Writer vs Author

Last week, I made a solemn vow not to talk about characters again today. And so, despite the fact that Tamara Paulin made a fantastic comment on Anthony Lee Collins’ blog about making sure every character is one that an actor would want to play, I’m not going to talk about characters at all.

Instead, I’m going to revisit the old Writer vs Author question.

This was originally prompted by a post from Emerald Barnes about what you expect from your writing. I said in my comment that I wanted publication, and I wanted to be able to call myself an author. That got me to thinking: What’s the difference between a writer and an author, anyway?

The most obvious definition of a writer is: someone who writes. So it stands to reason that an author is: someone who auths.

Hmmm. Time to consult a dictionary.*

Writer: 1. One who expresses ideas in writing. 2. One whose occupation is writing (such as a journalist of an author).

Author: 1. Someone who writes a novel, poem, essay etc; the composer of a literary work. 2. The originator, beginner or creator of anything.

Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that anyone can claim to be a writer, but an author has super-powers, writes at lightning speed, kills bad plot bunnies with nothing but a red pen, and rescues kittens before breakfast. But the dictionary definitions seem to actually reverse those roles: An author is someone who writes, whereas a writer is someone who does so for money.

That’s interesting. But then you have this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

The best author will be the one who is ashamed to be a writer.

What does that even mean? No, seriously. If you can unravel the mysteries of that sentence, I’d be most grateful.

According to the dictionary, the fact that I’ve written about a zillion short stories, many bad poems, and the first draft of one novel and part of a second, qualifies me as an author. But somehow… well, it just feels wrong. So how about I examine my own ideas of what turns a writer into an author.

1. An author has written a completed, saleable novel.

Really? Does that mean that short story writers and poets aren’t authors? No, thought not.

2. An author has been published.

Great. I’ve had short stories published. Does that make me an author? No, I’d still feel weird writing ‘author’ as my occupation on an official document.

3. An author has had their novel published.

See number 1. Also, with vanity published being the industry that it is, I could take my first-draft novel and have it published for only a small fee. Does that make me an author?

4. An author has had their novel published through the mysterious process of traditional publishing.

Still go back to number 1. And what about those self-published writers with brilliant books, who created a fabulous product and decided to go the self-pub route for various good reasons? Surely they deserve to be given the title of author. Yes, I thought so.

5. You’re an author when you feel like you’re an author, and not one moment before.

Yep, that seems about right.

 

This hasn’t really cleared up my confusion at all, so I’m calling on the expertise of everyone reading this post. What are your thoughts? When do you qualify as an author? What are some of the super-powers an author has that a writer doesn’t? Which would you prefer to be? And what did Nietzsche mean, anyway?

* Definitions are from the Macquarie Concise Dictionary 3rd Edition

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “Writer vs Author

  1. This is a very interesting, and puzzling, question, one that I have pondered from time to time before. I would never call myself an author (at this point, anyway), even though I have had many articles published in newspapers (features and news stories). Like you, I tend to mentally associate that word with having a book published.

    On the other hand, I would probably be hesitant to apply the word “author” to myself even after I published a book, simply because–to me–it would sound rather pompous, sort of like some dude with a ph.d insisting on being addressed as “doctor.”

    So, here’s what I’ve worked out: a writer is an author when other people voluntarily recognize him or her as such. (Hey, it works for ME.)

  2. I qualified as an author when I got paid for my first story 🙂 That was my personal milestone. To maintain my author tag, I need to keep writing, keep finishing stories and submitting. That, to me, is being an author.

    I don’t say “I am the writer of…” I say “I am the author of…”.

    Make your own decision about when you are an author. And yes, when you feel like one, you are one.

    • Mmmm… I was first paid for a short story 8 years ago, but really don’t see myself as an author. I can’t get past the “author = book” mentality, I suppose. But I’m glad that you consider yourself to be an author, and that you have a definition that works for you.

  3. I’m kind of in the same boat as you and Leanne, but then again, I feel like an author at times and agree with Merrilee.

    This is a tough question. I didn’t start feeling like an actual author until I had published something, but I don’t go around saying I’m an author. I tell people I’m a writer. This is one of those questions that doesn’t have one right or wrong answer, I suppose.

    “You’re an author when you feel like you’re an author, and not one moment before.” That’s exactly what I would say as an answer to this question as well.

    Great post, Jo! Really got me to thinking!

    • Thanks, Emerald. I definitely agree that there’s no right or wrong answer, but am loving the different definitions being put forward. It’s really interesting that the two words have such varied meanings for people.

      • It is very interesting to see all of these different answers. I find myself agreeing with everyone. I still stand by my answer, but everyone else is posing wonderful examples of what they feel like is the best answer. So, thought-provoking post, Jo! 🙂

  4. Great question Jo. I stumbled on your blog today via a tag search for “writer”. Would you believe I was just pondering this question myself for a blog post. Unfortunately, I just started thinking about this so I do not have a formulated opinion as of yet. In the past, I’ve always considered a writer as someone who writes for a living (such as a journalist, columnist, etc.) and an author as someone who writes books for a living, whether they are novels, non-fiction, or short stories is irrelevant to me. I am curious to read what others think as well.

    • Hi Boyd, and welcome to The Happy Logophile. I like the definition that you’ve given, but I’m not sure where people who write fiction but don’t earn enough to make a living from it, fit in. I’ll keep my eyes out for your post on the subject in the future. 🙂

  5. I think the lines blur between the two and the major difference is a social view of each term. To me, the word author conjures up someone that has something published in a book store, that could do readings and signings. A writer is someone that writers because they love the act of writing, write constantly, and actually experience writing. Authors are mythical creatures like you said that have superpowers and save kittens!

    I definitely agree with Leanne though; I think the author term can only really be applied by other people. Writer feels like a more natural title. 🙂

    • Hi, and welcome. 🙂 I agree completely – but considering that I aspire to be called an author, I’d like to know where the goalposts are. I’ve done a reading of my work (admittedly in a arts cafe rather than a bookstore), and I have to admit that it felt kind of author-y. So maybe you’re on to something there.

      (Although with ebooks on the rise, author signings and readings are probably on the decline. Which would suck.)

  6. In Canada, there’s a standardized test. You start out as a Learner and have to wear an “L” on your clothing for a year. Wait, no, that’s drivers licenses.

  7. I’ve always thought of “author” as applying to fiction. Novels, stories, even poems.

    People who write for newspapers or magazines are obviously “writers,” but I don’t think of them as “authors” (and I don’t think they’d use the term either). I may well have invented that distinction myself, though.

    • You may have invented that distinction, but it’s a good one… But I find myself balking at calling someone who wrote one poem when she was 16 an author. Perhaps that’s just me being arrogant and trying to keep the mystical title for The Chosen Ones.

      • Ah, no. I was not clear. I don’t mean “author”=fiction, I just meant that “author” does not include non-fiction.

        My main reason is that the word “author” rather makes me cringe, like putting on airs. I’ve written two novels and a group of mystery stories, and I would never call myself an author, nor (in answer to your question below) do I aspire to that title.

        In fact, I only describe myself as a “writer” in contexts where I won’t be misunderstood, since I am not (and don’t aspire to be) professional. I have a friend who has been writing professionally since 1972, and I don’t call myself a writer when talking with him. I write, obviously, but in some contexts “writer” means professional.

        My only real aspiration is to write better. I’m still working on that one.

  8. Tony Pitman

    As much as I like the internal motivation philosophy of “you’re an author when you believe it”, there’s much to be said for external recognition. And I’ve never been good at internal motivation … self-confessed praise junkie here.
    Remember when the cognoscenti would attend live performances, and if it was good, they would stand in ovation and cry “Author! Author!”? I think that was as much about awarding the writer with that title, as it was about applauding their efforts.
    For me, a writer writes for a living, and an author writes for the love of it. Ideally, one could be both, and live off what you love.

    • Welcome to The Happy Logophile.
      Ah, another praise junkie. What is it that draws us to writing, which is an inherently solitary vocation, more likely to be filled with criticism than adoration? Masochism, perhaps?

      I like your definition, though. That bears more thought.

  9. I always thought of the difference as writer – unpublished; author – published. But maybe it is more of writer – gets a few short stories published; author – makes money from their writing (even if it is only enough to keep up their coffee habit!) BTW I have a PhD and would appreciate it is you all call me doctor from now on!! (hehe just kidding, about the doctor part I really do have the PhD)

    • Doctor Jody… 🙂 Are you thinking similar to Merrilee’s comment, that you’re an author once you’ve been paid $$ for your fiction? Or is there a bar that you have to reach in order to move from writer to author?

      • I guess my honest opinion would be that you are an ‘author’ when other people consider you to be one. Are their enough people out their that have read your work? No matter whether it is in the short form or as a novel (like you mentioned above anyone can publish their own novel – does that make them a writer or an author). But when your friends talk about you at a party what do they say? Do they refer to you as my friend the author? For me that is when it would all feel real – like I have finally made it. and until then I am happy to keep being just a writer!

    • Well, Dr. Jody (hehe!), what about someone who has made money off writing for newspapers and magazines? Does this make someone an author, in your view?

      Please answer ASAP, because if the answer is yes, then I will have to re-evaluate my entire self-image. 😀

  10. Thanks to everyone who’s commented so far. I’ll try to get back and reply to everyone individually. I just wanted to remark on the fact that everyone seems to have their own idea of what constitutes the difference between writer and author, which is really interesting. So I’m wondering if you (like me) aspire to be an author, or you (like Merrilee and Emerald) already consider yourself to be an author, or you just don’t care either way?

  11. Pingback: Book Review: Stephen King On Writing | The Happy Logophile

  12. Pingback: A Rambling Writer and Her Tangled Thoughts | Emerald Barnes' Dreaming Awake Blog

  13. Pingback: Writer vs Author – Part 2 | The Happy Logophile

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