At the beginning of the 1900s, children’s books were aimed at teaching their readers moral values rather than entertaining them. Edward Stratemeyer recognized the need to expand the type of books that children were reading, and formed a syndicate which began creating series that were aimed at entertaining and expanding the imagination of the younger generation.
As the first packager of children’s books, The Stratemeyer Series began in 1899 and established a high level of success in the early part of the 20th century. They were producing most of the children’s books in the United States, until the 1920s. Edward experimented with a previously unheard of style of writing, where the books were all created in a series and they captivated children by allowing them to experience a taste of the adult world.
Stratemeyer produced his titles in an organized assembly line fashion, and in this way maximized his profits. His syndicate wrote books under several pseudonyms, that were also published with different companies. Even though he had written several books under his name, he found that the pseudonyms were more popular. When the demand became greater than he could handle, Stratemeyer began to hire ghostwriters who would develop a story out of a plot that he had written.
Frank V Webster was one of the early pseudonyms that required the work of several ghostwriters to complete. The books were aimed at young males and many were unrelated in characters and location. The plots of the Webster Series were very similar, however, and normally described a ‘rags to riches’ scenario in which a young boy, frequently orphaned, begins to thrive against all odds including the conspiring of the enemies in his life. The authors who wrote for the pseudonym were: Howard Garis, J.W. Lincoln, Weldon J. Cobb and St. George Rathbone.
Stratemeyer Syndicate – The Guidelines
Edward Stratemeyer was a very competent businessman and, even though his daughters inherited the syndicate after his death, they still maintained many of his stipulated guidelines. These included:
- All books written on their behalf would be published as a series.
- The first stories in each series were to be published simultaneously, as this would be the deciding factor behind the potential popularity of each. These first books became known as breeders.
- Each series would be written under a pseudonym, which would allow for its continuation in the event of the death of the original author. This was also one of the reasons why most of the series had several ghostwriters.
- Chapters should end on a high note, to ensure that the readers’ interest would remain peaked.
- Each book would be published in a way that mimicked adult publications of the era.
- All the books would be a similar length, approximately 200 pages.
- Books in the series would begin with a recap of the previous ones. In addition, they sometimes ended with a preview of the next.
- Characters would not get older or change their marital status throughout the course of the series. In Stratemeyer’s first set of books, he realized that the aging and marriage of his characters had caused a decline in readers’ interest, and then added this clause.
- The price of the syndicate’s books was originally set at between half and three-quarters of the price of other books.
In addition, even though there was no written clause stipulating that ghostwriters were not allowed to reveal themselves, this was also implied upon giving an author a contract. When being hired, the writers were instructed to include ‘snappy’ dialogue and ‘cliffhanger’ chapter endings. Ghostwriters were paid a flat fee compensation, for each book that they wrote.