There have been lots of interesting articles lately about the franchising/branding of authors alive (Tom Clancy, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, etc.) and dead (V.C. Andrews, Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum). Readers don’t seem to care who writes the books as long as their favorite author’s name is across the top. And those name-brands are attracting some big-name authors, like Sebastian Faulks, who is doing the new Bonds, and Eric Van Lustbader, who is doing Ludlum’s Bourne novels. Lustbader recently told Publisher’s Weekly:
"The toughest part is overcoming some people thinking that this is a marketing kind of book. That may be for the estate, but to me it’s not at all. For me, it’s a labor of love. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could continue what Bob did—create a very unique character."
He did that by killing off a slew of supporting characters and reinventing Bourne to make the character his own.
The New York Times reports that the franchising of authors is becoming very big business…and that the Ludlum estate is exploring every possible angle. In addition to the Bourne books, the Bourne movies, the COVERT-OPS books (which Ludlum began when he was alive with Gayle Lynds), and rewrites of unpublished Ludlum manuscripts, even more Ludlum books are in the works.
The Ludlum estate is following the success of the Bourne books by reviving Peter Chanellor, the title character of THE CHANCELLOR MANUSCRIPT, which was published 30 years ago.
The first 100 pages of the manuscript — by a veteran science-fiction writer — must still be approved by the estate. In addition, a script based on the original “Chancellor” is being developed for Leonardo DiCaprio. The estate is also looking at TV series deal surrounding the shadowy Treadstone agency in the Bourne books, but would exclude Bourne if it is produced. A Bourne video game from Vivendi is due out next year.
“It seems like more of a posthumous factory than anybody I can think of,” [Publisher’s Weekly editor Sara] Nelson said. “And more of a well-oiled machine than V.C. Andrews’s.”
I guess this means we’ll soon be seeing sequels to THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND (The Osterman Weekday, etc.), THE SCARLATTI INHERITANCE (The Scarlatti Probate, etc.) and every other book Ludlum ever wrote. (Does this mean even the novels he wrote under a pseudonym will soon be franchised, too?).
This isn’t new, of course. Hundreds of Sherlock Holmes books have been written, and there were new SAINT novels being written while Leslie Charteris was still alive. But somehow it seems to be much more blatant, crass, and widespread today than it ever was before. I am seeing more and more books "Created" by certain bestselling authors rather than new novels written by them.
But I am certainly not one to criticize the practice of writing or reading these books. Writing a book under the umbrella of a living or dead author isn’t so different than what I am doing by writing TV tie-ins. The only difference is that I have an actor’s picture on the cover rather than a famous author’s name…but I have had the opportunity.
Many years ago, I had a chance to write an EXECUTIONER novel, and passed. I was eager to make a name for myself as a writer and didn’t think it would happen if Don Pendelton’s name was on the cover of the books I wrote and not my own.
More recently, I was offered the opportunity to "co-write" a novel with a famous actor with a highly marketable persona (his name would be in big letters across the top, of course) and, after a lot of thought, I decided to pass. It’s not that the idea wasn’t good (it was), or that they wouldn’t sell (they probably will do quite well), or that working with the actor wouldn’t have been fun (it probably would have been), but I decided that I’m already doing books based on a pre-existing media property (Monk)…and that’s enough. If I have time to write any other books, I want them to be my own.
But I can certainly understand why an established novelist like James Webb would jump at doing a Ludlum novel…or why John Gardner, Kingsley Amis and now Sebastian Faulks would tackle James Bond novels. There’s the money, of course, and the pleasure of writing about a character that they love (or continuing the legacy of an author they admire), but it’s also an irresistable opportunity to reach a far larger audience than they are already reaching with your own novels. It was certainly one of the motivations for accepting the DIAGNOSIS MURDER deal…and later the MONK contract.
I also get the appeal to readers of new books continuing the characters created by a dead author…and written in the same style….but I have a harder time understanding the appeal to readers of the branded books by "living" authors.
I love Larry McMurtry’s westerns and most of John Irving’s novels…but I doubt I’d rush to the bookstore to buy a novel "Created by Larry McMurtry and Biff Pevnick, written by Ian Ludlow" or "John Irving’s THE UNIVERSE ACCORDING TO GARP by Ian Ludlow." Would you?