Western writer Louis L'Amour has had seven books published since his death in June, 1988, an output as prolific as that of the popular author when he was alive.
Similarly, the name of V. C. Andrews, the best-selling horror writer, has graced four new novels since she died in 1986.
In what is perhaps one of the most daring and most awaited attempts at capitalizing on the work of a deceased author, later this year Warner Books will publish its $5-million investment, Alexandra Ripley's sequel to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind."
Publishers, heirs and fans all have reason to want new works to keep coming from popular modern authors who have died. For publishers, the death of the author need not end the string of bestsellers. For heirs there are continuing profits to the estate, and also the opportunity to keep the name and work of the author, often their relative, before the public. As for readers, the death of a favorite writer in many cases need not prevent publication of new books for their pleasure.
The giant is Ernest Hemingway. Since his suicide in 1961, nine books have been published, including two novels, "Islands in the Stream" and "The Garden of Eden."
In life, Hemingway was the best-selling author at Charles Scribner's Sons. He is still the publishing firm's top writer, selling 2 million books a year.
"Except for the fact that being dead prevents him from writing new books, his work no more suffers in popularity from being dead than Shakespeare's does," says Charles Scribner III, a vice president of Macmillan Publishing, the parent company of Scribner's.
The new books of deceased authors come from various sources, some more authentically the writer's work than others. Some writers left behind unpublished or unfinished works for future release. Some heirs and publishers resurrect old books, collect short stories that were never released in book form or revive a book that originally came out under a pseudonym. Still other authors' estates hire a writer to carry on the deceased's \o7 oeuvre\f7 .
L'Amour's future books reside in a bank vault in Los Angeles, where he and his family lived. So productive was L'Amour that Bantam Books will publish one of his works annually at least through 2000--and maybe longer.
L'Amour's old and current works sell 5 million to 6 million copies each year, and he continues to be Bantam's best-selling author. Of his seven posthumous books, six were bestsellers. The 107 L'Amour books, all in print and all owned by Bantam, have sold 225 million copies worldwide.
Next month, "The Rustlers of West Fork," one of four Hopalong Cassidy Westerns L'Amour wrote under the name Tex Burns, will be re-released under his own name, followed annually by the other three. L'Amour wrote the Hoppy tales in the 1950s when creator Clarence Mulford tired of penning them.
Bantam will launch "The Rustlers" with a first printing of 175,000 copies. At that time, the publisher will mount a special promotion for 11 old L'Amour titles. Also in May, Bantam will release 1 million copies of last year's best-selling short story collection, "The Outlaws of Mesquite."
Following the pseudonymous Cassidy books will be original work (L'Amour was working on a mystery before he died), short stories previously printed only in pulp magazines, letters and diaries.
"It's a full-time job," says L'Amour's widow, Kathy. "We have an ongoing publishing program with Bantam, not to mention the audios (recorded books) and the calendars."
In its promotions Bantam doesn't say that L'Amour is alive; nor does it say he is not. The books' jackets describe the genesis of each work and feature previously unpublished L'Amour photographs. There is a palpable sense that L'Amour exists more in the \o7 is \f7 than the \o7 was.\f7
Says Bantam senior vice president Stuart Applebaum: "To his readers, Louis is still around. We still speak of his work in the present tense. When someone asks who will be the next L'Amour, we say he's still with us. We're not convinced he needs to be replaced."
Virginia C. Andrews was also a writing phenomenon. Paralyzed by a lifelong degenerative bone problem, she spun tales of family wickedness from a wheelchair in the home she shared with her mother in Virginia Beach, Va. Her novels, all paperback originals, have been best-selling favorites of teen-age girls since the first, "Flowers in the Attic," in 1979.
Since her death in December, 1986, four new Andrews novels have been published. A fifth, "Secrets of the Morning," is set for June publication with a 2.5-million first printing. Two more new books will be published next year.
Andrews' posthumous books have not been entirely her work. All had help from a ghostwriter working from outlines and unfinished manuscripts to finish three novels and to write from scratch "Dawn," published in 1990, and, presumably, "Secrets."