Writing the Book:
After I returned from our 2006 Nancy Drew convention in Chicago, October 2006, I received an e-mail from the licensing agency for Simon & Schuster representing the Nancy Drew properties. A publisher, Meredith Books, was in the process of creating a gift/nostalgia book about Nancy Drew. They had created a concept and had done some test marketing to see how popular such an idea would be with their audiences and found it to be something they wanted to go forward with. The concept was to be a book giving advice from Nancy on a variety of topics like career, men, fashion, food, and so forth with the addition of interactive elements and quizzes, trivia, and other fun things. To get it published by fall of 2007 they needed it written by December 2006, so they needed someone who had a lot of knowledge about Nancy Drew. Enter me!
I'm not sure if everyone has heard about my experience or how I came to write the book, so I thought I'd share that with everyone. It was something that fell into my lap out of the blue, as I was at work on several book concepts myself which I'm still trying to find the time to shore up and finish. But I jumped at the chance to get published and write about something that I love--Nancy Drew! I had just finished a few months before a complete read through of the classic Nancy Drew books 1-56 including original and revised versions of the first 34 and had very detailed notes at the ready. So, the timing was perfect.
I was paid a flat fee for the work, no royalties. I was contracted as a "writer for hire" and though the book doesn't have an author name on it--since it's advice from Nancy--I am credited as having compiled it on the copyright page which I negotiated.
They gave me a loose outline of the chapter themes and some of the extras that could accompany each chapter. It was intended to be humorous in places and tongue-in-cheek. The main thing to do was go through the books and my notes to create quotes and advice from Nancy on the theme chapters. I created a ton of quotes for each chapter theme and they picked from those which ones they wanted to feature. There were also text box intros to accompany each chapter and sub-chapters. Stephanie Karpinske was my editor on the book and she did a great job. Every week I had a chapter or two due to be turned in and over the course of several weeks got everything completed in time for the December deadline. The book is full of great graphics from the books--covers and lots of internal images that they've colorized for added flair.
Chapter 1 is about Nancy Drew's history, so I had to write that up and then some of the side-bar information and the trivia section. Chapter 2 is Career Clues and had fun extras that included all the talents of Nancy and also what her resume might look like. Chapter 3 is Friendship Files and included these fun extras: telling friend from foe and also a personality quiz to see if you're Bess, George, or Nancy. Chapter 4 is Mysterious Men and fun extras included personal ads for Nancy and Ned if they were seeking a "special friend" plus a quiz on how Nancy used her wits and rescued herself when Ned wasn't around. Chapter 5 is Everyday Villains and fun extras included a match game on matching villains to their crimes, a quiz on seeing how Nancy would deal with everyday villains. Chapter 6 is The Traveling Suitcase on Nancy's traveling adventures and includes fun extras such as a match game on matching the mystery to the mysterious locale and places (like homes or interesting landmarks) to the mystery. Chapter 7 is The Style Sleuth about fashion and fun extras include matching Nancy's outfit to the sleuthing situation. Chapter 8 is Recipe for Adventure all about comfort food in the books and fun extras include a food quiz and recipes for some foods from the books like Carson Drew's pot roast, Hannah's cheese souffle, Nancy's cinnamon toast, and the Drew's hot chocolate. Chapter 9 is a final chapter with fun extras that include some match games on clues and treasure hunts from the books, and hidden rooms and secret compartments. Also there's a talk like Nancy lingo section with words and phrases from the books like George's signature "Hypers!" There's also a running mystery throughout the books where you collect letters and then decode them.
Editing the Book:
By the spring of 2007, we were in the editing phase and I was sent galley sheets of the book as it was designed--in full color--of the layout and images to be used and all the quotes and text. I had to go through and proofread everything and look for any errors. Corrections were made and we were done by the start of summer. There was one chapter on Sleuthing which included a lot of use your wits to get out of certain situations like Nancy and sleuthing tips and tricks but that chapter was vetoed by Simon & Schuster during editing because of a similar book (The Unofficial Nancy Drew Handbook) coming out and they didn't want any similarity. It really wouldn't have been that big of a similarity, but that is how that goes...
Publicity and Marketing Issues:
We had our 2007 movie theme Nancy Drew convention out in Pasadena, CA in June 2007 and the publisher sent some flyers for me to hand out to advertise the book. We also worked on a press kit closer to fall and I sent some things for that to be used for it.
The book came out fall of 2007 and was a semi-huge print run of around 60,000 or more books and sold fairly quickly though a few trickled into stores like Half Price books by 2008 or 2009. It went out of print without a 2nd print run due to cuts at Meredith Books and scaling back on some gift books and production. I purchased the remaining 275+ books they had left to use at signings and sell at my website. I do sell signed copies. I see it listed some on eBay and some used book sellers have it at Amazon. It's on their back list, so it could possibly be printed again if the publisher wished to.
There were 2 issues with this book that may have affected publicity/sales. One issue was that the June 2007 Nancy Drew movie had generated massive publicity leading up to the premier in June and following it throughout July. Many papers and magazines ran articles and I was interviewed for so many articles and publications that it was hard to keep up. That makes it harder to get a lot of publicity a few months later when Nancy Drew has been everywhere.
The second thing--a major issue that I still shake my head over--was that after the book was released around October 2007, I went out to the local bookstore just for the excitement of seeing it on the shelf and didn't find it anywhere I expected it to be. It wasn't at the front with similar sized gift books, it wasn't back with the Nancy Drew books, and I didn't see it in any pop culture sections. I was puzzled, so I went to the desk to ask about it and if you can believe it, it was located in the SELF-HELP section! I shook my head and told her there must be some mistake and she took me over in person and there it was!
I couldn't imagine why it would be in the self-help section because the book was a gift/nostalgia book and meant to be somewhat humorous and tongue-in-cheek. I mean, would someone in the shape of needing a self help book--say for having guy troubles or commitment issues perhaps--really benefit from advice like "Do act mysterious, it always keeps them coming back for more!" from the Mysterious Men chapter? Acting mysterious or aloof could be the problem in the first place! Of course with Nancy and Ned, she tended to act mysterious as with this quote from Nancy's Mysterious Letter--and it was intriguing to Ned. If someone was in the self-help section dealing with diet issues, would this quote from the comfort food chapter section on dieting tips from Bess such as "Do spinach and grapefruit really make a good substitute for fries and a sundae?" really be the motivator they need? That quote is based on The Whispering Statue where George wants Bess to eat healthier--we, like Bess, probably prefer the sundae! ;-)
It was somewhat laughable. When I got home I fired off an e-mail to Meredith (editors/marketing/etc.) and asked about this and wondered if it was a mistake and suggested they should be putting it in a much different section--especially so people could actually find it! They checked it out and said that is what Corporate designated it as. So it was stuck in self-help and that didn't do it any favors. I had people asking me where to find it as they didn't see it in bookstores. Many had ordered from me for signed copies from our community of collectors or had ordered at Amazon and it so at least it was easy to find online.
Getting Credit for Compiling It:
One of the big reasons that I wanted official credit for the book was to avoid some of the issues with typical writer-for-hire agreements or ghostwriting--which is having official credit. Many Carolyn Keenes have remained anonymous as is the norm for a ghostwriter unless they've been outed or unmasked like the classic ghosts have been. Issues with authorship and controversies over classic Nancy Drew ghostwriters have been dogging that part of Nancy Drew's history for years. Not that I'm comparing myself to Mildred Wirt Benson or Harriet Adams--I wouldn't do that--but I wanted to avoid some of those types of issues and I wanted to be involved with the marketing and promotion of the book as well.
However, issues did come up and still do from time to time. When it was listed at Barnes and Noble or Amazon and similar bookstores online, you don't see my name 95% of the time. You'll see my editor's name listed instead--Stephanie Karpinske. And when I was being interviewed for the 2007 movie press, when mentioning the book dutifully to help promote it's soon to be release, I had some people question whether I'd really written the book since Karpinske was listed and so I had to point out that she was listed as the editor and that I was credited on the copyright page. Of course, no one had the book in hand yet to verify that. That was kind of frustrating to me. As if I would be making that up... I've had some people actually write to my website to question my authorship and I've pointed them to the copyright page. It's very minor compared to the classic ghostwriter authorship issues, but has proven to be interesting and somewhat enlightening as to how some people may feel when authorship is questioned or at issue. So, I'm grateful they agreed to credit me on the copyright page to head off some of those kinds of issues.
The experience was somewhat surreal to me and very rewarding to be able to put together a book like that and it was a lot of fun! I hope that those of you who have checked out the Clues For Real Life book have enjoyed it as well!