Author vs. Writer

The other day, I read a bio of a fellow writer that said something along the lines of “I’m a writer. I’ll earn the title ‘author’ when I’m published.” This gave me pause and it made me sad, because it reinforces the misguided idea that there is a class difference between being an author and being a writer.

Looking at publishing as the reason a writer becomes an author (much like a child becomes an adult) leaves out a large segment of the writing population and sets up unrealistic expectations. Many people are chosing to self-publish. Does the moment they press the “publish” button automatically make them better than or different from everyone else? What about people who write for themselves or for their family, with no intention of publishing? Does that make them any less authors? I don’t think so.

Yes, getting published is a huge deal. It’s professional validation and does wonders to get your work in front of a large group of readers you otherwise may not have access to, and let’s be honest, it usually involves an increase in income. But it isn’t some magical initiation whereby you get a new title. You are still doing the same thing you’ve been doing, just with an advance/royalties and more accountability. When that glorious day comes, by all means, celebrate! Be proud of your accomplishment! (I know I will be.) But please don’t think it makes you Grand High Pooba or High Priestess of the Written Word. (Those come with being on the best seller list – or so I’ve heard. πŸ™‚ )

Really, it boils down to semantics. Oftentimes, I use the words “writer” and “author” interchangeably, because really, they mean the same thing – someone who writes. If you asked me which I prefer, I’d say “author,” only because to me, that is more evocative of the literary nature of what I do. You can “write” anything (and I write all day long for my day job, so I know): newsletters, articles, ad copy, cereal box text, instruction manuals. But the word “author” seems to me to be more reserved for those who write literary works: books, poems, plays, etc. That’s why I like it. It speaks to who I am. I’ve been using it since my writing became more than an occasional hobby and I plan on using it well into my future days as a best-seller.

In my mind, if you write something, you are already an author, regardless of whether or not your work ever sees the light of day. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, of course, but I think to view authorhood as something to be achieved – like winning a gold medal – is just silly. If you want to aim for something, aim for an audience of adoring fans, a certain level of self-satisfaction, or even certain sales numbers. Those things are great goals, but they do not an author make. Only words poured out from your heart onto paper or a computer screen can do that.

So, embrace who you are. If you write and you want to call yourself an author, do so – because you already are. If you don’t like the term and want to be known as a writer, go for it. Class warfare within the writing profession does nothing other than separate us, when what we need is to work together as a community to support one another. Our community is what we make of it, and I, for one, hope we are willing to include everyone, from the novice learning his/her craft to the household name.

What do you think? Is there a difference between being an “author” and being a “writer?” Which do you prefer? Why?

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10 thoughts on “Author vs. Writer

  1. I’ve had big debates with myself as to which title I should use on my Linkedin profile – author or writer. I used ‘fiction writer’, ‘features writer’, ‘children’s writer’. I didn’t use author because it seems to be associated with those who have published books, whereas I have 100 something short stories and feature articles in various publications. Then I self-published a novella on amazon and thought about changing my title to ‘author’ but stopped myself because I realised that what I do is called writing. So yes, regardless of whatever I’ve published, I am a writer at the end of the day πŸ™‚

  2. I only started calling myself an “author” when I finished my first book and decided to write full time. Before that, even though I published plays and articles I called myself a “writer.” “Author” is my way of taking myself more seriously.

  3. I don’t know…I use writer because I feel that the word “writer” doesn’t just refer to someone who writes anything. I think a writer is someone who not only writes things (i.e. stories, bks, etc.), but who studies the craft of writing. I write short stories, poems, etc. but I don’t try to use “author” because, for me, I use it to refer to things that I wrote. Like I would say “I’m a writer” (because that is what I am and what I do) but I would specify by saying “I’m the author of this or that.” But I’ve never really thought about the word “author” as limiting anyone’s ability for anything. For me it’s just another way to describe something. But this is an interesting post! It got me thinking! Which is something I love to do!

  4. In October, I published an anthology of writing advice, Brave on the Page, and had a bunch of critique group friends help me with the subtitle. They all are published (stories, essays and books), and they all preferred writer to author, so that’s what I went with. I’m sure some of the forty-two contributors think of themselves as authors, and others think of themselves as writers, likely depending on their experience level. I ultimately picked writer due to their input and because it’s so close to the word write. The final subtitle is Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life.

    As for me, I call myself a novelist and therefore avoid the whole issue!

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