Creator / Stratemeyer Syndicate

The creator of many many formulaic juvenile book series during much of the 20th century. Each series was written by many ghostwriters sharing a common pseudonym.

Edward Stratemeyer, the head of the syndicate, took a rather direct role in the creation of many of his books, which may be rather surprising considering how basic they are. He invented the primary characters of his stories by listing little more than a name and a basic description, and letting the ghostwriters fill in the personality blanks to flesh them out. He created rigid plots, but left enough blanks in the details to be filled out by a creative writer. Stratemeyer's books were super formulaic, and the man himself tightly controlled the formula.

Virtually all of the book series were about teens going on adventures or solving mysteries, with slight variations on the concept. As such, the books contained very similar themes and portrayals. Characters had platonic love lives, if any at all (rather humorously, this led to the Alternate Character Interpretation that The Hardy Boys were gay, due to their lack of interest in their nominal girlfriends, preference for male friends, and one brother's close friendship with a boy who disliked girls). Suspense was used to heighten tension, but violence was limited — characters could get knocked out or tied up, but nothing worse than that. Language was tame, and even expressions such as "oh gosh" and "oh golly" were dropped after some readers complained that they were merely euphemisms for "oh god".

Stratemeyer was a marketing genius if nothing else. He noticed the changing times and applied them to his new book series. When the adventures of undersea diver Dave Fearless were losing popularity, Stratemeyer created the Hardy Boys to take their place, with a greater emphasis on dialog and character. When the women's lib movement started, Nancy Drew came into existence, and became hugely popular. The addition of Jewish and Italian characters to The Hardy Boys was a response to America's growing tolerance for diversity at the time. Notably, the characters' only real personality traits in Stratemeyer's original description was that they happened to be Jewish and Italian; the ghostwriter had to give them actual personalities.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate's series include:

This company's work provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Done intentionally by the most prolific ghostwriter, Leslie McFarlane, who believed that kids should be exposed to corrupt and incompetent authority figures in fiction, so that readers didn't become too reliant on them in real life.
  • Bound and Gagged: Often in lieu of "real" violence.
  • Channel Hop: In 1979, after the original publishers Grossett and Dunlap did very little to celebrate the Hardy Boys 50th anniversary in 1977 and gave the Stratemeyer Syndicate a resounding "meh" when asked about Nancy's 50th in 1980, the Syndicate decided to sever ties with them and move both series over to Simon and Schuster (after a rather ugly court case). The series were then moved to paperback, and S&S decided to experiment with the format, both going Lighter and Softer (with Spin-Off Babies series like The Nancy Drew Notebooks and The Hardy Boys are: The Clues Brothers) and Darker and Edgier (The Nancy Drew Files, The Hardy Boys Casefiles). Both franchises are cranking out new books to this day.
  • Crossover: Didn't start happening until after Edward no longer ran the company, but The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have met each other many times since. There was even a three-way crossover with Tom Swift!
  • Extruded Book Product: Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys have often been called "anti-literature" for precisely this reason.
  • Kid Detective: What most of the books were about.
  • Kid Hero: Again, what most of the books were about.
  • Money, Dear Boy: A large number of the ghostwriters were primarily journalists writing the books while moonlighting for extra cash. The salary varied due to the ebbs and flows of the publishing industry, but by many accounts the writers were paid well. (Roughly $100 per book, which, compared to journalist's salaries at the time, approximated six weeks salary for a book which might be four-weeks work.) Leslie McFarlane (the Hardy Boys original ghostwriter) in particular grew to hate writing the books (calling them "those damn juveniles") but kept getting roped back in to feed his family.
    • Reportedly, he eventually refused to continue writing books for The Dana Girls, in which he had to write about multiple female characters while using a female pseudonym, arguing that "starvation seemed preferable".
  • New Media Are Evil: Here, it's not that newer media are "evil" pre se, but when television became the dominant medium by the The '60s, the trope, Reading Is Cool, became dominate in parental concerns. That meant that the Stratemeyer Syndicate stopped being considered the "junk food" of literature and became a proven literary series that young people might be encouraged to try in parents' hopes that they'll read something. Thus when the TV series, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, came out in the The '70s, it sparked parents hopes that it might kickstart their kids' interest in reading fiction.
  • Sibling Team
  • Snooping Little Kid: How the kid heroes get into danger. In Hardy Boys in particular, the boys would do their own parallel investigation separate from their dad, a detective himself.
  • Strictly Formula