William W. Johnstone created a beloved vision of the old American West, in which marshals maintain law in lawless towns and every day brings another brush with death. Though William W. Johnstone passed away in 2004, his world lives on. J.A. Johnstone, with the help of the Johnstones' longtime editorial director, Gary Goldstein, and agent, Robin Rue, keeps the family legacy going. In 2018, fans can look forward to 25 new Johnstone books.
New Johnstone books bear the byline "William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone." They're written with the help of "Johnstone family and friends who are familiar with Bill's writing style, his voice, his vision and his strengths as a storyteller," explained Goldstein. And J.A., who acted as William's amanuensis for years, is on the family ranch in Tennessee, making sure the books are true to their originator's spirit.
The letters and calls J.A. regularly receives from longtime Johnstone fans—who have bought more than 30 million Johnstone books, an average of 1.5 million a year—attest to their continuing devotion. "So many times I've received emails from people who tell me that they never liked reading much until they picked up a W.W. Johnstone book and it changed them. I hear from grandparents who got their grandchildren to read by passing down their Johnstone books, too," said J.A. "I even received a phone call from an 89-year-old gentleman who says he told his children that when he dies he wants to be buried with his overalls, his bag of tobacco, and his William W. Johnstone books."
What makes the Johnstone brand so enduring? According to J.A., "When a reader picks up a Johnstone book, they know that, no matter how bad the bad guys are, family, loyalty and good will always prevail. They also know they are in for a great adventure." Fans can also count on meticulously researched historical accuracy. "If the story has the protagonist toting a single-shot Springfield Model 1873 .45.70-caliber carbine, you can be damned sure that's exactly what's on the cover. Nothing can sink a western faster than historical goofs," said Goldstein, who is arguably the industry's leading expert on the western genre.
In 2018, Kensington will launch eight new Johnstone series. The Chuckwagon Trail, the first book in a new series debuting in May, follows a young man on the run for a murder he didn't commit, hiding out as a cook on a cattle drive. Yuma Prison Crashout (Aug.) starts a series about Hank Fallon, whose unusual job sends him into prisons to find out where bloodthirsty robbers have hidden their loot. Rattlesnake Wells, Wyoming, the beginning of a series about a reformed outlaw who risks his life to keep the West's most dangerous boomtown safe—originally a Walmart exclusive—saw general release in February. And there are plenty more, including The Morgans, which kicks off a new series featuring Frank Morgan and his son Conrad, heroes who will be well-known to Johnstone fans. And other annual series continue; in September comes Trigger Warning, this year's annual Johnstone thriller. The next installment of the popular Christmas-themed annuals, A High Sierra Christmas, comes in November 2018.
According to Kensington, 2017 was the Johnstone brand's best year ever, with 18 PW bestsellers and 15 titles on the USA Today charts for a total of 27 weeks. Johnstone is among the top 2 bestselling authors at Walmart, and overall around three-quarters of all westerns sold in any given week are Johnstone books, according to Steven Zacharius, Kensington's President and CEO.
"Johnstone protagonists are by turns law-abiding, relatively honest, and, when all else fails, violent if the situation calls for it," said Goldstein. But, he continued, "human decency, respect for the law of the land, and love of country are what guide their actions." Those heroes make Johnstone books a sure bet for booksellers, libraries, and, of course, for readers.