Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

When someone asks you what you do, what do you say? Writer? Author? Artist? Do you mutter a general job description and immediately follow it up with … but, ya know, I’m just doing this for now!?

There’s always a little bit of a debate in the yet-to-be-published community on whether they are “writers” or “authors.” I know industry people who think they are one in the same, that the words are interchangeable. I am not one of these people. To me, a writer is a person who is serious about his or her craft and has the drive, knowledge, and skill to someday get published. An author is someone who has been published.

Now, there was some news this week about a certain Jersey Shore cast member and her work of fiction that looks astonishingly like her real life. Folks, I hate to say this, but Snooki is an author. I know. I’ll give you a minute.

OK, now that we’ve calmed down, a slight digression: When I was little, I wore Barbie lip gloss and ate Flinstones vitamins. The packagers stuck a familiar face on an otherwise commonplace product so that they could better compete within specific markets. Enter Snooki’s novel.

In the same way that Hanna-Barbera Productions did not manufacture pharmaceuticals in between creating beloved cartoon characters, Snooki having a book with her name on the cover does not make her a writer. (This is also in part because her book was, presumably, largely ghostwritten.) That’s not to say other celebrities who have written books aren’t writers. It’s just that Snooki and her ilk (be it Kardashian or Hilton) are the brand of celebrities that are, well, brands. The line is a fine one, but it’s there. President Obama, for example, is a writer. For one, he actually penned his words. And two, he was not a celebrity or even a politician of much note when his memoir was published. And in the manner of being fair and balanced, I’ll admit that Bill O’Reilly is also a writer. I repeat, it’s a fine line, but if you look closely enough, the differences between real writers and “people who have book deals” are clear.

So, back to you.

If not all writers are authors and not all authors are writers, where does that leave you? I bring this question up because I think it’s something fun to think about. There is no right answer. It’s only slightly bothersome to me when a writer queries me claiming to be a “published author” when they mean “I know how  to click a button that will bind my manuscript for me,” which is why I make my own distinctions between writers and authors. But writers who are serious about what they do deserve more than just being called “people who write,” so they have every right to claim that label proudly for themselves. But you tell me – what do you call yourselves? Or do you just say “I’m awesome” and leave it at that?

Finally, as you ponder what to call yourselves this weekend, I leave you with this week’s Winner of  the Internet, James Van Der Beek and his Vandermemes. Personally, I’d like to thank Mr. Van Der Beek for finally justifying my preference of Dawson over Pacey. It  took over a decade, and I was getting tired of defending my choices (you’d be surprised how often it would come up over the years), but I feel that my love of the Van Der Beek and my indifference to Joshua Jackson has been vindicated. Well done, sir.

26 thoughts on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

  1. I agree about the unpublished/published distinction. But I do think it is a distinction that is changing because of the ease with which someone can now “publish” their own work as an ebook. A friend of mine did so recently, and when I thought about your post in reference to her, I found I do not have a problem thinking of her as an author. Her work is now out there, and I admire her determination in writing it and her choice to self-publish.

    On the other hand, I don't think I could ever refer to myself as an author, whether or not I am published. I'm not sure why…it just seems to beg the question, “Author of what?” I prefer “novelist.” Very clear, that.


  2. I don't really like the implication that published writers are necessarily 'better' writers than unpublished ones, and have therefore earned the title of 'author'. I know some great writers who haven't yet managed to be published, and some rather poor writers who have. Yet the world definitely does distinguish between published and unpublished writers. I mentioned to my writing teacher that from the minute my debut novel was published, people who previously gave me no credit for knowing anything at all about writing (even though I'd been doing it for years) suddenly related to me as some sort of authority, and he said: '”Author” is the first half of “authority” '. That said, I tend to refer to myself generally as a writer, but I call myself 'author' in relation to my book, as in: 'I'm the author of Dancing in the Dark.' It's a subtle distinction.


  3. This is a really interesting post. I feel pretentious calling myself a writer for exactly the reasons you mention. I have published a book, so using “author” seems objectively true and less braggy.


  4. I make the same distinctions between writer and author that you do. Someday, I hope to call myself an author. We'll see. But in the meantime, I'm a hard-working writer and proud of it. I also occasionally lay claim to the “I'm awesome” title– but only to my husband. 🙂


  5. Very interesting post. Hmm, I don't call myself a writer really, although I should. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a school counselor but I also write. I don't know, it's like I get shy or something. I need to get out of that. BTW, the Vandermemes link? Win! As far as the Dawson/Pacey thing, I think they were both to good for Ms. Joey Potter. She annoyed me!


  6. I call myself “Writer” because I am not published and I cannot walk into B&N and see my book anywhere. Not even and obscure shelf in the back of the building behind some cobwebs. However, my hubby has yet to fully understand the distinction and some times drops the A-bomb. Then I get asked about what I've written, where they can get a copy of my book, etc. This makes me want to kill him, but then he is just so cute and supportive I can't do it. 🙂


  7. This is so wise and well said. In my mind, authors have always been the people who've made it. The rest of us are just writers struggling to get there.

    I like your spin so much better! I'm officially adopting your philosophy. 🙂


  8. I agree with You. At present I'd call myself a writer or an aspiring author. Working hard on craft, skills and everything in between! Hopefully one day I get a novel published and I can call myself an author, why not?
    From one Dawsons Creek fan to another, it was the under dog(although not in the end) Pacey who won me over.


  9. I usually just say that I'm a teacher (day job I absolutely love) and then when pressed, I say I'm aspiring. I teach English so many infer my aspirations are for writing, but claiming it is laden with pressure so “aspiring” with a wink is more my style. Good luck to all the fellow aspirers out there.


  10. Awesome post… this is something that you'll see me changing back and forth on my profiles on my various web places.

    Part of me (a big part) agrees with the writer being unpubbed versus an author being pubbed, but then I was thinking, well… I never actually say that I am “an author” out loud, because like the above commenter said: it sounds a bit off to say anything more than “I'm a writer.”

    However, I feel it is proper to say that I am the author of my book, regardless of its publication status at this time, because I do write full time as a professional with the hope of being paid for this particular piece of my work. “Going pro” is something that I feel you do in the hope of making money at it. Doesn't always happen… but there is a thin line to cross there, too.

    Besides, in the interest of making my dreams come true, I am going to put it out there that I am the author of my novel, and a writer, too!

    Sadly, I missed most of Dawson's Creek. Although I secretly wanted to be Joey. 😉


  11. I agree with you!!!!!

    Before my book was published, I referred to myself as a “writer” but never on medical forms or anything else that asked your occupation. I still wrote “homemaker.” But then I signed my publishing contract and it changed. I felt I was allowed to call myself “author,” but not pretentiously. If someone asks what I do for a living, I say “I'm an author”. And that's what I now put on forms in the occupation box.


  12. In the confines of my own brain, I always hear the word “author” in the voice of my Robin-Hood-hat-wearing college professor.

    “Today we'll be studying authors from the 16th century who had adverse feelings about the Catholic church and expressed them through pseudonym ridden pamphlets.”

    Whatever the reason, I associate the word “author” with those who have gone on before us. Perhaps it is because I make the broad assumption that anyone who is still alive is also still writing and working.


  13. I agree with what Jaimie said: writer, because it's not like you can buy my work anywhere. Even if you could, though, author, for some reason, has always struck me as a bit pretentious, and I have no idea why.

    Though sometimes I just go with calling myself Princess of All That is Good and Decent.


  14. This is great question! I'm a writer, or an aspiring author. To me an author is someone who is published and I'm not quite there yet. But I'm working hard on it! I love your view of the terms. And while I'm a Dawson fan all the way, I must admit I love that Pacey is endearing. 😉


  15. I actually don't refer to myself as an author or a writer. While I agree with your distinction between a writer and an author, I cannot bring myself to even call myself a writer. When my husband does, I correct him. I haven't written a “novel” or even a “manuscript,” I've written a “story.” A 78,000 word story, but a story nonetheless.

    Yes, when I query I use the jargon, yes, I even force myself to use it on my writing-related web site. But only because I understand that industry wording is important in establishing myself as professional.

    So, why won't I call myself a writer or my work a manuscript? Because as long as I'm not a writer, rejection won't hurt. And as long as it's a story, it doesn't matter if it never gets published.

    Delussional? Yes.
    Necessary for me? You betcha.


  16. I call myself a writer despite having sold books, because a) the books are nonfiction, not the genre I currently write and b) to me, calling yourself an author sounds…well, a little pretentious.


  17. Also, who would introduce themselves as an “author”?

    Hi, I'm Peppermint Gomez. I'm an author.

    Wouldn't you just say, “I'm a writer” or “I'm a novelist” or whatever?


  18. Pfff I'm not an author. You can't buy any of my stuff anywhere. I call myself a writer.

    I think “writer” is a more complementary label than “author” anyway.


  19. I call myself a “writer,” mainly because I make a similar distinction between being unpubbed (writer) versus pubbed (author). Of course, I usually don't refer to myself as anything, because I don't mention my writing.

    Which is weird, I know.

    Ahem. Re: Dawson versus Pacey, I've always been a Dawson girl. He's a filmmaker! With pretty hair!


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