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Creator / Stratemeyer Syndicate

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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 (1862-1930), 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.

Stratemeyer was a marketing genius if nothing else. He noticed the changing times and applied them to his new book series. When the Boy Scouts were invented, Stratemeyer created a series of books about Boy Scouts going on dangerous and exciting adventures. When the kids were discovered to be secretly reading their parents' detective novels, Stratemeyer created the Hardy Boys to serve as a family-friendly alternative. 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.

Stratemeyer understood that elementary school kids wanted to feel grown up but didn't actually want adult subject matter, and so he focused on delivering the feel that they wanted. At one point, his books featured the same style of cover and size as adult novels, to appear more "grown up" on the surface. Characters would sometimes have platonic girlfriends or boyfriends to give the impression of maturity, but no hints of romance were actually included, because kids were assumed to not want that kind of stuff.

Kids loved his books. One survey early in his time found that over 90% of kids named a Stratemeyer book as their favorite book. The competition simply had a hard time catching up, as Stratemeyer innovated in many fields - copying the popular trends of the time, giving kids the illusion of maturity, and even inventing the concept of the "throw ahead," which was a preview chapter of the next book in the series. References to previous books in the form of characters remembering their past adventures would also let kids know in unsubtle ways that other books existed that they could buy.

Eventually, decades later, competitors would learn Stratemeyer's tricks and the demands of the kid audience, and catch up, resulting in Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys becoming relics of the past rather than the blowout hits they once were. But until then, Stratemeyer dominated with its sheer innovation and its understanding of the market in a way nobody else had before then.

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.
  • 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.
  • Funetik Aksent: Sometimes used as part of racial stereotypes.
  • Kid Detective: What some of the book series were about.
  • Kid Hero: What all of the books were about.
  • 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 dominant 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: Some of the book series were specifically about siblings working together, such as The Hardy Boys and The Bobbsey Twins.
  • 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: 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, violence included characters could getting knocked out or tied up, sometimes for long periods of time. 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". Even "gadzooks" stopped being used due to being a variation of "God's hooks."