This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,070) on Friday, September 22, 2023.
Since writing about AI (artificial intelligence) software last week, I have discovered something of a “development” in the world of publishing with regard to AI. Amazon, by far the world’s largest bookseller, is asking publishers/authors:
Did you use AI tools in creating texts, images, and/or translations in your book?
The question was provoked, in great part, by complaints from real authors that some of their titles were being imitated by fake authors or publishers or that some books had been falsely attributed to them. Exactly what Amazon will do with the answers to this question is unclear. (Read more about this issue in this article in The Guardian.)
Still, it is some comfort to see Amazon responding to these complaints. Amazon’s record in this regard has not always been sterling. Whatever we may think of AI and its use by authors and publishers, dishonesty is never appropriate, and erring on the side of transparency is the morally appropriate action.
Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.
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Edward Stratemeyer: The Hidden Hero of 20th Century Children’s Literature
If you were a child in the 20th century, chances are that you owe a great deal to Edward Stratemeyer.
But as a young person, you probably did read books like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Rover Boys, Baseball Joe, the College Sports Series, the Bobbsey Twins, or any number of other series of books. They were cheap, and they were accessible. They weren’t great literature, by any means, but they taught us to love stories and to love reading.
The genius behind all of these books was Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930), a New Jersey-born writer who was not only creative and prolific but also a first-in-his-class book producer and marketer. His life and legacy left an indelible mark on children’s literature, making him a literary titan whose name should be remembered alongside the authors he inspired.
Edward Stratemeyer’s journey into the world of literature began at a young age. As a teenager, he possessed his own printing press and an intimate understanding of the printing and distribution process. This early fascination with the mechanics of publishing laid the foundation for his future success. Although he started writing stories as a teenager, he did not achieve publication until he was 26. His perseverance and determination were qualities that would serve him well in his career.
In 1899, Stratemeyer published the first installment of the Rover Boys series, a move that would change the landscape of children’s literature forever. The Rover Boys quickly gained popularity among young readers, setting the stage for Stratemeyer’s future endeavors. While he did not invent the series formula, Stratemeyer recognized its immense potential. In 1905, he established the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate, a groundbreaking enterprise that would become the bedrock of his success.
Through the syndicate, Stratemeyer employed a cadre of talented journalists to write stories based on his ideas and outlines. He adopted a unique approach by paying his writers a flat fee while retaining the copyrights for himself. This shrewd business move allowed him to maintain control over his intellectual properties, ensuring that his creations would endure for generations to come. It was within this innovative framework that iconic series like The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Nancy Drew were born.
One of Stratemeyer’s most remarkable achievements was his ability to make quality literature accessible to the masses. During his time, clothbound books often sold for as much as two dollars each, a sum that placed them beyond the reach of many young readers. Stratemeyer, however, had a vision. He persuaded his publishers to sell his books for a mere fifty cents, a price point that revolutionized the industry. While the profit margin on each book was modest, Stratemeyer’s genius lay in his belief that high volume sales would more than compensate for these nominal profits. History proved him right.
The books authored or created by Stratemeyer sold in the millions, bringing him not only immense popularity but also substantial wealth. His formula of engaging storytelling, relatable characters, and accessible pricing resonated with young readers, creating a literary empire that spanned decades.
Despite his monumental success, Edward Stratemeyer remained a modest and private individual. He shunned the spotlight and chose to live a quiet life with his family in New Jersey. His work spoke for itself, captivating the imaginations of countless children across the globe.
Even after his passing in 1930, Stratemeyer’s literary legacy endured. The characters and series he birthed continued to captivate young readers well into the 21st century. The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Swift remain beloved literary icons, bridging generations and bringing the joy of reading to countless homes.
In retrospect, Edward Stratemeyer was not just a writer but a visionary entrepreneur who transformed children’s literature. His creative genius, innovative business acumen, and unwavering commitment to making books accessible to young readers left an indelible mark on the literary world. While his name may not be as widely recognized as the characters he created, his contributions to literature and the countless young minds he inspired make him a true unsung hero of 20th century children’s literature. Edward Stratemeyer may have lived a quiet life, but the stories he shared with the world continue to resonate with readers, reminding us that great literature can inspire, educate, and entertain, regardless of its humble origins.
Kim Cross: In Light of All Darkness
One of the great pleasures of teaching is watching the students who have passed through your classes become successful. One prime example of that for me is Kim Cross, who for the last couple of decades has been making her way as a writer, editor, and general polymath.
Kim has written several books, but this next one is a big deal. The title is In Light of All Darkness: Inside the Polly Klaas Kidnapping and the Search for America’s Child, and you can pre-order it at the link above. The official publication date is October 3, but pre-ordering is important to the success of the book.
The book is the first full-length account of the 1993 kidnap and murder of Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old girl whose face captured the heart of the nation. The FBI investigation, at the beginning of the age of the internet, transformed the Bureau’s approach to solving these crimes.
Kim has written the following about why she took on this topic:
I am the daughter-in-law of Eddie Freyer, Sr., the FBI case agent in charge of the Polly Klaas investigation. This case has been featured in dozens of podcasts, documentaries, and TV shows (including Season 1, Episode 1 of the FBI Files). But there was no book of record about the case or how it changed the FBI.
Unfolding in 1993—the dawn of the Internet age—this case harnessed new technology in pioneering ways, setting precedents that would be useful to future investigators and searchers. It became a testing ground for new forensic tools, techniques, and procedures, from fluorescent powder and forensic light to the embedding of an FBI profiler with the bureau’s brand-new Evidence Response Team. As ERT member Tony Maxwell put it, “It changed the way the FBI does business.”
Because of Eddie’s blessing, I had access to many people and documents that would have been off-limits (or very, very hard to get) for most journalists. Eddie opened the door for me to conduct more than 300 interviews with 24 FBI agents and 24 cops who worked on the case. Many of them have never talked to the press.
This book promises to be both interesting and important, and I expect to see it on the New York Times bestseller list before long. Therefore, I urge you to pre-order today (as I have already done).
Kim was in some of my classes at the University of Alabama, but I can’t claim to have had much influence on her. She was one of those students whose talent and drive were obvious from the very beginning. With those rare birds, the good teacher tries not to get in their way and to simply give them an assist when the opportunity comes around.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Grace for All: A daily devotional podcast
One of the great privileges I have had over the last few months is working with a dedicated group of folks to produce a daily devotional podcast series for 1st United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee.
Our first season (15 episodes, plus maybe a bonus one or two) is up and running now and can be heard at https://1stchurch.org/podcast or wherever you get your podcasts (Apple, Spotify, Google, etc.). The episodes are about five minutes and are meant to enlighten and inspire.
The episodes are also on YouTube, if that is your preferred way of receiving these things.
My colleagues in this venture are Greta Smith, Jonathan Jonas, Clayton Hensley, Jason Norris, and Mark Blodgett, among several others.
Give us a listen, and if you are on a platform that asks for ratings, give us a rating and a comment. And please let me know if you have any feedback.
Group giveaways for September
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Buffalo Valley Church
Best quote of the week:
What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? Jean-Jacques Rousseau, philosopher and author (1712-1778)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
Helping those in need
Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The woman who created the modern superhero, one more from Futrelle, and a new daily devotional podcast: newsletter, September 15, 2023
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