The death of the author

We should never have ascribed godlike powers of creativity to writers. They are just content generators... and that’s not new. The reader has always called the shots, explains Andy Martin

Friday 30 April 2021 21:30
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<p>Forget the author, today’s reader controls the content </p><p></p>

Forget the author, today’s reader controls the content

J

K Rowling is a lot of old Hogwarts. Not just because she picked on an old school as the setting for her stories of witches, wizards and assorted archaic absurdities. It’s more that she went down the traditional well-trodden track of finding an agent and publisher. According to legend, she put her submission to the agent in a bright pink envelope so it would garner attention and be duly salvaged from the slush pile. And it would then, in the classic manner, be rejected over and over again by blinkered fools (who perhaps have been required to commit publishing hara-kiri) before finally being accepted by Bloomsbury. Many writers, also using the garish envelope technique, sometimes with added glitter, have tried to follow. But the Rowling model is now about as antiquated and irrelevant as flying broomsticks.

Consider the case of Andy Weir, author of the bestselling The Martian, made into a film by Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon. He wasn’t even a writer, he was a software engineer in Silicon Valley. But he had a notion of getting a book out there and even tried his hand at going down the traditional route in the 1980s: agent? No thanks! Publisher? No way! But he carried on jotting in his spare time regardless.

With the internet up and running in the 1990s, he set up his own website and posted a few stories online. He emailed them to people. One of his stories was about a mission to Mars. Assuming it all went wrong, how would you survive? He tried to work it out and would post a chapter every now and then. Readers, often of a technical inclination, would write back to him, offering corrections or alternatives.

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