In legal discourse, an author is the creator of an original work, whether that work is in written, graphic, or recorded medium. Thus, a sculptor, painter, or composer, is an author of their respective sculptures, paintings, or compositions, even though in common parlance, an author is often thought of as the writer of a book, article, play, or other written work. In the case of a work for hire, "the employer or commissioning party is considered the author of the work", even if they did not write or otherwise create the work, but merely instructed another individual to do so.
Typically, the first owner of a copyright is the person who created the work, i.e. the author. If more than one person created the work, then a case of joint authorship takes place. Copyright laws differ around the world. The United States Copyright Office, for example, defines copyright as "a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to authors of 'original works of authorship.'"
Some works are considered to be authorless. For example, the monkey selfie copyright dispute in the 2010s involved photographs taken by Celebes crested macaques using equipment belonging to a nature photographer. The photographer asserted authorship of the photographs, which the United States Copyright Office denied, stating: "To qualify as a work of 'authorship' a work must be created by a human being". More recently, questions have arisen as to whether images or text created by a generative artificial intelligence have an author.
Main article: Self-publishing
Self-publishing is a model where the author takes full responsibility and control of arranging financing, editing, printing, and distribution of their own work. In other words, the author also acts as the publisher of their work.
With commissioned publishing, the publisher makes all the publication arrangements and the author covers all expenses.
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. Publishers, at times, reduced the risk of this type of arrangement, by agreeing only to pay this after a certain number of copies had sold. In Canada, this practice occurred during the 1890s, but was not commonplace until the 1920s. Established and successful authors may receive advance payments, set against future royalties, but this is no longer common practice. Most independent publishers pay royalties as a percentage of net receipts – how net receipts are calculated varies from publisher to publisher. Under this arrangement, the author does not pay anything towards the expense of publication. The costs and financial risk are all carried by the publisher, who will then take the greatest percentage of the receipts. See Compensation for more.
Main article: Vanity press
Vanity publishers normally charge a flat fee for arranging publication, offer a platform for selling, and then take a percentage of the sale of every copy of a book. The author receives the rest of the money made. Most materials published this way are for niche groups and not for large audiences.
Vanity publishing, or subsidy publishing, is stigmatized in the professional world. In 1983, Bill Henderson defined vanity publishers as people who would "publish anything for which an author will pay, usually at a loss for the author and a nice profit for the publisher." In subsidy publishing, the book sales are not the publishers' main source of income, but instead the fees that the authors are charged to initially produce the book are. Because of this, the vanity publishers need not invest into making books marketable as much as other publishers need to. This leads to low quality books being introduced to the market.
The relationship between the author and the editor, often the author's only liaison to the publishing company, is typically 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 to engage the audience in writing as a social act.
There are three principal kinds of editing:
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. 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. 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". 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.
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. Even the book review by the editors has more significance than the readership's reception.
Authors rely on advance fees, royalty payments, adaptation of work to a screenplay, and fees collected from giving speeches.
A standard contract for an author will usually include provision for payment in the form of an advance and royalties.
Usually, an author's book must earn the advance before any further royalties are paid. For example, if an author is paid a modest advance of $2000, and their royalty rate is 10% of a book priced at $20 – that is, $2 per book – the book will need to sell 1000 copies before any further payment will be made. Publishers typically withhold payment of a percentage of royalties earned against returns.
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. Under these schemes, authors are paid a fee for the number of copies of their books in educational and/or public libraries.
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.
In the year 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 130,000 people worked in the country as authors, making an average of $61,240 per year.
To qualify as a work of 'authorship' a work must be created by a human being. ... Works that do not satisfy this requirement are not copyrightable. The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.