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section heading icon     writing and authorship

This page considers writing as a vocation and profession.

It covers -

section marker     introduction

Points of entry to the literature are provided in Siegfried Unseld's graceful The Author and His Publisher (Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 1980), The Author, Art, and the Market (New York: Columbia Uni Press 1994) by Martha Woodmansee, The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law & Literature (Durham: Duke Uni Press 1994) edited by Woodmansee & Peter Jaszi, The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters: Aspects of English Literary Life since 1800 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1969) by John Gross, The Common Writer: Life in Nineteenth-Century Grub Street (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1985) by Nigel Cross, Writer and Public in France from the Middle Ages to the Present Day (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1978) by John Lough, The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870 (New York: Columbia Uni Press 1992) by William Charvat, The Medieval Theory of Authorship (Toronto: Uni of Toronto Press 1984) by AJ Minnis and Authors & Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1993) by Mark Rose.

section marker     economics

Can ordinary authors, particularly those producing poetry or avant-gard prose, make a living from the pen? Those questions are explored in Richard Findlater's What Are Writers Worth? (London: Society of Authors 1963), Tyler Cowen's irreverent Good & Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2006), Paul Kingston & Jonathan Cole's The Wages of Writing: Per Word, Per Piece, or Perhaps (New York: Columbia Uni Press 1986) and William Lord's How Authors Make a Living: An Analysis of Free Lance Writers' Incomes 1953-1957 (New York: Scarecrow Press 1962).

Some contemporary statistics are here.

section marker     the unread

Unread or merely unreadable?

Anthony Trollope, tartly dismissing Victorian attitudinising about the art and commerce, commented in his marvellous An Autobiography that writers needed to recognise a literary marketplace: "Brains that are unbought will never serve the public much".

Perspectives on the unpublished (or merely unread) are provided in Myles Weber's Consuming Silences: How we read authors who don’t publish (Athens: Uni of Georgia Press 2005), which explores public perceptions of authors such as JD Salinger and Henry Roth who are as famous from what they haven't published as for their output.

Pointers to sales figures are provided in a later page of this note.

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version of June 2006
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