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!