When is the author not really the author?

Two things are on my mind about this question: both of them were prompted by recent encounters with writers.

The first example comes from an author explaining his/her writing process. This writer finishes the first draft and gives it to three ‘readers’ for comment. Their suggestions are incorporated into the next draft, which then goes to the ‘editor’ for further suggestions, and here again some at least of these are used to produce the third draft.

writing-group

In this particular case, the text has now been developed by five people, but still it is considered to have been ‘authored’ by the original writer, who said –  in jest? –  that the names of all those who had contributed should perhaps be on the cover alongside the author’s name.

It may have been a throwaway remark, but it provoked my question about when the author’s apparent work is more, or less, than the author’s actual work.

In this particular case, the author is very well known and sells huge numbers of books all around the world. The first readers the author uses are people responsible for selling the author’s books in various countries. It is in their interests, therefore, for the book to be as attractive as possible, to increase the sales and their profits. They would not expect payment or acknowledgement for their work, as they are actually employed to maximise sales, and might even benefit financially from doing so.

The editor’s role is slightly different, one assumes, and concerned with the intrinsic quality of the book rather than only its commercial appeal. Prompted by the editor, more rewrites are undertaken by the author, and after some further discussion and polishing the text is sent for the final stages of editing and proof-reading. When it is printed and sold the author might/will acknowledge the role and assistance of all these people, but the reader will still believe that the author with their name on the cover actually wrote the book. In fact, it was most likely the author’s name, not the title, cover or subject matter, that made the reader buy the book. It has almost become a conspiracy of silence, to preserve the image of the author’s sole responsibility for the book’s final form.


The other nudge to my thinking about this issue was a recent journalistic fracas surrounding an article about a well-known British ‘celebrity’. This person had written a  new book and as part of the promotion was interviewed by a journalist. When the piece was complete, the celebrity and her agent leaned on the publishing editor of the magazine to change the article, to make it more favourable to the image they wanted to project and include more positive reference to the book. The journalist was outraged that this was agreed and her article was changed in this way, without her consent – so outraged that she insisted that her name be removed.

OK, these are different ‘genres’ of writing with different protocols. A key difference is that in the first case the author requests and welcomes amendments to her work, and in the second case the amendments were neither sought not agreed. But clearly the line between apparent and actual authorship is being blurred, and in each case the reader is probably unaware of what has happened behind the scenes.

Does it matter? Is the reader being duped?

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The perils of going back

I’m in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at present, visiting for a few days. Over the past two decades I’ve been here dozens of times, three times a year for several years, in the fall, the deep winter and the very early spring, working with teachers and school leaders in various parts of the city and around southern Manitoba.Winnipeg skyline.@1x

This will probably be the last visit, and I was in two minds about it. Part of me wanted to see again people I’ve worked with closely, seen in their schools, shared evenings with and many glasses of wine. It’s a couple of years since I was last here, and as the plane touched down yesterday I hoped it wasn’t a bad idea to return.

Going back can be difficult. Times change, people move on, the work we thought at the time was so significant may by now have blurred and faded, or been forgotten all together. New people are in the schools, new ideas in the air. Would they remember me? Would some say, ‘Ruth Sutton? Who’s that? What did she do?’ All that may be true, but I’m still glad I came. The city I’d seen so often in monotones of white and grey,  snow on the ground, nothing growing, deeply cold and crackling dry, is now clothed in full leafed trees, stretching out towards the plains beyond. Balconies and porches smell of flowers, children play by the river and in the parks, the air is soft.

There’s a party tonight, a retirement and farewell party for me – the only one I’ve ever had – and I’m touched by the thought of it even before it’s taken place. So maybe coming back wasn’t such a bad idea. I used to be a teacher and an educator. Now I’m a writer, with five books already out and another ‘Burning Secret’ taking shape in my head. But I’m still the same person, and happy to see however many of my old friends and colleagues will come and say hello.

By the way, to hear more about the writing, here’s a link to a  conversation I had recently, about all the writing and publishing I’ve been doing since my ‘retirement’.  It’s quite long, but I think you’ll enjoy it.