For any poor suffering author out there still convinced that the publishing industry is their sole defense against rampant piracy, lemming stampedes of self-published competitors, or (in the case of Jonathan Franzen), cultural meltdown and the reign of the Great Unwashed, then the salutary tale of V. C. Andrews is recommended reading. More recommended, in fact, than her turgid series, kicking off with Flowers in the Attic in 1979, and continuing in volume after volume right up until the present day. Quite a feat, really, considering that she died in 1986. No wonder her work is so spooky.

v. c. andrewsLaunched into bestsellerdom in 1979, Cleo Virginia Andrews was to enjoy only seven years of success before she died, but her publisher Simon & Schuster, operating through its Pocket Books imprint, didn’t want a little thing like her death to get in the way of a good franchise. (Maybe they need a to look at a name change: something like “Schyster”?) So they hired writer Andrew Neiderman to continue her work, under her name, but without telling anybody.

According to the Washington Post report on the whole affair, Jack Romanos, as incumbent head of Simon and Schuster’s mass market division, convened a meeting on her death: “We were sitting around and it occurred to me that it was possible if we could find a writer … who could mimic Virginia’s style, that we might be able to continue to publish.”

Andrews’s own reclusive lifestyle as a housebound invalid, like Stephen King’s Misery with a sex change, made her especially apt for a little deception. Simon & Schuster let things run for five subsequent titles before coyly slipping in an acknowledgment that another writer was involved. The backup story that Andrews had left extensive notes and drafts at her death was also used to muddy the waters, while the V.C. Andrews pulp mill continued to churn – and does to this day. And hey, what’s a little white lie between friends? After all, people want to believe. And publishers want to profit. It’s a win:win, really. And it saves the expense of changing that instantly recognizable typeface for the covers of all those books.

A positive interpretation of all this, courtesy of  E.D. Huntley, author of V.C. Andrews: A Critical Companion, is that, “with the publication of Flowers in the Attic, Andrews launched a new kind of Gothic fiction, a subgenre that is darker and more psychologically realistic than the traditional Gothic.” Could be. It’s obviously a subgenre that has kept Neiderman in business all this time.

So there you are, authors, here’s one possible future that the publishing industry could have in mind for your achievement and the personal brand that your work has created. To be a sock puppet after your death, a presence in name only used to front title after title that may or may not enrich your descendants, but definitely will benefit them. Now are you still sure you want these people to look after you?


  1. According to the article, the work was done with the approval of the author’s estate, which owned the rights to the name, received the advances and paid them to the true author. The only true chicanery was the publishing house failing to disclose that Andrews had died.

  2. Absolutely not implying that this was done without the estate’s consent, Bill. But isn’t the chicanery of failing to disclose the author’s death and leading readers to believe that it’s still her pushing the pen or the keys bad enough? If it was canned food, wouldn’t you complain if your corned beef was mashed turkey liver? Or if five years after the corned beef brand hit the market, it acquired a little label way down on one side saying “this corned beef is in fact turkey liver”?

    The point is not that S&S somehow deceived Andrews after her death. It’s to warn authors that their publisher, potentially with the connivance of their estate, could try to pass off other writers’ works under their name after their death. It’s also to point out the ethical standards of some publishers.

  3. I’d blame the readers who keep buying the books. The publisher is only filling consumer demand. Robert Ludlum is dead too but his series lives on with a different author. Ditto James Bond.

    If a famous Indie author were to drop dead, there is no guarantee his spouse wouldn’t hire a ghost writer to continue the series. If readers want to buy, why not? It’s a paycheck.

  4. I think the Robert Ludlum thing is a little different. The new Robert Ludlum based books are are titled Robert Ludlum’s Blah blah blah by New Author, Eric von Lustbader iirc. Same thing with Robert B Parker’s books. The new Jesse Stones are being written by one guy and the new Spensers are being written by someone else, but the names of the new people are on the covers.

  5. L.J. Smith did not have a typical publishing contract. Her contract was through Alloy Entertainment, a book packager. Alloy fired her from the series, not HarperCollins. When you sign with a packager, you do so knowing that you don’t own the property and can be fired at any time. While it’s horrible that it happened to L.J. Smith, it’s not something that can happen from a typical publishing contract.

  6. Fanfic and Kindle Worlds have shown how to do this far more legitimately, IMHO. If your own fictional creation throws up something that others want to expand on and embroider, then why not? It’s far less deceptive, and for publishers, potentially just as lucrative. After all, that’s what most of these ghostwriting exercises were groping towards: The author as brand or style offering.

    For actual individual authors, though, I agree with Marilynn: writers should make it clear whether or not their literary estate allows this, if they don’t want their name and their posthumous reputation implicated in all kinds of guff they had nothing to do with – and potentially in actual deception of readers.

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