Editor or Author? and WHO is this elusive “reader” we talk so much about…?

Looking back at the comments on this blog, I started to see a trend: we are very focused on moving away from authorial intent and towards the post-structuralist view that a text is in fact created by its reader. The strange thing with creating an annotated edition of a book, that is accessible to everyone with internet access is that we really have no idea for whom we are annotating. What words might they not know? What level of comprehension can we assume? How learned are they in terms of the Victorian context?And I guess the most important question asks – does the reader even figure into editorial choices?

Often, “academic” books, a category an annotated edition would commonly fall under, are meant for other scholars or students. These books are not often the top of a bestseller list, but are picked up by academic institutions who keep a copy in their library. This means that the target audience may have a range in the knowledge they already have, but most of these texts are written assuming their reader has some understanding of the subject matter addressed – how else would they have come across this book? When we shift to publishing our work in an open source medium, we are no longer catering to only academics, but to a much larger group who may, literally, stumble upon it. Is our work done for that person who wouldn’t have access to it if it sat in a university library? Or is it for those academics who just find it more convenient to search an online copy? Is there a way that we can cater to both audiences without over-annotating?

These questions are what I found most difficult of annotating my portion of our social edition, as I was unsure about what was common knowledge and what was not. This distinction, of course, depends on the readership, which drives us back to asking (again) who it is? I find this how circular this becomes to be highly aggravating, and wonder what kinds of solutions can prevent this issue?

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