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The Book as Author Work: Content Creators

Authors, illustrators, editors, and others are all creators of book content. Darnton (1982, 75) notes that despite the many biographies available on authors, questions remain about the roles of authors in the book cycle such as

"At what point did writers free themselves from the patronage of wealthy noblemen and the state in order to live by their pens?
What was the nature of a literary career, and how was it pursued?
How did writers deal with publishers, printers, booksellers, reviewers, and one another?"

In the article Reassessing "Genius" in studies of authorship: the state of the discipline, Christine Haynes (2005, 290-291) states that

"book historians have succeeded in situating the author in a network of relations with individuals and institutions in the book trade, as well as in the broader technological, economic, social, political, and cultural context... the author is still often depicted in literary scholarship as an individual, autonomous, and inspired figure."

The main focus on recent literature on authorship has focused on the rights of authors. Haynes (2005, 291) states that

"Responding to Foucault's call to investigate how the author became "individualized," legal as well as literary historians have worked to explore the origins in legal and aesthetic discourse of both the material and the moral rights of authors—in other words, both their rights to claim a property in their work and their rights to control the content of their work."

Read Haynes, Christine (2005). Reassessing "Genius" in studies of authorship: the state of the discipline. Book History, 8, 287-320. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Understanding Authors through Primary Sources

woolfThe personal letters and journals kept by writers provide interesting insights into their lives as authors.

Author journals and diaries are one of the most interesting tools for gaining insights into an author. For instance on April 20th, 1919 Virginia Woolf (1954, 12-13) wrote

"I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better."

In Diaries, 1910-1923 author Franz Kafka (2009) wrote

"In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”

Memoirs and autobiographies help book historians understand their lives as authors. Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is an excellent example.

Ledgers and receipts provide insights into their financial success or failures.

fishScrapbooks, marginalia in their personal libraries, book drafts, front matter of books, book advertisements, colophons, and subsequent editions of books help book historians understand how an author's thoughts evolve over time and how their work is impacted by others.

Lewis Carroll author of Alice in Wonderland kept a scrapbook of 130 items that can be viewed at the Library of Congress.

The image on the right shows an example of a page from Carroll's scrapbook.

Besides their own works, it's also useful to explore biographies written near the time when the authors were writing. For instance, in 1825 Sir Walter Scott wrote Lives of the Novelists: Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Rather than trying to explore the many thousands of authors, illustrators, and other creators, this section will examine a few creators that represented different aspects of each time period as it relates to book history.

If you're looking for materials on a particular author, locate their archive. In many cases, authors donate their papers to a university archives. Increasingly these materials are being digitized. For instance, the Willa Cather Archive is located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Writings, letters, images, multimedia, and other materials are available online. In some cases, a foundation has been established for the author. For instance, The Willa Cather Foundation focuses on the llife, times, and works of Willa Cather.

try itTry It!
Do a search for well-known author from the past. If you can't immediately see a library or archives dedicated to their work, try adding the words archives or foundation to you search. Look for URLs containing their name with a .net or .org extension. What kinds of materials can you locate that would provide insights into their person's life and works?

Douglas Brooks (2005) provides a great example of how book history connects to authors and their works. To understand an author, it's important to examine the time when that person lived as well as the publishing environment of various editions of the author's work. In his article The play and the text: book history and the undergraduate Shakespeare class, Brooke (2005, 18-19) notes that

"when a students threatens to exhume the author function by asking if Shakespeare was a racist, I think we have an ethical obligation to begin our answer by posing new questions: Which Shakespeare? Which text of Othello? Only by attending to the text, only by re-locating the material book in the history that shaped its being in the world can we possibly get on with the work of the next historicism. Such work would begin with cultural production history, its publishers and an analysis of its reception. Accordingly, the questions we should be training our students to ask are: Who made this 'text'? When? With what resources? Who read/heard/saw/otherwise experienced it? What did they do with it? How did their engagement with it shape the play that has come down to us?

A lecture on Othello that sought to raise and answer such questions would necessarily begin with the historical conditions in which the play was written, but then move on quickly to the historical conditions in which it was finally published by Walkley in 1622. It would locate the play's materials coming into begin in the anxieties that flourished in the second decade of the seventeenth century over the difficulties of assimilating foreign elements into the English state."

If you're a fan of Shakespeare, consider reading the whole article. IUPUI students can view the article online.

The Content Creators

From Stephen King to J.K. Rowling, today's authors are viewed as celebrities. However this has not always been the case. In a translation of Life of Pericles, Plutarch (46-120 AD) stated "it does not follow that because a particular work of art succeeds in charming us, its creator also deserves our admiration."

Let's explore some basic definitions associated with content creation.

The Author and Illustrator

An author is the person responsible for creating a written work. His or her name may be printed on the title page of a book. The term author may also be ascribed to a composer, compiler, or editor of a work.

The question of authorship is particular important in academic settings. In What is Authorship and What Should It Be?, Osborne and Holland (2009) examined definitions across disciplines.

Read Osborne, Jason W. & Holland, Abigail (July 2009). What is authorship, and what should it be? Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation, 14(15). Available:

Sometimes authors choose not to associate their name with their work. When the author of a work is unknown or chooses not to be identified, the work may be published anonymously. If a work is ascribed to a person based on reliable evidence, it may be attributed to this person. In some cases the authenticity of the author can't be verified. In this case, it's known as apocryphal.

Rosetta StoneSometimes an author chooses to write under a different name than their own. Known as a pen name, nom de plume, or pseudonym, this practice often occurs when the author wishes to remain anonymous. A female author writing under a male pseudonym is called pseudandry. This was common during the 18th and 19th century when women authors were considered unacceptable in society. Many authors simply invented a pseudonym to conceal their identity such as Samuel Clemens using the name Mark Twain and Theodor Seuss Geisel used Dr. Seuss.

In some cases two people working together may invent a shared name such as Rosetta Stone used by Dr. Seuss when collaborating with illustrator Michael Frith on Because a Little Bug went Ka-Choo (image shown on right).

An allonym is the name of a person, usually historical taken by an author as a pen name. For instance, the authors of The Federalist was published Publius to honor the Roman official that set up the Roman Republic.

A book published after the death of the author is called a posthumous work.

In some cases books are published without stating authorship. For instance, a number of people may work together on a writing project. This is known as diffuse authorship. In most cases, no author is listed on the title page. Some publishers produce managed books or packaged books in which the publisher or a free lance agency controls all aspects of creative process.

In addition to authors, books may include other content creators. For instance, the illustrator is the artist who creates the graphic elements of a book such as paintings, drawings, or other visual elements.

While some authors and illustrators cherish the monetary and fame aspects of publishing, others weren't interested in book production. They were simply trying to make a living or wishing to share their passion for writing.

According to Garvey (2006, 159), the issues of anonymity, authorship, and recirculation have made it attribution a tricky endeavor.

"Publishers, reprinters and other sorts of distributors, and readers collaborate to create attribution and an understanding of who the author is. Although writers may not be the ones who decide that their works will cross dress, or travel in borrowed clothes or even uniforms, the tradition that grows around a work’s authorship can have an intense effect on how the work is read and understood."

The Editor

The editor is the individual in charge of correcting, revising, and preparing a work for printing. The editor may also check the materials to verify the accuracy of information and bibliographic citations. An editor may also be in charge of gathering materials for publication.

In large publishing companies a number of different editors may be used including an acquisition editor who seeks new works, a production editor who oversees the editorial process, a manuscript editor who organizes and revises works, a copy editor who checks mechanics, and a managing editor who coordinates writing projects.

Williams and Abbott (2009) note that textual studies is an important area of study because it provides insights that concern both readers and scholars. They use the example of Joyce's Ulysses. In the printed version, the text reads "No mother", however the original manuscript read "No, mother!" Even subtle differences can impact the reader's feelings about a character.

Editors emerged as an important role early in book history. They served as a bridge between the production side of the process and the consumer side. Their goal was to eliminate errors and also ensure that text and images were crisp, easy to read, and usable by the consumer.

Hieronymus Hornschuch (c. 1573-1616) wrote the first technical manual for proofreaders. Titled Orthotypographia (1608), the manual guided "correctors" through the process of proofreading and introduced proofreaders' marks that could be used to make corrections (Cormack & Mazzio, 2005). Notice the proofreader's marks on the page below right.


In 1806, C. Stower published the second edition of Typographical Marks Employed in Correcting Proofs (1806) by C. Stower.


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