Janet Dailey and the Curious Case of the Missing Author

Ah, the literary mystery. I’m not talking about works of literature here; I’m talking about real life mysteries involving books and authors. Classic enigmas, like where did Agatha Christie disappear to for those eleven days? Or, What was the story behind Edgar Allan Poe’s death?

This particular literary mystery may not be quite on par with the ones mentioned above, but allow me to humbly present a strange circumstance that I have accidentally stumbled upon.

If you are a reader of romance novels, you may be familiar with the name Janet Dailey. She was an incredibly prolific author who penned multiple romance series, and her characters are much beloved by her fans. (Fun fact about Janet Dailey: she wrote her first book on a dare, when her husband dared her to put her money where her mouth was after she claimed that she could write a better romance novel than the one she had just finished reading. I’d say she won.)

In February of 2021, the new book in Janet Dailey’s Calder family series was released in Canada by Penguin Random House. It is entitled Calder Brand. Now, romance is not typically a genre that I reach for (not to say that I don’t enjoy a good romance subplot), but this book came to my attention because I work in a library, and it has been in high demand.

Image from Penguin Random House Canada

In chatting about books, someone mentioned this one to me, and said, “I thought Janet Daily had died. Maybe this is one of those ‘found manuscripts’ that get published posthumously.” I decided to look it up (I do enjoy being informed). What I found was that indeed, Janet Dailey passed away in 2013. However, Calder Brand showed no signs of being a found manuscript. Rather it looked as though it was the beginning of a reboot of her Calder series. Penguin’s website says: “Return to the roots of romance legend Janet Dailey’s most beloved family—the Calders—in this first book in a brand new series set on the beautiful, unforgiving American West, where the only thing more vital than hard work is the love of an unforgettable woman” (emphasis mine).

It is not unusual for an author’s franchise to be carried on after their death. Very famous and popular authors such as Stieg Larsson, Robert Ludlum, Dorothy L. Sayers, Robert Jordan, and Agatha Christie have had their characters and legacies passed onto new authors to continue telling stories after their deaths.

What IS unusual is the cloak-and-dagger nature of the Janet Dailey situation. In the above examples, each of these continuations is credited to both the original author and the new author (respectively, David Lagercrantz, Eric Van Lustbader, Jill Paton Walsh, Brandon Sanderson, and Sophie Hannah).

When I confirmed that Dailey had died in 2013, I decided to visit her website to see what it said. Here I found a very peculiar thing: Janet Dailey’s website makes no mention of her death. If fact it goes to great lengths to give the impression that Janet Dailey is still alive:

Screenshot from https://janetdailey.com/

Yes, you can subscribe to “Janet’s” newsletter, and you can follow her on Facebook where she has 7.5k followers—some of whom are interacting with her in a way that makes it clear that they think she is alive, and others commenting with genuine confusion about what is going on. Likewise, her official bio is in the present tense, with no mention of her death.

My curiosity was piqued enough to use the contact email on her website and inquire about who had written Calder Brand. This is the response I got:

“That’s a good question and one I get asked frequently. Before she died, Janet mentored a young author and taught the woman how to write in her style. Janet also left outlines of future books and outlines for the characters to work from. I guess Janet knew how beloved her characters were and how heartbroken readers would be if no one ever knew what happened to the Calders, or her other characters. We like to think the writer is doing a good job of keeping to the spirit of Janet’s writing, and she is acknowledged in every book.” 

Okaaaay…fair enough, I suppose, although I did think it odd that if this were the case, there would have been a gap of eight years between Janet Dailey’s mentorship of this nameless author (“the woman”) and the continuation of the series. But I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I checked the acknowledgements in Calder Brand to find the shout-out to the ghostwriter that I had been assured would be there.

There are no acknowledgements in Calder Brand. Not a single page.

I decided to write back to the person I had been corresponding with at Janet Dailey’s website. I told her that I hadn’t been able to find the acknowledgement that she had mentioned, and asked her if she would tell me who the author is. This is what she wrote:

Hi Lindsay,
Believe it or not, I honestly don’t know her name! She’s mentioned in the acknowledgments, but not specifically as the writer.


Janet Dailey’s website seemed like a dead end. (It’s worth noting that the first response I received was also found verbatim in reply to a similar question on her Facebook page. Word. For. Word.) Undaunted, I contacted Penguin Random House. Their curt, one-line response was as follows:

Unfortunately information regarding ghost writers is not something that is made public.

Okay, sure. I get that. In this case, though, I decided to get to the heart of the matter and I wrote the following response:

“Thank you for your reply. I understand that ghost writer information is not something that you can provide. I am curious however—is it not an unusual decision to promote a deceased author as though she were still alive, while not acknowledging that her franchise is being carried on by other writers? Both your website and Janet Dailey’s website refer to her in present tense and neither make any mention of her death in 2013. I’m interested in hearing Penguin Random House’s thoughts on this choice.”

In response? CRICKETS.

I’ve heard nothing further from Penguin Random House. I thought the whole situation was very weird, but maybe, I reasoned to myself, this happens all the time, and I’ve just never been aware of it before. So, because I am a very thorough person, I reached out to Gotham Ghostwriters, a very well-established ghostwriting agency, and asked for their take on it.

They were very helpful. This is what they wrote:

“It’s fairly common for an author’s estate to hire a writer to continue a franchise after the author’s death. Sometimes the writer is anonymous, sometimes they use a pseudonym, and sometimes they work under their own name. Occasionally, if they’re working from a partially completed manuscript or story notes, it will be published and promoted as ‘[Original Author] with [Hired Author]’ I can’t speak to this particular situation, but in my experience, it’s unusual for a series to continue publishing as if the original author were still alive–usually publishers are upfront about a posthumous continuation.” 

So there you have it. The Curious Case of Janet Dailey and the Missing Author. I still have no idea who wrote Calder Brand, but I certainly hope that “the woman” is getting paid substantially more to remain anonymous. My personal take is that it is pretty underhanded to be attempting to deceive Janet Dailey’s fans into not noticing that she has died—because that seems to me to be what is happening. Surprisingly, it seems to be working amazingly well!

Don’t ask me why, when my current career goals involve getting into the publishing industry, I am choosing to write a blog post in which I throw shade at Penguin Random House, a publishing giant. I’m aware it’s an odd choice. I just can’t seem to help myself.

I’d be really interested in hearing from anyone who has thoughts on this or experience with ghostwriting! Do other people think this is an ethical conundrum? Chime in, please!


P.S. Thank you to Schitt’s Creek for being a treasure trove of gifs.

38 thoughts on “Janet Dailey and the Curious Case of the Missing Author

      1. I was surprised to see a “new” Janet D book shortly after her death. Figured that it was written before she passed and possibly finished by a ghost writer. A yr passed and another book. No mention of her death or a ghost writer. I ckd and the date of the book and it was new.??.. Didn’t look at any books til late last yr. I love cowboy series and read the first one, 6 total. No mention of her death or ghost writer. “Tylers of Tx” In one of the last in the series I noticed “copyright by Revocable Trust created by Jimmy Dean Dailey & Mary Sue Dailey. Dated Dec 22, 2016” on another page “With Special thanks to Elizabeth Lune”
        No mention that she was a ghost writer.
        other info: “Janet Dailey.com and Facebook.com/Janet Dailey , Author

        Very deceptive in my opinion. The stories are similar to Janet’s , however, there are many horrible things in the books that I never read when Janet D was alive. Won’t read anymore.
        I’ve been reading Janet’s book since the 70s.


  1. And oh the irony that an unknown and unacknowledged ghostwriter is continuing books of an admitted plagiarist.

    This is just WILD.


  2. I agree that this is deeply unethical. Thank you for raising it.
    When Robeet Jordan died before finishimg the Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson finished the series with full public acknowledgements and Jordan’s pre-death agreement.


  3. Great thoughts! Knowing that Janet Dailey died I simply stopped purchasing any books purportedly written by her. Now if you can just tell me what has happened to Judith MsNaught I’d be a very happy woman. Many thanks


    1. Thanks for the link, Steve! This was a great read. It seems like Dailey’s career has always been steeped in misinformation for the purposes of marketing.


    1. Ooh, so interesting, Rob! Thank you for sharing. It would be worth reaching out to Elizabeth Lane and April Arrington to see what they say! If the franchise is being carried on by multiple authors it would throw a wrench into the story of the supposed mentorship, which might be another reason for the silence.


    1. Similar! The V.C. Andrews franchise has been carried on by the writer Andrew Neiderman, and while he is not credited in the books, the acknowledgements in the front matter do note that these books are posthumous continuations. And a quick internet search reveals Neiderman, who is quite open about it all!


  4. I’m with you. And, although, I am a BIG fan of Ms Dailey, I will not be reading any of books published after her death. I think it is underhanded and unethical to not be upfront about the situation and, therefore, will not support it by purchasing the books.
    Thank you for bringing this to light.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is all very, very interesting. I had just assumed that the books were re-prints of Dailey’s earlier works. I stopped reading anything published with her name after the plagerism was revealed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I too felt that they were re-prints. I am not sure of what to think about her books that have been published since she passed. I am not an avid reader of Daileyś works but have read a couple. I have started reading Whirlwind and will finish it but I think that will be it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s fascinating stuff! Sounds like a bit of razzle dazzle going on behind the scenes, not for readers but financial gain.

    It is in direct contrast to alphabet crime writer Sue Grafton who left an A to Y book legacy, never finishing Z but leaving strict instructions that nobody, never, ever was to resurrect her leading lady detective Kinsey Millhone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love it. I will admit that continuations that I have read in the past never live up to the originals, so perhaps Sue Grafton had the right idea!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I didn’t know of Janet Dailey until I read a free version of Whirlwind. The style of writing put me off at first, but then I became interested in the romance story and very curious about bull riding and of paraplegia. When I researched Dailey and discovered she had died, I went on a search to find out if the two Champion books were written posthumously or ghost written. Lindsay’s research answered my questions, and I don’t intend to read more by Dailey Thanks Lindsay and Rob!


  9. THANK YOU for putting my mind to rest!!! “Whiplash” just came out under her name, and knowing she’s dead, I started scouring the Internet for answers. Your article is great!!! It’s like we all were ask g the same thing. I checked her FB site, and thought it was extremely underhanded to make it seem like she’s alive. I wonder what her family thinks?? Wouldn’t they have to give permission for her name to be used?? Anyway, thanks for your article!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m so glad I found your blog post. I was doing my own poking around about this mystery and felt like I was either losing my mind or something shady was going on. And yes…it seems sketchy to me as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Let me preface this by saying, if I have read books by Janet Dailey in the past, I don’t remember which ones or what I thought of them, so I’m a newbie to her works. That said, I just finished reading “Calder Brand” and I loved it. That led me to go online to read about Janet Dailey and her books and that’s when I learned she died in 2013. In the front of my copy of “Calder Brand” it says the copyright is “by Revocable Trust Created by Jimmy Dean Dailey and Mary Sue Dailey Dated December 22, 2016.” (Her step-children?) But no author of the book was given, so I went online and Googled something like “Who is writing Janet Dailey’s books?” Sounds like a lot of people have done the same thing. That led me to this blog article and others which are linked through this one. They all make for very interesting reading. Thank you!

    Given Janet Dailey’s history of plagiarism of Nora Robert’s books, I understand some people’s decision to stop reading anything that came/comes out under Dailey’s name either after the law suit, or after her death, but the truth is–in my humble opinion–whoever is writing her books now is doing a great job and deserves to be acknowledged. It’s a shame she apparently isn’t allowed to be acknowledged directly. I can’t see the harm in acknowledging her on the cover in the same fashion as other writers who write in the style of now-deceased writers whose books appear with both of the author’s names on the covers.

    Is it underhanded? I say yes. Considering all of the chatter about this situation that is found online, I think Janet Dailey’s estate and heirs, and the publisher, should reconsider their decision and be up front about it. Will this cause me to stop reading books published under the Janet Dailey label since 2013? No, ’cause I’m enjoying them! My apologies to anyone who disagrees with me.


  12. I have been a Janet Dailey fan since her first book and believe I have every one of her Harlequin books, plus nearly all of the others. However, even before she died I noticed a difference in her writing style. It was almost as if she were co-authoring her books. Through Nook and Kindle I have purchased her newer books but just can’t get into them because of something…I just can’t figure out why I don’t enjoy her books anymore. I thought maybe I had outgrown her as an author, but I still love Nora Roberts. I think I recognize the difference in the writing of Janet Dailey books.


  13. The later books are acknowledging someone else is writing books under her name. Calder Brand and Calder Grit mentions it. It appears this person is a better writer with some books.


  14. I talked about this a bit on twitter, but I fully believe the “why wait eight years to release new books if she mentored a ghostwriter before her death?” question being answered by: there is no ghostwriter, or if there is one she’s not doing the bulk of the writing. I think the publisher (or estate?) trained an AI writing software on Janet Dailey’s huge catalog of books once such a thing became possible and they’re slightly editing them before publication. Which would be why the books are “reimaginings” of her previous series; the AI is just spitting out similar stuff as what she already published.

    Also: anyone notice how the keyword for “Janet Dailey” on twitter is just absolutely FLOODED with bots repeating the same thing to promote the new book? What a shitty marketing strategy 😦


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