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What future is there in individual authorship?

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Individual authorship has come a long way in the Western world, having been the preserve of the elites in ancient and medieval times. The development of Gutenberg‘s printing press in the C15th, the push towards universal literacy in the late-C19th, the greater democratisation of university access in the mid-C20th and the revolution of the internet in the C21st so far, has made individual authorship de rigueur. During this evolutionary process there has always been a backlash from the elites, the former guardians of knowledge, analysis and interpretation.

Today everyone writes, texts, and tweets. There are myriad voices and opinions about a multitude of issues. Amidst this clamour, one has to ask whether the contagion of ‘individual authorship’ which overwhelms each of us in our everyday lives has any value or merit. We are bombarded with a never-ending orgy of opinion and declaration.

I wonder, has something been lost? Individual authorship, when it reflects elements of our shared human condition, when it can teach us, or cause us to reflect on, our lives and those of other human beings, seems to me to be the most valuable. But is that just the opinion of a comfortable, educated, middle-class lefty who has enjoyed certain privileges in life?

The future looks bright for individual authorship. But I have some fear about its wider impact on our society.

Fiona D'Souza

Ghostwriters in the Sky

Ever since language was invented, there have been ghostwriters. Faceless scribes, capable of empathising with their clients and equipped with writing skills to make accessible to a readership stories for those with a story to tell.

It is to be expected that only a few who have lived a noteworthy life are capable of individually authoring a memoir. A ghostwriter is a go-between who exists in the shadows, balancing the desire of the client to tell their story with an understanding of what stories will appeal to a reader and how to present them.

In this age of enabling technology, I expect that ghostwriters in the near future will be machines powered by artificial intelligence and equipped with the capability to understand any storyteller and craft her or his stories for the reader. Although this technological restriction which might be costly may lower the barrier to entry for the multitudes who wish to write a memoir, the quality of the end result will undoubtedly reflect the directions given, and it remains to be seen if machines will ever know their clients well enough to know what questions to ask.

Writing technology will inevitably lead to an ocean of memoirs, and yet, the fundamentals remain. There must be a story to be told and a readership with a hunger for it. While there is life, there will be memoirs, but we may find that many will choose to co-author with 'ghostwriters in the sky'.*

Robert Carrick

What future is there in individual authorship?

While I don't possess any foresight, I would suggest that individual authorship is the direction in which new writers will need to develop.

A full argument is too long to develop off the cuff, so I'll instead put forward what I consider the key driving factors:

  • every year there are a greater number of people writing, with fewer major publishing houses and fewer editors overseeing a larger body of submissions;

  • increasingly complex, convoluted, and ideological editorial requirements restrict creative freedom;

  • legacy publishers, or professional publishers, are operated more like private equity houses than with the spirit of a new venture; and

  • there's a declining rate of readership among adults, in my view largely driven by the entanglement of the above factors in an environment with more competing mediums than ever.

From the outside looking in, it seems that the old publishing structures have become rigid and cumbersome, unable to be agile navigating the modern world.

I'm increasingly of the belief that contemporary authors must elevate their craft by having their fingers on the pulse of their own writing business. The onus is on them to realise their opportunities, develop them, and bring them to market.

Matt Jackson

Copyright & Notes: Copyright belongs to the authors cited above. Photos by Wix.

* Carrick's rhyming twist on the song title 'Ghostriders in the Sky', recorded by Burl Ives in 1949 and written by Stan Jones.

Posts on this SSOA blog are published to showcase the work of emerging writers who meet weekly to workshop stories. The posts comprise just some of the responses written in just 10 minutes as a warm up to the meetings.

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