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A copyright certificate certifying the authorship for a proof of the <a href="/content/Fermat%27s_Last_Theorem" style="color:blue">Fermat theorem</a>, issued by the State Department of Intellectual Property of <a href="/content/Ukraine" style="color:blue">Ukraine</a>.
A copyright certificate certifying the authorship for a proof of the Fermat theorem, issued by the State Department of Intellectual Property of Ukraine.

An author is the creator or originator of any written work such as a book or play, and is also considered a writer. More broadly defined, an author is "the person who originated or gave existence to anything" and whose authorship determines responsibility for what was created.[1]

Legal significance of authorship

Typically, the first owner of a copyright is the person who created the work i.e. the author.

Questions arise as to the application of copyright law.

Philosophical views of the nature of authorship

In literary theory, critics find complications in the term author beyond what constitutes authorship in a legal setting. In the wake of postmodern literature, critics such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault have examined the role and relevance of authorship to the meaning or interpretation of a text.

Barthes challenges the idea that a text can be attributed to any single author.

Michel Foucault argues in his essay "What is an author?" (1969) that all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors. He states that "a private letter may have a signatory—it does not have an author".[4] For a reader to assign the title of author upon any written work is to attribute certain standards upon the text which, for Foucault, are working in conjunction with the idea of "the author function".[4] Foucault's author function is the idea that an author exists only as a function of a written work, a part of its structure, but not necessarily part of the interpretive process. The author's name "indicates the status of the discourse within a society and culture", and at one time was used as an anchor for interpreting a text, a practice which Barthes would argue is not a particularly relevant or valid endeavor.[4]

Expanding upon Foucault's position, Alexander Nehamas writes that Foucault suggests "an author [...] is whoever can be understood to have produced a particular text as we interpret it", not necessarily who penned the text.[5] It is this distinction between producing a written work and producing the interpretation or meaning in a written work that both Barthes and Foucault are interested in. Foucault warns of the risks of keeping the author's name in mind during interpretation, because it could affect the value and meaning with which one handles an interpretation.

Literary critics Barthes and Foucault suggest that readers should not rely on or look for the notion of one overarching voice when interpreting a written work, because of the complications inherent with a writer's title of "author".

Relationship with publisher

Self-publishing, self-publishing, independent publishing, or artisanal publishing is the "publication of any book, album or other media by its author without the involvement of a traditional publisher.

Unless a book is to be sold directly from the author to the public, an ISBN is required to uniquely identify the title. ISBN is a global standard used for all titles worldwide. Most self-publishing companies either provide their own ISBN to a title or can provide direction;[6] it may be in the best interest of the self-published author to retain ownership of ISBN and copyright instead of using a number owned by a vanity press. A separate ISBN is needed for each edition of the book.[7]

There are a variety of e-book formats and tools that can be used to create them.

Print-on-demand (POD) publishing refers to the ability to print high-quality books as needed.

With commissioned publishing, the publisher makes all the publication arrangements and the author covers all expenses.

The more specific phrase published author refers to an author (especially but not necessarily of books) whose work has been independently accepted for publication by a reputable publisher, versus a self-publishing author or an unpublished one.

The author of a work may receive a percentage calculated on a wholesale or a specific price or a fixed amount on each book sold.

This type of publisher normally charges a flat fee for arranging publication, offers a platform for selling, and then takes a percentage of the sale of every copy of a book.

Relationship with editor

The relationship between the author and the editor, often the author's only liaison to the publishing company, is often characterized as the site of tension. For the author to reach their audience, often through publication, the work usually must attract the attention of the editor. The idea of the author as the sole meaning-maker of necessity changes to include the influences of the editor and the publisher in order to engage the audience in writing as a social act. There are three principal areas covered by editors – Proofing (checking the Grammar and spelling, looking for typing errors), Story (potentially an area of deep angst for both author and publisher), and Layout (the setting of the final proof ready for publishing often requires minor text changes so a layout editor is required to ensure that these do not alter the sense of the text).

Pierre Bourdieu's essay "The Field of Cultural Production" depicts the publishing industry as a "space of literary or artistic position-takings", also called the "field of struggles", which is defined by the tension and movement inherent among the various positions in the field.[12] Bourdieu claims that the "field of position-takings [...] is not the product of coherence-seeking intention or objective consensus", meaning that an industry characterized by position-takings is not one of harmony and neutrality.[12] In particular for the writer, their authorship in their work makes their work part of their identity, and there is much at stake personally over the negotiation of authority over that identity. However, it is the editor who has "the power to impose the dominant definition of the writer and therefore to delimit the population of those entitled to take part in the struggle to define the writer".[12] As "cultural investors," publishers rely on the editor position to identify a good investment in "cultural capital" which may grow to yield economic capital across all positions.[12]

According to the studies of James Curran, the system of shared values among editors in Britain has generated a pressure among authors to write to fit the editors' expectations, removing the focus from the reader-audience and putting a strain on the relationship between authors and editors and on writing as a social act.


A standard contract for an author will usually include provision for payment in the form of an advance and royalties.

An author's contract may specify, for example, that they will earn 10% of the retail price of each book sold.

An author's book must earn the advance before any further royalties are paid.

In some countries, authors also earn income from a government scheme such as the ELR (educational lending right) and PLR (public lending right) schemes in Australia.

These days, many authors supplement their income from book sales with public speaking engagements, school visits, residencies, grants, and teaching positions.

Ghostwriters, technical writers, and textbooks writers are typically paid in a different way: usually a set fee or a per word rate rather than on a percentage of sales.

See also

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