Are you an author or a writer?

In my innocence, I used to think these two words could be used interchangeably. I soon found out I was wrong. When I first started writing professionally, I quickly discovered that many people get fired up by the author / writer distinction.

What I’ve encountered
When my first book was published, I proudly announced to anyone who’d listen that I was a writer. The reactions I received were varied. Some people were interested, some were envious, most were indifferent. But, amazingly, some seemed offended, even hostile! ‘What sort of writer?’ they’d challenge. ‘What have you written?’ I suddenly felt I had to justify myself, something I’d never had to do as a lawyer.

The implication was that if you hadn’t written a book produced by a publishing company, you couldn’t call yourself a writer. Well, my book Everyday Law satisfied that criteria, making my challengers sink into sullen silence. All except one, who demanded to know how much I’d paid to get the book published. I must confess I rather enjoyed explaining advances and royalties to her …

It was about then that I discovered the situation was even more complex. Someone explained that a writer is someone who wants to be published, while an author has been published. And in book form, too. Someone who’s written magazine or journal articles can’t call themselves an author. So that’s pretty much what I’ve accepted over the years.

However, the current proliferation of self-publishing rather muddies the waters, and has made me question my definitions. Can you call yourself an author if you pay for the privilege? Does it make a difference whether you’ve produced a print book or an ebook? And if a self-published book sells far more copies than a traditionally published book, what then?

But really – does it matter what you call yourself? By doing a quick internet surf, I’ve discovered that people get just as worked up as ever.

What I’ve decided

I’ve re-adjusted my definitions, at least in my own mind. It all comes down to motive. I think a writer is someone who writes primarily for their own pleasure and consumption, and maybe for their immediate circle. An author, however, writes for an audience – an audience of strangers.

So, if you write, you’re a writer. If you intend your work to be read by the public and it gets published (one way or another), you’re an author. And if I want to be really picky, I think the term ‘aspiring writer’ to describe someone not-yet-published but trying to be is a misnomer. It should be ‘aspiring author’.

Can’t you be both?
I think it’s possible to be both a writer and an author – they are different stages of the same process. When I’m sitting at my computer, all alone, I’m writing for myself because I love it so much. At home I’m a writer, free to dream, free to play, free to work in my pyjamas. But when I’m presenting myself to publishers and the reading public, I’m an author. Professional, well-groomed, not a slipper in sight. That’s when my book stops being just my book, and becomes a product that I am ultimately trying to sell

So what do you think?
Is there are difference between writers and authors? Should there be a difference? I’d love to read your comments!

15 comments

  1. Vasudha

    Hmm, I hadn’t realised there was a difference but now that you say it, makes sense 🙂

  2. It’s pretty much the same here in the States. Writers write. Authors have published books.
    I have a personal preference for writer. The word feels almost palpable and for me represents the craft and the tasks of writing better than author.
    It seems also more important for some people to be called authors than writers and vice versa.
    But it’s an interesting question and post. As always.
    Cheers!

  3. I don’t think there’s any difference. There is something a bit uppity about the term author for some reason. My friend has been writing for well over 30 years and has 50 or more books published, with traditional publishers, but generally calls herself a writer.

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  5. Hi Stella, I didn’t even know there was this big a difference between calling yourself a writer and author. I thought a writer is someone who writes anything and everything, and an author is someone who writes a book. After reading this, I am still a bit confused. I am a start-up freelancer who writes. By start up, I mean I’ve been doing freelance work for about one and a half years now, and I call myself a freelance writer. But my writing work, mostly feature articles, have been published in two local newspapers and also on Yahoo! contributors network. So what does that make me?

    • Good point! I think the author/writer distinction applies to books only. I used to write magazine articles and I called myself a freelance writer. Some editors referred to me as a journalist but that didn’t feel right, as I wasn’t reporting the news. The debate is both interesting and confusing!

  6. Reblogged this on Journey of an Idea and commented:
    I came across a really interesting post by Stella Tarakson in her blog. I didn’t know there was a difference between calling yourself a writer and an author. Read on to know Stella’s thoughts on this. 🙂

  7. When I started writing for myself, it took me ages to feel comfortable in calling myself a writer. Other people did, but it just felt like something bigger than myself at that point. It’s funny though, as I now believe that anyone who writes anything can be described as a writer (not that all writers are good mind you). I am like you, as I think of Authors as folks who have penned books. And I know that there are certainly enough people that get worked up about the titles that it must make some kind of difference.

    • Thanks for your comment, Katherine. I know what you mean about it taking a long time to feel comfortable calling yourself a writer. I was the same. So many people are so confident (and good luck to them) and I think this is what it basically comes down to – confidence in ourselves!

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