Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Brand from Beyond the Grave

The New York Times has an article about the Robert Ludlum business. Although the writer died six years ago, his new books keep appearing.

They're not, of course, written by him; others write them and they are marketed as part of a Ludlum franchise.

Twelve Ludlum books have been released since his death, with a 13th due out in September. The business is deployed now as a kind of film studio, presenting books completed by others or new ones written using his name.

Since early 2006 there have been three alone: “Robert Ludlum’s The Moscow Vector,” the sixth in the “Covert-One” series of paperback originals; “The Bancroft Strategy,” and “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Betrayal,” by Eric Van Lustbader.

Mr. Ludlum did not want to be forgotten or leave behind only an enormous backlist that started with “The Scarlatti Inheritance” in 1971. He had little reason to worry: he is now a brand extended far into his afterlife.

“This goes back to 1990 or ’91 when Bob had quadruple bypass,” said Henry Morrison, the agent for Mr. Ludlum. “One day we were talking about what would happen when he was gone. He said, ‘I don’t want my name to disappear. I’ve spent 30 years writing books and building an audience.’ ”

Ludlum's not the only author-brand that's outlived its namesake; the Times article mentions V.C. Andrews, for example. But the Ludlum operation seems to be particularly skilled at the business.

There is a logic to this. If you are a big fan of Ludlum's books, the Ludlum brand tells you that you can expect something similar. In a sense, all the Ludlum estate is doing is producing more of the product that the writer produced in during his life.

Still, for many people (including me), it's just intensely weird. There's a connection between a writer and a reader, and following a great writer means seeing where she or he will take you with new works. That's kept me reading some my favorites - people like Margaret Atwood and Michael Cunningham and Russell Banks - as they write new books. The post-death author brand may satisfy you by giving you just what you expect. But sometimes the pleasure is being guided to what you don't expect by somebody you trust.

But, publishing is a business, and I'm sure we'll see other authors - or rather, their estates - following the Ludlum model after they've penned their last words and the keyboard is gathering dust.


Mary Schmidt said...

I wondered about that! I knew he was dead - and couldn't have possibly have had that many unpublished manuscripts laying around the house.

I stopped reading his books while he was still alive. He wrote the same book over and over and over (which, I guess is the whole point of the franchise. Reading for people who don't really like to "read read," hmmm?) He always had the slightly zaftig blonde spy; the hulking muscle man; and so on. If it was the character (say, Nancy Drew or James Bond) not the author, it'd make more sense to me (and not be as creepy.)

Maureen Rogers said...

As a writer and a reader, I find this distinctly weird and, to borrow Mary's word, creepy. With Mary, I think it's ok to have a franchise around a character like Nancy Drew because we all knew - even as kids devouring those books - that the author "Carolyn Keene" really didn't exist.

The Ludlum "franchise" would be more tolerable if books were published under the name, so that people would know they were getting a spy thriller, but where the author's name was made clear. But, if you go to the Ludlum site and look at the cover of the soon-to-be-released book it says ROBERT LUDLUM #1 Best Selling Author on it. Which strikes me as a bit duplicitous.