Saturday, March 7, 2015

What is an author anymore anyway?

As times change, and publishing itself continually mutates, there is a not-so-great-debate which flares up now and then about what constitutes a professional Author these days.The title itself is under scrutiny as more writers self publish and Indie presses crop up more and more.

Some point out that calling everyone who publishes something an author,  devalues the title of author. Well, maybe a new title needs to be created. Maybe "author" or even "professional author" doesn't mean what it used to. Maybe we are clinging to something that existed for a while, but is no longer relevant or valid. Take the title of Doctor. That is a title with weight, accompanied by years of schooling and given out by universities.

What are the qualifications for author?
Do you have to go to school for it? 
No.
Do you have to have a degree?
 No.
Is there a National Board of Real Authors overseeing the use of the title Author to make sure that there aren't fake authors operating?
 No.

Maybe "Author" is a social/media construct created in a now gone era when authors meant more and earned more. The working author, someone who can spend eight hours a day at the keyboard is something of a luxury now. They still exist, but many more also have day jobs, full-time or part-time. So their full income is not earned through writing alone. 

On the flip-side of that is the writer. Which is anyone who writes. And particularly someone who has not earned the title author with a $3000 advance (or the equivalent in sales of their indie/self-published book). The label writer seems a thin line from author and in a way it's become a bit shaming.  

And what do I call myself? Technically I'm "just"a writer. It's been some eight years since anything I wrote earned an advance and even back then it was from a comics publisher, not a Big 5 publisher. So my professional organization of choice, the SFWA wouldn't recognize my status. And now,  with my indie published book Carmine Rojas which is nowhere near earning the income required by the SFWA, I am still technically a lowly writer and not an author.  

The feeling is that if I call myself an author I'm an impostor, unworthy of the title. But how true is that anymore? Is income the objective leveler it once was? Are Indie authors qualified to call themselves authors? Is it time the entire title of author either dies out, or is replaced by something else?


9 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I sometimes say, "I'm also a writer." since that's not the way I make my living. I hardly ever use the term author for myself.

daytonward said...

When I'm asked what I "do," I identify myself as a writer.

A veteran writer once told me that an "author" is someone who has written something, and it's done and out there, somewhere. "So-and-so is the author of that book," etc. Requirements to join organizations and associations aside, that's an author.

On the other hand, he told me that a writer is someone who writes...actively, with purpose. That purpose can be personal, professional, or both, but if the person is putting words to page on a regular basis, in whatever for those words take, paid or not (yet, or at all), then that person is a writer.

This person, with literally hundreds of credits to his name (and a handful of others, actually), describes himself as a writer, because that's what he does, day in and day out. He's probably written a novel in the time it's taken me to post this comment.

(Personally, I like "word pusher." Sounds more renegade. :D)

Liane Spicer said...

Interesting questions that I ponder every once in a while, Che. I'm comfortable with "writer" because there are too many political issues surrounding the "author" tag, as you noted. I don't go around telling people I'm either; those outside my inner circle usually find out via some other medium.

Che Gilson said...

Charles- Thank you for the comment! I waffle a lot on what to call myself too. I really want writing to be an income stream.

Dayton- I like your answer the best!

Liane- I don't tell people what I do unless they ask :) When people find out your a writer the next question is often "Do you make a living at that."

Jewel Amethyst said...

I go back and forth. When I first published, I had no idea what to call myself. I went to a meeting and there was a well established author. We had to introduce ourselves and say what we did. I mentioned my work as a scientist but did not mention my writing credit. When I finished that author who was moderating the meeting, added "and published author" to my credit. That's the first time I thought of myself as an author and considered using the word author or writer in a description of my career.

Joanne said...

I think of myself as a writer because, in my mind, it covers all the forms of writing that I do ... but I do remember after my books came out someone saying to me that I was diminishing my accomplishment by referring to myself as a writer and not an author...and I do understand the point they were making in terms of the achievement...which they well knew had not come easy... had been earned ... BUT I hadn't thought about it before that... don't think about it much now... writer is still the umbrella under which I operate...took me long enough to claim it.

daytonward said...

^ I guess I'm somewhat the opposite. Answering the "What do you do?" question with, "I'm an author," sounds too pretentious, at least for me.

In a bio or some variant thereof, I'll write, "...is the author of blah blah blah," but I guess I'm just comfortable with being called a "writer." It conjures images of me wearing my favorite faded blue jeans and a ratty sweatshirt as I work, rather than a velvet smoking jacket.

Besides, I look horrible in velvet.

Marissa Monteilh said...

This is indeed food for thought. I always say a writer is a writer until they're published, so I call myself an author. But I do feel more like a writer than an author, as this biz can sometimes feel as though we're waiting for the one book to hit. So maybe until then, I'll call myself a writer. Or maybe I'll say I'm just midlist. Yes, I midlist for a living, lol!! I love this post, Che!

KeVin K. said...

I'm a writer.

I sometimes identify as a freelance writer or freelance writer/editor because most of my has been for the media tie in or write for hire markets. (Also, "freelance" tends to dissuade people from telling me about this dream they had that will make a great novel.)

In my experience, writers who write a lot for a living - either media tie-in, write for hire, etc., or 3-6 original novels a year - call themselves writers. Many take a sort of blue-collar pride in approaching writing as a craft, while authors are the artists. (As in: Writers write to tell stories readers will enjoy, authors write to create literature other authors will admire.
It's a conceit, of course.

A writer, as Dayton said, is a person who writes. Or, one might say, a person who can't not write.