Writer vs. Author – semantic nonsense or important distinction?
Last night I was chatting with members of my writing group over Skype when one of the members said, “Actually, I am a writer; I just want to be an author.” I asked him for clarification and he said, “One has published, the other just has books.”
I’ve always been annoyed by this distinction between “writer” and “author”, but I did some research – and there are an astonishing number of people who agree with this distinction; who feel that writers are people who haven’t been published and they are therefore not authors. There are others who feel that “author” is a past-tense only way of referring to completed work and that if you’re calling yourself a writer, it’s because you’re currently working on a project, and not dealing with work that’s already done.
I also looked up the definitions in my copy of the OED: “author n. & v. 1 a writer, esp. of books.” and “writer n. 1 a person who writes or has written something. 2 a person who writes books; an author.” So, basically, writers and authors are the same thing, and I believe that this is true.
When used as interchangeable definitions, I have no issues with people saying they’re an author, and often that sounds better when talking about a writer’s works. For example, “Stephen King, the author of dozens of novels…” sounds more natural than, “Stephen King, the writer of dozens of novels…”
For me, the problem comes in when ego (or lack of confidence) gets tossed in the debate of “author” vs. “writer”. Obviously, I haven’t met every published writer ever, so I don’t believe what I’m about to say applies to everyone who calls themselves an author, but in my experience, people distinguishing themselves specifically as authors (and not as writers) do so because a) they want to distance themselves from the hoi polloi who are merely dirty little scribblers without fashion/publishers while they are Published Authors (you can hear them capitalise the title when they speak) who play with the big boys and by god you had better appreciate that fact, or b) they are terribly insecure about their writing – and their desire to write – possibly due to lack of support or even open derision about writing being a silly artsy-fartsy hobby for people who want to avoid having to grow up and get real jobs.
If publication is the only barrier to being able to call yourself an author, then that barrier was torn down as soon as the self-publishing industry opened its doors. To say that an unpublished writer is also not an author simply because they aren’t available on Kindle or in paperback format is just a lot of dismissive snobbery. I’ve read some excruciatingly bad pieces of writing – some of them novel length – that are available for actual money on Amazon, and I’ve read some pretty great stuff that remains unpublished (despite my best efforts to convince the writer their work is really good) and both are authors.
This probably all sounds like the sour grapes and pedantic moaning of someone who isn’t published herself, and fair enough I guess. I haven’t published anything yet (unless this site counts); I don’t have an agent, I don’t work with a publisher, and I haven’t submitted anything though a self-publishing platform, either. I am going to try my hand at both in the near future – perhaps a short story collection that people can download onto their e-readers for a buck, and I’ll see what sort of feedback I get. Hell, I’ll probably put the first few things out for free just for the feedback. No one with any sense becomes a writer for the money or fame anyway, right?
I guess I see the writer vs. author debate like this: there’s enough snooty one-upmanship bullshit in the publishing/reading world as it is; snotty slappy-fights between different genres (“Science Fiction is so much better than Romance – Romance novels are for the brain-dead.”), different eras (“Modern Poetry is all a bunch of self-serving wank, the only poets worth reading have been dead for a hundred years or more.”), different publishing platforms (“E-books are for amateurs – you know you’re in the Big Leagues when you have a hardcover copy in the front window of Chapters.”), etc… why add to it with all this writers vs. authors garbage?
Focus less on the title, and more on the writing. Write your little heart out and share the worlds you create with the rest of us when you’re done (if you want to). How you share it – that’s up to you. If you get into the traditional publishing world – great! If you publish an e-book, great! And if you want to keep that finished novel or whatever for yourself and never share it, that’s OK too – you’re still a writer (or author if you prefer) – it still counts.
For those curious about self-publishing, here are a few places to get started with:
If you have a book you’ve put out there into the world, leave me a comment so I can go read it – I’m always up for new reading material.
Image: I wasn’t able to find the original creator behind the Feature Image I used for this post. If it’s yours, let me know in the comments and I will give you full credit, or take it down altogether.