The Happy Hollisters was the best-selling mystery book series for the 7-11 age group in the early 1960s—so why did the books go out of print? The 33-volume series had been created by author Andrew Svenson using the pseudonym “Jerry West” for the Stratemeyer Syndicate (a book packager) with illustrations by Helen S. Hamilton, and the books were distributed by Doubleday & Company through retail stores and The Happy Hollisters Book Club. Although over 11 million books were sold, Doubleday cited rising book club marketing costs for printing, postage, and list rental, and they made the determination that the collaboration was no longer well-positioned for them.
On June 18, 1971, Andrew Svenson proposed termination of the agreement with Doubleday, and club and trade rights to The Happy Hollisters were reverted back to the Stratemeyer Syndicate on January 1, 1972. Andrew Svenson was in declining health at that time, and his son Andy, Jr., (who had followed his father’s footsteps to become a publishing executive and direct marketing consultant in New York) was hired to represent the Syndicate in offering the series to other large publishing companies, such as Parents Magazine Press, Simon & Schuster, and Houghton Mifflin. No mutually satisfying agreements were negotiated before Andrew Svenson died in August of 1975. The full rights to the series were transferred in 1976 to Svenson’s widow, Marian Svenson, who maintained and renewed the copyrights and held them on behalf of the Hollister Family Properties Trust. Marian, with her sons Andy, Jr., and Eric (a successful bookstore owner in the Carolinas), took the lead in searching for opportunities to refresh or continue the line of books with another major publisher. In 1979, four volumes were republished by Grosset & Dunlap, using new cover art by Rudy Nappi, but sales were flat, and the agreement was terminated.
For the next 20 years, the dream of reissuing The Happy Hollisters languished as Andy Jr. and Eric were reaching the heights of their careers and raising families of their own. In the early 2000s, as both were beginning to move into retirement age, the notion of a reissue project again was considered. Although no deal had been negotiated with a major publishing house, self-publishing was becoming more prevalent, with an increasing number of alternatives and easier processes. Both Andy Jr. and Eric succumbed to cancer in the mid-2000s, but just weeks before his death, Eric forwarded the Happy Hollister copyrights to his nephew in Florida, Andy Svenson III, saying “I hope you can do something with this.”
The timing was right, and Andy III was determined to see his family’s dreams fulfilled. By this time, Andy had also spent a good part of his career in publishing and direct marketing, managing book clubs for Rodale Press and Grolier and creating direct-mail catalog programs for Rivertown Trading Company (Wireless and Signals catalogs) and Time-Life Music. His wife, Callie, had also spent much of her career in book and catalog publishing, working on both the editorial side and the marketing side (John Wiley & Sons, Penguin/HighBridge Audio, and Garrison Keillor’s American Radio Company). They also had a teenaged daughter who was carrying on the Svenson creative gene and dreaming of a career as a novelist. She had recently finished a 400-page novel, Andromeda’s Turn, and agreed to let her parents use it as a test of the self-publishing platform in 2009. The test was a success, laying the groundwork for a comeback for the Happy Hollisters!
Self-publishing turned out to be a fairly straightforward process, and with their combined publishing and marketing backgrounds, Andy and Callie felt uniquely qualified to add the Happy Hollisters reissue project to their existing workloads. Working on this “labor of love” in their spare time, they began to see a path forward. Although the copyrights had been transferred to the family, there were no tangible assets—no original illustrations or printing plates to be found. A number of resources recommended simply scanning the original books and converting them to the Word files that were required for self-publishing. This method introduced hundreds of phantom characters and formatting incongruencies—a proofreader’s nightmare. They decided that the best option would be to retype the books and digitize the artwork. Callie, fortunately, loved to type and proofread, so she volunteered to recreate the manuscripts from scratch.
A pristine dust-jacketed copy of the first volume in the series was located, and the project began. Along the way, Callie discovered typographical, stylistic, and formatting errors and inconsistencies in the original hardcovers; retyping and careful proofreading allowed them to consider which changes to make and which to let stand. (For example, the old-fashioned spelling of “good-by” was retained in the reissues but “cooky” was changed to “cookie.”)
Self-publishing functions with print-on-demand capabilities, which meant that once the master files were created, books could be printed when needed, whether demand called for 20 copies or 20,000 copies. After careful analysis, it was decided that reissuing the books in a trade paperback format (5.25” x 8”) would allow for more reasonable pricing compared to producing the books in hardcover editions. If the first volume in the reissue series could be created with minimal costs and sold successfully, additional books could be reissued.
On September 10, 2010, the original volume one of The Happy Hollisters was reissued and back in print for the first time in nearly 40 years—the first-ever paperback edition for the series. Now it was time for the marketing push, to see if there was enough interest in the book to sustain a repeat production for subsequent volumes. For website design, Andy enlisted the assistance of another family member, his cousin Danny de Zayas, who operated a successful website design business in Denver. Danny did a swell job designing a friendly and accessible site, and TheHappyHollisters.com went live. Facebook and Twitter were used to reach more new customers, and a list of email addresses was slowly built up from website orders and inquiries.
Andy and Callie quickly saw that there was indeed a demand for The Happy Hollisters to be back in print. It turned out that many “old” readers cherished their sets of vintage books and wanted to share the stories with their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews—but they weren’t necessarily ready to part with those sometimes-valuable vintage hardcover books. They started buying the paperback reissues to give as gifts, introducing The Happy Hollisters to a new generation of young readers. They also started asking, almost immediately, when the rest of the series would be available. There was no turning back now!
Between 2010 and 2013, Andy and Callie were able to produce 13 volumes. Andy handled strategic planning, e-commerce, merchandising, and inventory, while Callie did the typing, proofreading, shipping, social media, database management, and newsletters. Their daughter Libby helped with typing, blogging, social media development, and book festivals while she was in high school. A dry spell hit the project from 2014 through 2016—also known as the “paying for college” era—and only 3 volumes were reissued. Andy and Callie eased back into production at a faster pace beginning in 2017 and were able to reissue 5 volumes that year—through volume 20.
In a casual email exchange with a devoted fan named Janet Riley in 2018, Callie mentioned having difficulty keeping up with the demands of typing and proofreading. Janet very kindly offered her assistance, and it was the beginning of a truly swell (and eyesight-saving) relationship. For the next 18 months, Janet typed, and Callie proofread. Volume 33, The Mystery of the Midnight Trolls, was reissued in paperback on September 10, 2019—exactly nine years after the publication of the first volume, quite coincidentally!
To put the project in a different perspective, 33 Happy Hollister books equates to 594 chapters; 5,880 pages; 1,091,386 words; and 1,168 illustrations—it was exhausting but worth every word typed and every illustration scanned! Andy and Callie are proud of what they accomplished to maintain the family legacy, but they could not have finished this project alone and are especially grateful to:
- Marian Svenson, for her strategic decision to renew the original copyrights in the hope that the series could someday be brought back to life;
- Andy Svenson, Jr., who not only provided the inspiration for “Pete Hollister,” but who also went on to pursue his own career in publishing/marketing and encouraged his children in their own similar careers;
- Eric Svenson, who didn’t have red hair, but had the sparky personality of “Ricky Hollister” and the grace to know when it was time to pass this project to the next generation; and his wife, Barbara Svenson, who donated her stash of family business files and documents in support of the reissue project;
- Helen S. Hamilton, who brought the Happy Hollisters to life with more than 1,100 illustrations, and her family, who shared the Svenson family’s joy at being able to introduce these classic stories and illustrations to a new generation of young mystery lovers;
- Fabiana Cura, a longtime Happy Hollisters fan in Argentina, who originally created The Happy Hollisters Facebook page and very kindly transferred administrative capabilities to Andy and Callie; and, of course
- The thousands of customers who have purchased paperbacks and apparel, downloaded digital versions, visited us at book festivals and conventions, written reviews on Amazon, and helped us spread the word about the reissue project throughout the world!
Although most of these folks have volunteered their time for this project, professional assistance was enlisted for the jobs that are above Andy and Callie’s comfort level and expertise:
- Dave Ellis of Affinity Marketing Group, a photo-editing and formatting pro who made sure that the publication documents and artwork met all the required standards of self-publishing;
- Sean McKeon and his team at P3 Agency, who have updated and maintained TheHappyHollisters.com since 2016 and were instrumental in the relaunch of The Happy Hollisters Book Club;
- K Sonderegger of Made You Look LLC, who helped design the new Happy Hollisters Coloring & Activity Books; and
- Professional actor Sarah Breidenbach, whose cheerful voice brings The Happy Hollisters to life in the Happy Hollisters audiobooks (volumes 1, 2, and 3 so far).
Andy and Callie have big dreams for the future of The Happy Hollisters, including additional audiobooks and coloring books; international editions; TV/movie productions; reproduction artwork from the series; special edition hardcovers; additional volumes to continue the original series; a Happy Hollisters scholarship; and more! Your continuing support ensures that The Happy Hollisters will remain in print for another generation of young readers, continuing the legacy of Andrew E. Svenson.