This morning I found myself thinking about titles in the book industry. When are you a writer? When are you an author? Are you a writer when you decide you are? Are you an author once you self-publish or once someone decides to publish your work for you?
I admit I have less trouble with the title of “writer.” If you write stuff down on paper with the intent to show other people, you’re a writer to me.
My trusty Canadian Oxford Dictionary (COD) tells me a writer is:
1. a person who writes or has written something. 2. a person who writes books; an author. 3. a person who writes screenplays.
Number one seems quite general: a person who has written something. In this day and age of email and social media, we’ve all written something, if you want to get technical about it.
Number two I can wrap my head around though: a person who writes books; an author.
Back to my dictionary, an author is:
1. a writer, esp. of books. 2. the originator of an event, a condition, etc.
So the dictionary says that if you write books, you’re an author. It doesn’t say you need to have a big publisher vet your book, it doesn’t say you need to sell 1 million copies to be qualified, it just says you need to write.
Yet, I’ve written two books (currently hiding out on my hard drive), and I wouldn’t call myself an author. For me, being an author is more than just writing a book: it’s writing a book and sharing it with the world.
I recently saw someone call themselves a novelist in a bio. That’s a more specific term and one that I could get used to. The COD says a novelist is, quite simply:
a writer of novels.
But does it matter if you publish them? Does it matter who publishes them? Do you get to add ‘novelist’ to your business card if no one has ever read your work? Or is it merely the doing, the act of writing that qualifies you as a novelist?
It seems some other professions are easier to define: you graduate from library school, get a job as a librarian, and you become a librarian; you go to school to learn how to be a mechanic, you get a job as a mechanic, you become a mechanic.
Perhaps I am over-complicating, but it seems that the rules for becoming a “writer” or an “author” or a “novelist” are gray.
My friend Bob has trouble identifying as a writer, and yet as of next week he will have published two books, the first two in a series of ten (!). He calls himself a “wroter.” He can’t wrap his head around being called a writer or an author; he says he’s merely writing down things that he has learned in the past, so he’s “wroting” — past tense.
I have another writing friend who just published a magical children’s book, but I don’t think he would ever in a million years identify himself as an author, or a writer, or a novelist, for that matter.
So what do you think? When are you a writer? When are you an author? Does it even matter? Should we all stop debating it and get back to, er, writing?