The Sunday Times Online cannot explain why the literary estates of dead authors have suddenly become sought-after business for agents:
What’s going on? Until recently, literary estates were a cottage industry, handled by executors – a grandchild or a spouse, say – in a more or less dilatory fashion. While the work was in copyright (for 70 years after the author’s death) the family would reply to correspondence, renew rights and preserve the writer’s good name. If the estate was represented, it was by the same agent who represented the author during his lifetime. One did not poach dead people.
It now seems the rules have changed. The playground accusation of some British agents is that [American literary agent Andrew] “Wylie started it”, which does not explain why so many have followed his example. Agencies are businesses. They do not promote authors for fun. Estates, meanwhile, are notoriously hard work to manage. Why are they now so attractive?
Five of the eight authors on Sunday Times Online’s list of “literary estates every agent wants” have written fantasy or science fiction: J.R.R. Tolkien, T.S. Eliot, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis.
[Thanks to John Mansfield for the link.]