At The Atlantic, Daniel Gross looks at the factory behind 85 years of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books and the assembly line represented by the authors on the iconic covers, Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene, who never existed at all.
From The Atlantic:
In 1905, a prolific writer named Edward Stratemeyer founded a network of freelance writers and editors. Though you might expect a writer collective to support writers the way labor unions support laborers, the Stratemeyer Syndicate's central aim was simply to produce a huge number of books at the lowest possible cost. "Edward Stratemeyer was a genius," says (a longtime Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew editor Anne) Greenberg. "He was like an idea machine."
The Stratemeyer Syndicate helped prove that book packaging with ghostwriters could be incredibly profitable—for managers and owners, at least. Writers signed away their rights to royalties and bylines in exchange for a flat fee. (Early on, it was around $100 per book.) The syndicate launched dozens of series, guessing that only a few would be hits. It debuted Tom Swift in 1910, followed by The Hardy Boys in 1927, and Nancy Drew in 1930. That same year, Stratemeyer died in New Jersey, by then not so much a writer as a tycoon.
Readers rarely hear about book packagers, yet they're responsible for some of the most successful fiction series in existence, from Sweet Valley High to Goosebumps to For Dummies. Because ghostwriters and freelance editors do most of the work, packagers push down the considerable expenses of literary labor: They don't need to offer health insurance, vacation time, or office space.