Corporate Authors?

When my daughter was younger, she read through the entire Warriors series of books, those epic tales of tribes of feral cats and their many adventures. The books are written by Erin Hunter, and at one point during her fascination with the series I learned that Erin Hunter is not a person—it is the name used by a group of six experienced children’s book writers who share authorship of the books.

I pointed this out to a co-worker the other day, and she said, Oh, like Nancy Drew? She then informed me of something I had never known—that Carolyn Keene, author of those great old mysteries for young readers, was also not a real person, but a corporate name for a group of authors who wrote the books. They were another product in what was known as the Stratemeyer Syndicate, founded by Edward Stratemeyer early in the 20th century.

It was Stratemeyer’s idea to employ groups of authors to turn out book series for kids. All of the authors, who were originally paid $125 per book, were required to give up all rights to the books. Over the years Stratemeyer Syndicate authors produced the book series The Bobbsey Twins (Laura Lee Hope), Tom Swift  (Victor Appleton), The Hardy Boys (Franklin W. Dixon), and of course Nancy Drew, in addition to several other less well-known series. A study in 1922 found that the overwhelming majority of books that children were reading in America were produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

In my years I have learned to deal with the idea that the books of some authors, such as Margaret Truman or Elliott Roosevelt, were all written by ghost authors. It happens. But when I was a kid, avidly reading the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, I had distinct images of what Franklin W. Dixon or Victor Appleton looked like. They meant a lot to me. So now, at this late age, it is not easy to be so disillusioned.

What do you think? Does it matter whether the authors we loved as kids are real people or not?

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