Carolyn Keene and the Syndicate

Nancy Drew Mysteries booksThis website has reached another milestone. This is my 150th blog. This time, I’m featuring another Master Mind in crime fiction. I’ve mentioned this before and I’m saying it again. I started reading mysteries during my grade school days. The first mystery “author” I encountered was Carolyn Keene.

 

CAROLYN KEENE

The name Carolyn Keene is synonymous to Nancy Drew. Actually, it is the pseudonym of all the authors who wrote for the Nancy Drew mystery series. Mildred Wirt-Benson wrote 22 novels in the series under that pseudonym. A list of others were also hired as ghostwriters. As I grew older, I learned that Carolyn Keene was a part of a syndicate.

 

THE STRATEMEYER SYNDICATE

Edward Stratemeyer was a book packager known for its books aimed at children and teens.

A book packager outsources the tasks involved in putting a book together then sell it to a publisher. Thus, a book packager acts as an agent, editor, and publisher at the same time. This practice is common in the genre fiction market.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate believed that the thrill of feeling grown-up and the desire for series made their books attractive to the youth. He also realized that books under pseudonyms sold better. Thus, the syndicate became successful.

Ghostwriters for the syndicate were paid $125 for each book. During the Great Depression, this fee lowered to $100 and then to $75. They also signed a contract that gave away their rights of authorship and royalties and should maintain confidentiality. All royalties went to the syndicate and all correspondence with the publisher went through the syndicate office. The syndicate had always gone to great lengths to hide its ghostwriters from the public.

 

NANCY DREW

Stratemeyer created the Hardy Boys series in 1926. After its first publication in 1927, the characters became a success. He then decided to create a female version for girls, featuring an amateur girl detective.

In 1930, the Stratemeyer Syndicate launched the Nancy Drew Mystery Series in yellow hardbacks published by Grosset & Dunlap. Edward Stratemeyer and his daughters, Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier, wrote most of the outlines for the original Nancy Drew series until 1979.

Stratemeyer died in 1930 and his daughters inherited the syndicate. Squier sold her share to her sister Harriet within a few years.

Harriet revised the original books and added new titles after Mildred Wirt-Benson left the syndicate in 1959. Racial slurs and stereotypes were removed and in some cases, entire plots were replaced with new ones to reflect the changing times. Today, the public regards the first 56 books in the series as “classic” Nancy Drew books.

 

GROSSET AND DUNLAP / SIMON & SCHUSTER

In 1979, the Stratemeyer Syndicate changed publishers to Simon & Schuster. Grosset and Dunlap went to court to prevent it, claiming breach of contract. The court decided that Grosset had the rights to publish the original series as they were in print in 1980, but did not own characters or trademarks. Furthermore, the syndicate can choose which publisher they would like to use for the later titles.

For the first time, the court case exposed that the syndicate and its practice existed.

 

NANCY DREW TODAY

In 1984, two years after Harriet Adams died, Simon & Schuster bought the rights to the Nancy Drew character and the Stratemeyer Syndicate itself.

Book packager Mega-Books continued hiring authors to write the main Nancy Drew series and a new series, The Nancy Drew Files. In 2003, a more contemporary Nancy Drew (All New) Girl Detective replaced the two series. In 2012, the girl detective series ended and the Nancy Drew Diaries was launched.


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