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.
Launched 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?