Ever since the invention of the printing press and the rise of mass publishing, there has been a persistent myth that books are the product of the sole genius of the author named on the cover. For almost as long, publishing reformers have been fighting to dismantle that misconception and open readers’ eyes to the reality that most books are team efforts.
Last December, author Josh Lambert added his thoughtful voice to this chorus with a contemporary deep-dive deconstruction in The Atlantic of how books actually get produced in the 21st century via his examination of Dan Sinykin’s 2023 book Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature.
Sinykin’s work examines how “the purchasing of smaller publishing companies by bigger, diversified ones has transformed the industry’s financial structures but also, much more interesting, how it has changed literature itself.” Indeed, there has been a lot of fear regarding the consolidation of, and the entrance of private equity into, the publishing industry in recent years, and Lambert acknowledges that Sinykin’s book is an invaluable “concise historical survey of changes” within the industry.
But, Lambert argues, Sinykin doesn’t adequately answer the core question of how the publishing industry affects a book’s content. To answer that question, we have to acknowledge that the biggest obstacle to understanding conglomeration’s effect on literature is that readers “just don’t pay much attention to the publishing details of the fiction they buy, admire, and recommend.” Instead of worrying so much about how conglomeration is changing the content of books, Lambert posits, perhaps we should first try to better acknowledge and understand how that content is truly created.
“Would it really be so difficult to have a credits page that acknowledges the contributions of the folks responsible for layout, marketing, and proofreading?” Lambert asks.
We wholeheartedly agree. At Gotham, we believe it’s long past time to obliterate the myth of the author as auteur and, unsurprisingly, think that credit should extend to ghostwriters. All books, ghostwritten or not, are products of collaboration, and it’s high time we ended the subterfuge implied by only listing a single author’s name on a book’s cover.
What’s more, as GG’s CEO Dan Gerstein argued last year, authors who have collaborated with ghostwriters are increasingly acknowledging them — and even enlisting them to publicize their books. So why shouldn’t the publishing industry get on board, too?
Besides, as Lambert adds, “Beyond simply recognizing people’s labor, [acknowledging contributors] would give us new, useful ways to understand the books we care so much about.”
For example, understanding not just which authors are published but also “which gatekeepers are facilitating their career, and whose support has been instrumental in allowing crucial books to reach us” could give us a much better sense of not only how diverse the publishing industry is, but how diverse perspectives impact each published work.
Of course, there will likely always be some ghosts who choose to stay in the shadows and authors who opt for a confidentiality agreement and full credit. But given the obvious benefits of doing so and the few drawbacks of refusing to, it’s high time the publishing industry adopts crediting collaborators as standard practice.