a narcotics angle.  After the Syndicate had abandoned the idea, even offering alternatives like smuggling cigarettes, did they realize that the opium smuggling had been used in volume 2, The House on the Cliff (1927).

An even earlier Stratemeyer Syndicate series, with only one published volume, was the White Ribbon Boys in 1916 where the characters take action to convince their town to be “dry” and not sell alcohol.  This “local option” precursor to National Prohibition was personally favored by Edward Stratemeyer as he gave donations and suggestions to the Anti-Saloon League of New Jersey.  Stratemeyer even returned a Christmas gift to a publisher (L.C. Page) of a book of cocktail recipes, stating that he had not had alcohol in his home for many years.

The prohibition theme also appeared in the Janice Day series.  Some of Stratemeyer’s own stories include characters who are overtaken by liquor as a warning to readers.

Mega-Books had this to say about references to drugs.

While the Files / Casefiles series are no longer holding the opposite gender at arm’s length, there are still strict limits expressed in the Mega-Books guidelines.

A smaller portion of the writers’ guidelines features the differences between the Files / Casefiles books for older readers and the digest-sized books for the younger readers.  The packet also includes samples of outlines.  It is an interesting insight into the process of creating these books in the 1990s.

One writer reported that around 1990 a 16-chapter story was completed in 8 weeks for a flat-fee payment of $4,000.  Stratemeyer Syndicate ghostwriters generally completed their task in 4 weeks using their spare time (evenings and weekends) while most of them had day jobs as newspaper reporters.  The amount of pay received changed over time but was generally equivalent to two months’ wages of their day job.  In the early 1980s, writers were paid as much as $5,000 for a story by the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  The numbers may have been small in the 1910-1930 period but they rose with inflation and wages.

Post-Syndicate writers had to submit an outline and get it approved by the book packager or publisher editors.  Part of this approval was avoiding the repetition of themes, incidents, character names, or titles as noted in the original May 2015 post.

Still, even with some expanded scope for stories in the 1990s books, the goal was to keep the characters as wholesome role models.

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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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