Mass Market Lit

Megan O’Rourke files a very thorough article in this week’s New Yorker about Edward Stratemeyer, the man who innovated the use of a literary syndicate for the mass production of books for kids. Stratemeyer, who’d started writing stories at an early age, had already been using pseudonyms, but it was until he ghostwrote for Horatio Alger that he hit on the idea of a series of cheaply-priced books geared toward school-age boys.

Stratemeyer could not keep up with the demand for his stories. This prompted his second big idea: he would form a literary syndicate, which would produce books assembly-line style. From his days of working at Good News, he was acquainted with the best juvenile writers, and knew that any one of them could have built up a 70,000-word novel from a comma, if required, as one such writer put it. By the time the Stratemeyer Syndicate was incorporated, in 1910, he was putting out ten or so juvenile series by a dozen writers under pseudonyms, and had more series in development.

It’s a fascinating read and is particularly relevant if you’re interested in the appeal of repetition on book-buying decisions.