When Does a Writer Become an Author?

I was up against a strange decision last week as I was creating my new public Facebook page: should I choose the term “writer” or “author” as the type of page I was setting up? (Spoiler: I chose author, switched to writer, went back to author, then decided on writer… for now.)

I’ve touched on this topic before when I guested for Patrick Ross, in my post “What the Heck Should I Call Myself, Anyway?” The crux of the matter is this: A writer is anyone who writes. An author is a writer who’s been published. Seems pretty simple, right?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

The problem: What the hell does “published” mean? As I established in my blog for Patrick, there’s no one out here setting up criteria for different terms and handing out certificates of authenticity. At the end of the day, it is up to each of us as individuals to decide what terms to use for ourselves and our work. Which can be pretty scary.

Technically, posting something on your blog counts as publication. I know this because 1) the button you push says “publish,” and 2) contests and venues that don’t want “previously published works” usually won’t accept anything that’s been on your blog. So if someone slaps a short story up on their website, does that make them a published author?

My gut instinct is, “Yes, technically, but no, not really.” But who am I to say?

For me, a better defining line is having someone else publish my work. The more credible, established, and exclusive that someone else is, the more confident I feel in considering that “publication.” (Just keepin’ it real.) So having my little micro-fiction piece published at Six Sentences was awesome, but I didn’t start calling myself an author after that. But after having four short stories accepted for publication – two of them at professional rates – I do feel comfortable calling myself a short story author. [Random side note: interesting how a poet is a poet regardless of publication.]

Of course that definition only works for me because I’m seeking traditional publication. Self-published authors must have some other defining line, but what?

Either way, the Facebook page doesn’t allow me to specify which types of publication I’ve achieved as I have elsewhere (like in the note under my headshot up in the sidebar, for example). They want one word, and only one word. I am a novelist because I write novels, a poet because I write poems, and a short story author because I have short stories published. But what am I when I can only chose one term?

Writer, or author?

I guess in my mind, if I’m only choosing one of those terms as a defining label, an author is someone who has had not just short works published, but a whole book. A novel. A collection of short stories. A full-length book of poems. Or, to use the term “author” with “debut” implied, someone who has sold such a book that’s schedule to come out.

I also think it’s worth noting that I’m more concerned about this and a lot harder on myself than I am for other people. When someone’s profile says “author” or “writer,” I generally don’t give it a second thought. I have no problem with other people creating their own definitions; I just struggle to find mine. And yes, I know I’m running the risk of coming across as totally neurotic, but for the record, this is less of an obsession and more of a topic I thought would make for good discussion.

I have an agent (yep, love saying that), I have many long works completed, and I have quite a few short works published… but I still can’t quite bring myself to say “I’m an author” instead of “I’m a writer.” Maybe when I’ve sold a book I’ll update the Facebook page. But for now, I think I’m going to stick with writer.

Readers: What do you think about all of this? As a reader, do you care, or even really notice?

Writers: What term do you use for yourself? And what was your defining line? Are you comfortable with your own terminology?

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  • Bryan Schafer

    I don’t think that I amd going to tell you something you don’t already know.The terms writer and author are nearly synonymous, but there is a difference. A writer
    writes a literary piece and an author is the originator of the content of the
    work. For example, in the case of an autobiography the writer and the author are
    one and the same. In the case of a biography the writer is recording the
    thoughts and ideas of another. Based on what I have read of your work and your creativity, you are
    an author (published or not).

    • That’s a new perspective, Bryan. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call the subject person of a biography an author rather than the person who wrote their story. Fascinating — thanks for sharing your take on things!

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I think I tend to look at this the same way as you – another way we’re alike, my twin. For me, the title “author” will be something I earn only after one of my novels is published by someone else. I’ve been published in numerous magazines, but that doesn’t make me an author – still a writer. But oddly – and also like you – I think it’s ok for others, especially self-published authors, to call themselves by that name. What’s wrong with us that we can’t be gentler with our own naming conventions? 😉

    • Like-minded once again! We should start a show or something. =) I have wondered if maybe I’m intentionally dangling the carrot; I genuinely can’t remember if a published book was always my “line” between writer or author, or if it’s been moving further away as I get closer…

  • Natalia Sylvester

    Not neurotic at all, Annie! (Ok, maybe neurotic, but what I meant to say is that I totally understand.) When I started my FB page I chose the name Natalia Sylvester, Author, because I wanted those who follow me on both my page and my personal profile to be able to distinguish between the two. But for a while there, I had Author with a capital A, and I couldn’t stop agonizing over it (was it too pretentious, author with an A?). So I changed it to a lowercase a and I feel much, much better 😉

    • Haha, I love that! You made me feel so much better. I often debate over capitalizing stand-alone words like that anyway, so I appreciate the struggle. =)~

  • Nina Badzin

    Great question and I DO think before blogs and self-publishing things were more clear. Anyway, I’ve had a handful of stories published, nominated for a Pushcart on one. But I am for sure a writer, not an author. I think, for me, it’s because I mostly write non-fiction now. So author feels totally off the table. For YOU–I’d say author–especially give the agent (WOO-HOO!!) news.

    • Pushcart is a pretty big deal! I’m surprised that isn’t a tipping point for you. But it does seem that everyone has to find their own line. (And super belated congrats on that, btw — too cool.)

  • Jennifer Button

    I think of myself as a woman who writes: someone who loves words; telling a story and getting to know what motivates my characters. I am intimidated by the thought of referring to myself as an ‘Author’ – pretensions of grandeur, literary prowess and recognition lurk among the letters. Deep down I know it really doesn’t matter what one is called, or how one describers one’s self so long as the motivation to communicate remains and the passion to write keeps one scribbling. I have two novels out there and a third being edited. Its a harsh world out there, but sites like yours brighten it. This is a lovely web site, Annie, with helpful thought provoking posts.
    I have decided to list my novels under Literary Fiction and damn the critics!


    • Good for you! The bottom line is that no matter what terms we end up choosing to describe ourselves, there will be someone out there who disapproves. So I’m all for making a decision and standing behind it. Thank you for the kind words, Jennifer!

  • I was not an author until Nina upgraded me from the “writers” to the “authors” section on the sidebar of her blog: http://loudquietgirl.wordpress.com/ Easy answer. 😀

    But the serious answer is that I think I switched my FB page over from “writer” to “author” a little bit before I launched my book. And then I was late on my release date by a couple months, so I felt like a fraud calling myself an author even though I didn’t have a book out, lol!

    • Lol! Dang. I guess I’ll be checking Nina’s sidebar in the future. Bet she didn’t realize she held so much power…

      • And further, I don’t think she upgraded me until several months after my book was published. But when she finally did, I felt strangely validated, lol!

  • Marc Voynet

    Earlier today I penned the question “When does a writer become an author?” on my notepad. Just did a quick Google search and immediately found your blog post on this subject using the exact same words in the title. Wow!

    • That’s great! I’m happy that you found me. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!