Death and the Bestselling Author

For most of us, dying means the end of our careers. But for authors, at least bestselling authors, death doesn’t necessarily mean the end of publishing books. Robert Ludlum (the Jason Bourne series) died in 2001, but since then twelve books have been released bearing his name. Mystery author Robert Parker (known for his Spenser series) died in 2010. Since then eleven books have been published under his name. Obviously, other authors are writing these books, using the characters, fictional world and style of the deceased author. Five different authors have written Ludlum books, while three authors have taken over Parker’s three different series.

truefaithOther deceased writers who are still publishing books include Tom Clancy (Grant Blackwood and Mark Greaney), Vince Flynn (Kyle Mills), Michael Palmer (his son, Daniel Palmer) and Mickey Spillane (Max Allen Collins). In some cases, like Flynn and Spillane, the author is working from outlines, drafts or some other original material created by the deceased author. But most of the time these authors have simply taken the characters and world that the deceased author created and written their own stories. An example of this is Sophie Hannah writing mysteries featuring Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot as the sleuth. Or Mark Greaney continuing Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series.

kickbackThe decision to continue an author’s series is made by the deceased writer’s estate. And in most cases the authors chosen are already someone respected and successful in their own right. Ace Atkins, who has continued Robert Parker’s Spenser series, has his own acclaimed mystery series featuring character Quinn Colson. Incidentally, the versatile Mr. Atkins will be the featured speaker at the library’s Booklovers’ Bash this October, so those attending will have a chance to learn more about the challenges of writing in another author’s style and world.

spiderwomanIn some cases, the author taking over a deceased author’s “franchise” is a family member. Anne Hillerman has written two mysteries featuring her father’s characters Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Felix Francis started by co-authoring books with his father Dick Francis when the elder Francis was still alive. Now that his father is deceased, he has continued to publish novels set in the horse-racing world using his father’s name, such as his latest: Triple Crown, a Dick Francis Novel.

flowersYou might think this use of a deceased author’s name is new. It’s really not. The main difference is that in the past, the actual author was seldom credited. Back in the ‘60’s V.C. Andrews wrote best-selling a gothic horror novel called Flowers in the Attic. She followed it with four more books. Then, inconveniently for her publisher, she died. Since she’d left partial manuscripts for two more books, her publisher hired an unknown author (or authors) to finish them and then released them under V.C. Andrew’s name. The books did so well, her publisher couldn’t bear to let her career end. So they hired authors to write in her style and continued to publish the books under her name. At this point, 67 books additional books have been released under V.C. Andrew’s name.

So, there you have it:  the key to immortality. All you have to do is write a bestselling series!

–Mary G., Fiction Collection Coordinator