Book Sales by Dead Authors are Booming

Posted on December 5, 2015

The Boston Globe has an interesting article that dead authors are selling better than ever. With declining adult book sales, publishers are looking for guaranteed bestsellers. And that's where the dead authors come in.

Joseph P. Kahn reports that the late Tom Clancy has a new book out this month: Tom Clancy Commander In Chief. The Jack Ryan novel was written by Mark Greaney, Clancy’s former co-author. The books take one of two forms: either an obscure work or unfinished manuscript is found and published, or a new author takes on the job of extending a popular series as has happened with the James Bond books.

In the case of J.R.R. Tolkien his never before seen translation of Beowulf was published 90 years after it was written. His son Christopher Tolkien edited the book. In spring of 2016 HarperCollins will publish a never before seen book by Tolkien called Story of Kullervo. It's a dark tale that was the first prose book Tolkien ever wrote.

It is the second category where the real money is. Knopf has extended the world Steig Larsson's Millenium series by turning it over to author David Lagercrantz. The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel has already sold more than 500,000 copies in North America. Knopf has already snapped up Lagercrantz to write two more novels in the series.

The list of authors is growing: Robert Ludlum, David Foster Wallace, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Schulz, Ian Fleming, Ralph Ellison and Michael Crichton have all been published posthumously. So far no one has topped Theodore Geisel, bettter known as Dr. Seuss, as the top-earning dead celebrity. In 2015 Dr. Suess pulled in $9.5 million from book royalties and licensing fees. Now that's longevity.

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