Earlier this month, Grand Central signed a new contract for one of its bestsellers, Robert Ludlum. The deal was for two more thrillers featuring the amnesiac hit man Jason Bourne, as well as two books with the retired government operative introduced in the 2002 bestseller, The Janson Directive.
That the Ludlum brand is nearly as strong today as when he was alive is more than a stroke of good luck (and Hollywood intervention). Ludlum's agent, Henry Morrison (who represents the author's estate), said he had numerous talks with the author about ways to rely on more than just backlist after Ludlum was gone. (Ludlum died in 2001, but had had major heart surgery in the early 1990s, and that's when, Morrison said, conversations about a posthumous publishing plan began.)
The first prong of the plan was to ensure there were new novels from Ludlum after he died. To that end, Ludlum wrote a handful of manuscripts that Morrison said “he didn't really polish,” with the intention that they would be edited and released after he died. One of them became The Janson Directive. In 1998, Morrison began a rough movie treatment of Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, which was first published in 1980. The success of the 2002 film spawned a new life for Ludlum's Jason Bourne character, and thriller writer Erik Van Lustbader was tapped to reinvent Bourne for a 21st-century audience. Lustbader's first Bourne novel, The Bourne Legacy, was released to coincide with the second Bourne film, The Bourne Supremacy.
While Morrison admitted the success of the Bourne films can't be underestimated when discussing the continued success of Ludlum's books, he noted that it was imperative that Lustbader's Bourne books stand on their own as solid thrillers. He called Lustbader's novels “Ludlumesque in terms of intrigue and plot twists,” but Lustbader's Bourne is “neither Ludlum's nor the movies'.”
Today, two Ludlum novels a year are released, according to Morrison, with one book from the Bourne line and another from the Covert-One series, and Morrison sometimes worries about market saturation. (In fall 2010, the Paul Janson books will be relaunched, and Grand Central, which will publish the second Janson book in 2011, will continue that series if it fares well.) But referring to the management of the James Patterson name—Patterson publishes more titles annually than Ludlum—Morrison said he's watching how other literary brands work out. “If we're careful,” Morrison said, “I think we can do it, too.”