Sunday, August 10, 2014

Does This Make Me an “Author”?

To celebrate having acquired representation for my mystery novel, A Matter of Taste, Robin and I went to dinner a few weeks ago at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Avanti. Over an apéritif of sparking rosé, Robin confessed something to me:

“I know I’m the one who’s been telling you all along to skip the whole agent thing and just self-publish,” she said. “But now that you’ve gotten one, I’ve gotta say it does change how I think about you and your book. All of a sudden it’s like you’re a ‘real author’ now.”

real authors on my bookshelf

This had been an point of contention between us. When I’d bemoan the frustration and disappointment that went along with the search for a literary agent, Robin would ask why I even needed one, when I could simply publish the book on my own and omit the middleman altogether.

“Because I want to be vetted,” I would answer. “How do I know the manuscript is even good enough for publication? I’m too close to it to be able to tell.”

We discussed this vetting issue at dinner that night, and Robin admitted that—notwithstanding what she’d previously said about not needing an agent—she was impressed by the fact that one had believed enough in the manuscript’s marketability to take it on.

“So, yeah, I get it now,” she said. “It does make a difference having an agent. The whole thing seems ‘real’ in a way that it wasn’t before. It’s a big deal—you’re starting on a second career.” And then she proceeded to lecture me about the need to set aside time every day to write.

After we got home from dinner I googled the difference between a “writer” and an “author” and found dozens of blog posts and articles on the subject. The were varying opinions as to the differences between the two terms, but ultimately most agreed on the basic definitions:

A writer is someone who is currently writing; an author is someone who has completed a particular work. So a person who has finished a novel but then never composes anything else is an author but not a writer. And someone who writes every day but never completes anything is a writer but not an author.

Which means that I already was an author as soon as I finished my book and started sending it out to agents. Nevertheless, the word “author” has come in our era to have a certain ring of prestige that the term “writer” lacks, and most people will hesitate to call themselves an author prior to a book’s actual publication.

For my part, though I may already be an author, I’m going to do my best to continue to be a writer as well—for that’s where the magic happens.


  1. I'm not sure that I would draw the lines in exactly the same way, but you're definitely both a writer AND an author.

  2. Good take on all of it. I with you on the validation thing - it's a huge step to land an agent, and I'm sure she'll sell your book soon. From your writer/author roomie!

  3. Seana--Curious as to how you would draw the lines.

    And thanks to both you and Edith!

  4. I guess I'd say that the validation is certainly important, but that you were an author as soon as you'd finished your manuscript. Just as I'd say, not to be too high falutin' about it, that James Joyce was an author when he was still trying to get someone to publish Dubliners. Really enjoying the book on him you lent me by the way.

  5. Right: as I say above, an author is one who has completed a work; a writer is one who is currently working on work(s). Both are equally valid, but there is a difference.

  6. Yes, I think it was the opening premise that you are a real author now, when in fact it is just a difference of perception on the part of others. The fact that others will treat you as more 'legitimate' is definitely true, though.