Steve Hines spends hours camped out at the Nashville Public Library, poring through century-old reference books and magazines, looking for...

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BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — Steve Hines spends hours camped out at the Nashville Public Library, poring through century-old reference books and magazines, looking for obscure works by famous authors.

He’s motivated by more than just a love of literature.

Hines is hoping to find and publish stories by writers such as Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder — not the famous novels like “Little Women” or “Little House on the Prairie” but lesser-known work.

Copyright for most books and stories published in the United States before 1978 expires after 75 years, putting it in the public domain. That means anyone can republish the stories for profit.

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Hines found a forgotten Alcott story titled “Patty’s Place” while looking through a 1920 copy of St. Nicholas magazine for children in the Nashville library. He published that story as “The Quiet Little Woman,” along with another story he found, “Kate’s Choice,” and sold about 350,000 copies.

“There are people out there who want to read Louisa May Alcott,” said Hines. “That made me wonder if there was more material out there.”

Although these stories were never entirely lost to Alcott scholars, Hines gets the credit for returning them to readers, said Jan Turnquist, executive director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House home in Concord, Mass.

“If you go to Barnes & Noble or any other bookstore, you’re not going to find them on the shelf there,” she said. “What he’s doing is making these stories accessible.”

But even when Hines finds an interesting story with an expired copyright, there’s no guarantee he can turn it into a best seller.

“When you discover literary gold, you have to go out and do your own crowing,” said Hines, who calls himself a “literary prospector.”

His first success was a largely forgotten collection of articles written by Wilder when she worked as a journalist — well before she wrote the “Little House on the Prairie” series.

Hines came across a reference in the 1980s to Wilder’s journalism career in Mansfield, Mo. That inspired him to travel to the University of Missouri to see if he could find any articles she wrote.

“Turns out there was a lot,” he said. “It was a huge success. ‘Little House on the Prairie’ was available on TV at that time on a noncable channel. People wanted to read everything they could by Laura.”

Excerpts of “Little House in the Ozarks” were published in Good Housekeeping and the popular devotional magazine Guideposts.

Hines now is promoting “The Abbot’s Ghost” and “The Baron’s Gloves,” two short thriller novels Alcott wrote under the pen name “A.M. Barnard” nearly a decade before the success of “Little Women.” The novellas have been published by Elm Hill Books, a division of Nashville-based Thomas Nelson Publishers.

In the A.M. Barnard stories, characters are often searching for adventure or tortured by vice. But in trademark Alcott style, the good characters are ultimately rewarded and the bad characters end up miserable.

Hines says his books have sold a total of about 600,000 copies, but not every effort translates into big profits. A collection of Alcott’s Christmas stories edited by Hines and published in 2002 didn’t get shipped to sellers until late December, missing most of the lucrative Christmas sales.