Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When Does One Become a "Writer?"

So. When do you start calling yourself "a writer?", as in, "I'm a writer, please go easy on me with the bad news."

When you finish a novel?

When you spend a certain amount of time doing it?

When you decide it's what you want to do?

When you have an agent?

Upon publication of your first novel?

And what about "author?"






253 comments:

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Flemmily said...

I guess I started calling myself a writer when I started spending a signficant amount time writing. But, I also don't declare to be a writer like it's my job title. I usually just say I'm a "blah-day-job-blah" and I write on the evenings and weekends.

I think the word writer has a little more leeway than other terms, like author. Author i'd be more picky about.

Anonymous said...

I started calling myself a writer when I started writing seriously with the intent of submitting to agents and publishers. I called myself an author when my first work was published.

Kate said...

Writing is a verb, so anyone that actively writes is a writer. One doesn't become an author, until they have a book published. A journalist should actually be working for some form of news/periodical. But anyone can write, and anyone can call themselves a writer. The same way anyone can call themselves a golfer, or a dancer, or a poker player. Being a good writer, or a successful writer - those are claims that need a bit more backing.

RW said...

I teach freshman composition, and I take the attitude that they are writers already when they enter the room--and I struggle mightily to persuade them to that view. If they can put pen to paper and communicate an idea, that makes them writers, and the rest is a matter of degree. If they feel like they have to cross some threshold before it counts as writing, they'll have hangups that keep them from improving.

Working on my novel, I try to take the same attitude that I preach. I'm writing, so I'm a writer. I'm trying to be good enough that someone besides my wife will read it.

Neil said...

In my opinion you're a writer until you've published a book. Then you're an author. The basic rule is: if you're penniless, unpublished, have a day job and spend more than 20 hours a week writing, you're a writer. If you're penniless, published, still have a day job and spend more than 20 hours a week on promo, you're an author!

CB said...

I agree with Kate. You are a writer when you write. You become an author when you are published.

7-iron said...

you're a professional writer upon payment.

as for author, that would take a few publications, I think.

Nathan Bransford said...

Does self-publishing make one an author?

Josephine Damian said...

I went from "aspiring writer" to "writer" when I got two short stories published. Prior to that I'd gotten an article on forensics published in a magazine - I called myself a writer at that point too, but clarified it was non-fiction and that I still aspired to be published in fiction, which I did eventually.

I still call myself "aspiring novelist/screenwriter" since I have yet to have success there.

7-iron said...

no

Josephine Damian said...

"Does self-publishing make one an author?"

No, it and doesn't make you published either!

Anonymous said...

You are a writer whenever you begin writing. You are only an 'author' when your writing is published. Period.

Martin Willoughby said...

You become a writer when you have at least two published pieces of work and twenty rejection slips/emails.

By a stroke of pure co-incidence, I've reached that mark.

Anita said...

This is a very personal question, I think. A lot of people have a difficult time calling themselves a writer. I wasn't comfortable calling myself a writer until I started earning cash from my writing. And I won't call myself an author until my book is published. I'm not saying that's the approach everyone should take...it's just the one which works for me.

Anonymous said...

I am a writer because I write. I am a writer because I think of myself as a writer. I think so therfore I am. That line has worked before.

Lara Lee said...

Anyone who is compelled to follow that muse in their head is a writer. When a publisher buys your book and publishes it, then you are an author.

Marilyn Peake said...

I’ve been writing since high school. At that time, I wrote short stories and poems, and had my own column at several local newspapers. I considered myself a "writer". Years later, I started writing novels, including several practice novels that I stuck in a drawer. Eventually, I wrote three more novels that got published by a small publishing house and received many great reviews; and I started to think of myself as an "author". In the back of my mind, I felt that I needed to get published by a big publishing house and make lots of money from my writing to really be an author. In the meantime, I started winning awards for my writing in major book award contests, in competition with books from university presses including Harvard and Yale; I’ve written many short stories that have been accepted for publication; and I’ve received interviews from websites that interview authors from the big publishing houses. I now consider myself both a "writer" and "author". The economy’s in flux. I’ve decided to spend this time writing the best novel I can possibly write, and to submit it to literary agents when it’s done.

I consider a "writer" someone who writes and is driven to write, and an "author" someone who gets their work published. Both a "writer" and "author" can produce high-quality work.

Ann Victor said...

I tend towards the writer when you write, author when you're published view.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

When you make the commitment. As for author? That's only one facet of what makes a writer anymore.

Madison said...

I called myself a writer after I finished my first story when I was six years old. I will always be a writer. The question is: will I ever become an author? :D

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

everyone is a writer to some extent. "Novelist" woudl be more accurate for people who ACTUALLY make a living out of writing books. "Journalist" or "blogger" would work, too, if you have a money-making career out of that.

The same goes for artist. Everyone's an artist at one point or another, but not many people can actually say they've had their art displayed at a gallery or sold art at a good price.

Just_Me said...

A writer is anyone who puts proverbial pen to paper. They may be a hobby writer, or a closet writer, or a paid writer, but they are all writers.

Author... I don't think I've ever stopped to define that one. I suppose after you've finished something, be it short story or rough draft, you are an author. You have created something from beginning to end.

Published is a whole different ball game. I don't tie a publication to whether or not a person is a writer or author. Writing and being an author are artistic forms of creation. Publishing is at the far end of the spectrum, it's recognition of the art. You don't need recognition to be an artist, it's just nice to have.

Sandy said...

I think it might depend on your level of self esteem.

High self esteem = you're a writer when you write.

Low self esteem = you're a writer when you have a book published.

I fall in between. I'll call myself a writer when I have an agent. Right now, even though I've completed two books and am working on a third, I just tell people I'm trying to become a writer. If I were to say I am a writer, they'd ask me what I've published, and then I'd get all awkward and sad when I had to admit nothing.

Tia Nevitt said...

Anyone who writes is a writer. Just like anyone who draws is an artist, and anyone who plays sports is an athlete. It is a noun. It doesn't describe talent or skill.

Anyone who has finished a written piece and attached his name to it is an author. Whether or not that piece has any value is in the eye of the beholder. Just as the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder.

Just my opinion. :)

Ink said...

I'm a writer, but I usually only admit to it if asked directly. I'm not sure if that says more about me or our culture...

And, Nathan, do you consider yourself a writer? You're a literary agent, but you're also the "author" of a successful blog. You have many readers who come to you not only for information but for the amusing things you do with words. So what do you think? Was there a moment for you when you had that realization? Or do you see yourself as someone who represents writers but not one yourself?

And feel free to ignore me. So many do... :)

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Scott said...

I agree with the 'writer' because I write and author when I'm published.

Kiersten said...

Wow. I posted on this just a couple of days ago, mostly because it always strikes me as odd when people say they are authors if they are unpublished. It was an interesting discussion in the comments.

I'm a writer. I'll be an author when my agents sells something. But I don't tell many people in real life that I'm a writer, because I'm lazy and it takes too much explanation. SAHM is much simpler.

Julia Weston said...

I thought I'd start calling myself a writer once I'd completed my manuscript, but that didn't happen. I probably won't feel comfortable with the title until I'm published - and only then if the book is "successful." The term "author" just never pops into my head.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan asked:
"Does self-publishing make one an author?"

Yes, if that novel is of high quality and/or becomes a successful business product in terms of sales. I met an author online who made a couple million dollars and received fantastic reviews for his self-published quirky novels. I know another author who wrote a screenplay that was turned into a movie starring Jon Voight; she self-published a novel based on that screenplay. Many famous authors - including Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, and Christopher Paolini - self-published their novels.

Of course, there are also many terrible self-published novels.

T. Anne said...

I consider myself a writer. I aspire to be an author. I guess since I am writing novels I am living half the dream. It will never be complete without publication of some sort, I need someone to read and appreciate my paper children.

T. Anne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P. Bradley Robb said...

I became a writer when I started writing. I became a journalist when I started to get paid to write. I'll be an author when the first book is printed.

You know, even for a group of word nuts, this is treading a fine line between semantics and absurd.

Sharla said...

I called myself a writer in my head for a long time. I started calling myself a writer (meekly, I might add) to others when I started the querying process. The real clencher was the day I told my BOSS. Eeeeeek! She asked me what I did over the weekend, and when "I worked on getting an agent for my book" fell out of my mouth, I of course had to provide explanation to her "What?"

When she walked away after telling me how cool that was, I had to do some deep breathing exercises, but told myself, "Okay. NOW you're a writer."

Nathan Bransford said...

bryan-

Nope, I don't consider myself a writer.

Anonymous said...

I became a writer when I realized that I wasn't any good at anything else. I became an author when I realized I wasn't any good at writing, either.

Mira said...

I see this alittle differently.

I believe you are a writer the moment you put pen to paper.

I think you are an author the moment you finish your first work, whether it's a short story, a poem or a 10,000 page trilogy.

Personally, I don't see what being published has to do with it. All publishing means is someone liked your writing. They liked it so much they thought they could sell it to other people and make money off of it. That's just business, which has nothing to do with art.

I thinhk being a writer and/or author is self-defined by the artist, not other-defined by the business world.

And yes, even if no one ever reads your book, you're still an author. That's what I think anyway.

Mira said...

And Nathan, I think you're a writer. You write this blog for one thing. That's writing. And very good writing, actually.

Kristan said...

"Does self-publishing make one an author?"

I'm not self-pubbed, and I don't particularly want to go that route, but I think the answer is yes. If nothing else, due to the technicality, but also because I think like YouTube and MySpace, self-pubbing is becoming the next step in the pyramid, the way you try to get noticed, and thus shedding a lot of its stigma.

(Maybe I'm also just sick of judgment...)

Vieva said...

You're a writer when you can tell someone that is either your day job or "what you do" with a straight face and not feel like you're conning someone.

You're an author when you can put it on your resume with a straight face.

dalecoz said...

I would say a person is a writer if they consistently write for reasons other than the requirements of getting a degree or the requirements of a primarily non-writing day job.

When does a writer become an author? When they derive substantial income from writing outside the requirements of a primarily non-writing day job. If a writer self-publishes and somehow manages to sell a couple thousand books at a decent profit, then I would accept them as an author. If they sell a couple dozen to their family and friends I wouldn't classify them as authors.

How many books sold and how big of a profit does someone need to be an author? I'm not sure. I sold probably 400 copies of my self-published book and made back somewhat more than my costs. To me that isn't enough to be considered an author. The vast majority of self-published writers aren't authors in my view, but a few are.

Michelle Moran said...

I think it's when someone spends a certain amount of time dedicated to the craft, whether or not they publish, and whether or not they ever find an agent. Of course, it helps to actually finish something.

Thomas Burchfield said...

When you can't stop yourself from doing it. When you sit down and go at it, with consistency and an unconscious discipline, whether you feel inspired or not.

You become an author when the check clears.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher...when I can read it. Ugh!

As a writer...when it's published, people read it, love it, and want more. Success! :-)

By the way....I LOVE what anonymous 9:24 said.

Robena Grant said...

In my worldview:
You can call yourself a writer if you are writing with the intent to pursue a career and can show proof of advancement (as per the IRS).
You can call yourself an author if you're published.
You're published if your work is copyrighted and has been given an ISBN, even if it is self-published.

Joy said...

I agree with Kate also. You're a writer when you're actually writing. You're an author when you're published.

And as for self-publishing, I edit for a self publisher, and I believe they serve a specific purpose. They are especially helpful for niche writers who can promote their own book via their occupation (eg. itinerant speakers, dog trainers, etc.), and they offer a unique opportunity for anyone who's not necessarily looking for a NYT bestseller, but would love to see their name in print so they can share it with family and friends. While that doesn't necessarily mean their work is quality, there is something to say for someone who sat down and wrote a book all the way through and did some work to get it published. That's a lot more than many "writers" can say they've done with their dreams.

jordansummers1 said...

I think the answer depends on if you're talking to yourself or other people. I considered myself a writer when I published my first book. It took several books later before my family considered me published.*g*

jimnduncan said...

This seems like a no-brainer on the surface, but then if you think about it a bit more, it starts to get rather murky. If one looks up dictionary definitions, you get a rather confusing overlap, where writer is basically synonomous with author. Being a writer does not appear to be synomous however, with the simple act of writing. It becomes then, a matter of intent. It seems to me then, that a writer is someone who writes with the intent of creating some particular piece of prose, whether it be poem, news article, novel, etc. Given just this however, one could say that my six year old's two line poem completed for class would make him a writer. Again, back to intent. I think to consider oneself a writer, there must be not only the intent to complete a written work, but to do so on a continued basis. You do not have to publish them or get paid for them to consider yourself a writer. So, how does the term author fit into this scheme? If it were merely the term applied to a completed piece of writing, then the world is full of authors. In this sense though, the verb form of author comes into play. My six year old is the author of said two line poem. He authored it, that is he is the creator, originator of the work. I would not call him an author. I believe this goes back to intent. An author is someone who has completed a written work with the intention of making it viewable to the public eye. So, if you write short stories that you keep in your writing journal on your desk, you are a writer of poetry, you are the author of said poetry, but unless you put it out there into the world to be read, whether in an e-book available on your website or published in a distributed anthology of poetry, you are not an author in the wider sense of the word. So, yes, a self published writer would be considered an author. Someone who has only published in e-book format is an author. I, on the otherhand, am not yet an author. I write with the intention of completing novels, which I have done. So, I call myself a writer. My completed novel is not available to the wider public. You can't go to my website and download it. No publshing house has picked it up (yet). I authored it, but I am not yet an author. My humble opinion of course.

A deceptively simple question, Nathan. You are always good at provoking writerly thinking here, which is good. You're an editor after all :-)

J Duncan

Annalee said...

When one starts producing written work.

This is distinct from when one starts talking about the written work one plans to produce when one finds the time; which does not make one a writer. Talking about it at length whenever writing comes up may or may not qualify one as a poseur.

Essentially, being a writer is being one who takes writing seriously enough--as a craft, as a business, whatev--to put their time and effort where their mouth is. To me, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Had to fill out a form at the doctor the other day and even with a half dozen novels pubbed in 4 countries, a film deal, and one of the books becoming a ntl bestseller, I chickened out and instead of writing author under "occupation" I wrote writer.

Ahh, the insecurity of a writer. I mean author.

Poodle Girl

macaronipants said...

We should ask the Inuit to get to work on the word "author".

Joel Hoekstra said...

I've had articles and essays published in student/college newspapers. I wrote them, so I guess that makes me a Writer. I once wrote a software tutorial which was submitted and published on someone else's website. Does that make me an Author? Or do I have to write fiction to obtain that lofty title? I have also "posted" fan-fiction on the interwebs for my own amusement and to (hopefully) amuse fellow fans. Am I the Author of my own fan-fic? Or am I just a Writer wannabe? Inquiring minds want to know.

Full Disclosure: I have self-published ;-) business cards that say “Professional Illustrator” under my name. I list a bunch of other talents below my address and phone number (like Web Design, Architectural Rendering, etc) But I left off Writer and Author. Am I selling myself short?

For all of you aspiring “writers” out there: A. Do you have a business card? B. If so, do you refer to yourself as a Writer or an Author on your business card? C. Why or why not?

Vegas Linda Lou said...

This hits a nerve for me. I get annoyed by people who call themselves writers when they haven’t even bothered to learn the proper use of a semicolon. You can call yourself a writer if you’ve committed yourself to studying the craft. The ability to slap words onto a page doesn’t make someone a writer. There’s a big difference between a writer and a storyteller!

You become an author when you have written a completed body of work, regardless of whether it’s been published. I am the author of “Bastard Husband: A Love Story.” My manuscript has yet to be published, but I’m still the author. Who else would it be?

ryan field said...

Unless I'm promoting something, I just say I work in publishing.

Tiffany Schmidt said...

I'm a runner when I run, a reader while I turn pages, and a teacher when I'm in front of my class. So why wouldn't I be a writer if I write?

Like RW, I spend a lot of my day trying to convince my students that they are writers, with the potential of being even better writers if they take risks with their words (and check their grammar!).

As for author, I'm in the once-your-book-is-published club.

Sarah said...

Published book = author

Writer?

I'd like to go with a writer being someone who writes (I like RW's point), but then you'd have to include folks who think running spellcheck counts as revision. (I've met a few. They annoy me.)

I'd say you're a writer if you:
*write regularly
*work at it (revisions, incorporating GOOD criticism, etc.)
*have to write
*would never, ever say that it's easy

DebraLSchubert said...

I'm a singer/songwriter/musician as well as a novelist. All serious musicians "self-publish" i.e., make recordings of their music. Does it matter whether the recordings took place in a small 8-track studio, or a large 24+ track studio? Or are you only a professional musician once you get paid? What if it's only $50 at a local coffee house every weekend? I think it boils down to how much you love and are dedicated to your art.

I've written two novels. I didn't try to get the first one published, but I'm actively seeking representation for the second. I definitely consider myself a writer and an author, and I'll call myself a published author when I secure a publishing deal. (I don't think having an agent makes you an author any more than not having one. Sorry, Nathan - nothing personal!)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

One doesn't become an author, until they have a book published.

A book is required to be called an author? I know several authors who write exclusively and successfully in the short story genre who would disagree.

As to the difference, I call myself a writer because I write a lot of different things, from business/marketing writing to short fiction to novels, all for money.

I personally believe there is no loftier title than "Writer" in our industry.

T. Anne said...

Vegas Linda Lou,
You had me at Bastard. Cannot wait for the book.

Anonymous said...

I think you are a writer when you finish a story, whatever the length, and you're an author when you are publshed.

Self publishing is iffy. To be honest, when you are published in the traditional sence, it means you've been judged and deemed worthy. Self publishing feels as though they are trying to cheet.

Not trying to make anyone mad, but I feel that "author" means published not self published.

Dara said...

I called myself a writer when I started devoting most of my free time to it, whether writing or studying the craft. I've always been creating stories ever since before I was even able to write (my mom used to transcribe them for me). I probably seriously called myself a writer sometime in high school. That's when I started reading up on grammar and developing an intriguing story.

I call myself a writer before I say I'm a part time real estate secretary because writing is my passion and I don't often like to think about my "day job" unless I have to :P

I think one becomes an author when they are published, which seems to be the general consensus.

Carla Buckley said...

I became a writer after I completed my first novel. I became an author after I signed my first publishing contract. Of the two, "author" definitely trumps.

Walter said...

Right now, I just write. I say when it's my full-time career to write, then I'm a writer. Ditto for author. You wouldn't say, "I'm a plumber" if you happen to be handy with and enjoy bathroom repairs. Even if you don't it often. If it's not your career, you wouldn't call yourself a plumber. Maybe an aspiring plumber?

Julie Weathers said...

I said a few years ago to a friend, "I just want to be a writer."

My friend also happens to be the editor at the horse racing magazine I worked for. She responded, "Why do you think we've been sending you a check every two weeks for the past seventeen years?"

"Well, yeah, but I mean a real writer. A novelist."

"If you get paid for your writing, you're a writer."

I suppose, technically, it should be if you can legitimately deduct your writing expenses. Sitting in a garage doesn't make me a car. Writers should be known by their actions. They write.

An author, for me that would be when I see my name on a book or short story aside from the racing magazine.

jimnduncan said...

Oops, small addendum to my prior post. I said Nathan was an editor, which he does, I'm sure, but it's obviously not what he is. Sorry about that, Nathan. My bad.

J Duncan

L.C. Gant said...

I'd have to disagree with those who say that anyone who writes is a writer. I have many friends who claim to write, yet they refuse to let anyone see their work. Ever. I love them, but I don't consider them actual writers. They just write for a hobby.

To me, writers produce work for an audience, whether that be traditional publication, self-publication or just spoken word night at the local coffeehouse. If you write words that you intend for other people to read, you're a writer.

Lapillus said...

I think a writer is someone who writes with the intent of authoring something.

I think an author is someone who has completed a piece of work. Did they not author it?

Once published, you can add to the title, i.e. published author, professional writer, etc.

Anonymous said...

I am a writer, even though only approximately 20 people know it in the world (I write anonymously under pen name). In my mind you are an author when other people declare you are. I have to disagree with saying self-published does not make you an author, if an unsolicited group of people declare you an author then you are an author. Not everyone who fails to go the agent and normal publishing route are unsuccessful. And with the E-book surge we are about to have a shortage of authors in the world if self-publishing nulls the title.

raballard said...

A writer becomes a writer when he/she turns in her first "How I spent my summer vacation" essay. You become a writer after you write your first word on a sheet of paper. You don't have to be particularly good or polished to become a writer. There are millions of writers out there. Not all writers seek attention. Those seeking representation are not exclusive to the moniker "writer". Everyone that posts on this or any blog is a writer. Anyone, including myself, that attempts to write his or her own blog, is a writer.

We are all here to take the next step. We want so badly to metamorphosis from a writer to an Author.

Point is, if you have ever put pen to paper to finish an essay, you are a writer.

vjaxby said...

I hate this question. It always comes down to talentless people conflating themselves with professionals because they occasionally put words onto paper, and hugely talented people selling themselves short because they have yet to see their novel in print. Both terms are meaninglessly divisive without the important modifiers: pro, semi-pro, aspiring, occasional, amateur.

raballard said...

I guess a simple I agree with Mira would have been sufficient.

Scott said...

I think we should all get over the Self-Publishing bias right here, right now. Would all of us as writers love to be published "mainstream?" Of course! But the reality is that for must of us, it isn't going to happen. POD is a viable option that's going to continue to grow and improve in terms of quality.

In terms of the written word, I come from the school of more is better. I think it's extremely exciting that "publishing" is available to the masses. While it's sad to see people lose their jobs and publishing houses go under, I think something better will rise in there place. Let the market determine the validity and strength of writers' work.

It's a revolution, people. Embrace it!!

Silicon Valley Diva said...

Although privately I consider myself a writer, publicly I don't because I haven't made any income yet (from my writing).

I would consider an author one who has published and made at least a few sales from that work.

What do I know though--I'm not published yet lol. Another thought-provoking question as always :-)

Anonymous said...

I am a writer, when I write on a regular basis. I am an author when I complete a novel. I am a published author when it is published (self or traditional whether anyone likes it or not). I admit none of it to anyone, unless they personally know me, and even then I am reserved with the announcement.

Stillwalkn said...

I've been a writer my whole life. I was a journalist for a while, and that is being paid to write. I wrote a lot of feature articles. For a while I had a business called "Putting Words To Work For You" in which I wrote speeches, brochures, grant proposals, etc. Then I entered an industry and I was always the designated writer of reports, proposals, curriculum and so on. When I stopped working for a living, I found myself writing more fiction. I journal, I blog and I write stories, scripts, memoirs. There are all kinds of writers and all kinds of writing. Writers write.

Misssy M said...

I would say that you could really only answer the question, "So what do you do?" at parties by saying "I'm a writer" if you are published and it's what you do in the main for a living.

Any grey area in between will make you come off as a bit deluded.

Harsh, yes, but I'm just going by my own feelings. I'd feel a bit bogus saying it if my earnings from writing paled in significance to say, my job in Blockbuster Video (that's not what I do for a living but you get the picture)

Furious D said...

I'm a writer, because I write novels, as well as a blog.

I'll be an "author" when I get my novel published. ;)

Anonymous said...

For me, being an "author" is not a status in and of itself, but only something that one is vis-a-vis a finished written work.

To be a writer, I'd say when you've published one book or two stories.

And self-publishing only counts if you've earned more from selling copies than you paid out in publishing/marketing/production costs.

Samantha Tonge said...

I agree with Furious D - i'm a writer until i get a novel published and then i'm an author.

I don't know why i tell people i'm aspiring either - i mean, i am doing it.

Audrianna said...

I started calling myself a "writer" when I wrote with the intent of completing an entire project, that wasn't related to school.

To me, even if I become an "author" (have a work published and read by at least one person), I'll still be a "writer" in my head because that's what I'll be doing! I won't be authoring a story, I'll be writing one. (Yes, I know they're almost the same thing, but writing is what I consider correct in terms of me.)

Back to writing (and probably getting in trouble because I spend to much time on it, according to *ahem* Mom and Dad and Little Bro.)!

Anonymous said...

There is little variation between the definition of the two words. Only our vanity or lack of that makes the distinction. We should never demean someone based on their claim to be an author, because technically they are likely right.

Fat Eddie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fat Eddie said...

I suppose when I have a check I can show my wife. Until then it's a hobby. Although a fun hobby granted. To call myself an author or a writer sooner would feel like I was pretending or having delusions of grandeur.

PurpleClover said...

"Aspiring writer" - no agent
"Writer" - Agent
"Author" - published

That is my interpretation.

I am an aspiring writer. ;)

JES said...

The comedian Dimitri Martin does a little bit (okay, they're ALL little bits) which goes something like this:

"Adult language is full of disappointments for kids. For instance, they say 'You'll like your Uncle Max. He's a cat person.' [pause for a few beats] So you meet Uncle Max and you're all, 'Oh. You LIKE CATS. You're a cat-liker.' A cat person is something ELSE."

I think it's possible to distinguish between someone who just writes stuff, and someone who's a writer. One of the comments above mentioned that writing is a verb, therefore anyone who writes is... While granting the point in a small way, I'm not sure about that. I think saying that someone's a writer has all sorts of CONnotations, not just the literal DEnotation.

Sometimes when somebody tells me s/he's a writer, and then tells me what s/he does, I feel like the kid meeting Uncle Max the cat person for the first time.

Janet said...

I'm not comfortable calling myself a writer until I earn a significant amount of money doing it. I played guitar for years as a proficient amateur, but I would never have thought to call myself a musician. In the proper context I would refer to myself as a guitarist, but normally I would just say that I played guitar.

So I'm at ease saying that I'm writing a book, less comfortable saying I'm a writer, and really uncomfortable calling myself an author, which somehow sounds more exalted than a writer.

Once I sell a manuscript or two, then I'll happily inform people I'm a writer. Hey, I'll be writing it on my income tax forms... (Note the optimism.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a self-published genre fiction writer (paranormal romance). I've sold over 500 copies in just over 3 months, and have also pulled down a handful of 5 star reviews from reputable reviewers. I did all the work myself, from writing to cover design, formating, editing, marketing and everything in between. And my total out-of-pocket cost to get my book listed on Amazon and into the market was less than $20.00.

For those of you who say self-publishing doesn't count as published or doesn't make you an author, then what does?

I'm just curious!

PurpleClover said...

Ooh, just read Mira's response. I have to admit it gave me warm fuzzies. But I'm too hard on myself to give myself that much credit of being an author. sigh.

Meg said...

Calling myself an author won't happen until I'm published. Even then it'll probably take a bit for me to be willing to actually call myself that.
I don't call myself a writer. If people ask I say I write. My friends call me a writer. And they think I'm super smart and know the definition of every single word because I've written a novel. At least they keep me laughing. :)

Anonymous said...

JK Rowling wrote for years before she published her first book. To me, she was still a writer during that time; just as I consider all of us as writers. Nathan didn't ask what we claimed as our occupation on our tax forms.

Marla Taviano said...

I've written four (not self-)published books, and I still have a hard time calling myself an "author." It sounds snobby. But when I say "writer," my husband corrects me.

I like your blog.

Scotty said...

What 7-iron said, pretty much. In normal everyday conversation, when you say you're a "writer" you are implying, I think, that you primarily write for a living. This can be anything from ad copy, to magazine fiction or non-fiction, to sketch comedy, to journalism.

You can say you've "authored" a book if you've had a book published, but you're not an "author" until you've published a few more and it's what you tell the government that you do (although they take "writer", they're not picky, just greedy).

Self-published doesn't qualify for either, in my opinion. It's a personal accomplishment on some level, but that's about it. Even if you sell a few.

I've had several pieces of music published, but I think that makes me a "composer". The fact that I still write songs makes me someone who writes songs, but not a "songwriter" because I don't make a living doing it.*


*All of the above may or may not be considered "facts" and I'm sure more than one can be disputed.

Ashley said...

I became a writer when I was a child, that first time I felt a twinge when I wrote a short story. The twinge, that feeling in my gut that says this is a part of me whether I want it to be or not.

I became an aspiring writer after college when I realised that the only job that could ever make me happy was as an author, and set out to do just that.

I will become an author when I sell my first novel to a publisher. Yes, I'm in that camp.

My opinion, you aren't a writer unless you feel that twinge. Kicking a soccerball doesn't make me an athelete, and singing in the shower doesn't make me a musician, even if it's accompanied by an air guitar.

Sue said...

I'm a full time technical writer, a blogger, and have written a number of manuscripts and I STILL feel uncomfortable calling myself a writer. It's right there on my business card, I don't know why I feel so pretentious saying it out loud.

Vancouver Dame said...

I thought of myself as a writer when I began to dedicate a certain amount of time each day to writing. I have always written since the 6th grade, in one form or another. Fiction stories, journals, poetry, and essays as well as technical (at work). That was sporadic, now it's a priority. The dedication to the craft makes you a writer. The intention to send out your work and put yourself on the line makes you a writer. Upon publication, you become an author. When you acquire an agent, you get a confidence boost -- as in, 'someone likes my writing and thinks it will sell'.

Self-publishing doesn't make you published (IMO), as it lacks that approval by the publishing experts (agents & editors). It can provide satisfaction to see what you have written in a printed book, or online. I do think that self-publishing will grow if the regular publishing industry shuts out the new writers. Good question, and yes, authors need thick skin, but we do have delicate egos.

Kate H said...

I first really felt like a writer when I got good feedback from an agent at a conference. That's when I started telling people I was writing. But I've really been a writer since about age 11, when I first decided that's what I wanted to do.

An author, however, has to have a book published, or at least under contract.

Nikki Hootman said...

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."

- Robert Heinlein

That pretty much sums up my view.

Kristan said...

Aw, I like Anon @ 11:12 AM's thought.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Ahh, see, this is why I just say "I write" if the issue comes up.

I started thinking of myself as a writer when it became a serious hobby and I devoted more time to it than the random piece of flash fiction here and there. To others, particularly strangers, I still feel hesitant calling myself a writer, though, out of fear it will imply I earn money through my writing. It's still a hobby at this point. I've done nothing professionally yet.

I usually think of authors as someone who has gotten their work published. If I called myself an author because I've written a few manuscripts, it would feel a bit pretentious.

K.S. Clay said...

I've considered myself a writer since I was little, scribbling stories in my room and dreaming that they'd be published someday. The point? I was writing and I was writing with a serious intent. On the other hand, I can't yet call myself an author because an author to me is someone who has published a book and I have yet to do that. I do enjoy calling myself a professional writer, though, since I sold my first short story, although I rarely say that either as I don't want to imply I'm making a living out of it or anything when I've just started to get my foot in the door. To sum up:
Writer: Someone who writes often and of their own accord (I don't really consider writing an essay for an English class being a writer)
Professional writer: Someone who has sold their writing.
Author: Someone who has written a book and had it published.

Scotty said...

Heh, Sue. I'm the same way. You should hear how the word "writer" comes out of my mouth in that context. I get a look like, "Are you sure?"

Exactly, Kristin. When you say you're a "writer" to someone, they automatically think "author". In LA they might think "screenwriter". "I write" is a good way to get out of a long, and for some reason slightly humiliating, explanation.

Anonymous said...

I think you're a writer is you write something with the intent of showing it to an audience. I think you're an author when your work is read by an audience. This is based on my idea that art requires an audience, a viewer other than the artist. Similarly, you're a painter when you're putting oils on canvas in your studio, but you're an artist when your painting is on view. When I was a painter, I aspired to be an artist. When I write, I aspire to be an author.

But it's more complicated than that, and like some previous posters, I think that a writer is interested in the craft of writing, the use and misuse of words and grammar, but my thinking quickly gets vague in that area. A few years ago this question really nagged at me, but I don't so much think about it now.

Tangentially, I also went through a phase when I was convinced that I had no idea at all what a story was. I have since come up with a provisional definition wherein a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end; it also has to say something true. "Say something true" is an undefined term, but I look for "the ring of truth" (yet another undefined term) in my writing. Rambling now; must stop.

Mira said...

I'd like to say more about this publishing issue.

As an example: Emily Dickenson

This is from Wikipedia, the source of all my wisdom:

"Dickinson was a prolific private poet, though fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime."

It goes on later to say how her poems were ill-received and heavily critiqued during her lifetime.

I don't think that you can base your sense of who you are on other people's opinions. And certainly not to the publishing industry.

You may or may not like Emily Dickenson's poetry, but would you really argue with her right to call herself a Poet?

Have you seen this man? said...

When you've finished whatever you start out to write!

jrbutcher said...

A writer has a finished book.
An Author has received a check for their book.

Ulysses said...

I think it's a personal thing.

I consider myself a writer because that's what I do when I can (and sometimes when I can't). HOWEVER I don't call myself a writer where people can hear me outside meetings of Writers Anonymous.

It just sounds so... pathetically pretentious to me when someone calls themselves a writer in a conversation UNLESS they are, in fact, doing it professionally with the majority of their professional time. I find people who introduce themselves as writers (while lacking publishing credentials) sound as though they're trying to convince me, and themselves, that they're significant. They're trying to impress me.

You're breathing. That's enough to make you significant. If you're impressive, you won't have to tell me you are. I'll get it.

For the record, I'm a technical trainer because that's my profession.

On the other hand, I also consider myself an author because I've had a small amount of work published for money (well, Canadian money).

So I guess I could call myself an author without calling myself a writer... which is a bit like calling yourself a steak when you've never called yourself a cow.

Ulysses said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Pickett said...

I've wondered about that same questions myself. I've been writing since I was about eight years old, but I've never had anything published (I'm twenty-five now). I feel uncomfortable calling myself a writer unless I'm in the right context. If I'm talking about how I value literature, or how I look at the world, or a particular idea or work of art, I give that opinion in the context of being a writer, or someone who thinks critically about writing and does it on a daily basis. Otherwise, I don't go around telling people that I'm a writer. That could be because I think it sounds pretentious, or because I want to avoid embarrassment. If I say I'm a writer, I can imagine someone asking me what I've written and I don't have any titles to tell him because the stuff I have written is only available on my computer, so far. I guess that when I get published and am making a living at writing, I'll be able to say, "I'm a writer," the other people would say, "I'm a lawyer," or, "I'm a doctor," or, "I'm a school teacher." That is, in the context of their profession.

Kirk said...

Very interesting read (comments included). I've never claimed to be a writer, and didn't like it when other people would refer to me as such ("Oh, I didn't know you were a writer!").

However, when you get strict on the actual meaning, then I AM a writer, and an aspiring author. So now it'll bother me to be referred to as an author, which hasn't happened yet anyways.

Nancy Coffelt said...

It took me a few years of showing and selling my artwork in galleries to feel confident enough to call myself an artist. It also took me a few years after getting my books published to feel comfortable calling myself a writer. Now after 25 years of being a working artist and 17 years of having my books published, I prefer the title "Successfully Unemployed".

Marc Vun Kannon said...

I would say 'author' is a term more related to fiction, since the author is the authority on the world. They built it, their statements about it are prescriptive. A writer of non-fiction is using his statements descriptively.

When you're chiseling in stone or dipping a quill into expensive ink and marking up expensive paper, you need to be careful. So a writer is someone who has crafted his words to the point where he thinks they are worthy of the effort. Speaking about something is easy, writing about it is harder, writing about it well is harder yet. While a person is a writer the minute he tries to explain his subject to himself in written form, his claim to the title is stronger when he has explained it to someone else.

Anonymous said...

Just for kicks, I looked both terms up in the OED.

Writer: One who writes, compiles, or produces a literary composition; the composer of a book or treatise; a literary man or author.

Author: One who sets forth written statements; the composer or writer of a treatise or book. (Now often used to include authoress.)

Ignoring the gender-bias of these definitions, they seem to be synonyms, and the emphasis in both appears to be that one has completed a written work. I am the author of this post, which I have written. I am also the writer of this post, which I have authored. Stinking OED.

Mira said...

Okay, I got another one for you. (I promise I won't do this all day.) But I really think you can't evaluate your own art based on the publishing industry.

Another example: Kafka

From Wikipedia, the source of all things good and true:

Kafka's writing attracted little attention until after his death. During his lifetime, he published only a few short stories.....

I don't know. I sort of think Kafka was a writer and an author before he died.

Here was another interesting bit:

"Prior to his death, Kafka wrote to his friend and literary executor Max Brod: "Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread."


What if his friend had burned everything? I still think Kafka would be a writer and an author.

Not one I especially like, but that's not the point, right?

Elissa M said...

You're a writer as soon as you can hold a pencil and form letters with it.

You're an author when someone pays you for the right to reproduce your scribblings.

Scott said...

In my career as a print journalist, I wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 By Lined, published articles. Does that make me an author? Does it matter that the vast majority of those articles were published in smalltown weekly newspapers? If they had been published at a major metropolitan daily, would that make me more legit?
Are authors that self-publish or use small press less legit? What scale do you have to hit to be a "real" author?

Håkan Tendell said...

There was a time when I felt embarrassed about calling myself a writer. In the summer of 2006 I decided to dedicate my evenings and weekends to get a manuscript published. In the autumn I started to taste these humongous words "I'm a writer". It felt strange in my mouth. I couldn't say it with confidence until the summer of 2007. And even though I probably have a long journey of struggling ahead of me, I am convinced that I one day will succeed with a manuscript (yes, I am immortal). So when a writer has been published, how did the book actually come alive? Well, somebody wrote it. Who wrote it? The writer. And if the writer was a debutant? Still: The writer. It's as simple as that. A painter paints a painting. A baker bakes a bread. A writer writes a book. I write - therefore I am (a writer).
What's an author? I don't know. I'm from Sweden.

Håkan Tendell

Kathleen said...

I'm with the few who believe that you're a writer if you write. If you play basketball with your church's team, then you're a basketball player... you're just not a PROFESSIONAL basketball player. I'd make the same distinction. If you're not getting paid for your writing, you're not a professional writer, but you're still a writer. (If you write enough and enjoy writing enough that you consider yourself one.) When I wrote and self-published a home decorating ezine for 25,000 opt-in subscribers, I don't see why it would have been strange to consider myself a writer. No-one else wrote all that!

And author? Again... I'm in the minority who consider that as soon as you've actually finished a story, you're an author. You have a completed work. That work had to be authored by someone. You are that work's author... therefore you ARE an author. Of course, when I call myself an author, I do feel a responsibility to not mislead people into thinking that I'm more than I am... so I call myself an aspiring author, or an author seeking publication, or a barely-published author (if I feel like referring to the short story I have published with an e-pub).

I guess I don't get as hung up on terms and the "right" to use them as some people do. It's easy enough to delineate the difference by doing a roll-call of authors who have sold novels, or who have sold novels to NY... or who have sold novels or short stories anywhere, or have any of their works published through any means whatsoever. ::shrugs::

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

A writer is born. An good writer (ie. author) is developed.

Samuel said...

I guess it's different for everyone, but I've written a novel and am agented, and still don't call myself a writer. If asked, I'll invariably say, 'I'm trying to write fiction,' but I never say I'm a writer. I can't see that changing when (the self-belief!) I'm published. Maybe once I've got a few books under my belt I may feel comfortable with the writer-tag, but until then I'll stick to, 'I'm trying to write fiction.' Writing's a long-haul thing. Coetzee's a writer. Stephen King's a writer. I'm an apprentice.

Melissa said...

Oooh, interesting question.

I like to think we're defined by our actions, and I've been writing since I was little, so I've always thought of myself as a writer.

I won't consider myself an author until I've been published, but when I traveled seven hours to a little town to do some research, the locals helping me out kept referring to me as an author. I mentioned to one of them that I was a writer, not an author, and she said if I was going to this amount of trouble to write a book, then I was an author.

Anonymous said...

I became a writer when I figured out how to make those big block letters on lined paper.

I became a professional writer when I got paid to write.

I became an author when a publishing company released my first book.

Nathan said...

I didn't use "Writer" until I started getting published in magazines. I adopted "Author" when my first book was published.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen we think alike. I believe when we emphasize the importance of differentiating the terms we are being arrogant or (in a lot of the cases here)humble; so to each his own.

Francesca said...

I think it's interesting how (in a capitalist society) we wait for payment to justify our activity. I struggle with this too. To some extent, we feel legitimized by payment. Until then, there's this sneaking, uncomfortable sense that we're somehow indulging in a hobby.

I don't AGREE with this. I just believe it to be true that when someone asks "What do you do?" the real question is "What are you paid to do?"

So when someone asks me "What do you do, Francesca?" I fix the poor person with a steely glare and respond "Do you mean, how do I spend the bulk of my time or do you mean, what employment do I have or do you mean what do I most love doing?"

It's all about identity, baby. BIG question. Big. Right to the heart of who we are and why.

zoewinters said...

I think a writer is someone who writes. Just like a painter is someone who paints. One's level of notoriety doesn't come into play.

Author, on the other hand has often been a word only conferred to those with a published work. And as self publishing has risen, a published work that isn't published by the author, lol.

But the dictionary doesn't give such special status to the word author. (and since before the rise of commercial publishing, most work was published by the author and the author's family, I wonder if we are going to decide those people weren't real authors now.)


I understand this is a hard road for people, and when you get traditionally published after that long road you want a special label, but I don't think "author" can be so exclusive.

We're word people, and we should stick with the dictionary, IMO. And not make up our own meanings.

au⋅thor
   /ˈɔθər/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [aw-ther] Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun
1. a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.

Travis Erwin said...

I'd say you are a writer when the first word hits the paper, or computer screen, but you're not an author until your name appears on something you got paid for.

The other Olga said...

when an immigration officer asks what are you planning to do in Ireland and you think "drink beer" is a bad answer.

Ann Somerville said...

You're a writer when you write. You're an author when you become a pretentious sod about it.

ericanaone said...

As a full-time journalist who spends many hours outside work writing fiction, I call myself a "writer." The hours alone justify it. If you were to ping me at all kinds of times during the day and night and ask what I'm doing, the answer is "writing," more often than not. I expect that's true for many of us. I think "writer" is a noun that goes to a person who spends time acting out the verb.

As for "author," I can't imagine ever calling myself that. "Author" seems like a title that comes from others. It doesn't seem worth losing sleep over, because it distracts from that all-important verb.

Marie said...

I could never bring myself to say I was a writer until my agent had sold my novel. Until then--even though I'd had short stories published--I couldn't say I was a writer with any degree of comfort.

Now I feel comfortable saying that I am a writer. Until then, my feeling was: "I'd like to be a writer, and I've had some stories published, and am trying to finish a novel."

Needless to say, I really hated it when people asked me what I was doing with my life.

I would never say that I am an author.

I dance and I take dance class, but I would never say that I am a dancer. I like to dance. But there is a huge distinction between my sorry ass in class, and the people who go to auditions and rehearse and compete and are what I would consider true dancers.

Having said all that, though, these are the definitions that I am comfortable with for myself. It is up to everyone else to decide how they want to define themselves. If someone has self-published a book, and wants to call herself an author, I say go ahead.

MT said...

As Rilke put it: it is enough to feel that one could live without writing, then one must not attempt it at all.

A writer is one who must create. For her, writing springs from necessity. She affirms: I must.

lotusgirl said...

As long as I'm writing, I'm a writer. I won't be an author until I have published a book for real. (not pod.)

Anonymous said...

If you write, you're a writer. Author, novelist, etc. are just words, not ranks.

In regards to self published writers, those who look down on self publishing must acknowledge that it comes from a need for acceptance of one's work from the community at large.

Deciding to not call someone an author just because some floundering and outmoded corporations will not invest in his or her work is silly if it does not include other factors...like how many copies has this person sold?

If you are a published "author", and I am a self published "writer", and I have sold twice as many copies, and made three times as much money, are you still going to tell me I'm not an author?

I too look down on self publishing for the same reason...a need for acknowledgement. But I see that as a character flaw, and a logical fallacy. One day, I will get over it. At that point I will self publish my novels using POD technology and market them myself. Until then, I’m caught in the need to “make it” in a dying industry, just like the rest of us.

Mandajuice said...

I didn't start calling myself a writer until I owed taxes on my blog income and had to put SOMETHING next to my signature on the 1040. I won't call myself an author until I sell something longer than a blog post.

Lupina said...

If you picked vegetables from your garden a few nights a week, would you define yourself as a vegetable picker?

I think a certain amount of investment in time, effort, craft have to be present before you can define yourself as either a writer or an author. And then come the qualifying distinctions: aspiring or professional, trade published or self-published, technical or literary...and on and on.

I started calling myself a writer when a newspaper started paying me to do that for the majority of my time. I began saying I was an author after my first book was published.

I'll call myself a space monkey after I've had my first orbit around the planet.

Jen Turner said...

To me, author and writer are interchangable terms. You can author a letter or you can write a letter. Either way, the end result is still a letter.

In this day and age, I think the important question is: What does it mean to have a book "published for real"?

In my opinion, I don't care if a book is traditionally published, self published, e-published, or hand bound and sold on the street by a bell ringing author/writer, if perfect strangers are willing to spend their hard earned cash on said book - that baby is "published for real". Especially in this economy!

Anonymous said...

"In my opinion, I don't care if a book is traditionally published, self published, e-published, or hand bound and sold on the street by a bell ringing author/writer, if perfect strangers are willing to spend their hard earned cash on said book - that baby is "published for real". Especially in this economy!"

Hear hear!

Catalina said...

Just like when you poll the audient in Who Wants to Be Millionaire, it seems like everyone here came to the same concensus about what a writer is, but I'd like to talk about the author definition.

With the economy being what it is, it is becoming harder to make the metamorphasis from writer to author. Nathan pointed out last week that publishers are tightening their belts, and hence writers need to be even more en pointe, but at the same time, it is usually only the published writers who are getting those contracts.

People choose to self publish for several reasons. Some do not have the time to go through the conventional publishing routine. Others writers only want to leave their story for their children to read. And for some, self publishing is the only way to fulfill their dream.

My bottom line, give the self published authors a break. (And, I did say authors.) Just as there are many types of lawyers: the seedy kind, the scuzzy kind, the shady kind. There are also some jems in the crowd.

Melissa said...

Coming out as a 'writer' was hard for me, mainly because once you say you're a writer, people want to know if you're published. Most people have no idea how hard it is to get published, self-published doesn't count. I guess I started calling myself a writer when I started attending workshops, taking classes, mailing queries. If you've written a book or two, you are a writer, whether you've been published or not. Why not ask why writers don't get much respect? People think nothing of interrupting me during the day because I'm 'just writing'. I've had to lay down the law, turn the cell off and stop reading things like this blog during certain hours.

j h woodyatt said...

I think you get to call yourself a writer when someone who doesn't know you personally is interested in reading your work. It's easy to become a writer.

At the moment, I think you only get to call yourself an author when a retail bookseller puts a price tag on your book and makes a hardcopy of it available for purchase. I suspect this definition will need to be adjusted [in the straightforward way] as e-books become more commercially viable.

Rick Daley said...

I began to think of myself as a writer when I realized I had some form of reading audience. I don't think formal publication or a paycheck determines if you are a writer or not.

I will think of myself as an author when my novel has been published (self published or otherwise) and has a reading audience.

denese said...

My situation is a little different. I have been published in scholarly journals. So, I think that by definition I'm an author. However, that doesn't make me a writer, even though it is a hobby at nights and on weekends. So, I'm caught betwixt and between.

Anonymous said...

Nathan...you rock the blogs. I don't see this many comments anywhere else!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'm with the people who don't consider (most) self-published writers to be published authors. Most self-published writers are printed, not published, in my opinion. Those who have gone through traditional channels have been vetted and edited (and not by a paid service). In lieu of vetting and editing, I'll take sales. If you can sell 1000+ copies of your self-published work, I'll personally consider you published. Until then, you're printed.

Sorry if that's elitest, but there HAS to be a method of separating the chaff from the wheat. Not everyone SHOULD be published. Just because you have worked hard doesn't mean you "deserve it." Anyone can be printed. Only the good should be published.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I started calling myself a writer when I sold pieces to magazines and got actual checks in the mail....

The fact that a completely objective authority thought my work was worth PAYING for made all the difference...

I'll call myself an 'author' when a similarly objective authority pays me for one of my novels! =)

Min said...

I started calling myself a writer after I finished my first novel. I'll hold off on "author" at least until I have a book contract.

reader said...

I will be a "writer" when I can make a living from writing. Not "a" book sold in a nice deal, but a real living.

Until then, I consider myself a hack.

Newbee said...

These are the definitions of these terms at www.dictionary.com .

Author
1.a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.

Writer
1.a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., esp. as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

By these terms you can see how people can use or misuse them in numerous ways. I think people in general, view these terms differently. I find others here view the terms in an “aspiring” way. Some feel that they have made it to that “status” already, others do not. I don’t think all people who make “a living” writing books feel they are either writers or authors. This is a personal thing in my opinion.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

I don't think payment or publication has anything to do with being a writer or author. They're nice, yes, and they indicate whether you're a successful writer/author/whatever. But if you're honestly working to hone your craft, I think you get the titles. Intent is what makes the difference between sculpture and playing in the mud.

I'm unpublished, and I consider myself an author. I write regularly, with intent to tell a stylistically solid story and eventually get the world to read it. And I have a complete, standard-length novel manuscript under my belt (which is what seperates an author from a writer, in my mind). I'm just not a successful author yet, that's all!

Anonymous said...

The definition of published from multiple sources is:

"To prepare and issue (printed material) for public distribution or sale."

Self publishing definitely falls into this category. So would technical guides at a company that are distributed to customers or regulations created for and distributed by the DOD or military, etc.

Some think self-publishing is easier - thats an opinion - its not a definition.

Here's my thoughts on Writer (same as a lot of others):
Writer = you write
Author = you're published

Joe Iriarte said...

People have already said what I think, but I'll weigh in just to pad the numbers, ;)

A writer is one who writes. Published or not, shown it to your friends or not. I think it's worthwhile to have a word to honor those who put in the time without receiving any of the reward.

How often? Is once enough? I don't think so, actually. I think it needs to be something you do with regularity before you can make that word part of the definition of you. If you wrote a short story in college twenty years ago and nothing since, then your writing is not a characteristic that defines you. If you're engaged in writing pretty much every week, to put an arbitrary cut-off on it. (And engaged can mean doing research, if you have shown that eventually you do get around to writing. Likewise, doing revisions counts.)

If it's been a year since you actually wrote anything at all, you might want to think about getting that card punched again.

An author, says I, is one who has published his or her writing. "Published" means, again, IMNSHO, that you received money for your writing, as opposed to you having paid for the honor. That's not the technical definition of honor, but, again, I think it's worthwhile to recognize the accomplishments of those who actually have produced work good enough that someone thought it was worth investing in. Further, I think we could differentiate between semi-pro author, professional author, and full-time author. Or not.

That being said, I don't tend to tell people I'm a writer, because it sounds like hubris, even though it's not. Having appeared to brag, I'd be embarrassed when I had to admit that I'm a writer whose work has not yet been published. So I mention it only if it's really relevant, and then only with a lot of self-deprecation.

But I wouldn't look down on other unpublished writers calling themselves writers.

Joe Iriarte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Dawson-Cook said...

I think anyone who enjoys writing and engages in it on a regular basis qualifies. The process alone makes you a writer and the achievements that go along with selling articles or books makes it a career.

Scotty said...

Francesca, I agree. Being defined by what we're "worth" is a particular dilemma. But more than just being lucky or ambitious, a writer is someone who has taken it very seriously and paid their dues. Some get it out of the gate, but most who get paid for it have worked at it with some real respect for the craft. Someone who's doing it on a lark or because it's fun can call themselves whatever they want, I guess.

And one of the "anons" likened 1,000 self-published copies sold as a benchmark for legitimacy. I like that, actually. Gives me a goal to shoot for.

Haven't said it in a while, so I will now: excellent blog, Nathan.

Joe Iriarte said...

Brain fart:

"that's not the technical definition of honor" SHOULD read "that's not the technical definition of author."

Stephan Alexander Scharnberg said...

I considered myself a writer when I decided to sit down and write.

This was a hibernating wish and a slumbering seed since Grade 11 and Grade 12 Journalism class, editing the highschool newspaper and two consecutive yearbooks (1979-1980, 1980-1981). Since the early 1980s I wrote poetry sporadically (over 70 poems since then). Then I started on short stories and my travel book in early 2005 and took a Creative Writing course.

It starts with one day, then two, soon a week, a month, and a year. You continue every day, every free moment, becoming obsessed with it, impatiently waiting through two full-time jobs daily Monday to Friday, writing in the evenings. As I am serious about it, I consider it my third job--it is not a hobby. I do want to get published.

I find the label "author" to be suspect. An author is someone who writes to become famous (which is nice, but not the reason of being a writer, just the result of being successfully published and widely read and known--not self-published aka 'printed').

I write because I can not live without writing.

Tabitha said...

Wow, there are a lot of people who consider a writer to be someone who puts words on a page. This surprises me, since I'd guess that most of the people here are either published or aspire to be published.

Tia Nevitt said "Anyone who writes is a writer. Just like anyone who draws is an artist, and anyone who plays sports is an athlete. It is a noun. It doesn't describe talent or skill."
Actually, it kind of does. The term 'athlete' refers to someone who plays sports for a living, and if they do that then they must be really good at it. Same with artist, though that is much looser.

I think what has happened with the term 'writer' is that there are many so people who do this for a hobby that it's become one. It's not really treated as a job title, except to those who have reached the published level and write to earn a living.

I prefer to look at the term Writer as a job title. Why? Well, why not? A computer programmer can go to school, interview with a bunch of companies, then get a job writing computer programs to earn his living. But what if he can't get a job and he's working at a local supermarket? Would he call himself a stock boy, or a Programmer? My guess goes to 'Programmer' because he's gone to school for it, and making a living stocking shelves is only temporary.

I see the term Writer the same way. If you have been working toward honing your craft, treating your work and writing time as a job, and you consider your current means of income as temporary, then I think you're considering yourself a Writer. As in, you're treating yourself as a professional.

Wow. I guess I had a lot to say on the subject. Sorry if this was too long. :)

Joel Hoekstra asked if aspiring authors have business cards. If so, whether they say 'writer' or 'author.' I have business cards that say 'Writer." So I guess that means I consider an author to be a published writer. :)

Anonymous said...

The definition of 'printed' is:

"A mark or impression made in or on a surface by pressure: the print of footsteps in the sand.

A device or implement, such as a stamp, die, or seal, used to press markings onto or into a surface."

Why do people have such a block about self-publishing? It's kind of elitist. Again, I am not self-published but see absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Anonymous said...

I have two children. When they are not at home I am still a mother. I don't get paid for it, but the title cannot be removed. I am still a sister, a daughter. I am a reader. I am a a horse rider.I am a writer. I have finished two books; I am an author. And yes, I am a dancer when I dance. I am a cook. When I draw or paint I am an artist. The words missing here, and the only words that can be deleted are professional, paid, self-published, traditional published. When I leave my job, and go home at night, I am still an agent. No matter how we look at it the key words are what makes the difference, all the rest are just made up definitions of author and writer. I doubt there is one of you that would deny that a famous author was not a writer while they were working on their first book, but yet you do it to yourselves.

Vicky said...

I'm an unpublished writer with an agent. UPW+A? Hmmm... strange acronym.

Worst designation prize goes to: Pre-pubbed.

I write. Therefore, I am.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I suppose I'm like everyone else here in that I 'became' a writer when I started doing it and realized I could actually do it. But I don't think of myself as an author, yet. I will when I am published.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

BTW, I like this new interface on the blog.

Cheryl said...

You're a writer the minute you pick up a pen or pencil or carving tool and jot or etch a sentence. You're an AUTHOR when that sentence is published for all the world to read.
However, some think that self-published writers are not authors until they have an agent and cow-tow to the Publishing Establishment.

Cheryl

M Clement Hall said...

By definition, a "writer" is a person who writes.
I would think you start to call yourself a writer when you have no better professional designation, as a kind of faute de mieux.

Steve Fuller said...

When one writes.

Anonymous said...

I started calling myself a writer when I became serious about writing, when I was getting ready to submit my work to agents and publishers. I started calling myself a writer when I couldn't see myself doing anything else.
An author is something I hope one day to be (published and making a little money too!). But I will never stop being a writer.

Anonymous said...

When you learn correct punctuation? :)
Question mark goes outside the quotation mark in your sentences.
For example, When do you call yourself an "author"? (not "author?"

Nathan Bransford said...

Sheesh, anon...

Anonymous said...

A writer writes--just as a walker walks and a quilter quilts. No quality judgement there. But there's a suggestion of habitual activity.

Lea said...

I call myself a 'writer' when I spend quality time penning words to paper, researching or reading books and studying famous authors.

I call myself an 'author' once my writing project is complete.

Stephanie said...

Does it really matter? Because anytime you tell someone you are a writer, the next word out of that person's mouth is, "Oh...so where have you been published?" If you call yourself a writer, you'd better be prepared for that next question.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering who the guilty party was. I was worried it was me. Glad it was you, Nathan. LOL That was even funnier than Vegas Linda Lou's comments yesterday.

denese said...

Nathan, what do YOU think?

Anonymous said...

I think this is the blog hotspot! :-)

Alan Baxter said...

Does it really matter what you call yourself?

What other people call you is more important.

If you write, you know you're an writer. If you're published, self-published, pre-published, whatever, then people will refer to you as a writer or an author or a hack, depending on their impressions.

Call yourself whatever you want to be and wait for everyone else to catch up.

V L Smith said...

I used to think you weren't a writer until you published something (an article, a short story, etc.) But there are talented people whose work will never grace the walls of a museum or linger in the air of a concert hall but they are still painters and musicians. So why can't we be writers?

And you don't have to paid for your stories and articles in order to be called a writer. There are attorneys who offer free legal aid. Does this mean they aren't lawyers?

But you're not an author until you publish a book. For me, the word "author" conjures up an image of someone who has risen above the level of writer.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I have to agree with Mira:

"Personally, I don't see what being published has to do with it. All publishing means is someone liked your writing. They liked it so much they thought they could sell it to other people and make money off of it. That's just business, which has nothing to do with art."

I would love to elaborate but can't at the moment.

J.L. Finnell said...

A "writer," having writ, moves on. But an "author" is contractually stuck.

Theophagous Monkey said...

I don't tell people I'm a writer. I've published a few stories and written a couple of unpublishable novels. I write most every day, though, and so when people ask the question, What do you do? I sometimes tell them that I write a bit. In a former life I practiced law, and before that I played music in a variety of settings. Even back then I never said, I'm a musician, or I'm a lawyer. I said, I practice law, or, I play music. I've always felt that the point at which you become a 'this' or a 'that' is coterminous with the point at which people start calling you a this or a that, whatever it is, and at that point it's time to evaluate whether you're still setting your own course or just drifting with the wind.

Mason Dixon said...

When one gets published in the New Yorker (which seems to have become all but impossible for the unknown author in the past few years).

Anonymous said...

I can bake a cake... doesn't make me a baker. I can slap together a table... doesn't make me a carpenter. I can sketch out plans for my remodel... doesn't make me an architect or an interior designer. I don't think putting pen to paper makes one a writer, and I don't think self-publishing makes one an author (unless as someone above said, the self-published book sells a LOT of copies, proving that it's more than 99% of the self-published dreck).

HOWEVER all that said, there is no "label" police. There is no certifying body who is going to swoop down and arrest people for falsely claiming to be a writer or author. Anyone can call themselves a writer or author, and frankly, it's up to individuals to decide if someone meets their definition of the terms.

So what if someone doesn't meet my definition? It's not like I run around jumping on people who self-publish, screaming to whoever will hear that they are not published. If someone asks, I give an honest opinion. If you have a different opinion, we can discuss/debate, or we can let it go as a difference of opinion. No biggie.

If someone wants to believe that because they have self-published, they are as "published" as someone who went the traditional route, let them. I won't agree with them, but why do they need my approval? Now, if they need my approval to feel validated, tough noogies to them. I worked hard to get traditionally published, and I had the same roadblocks as everyone else. Boo hoo hoo if you took a shortcut and now aren't getting the respect you feel you deserve.

denese said...

Tell me something. Why do you allow posts by anonymous writers/posters, Nathan? Isn't this a cowardly way to communicate? I just don't understand it. If you have something to say, take ownership.

Nathan Bransford said...

denese-

90% of the time the anonymous comments are productive, and sometimes people don't feel like disagreeing with agents (such as this one) publicly, which I'm fine with. I'd hate to lose that just to keep out some bad apples.

Megoblocks said...

Sometimes I post anon cuz I'm just too lazy to log in :)

Linda said...

You are a writer when you produce a body of work. Published or not, it's the tangible evidence of words on paper that makes one a writer.

People who puff out their chests and proclaim themselves writers before they've actually written anything are abundant - and annoying. Suffer three years of a novel, or a chapbook or two, or even a damn good short that left you exhausted by the time you punched in THE END - THEN you are a writer.

Peace...

Anonymous said...

Denese,
I am not that Anon 6:03. I wanted to tell you why I post Anon. Most of the time I am on my computer at work, which blocks me from signing in normally, plus a whole lot of other stuff (they go way over board). I do have to say that ANON 6:03's comments are just their true feelings coming out, which sometimes I feel are actually helpful. It would stink to go into the real world with blinders on, thinking every one was as polite as they appeared, but then have them stab you from behind.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:03

Was the economy in this kind of shape when you were published the first time, and were the e-books as popular?

Anonymous said...

Oh and ANON 6:03 baking a cake doesn't make you a PROFESSIONAL baker, but you are still a baker, and it's possible for you to be really good at it.

Melissa said...

What do e-books have to do with the issue?

Ann Somerville said...

Anon 6.03 - I'm pro-published *AND* self-published. If I took your attitude, I'd have to hate myself half the time. Fortunately...I don't care about the opinions of people who slam self-pubbed writers without any idea what drives us. I'm the same person, with the same level of skill and committment, no matter how my books come before the public.

Pattie Garner said...

Nathan, I think you ask these bizarre questions just to get a good laugh after a long days work!

Rick Daley said...

Compensation doesn't dictate the craft. Does a lawyer who practices pro bono forfeit their law degree?

Granted, the lawyer had a governing body that granted the degree in the first place, but I'm not changing my mind. If you don't like it, find a pro bono lawyer and sue me ;-)

Anonymous said...

E-books can be self published making the need for agents and traditional publishers less the necessity. If the trend to continues to go towards e-books, as everyone predicts, the traditional route will be the old fashioned route. Also the economy suggests that it will be much harder to get a book printed by an old-fashioned publisher, and why the need with so much exposure with e-books and no distinctions. Suggesting you can only be an author the old fashioned way makes the standards far more difficult than they used to be to become an author. One day, according to some opinions here, they may even become extinct. So I seriously doubt ANON 6:03 is going through the same difficulties as the newbies to become an author.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 6:03, and apparently I created a firestorm. I actually didn't mean to.

First, my book was accepted by my publisher in mid-2001 and hit shelves in early 2003. That was our last recession -- I know because I was one of the nearly 10% in our state who were out of work. I have no idea, however, how publishers fared during that time. That was before I was reading about publishing on the Web.

Second, I don't harbor some burning hatred of self-published writers. I don't walk down the street and spit on them, nor find their friends and family and try to discredit them. I don't say a word to anyone who self-publishes unless they happen to ask my opinion. Even then, I ask for more details, such as how many copies have you sold? Or, how did you decide your book was of publishable quality? Even if I believe someone is "printed" rather than published, I'm polite about it. And I don't mind at all if that person disagrees with me! It's just my opinion, after all.

I also don't paint all self-publishing with the same brush. I have a friend who was first traditionally published and then chose to self-publish her following books because she was writing for a sub-niche that she could market and distribute to herself. Each of her books has sold several thousand copies -- I think that's published by any definition!

As for e-books, I'm not sure I understand what their popularity has to do with anything. If they are more popular now, wouldn't that give people MORE opportunities for traditional publishing? (I define traditional publishing by the process through which manuscripts are chosen and then edited.) Sorry if I'm misunderstanding something here!

I have a friend who kept a blog when she raised a litter of puppies. She included a lot of info of use to breeders, and she decided when she was done to publish it. She self-published. I have a copy of the book (signed even!). Does it meet my definition of "published"? Not even close. It's not well-edited, it's not well organized or especially well-written, and it hasn't sold more than a handful of copies. But she's proud of it -- and I have NO PROBLEM with that. Why should I?

Even if she ran around claiming to be a published author I wouldn't have a problem with it. Would I agree with her? Nope. So what? She didn't ask me. And if she did, I'd be honest. Not cruel, but honest.

Anonymous said...

Emily Dickinson only published a small handful of poems while she was alive. I don't think anyone could read her later work and say it wasn't written by a poet. Publishing gives one the title of the art, Author. One is born a writer. No, not all people who write are writers. I drive a car, but I'm not a chauffeur.

Anonymous said...

E-books give more opportunity to self-publish without the public noticing the difference between them and the traditional publishing route. If traditional publishing is hard to get in to because of the economy then you will see more and more very good authors/writers going that direction.

Your friend didn't start the blog with the intent of publishing, it was an after thought, which is different. And is it worth the hurt you may cause her by disagreeing with her, especially when the definition agrees with her?

As for the years 2000 to 2003, I don't recall financial difficulties anything like they are now. They were totally different times.

Anonymous said...

Um, when you're out of work, and your industry isn't hiring, financial difficulties are pretty much financial difficulties.

Alps said...

I won't claim to be a writer or an author until I can make a little money doing it. Until then, I'll say I have a writing hobby.

BT said...

I write, therefore I am.

I don't remember where I heard/read that, but it's true.

An author is someone with a published book. A writer who has published short fiction, is a published writer, who no doubt feels good about themselves and is probably striving hard to become an author.

Good luck to everyone who fits, or aspires to fit, into any of these categories.

Laura D said...

I am constantly inspired by the world around me and driven to write impressions and/or stories around what I experience. In fact, I can be so taken with an idea that it becomes a need to pour it out of me. To me, that means I am compelled to write and am therefore, a writer. When I am finished, I have a work that I have authored because I wrote it.

other lisa said...

When I got an agent and when I lost my other job. I mean, I gotta call myself something, beyond "prematurely retired."

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