Most likely you tell people you’re a writer. That’s probably the right answer even though it may not be the correct answer. Confused yet? Assuming you said yes, let’s look into whether you should call yourself an author or a writer.
If you’re like me, you don’t particularly care if there is a distinction between the two labels. Who cares, you (and I) ask? I write. I publish. I’m happy.
Technically, at least according to those who spend time debating such things, being a writer and being an author are two different things. Well, maybe. In one camp are the people who differentiate between the two terms based solely on whether you are doing it (writer) or have already done it (author). In other words, a writer is a person who writes; an author is a person who has written.
Too simple? There’s a camp for you. That camp says that a writer is anyone “who writes a book, article, or any literary piece.” An author, on the other hand, is more accomplished; an author “originates the idea, plot, or content of the work being written.” By this definition someone who writes a biography of someone else is a writer, but not an author, even when that biography has been published. So by the this camp’s definition, famed author (or is it writer) David McCollough is merely a writer despite the fact that his Pulitzer Prize-winning book John Adams sold over 1.5 million copies.
Frankly, I’m going with the first camp on this one: McCollough is an author. A published one. A multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning one. ‘Nuff said.
Of course, by this first camp’s definition you can be an author (for works already written, and presumably, published) AND a writer (for works currently being written). If you’re a second camper, well, you have to be more original and write an autobiography. Or if you write a novel you’re good for author since you would have created some original concept, plot, and content, whether you get published or not. The proverbial jury is still out if what you write is fan fiction. Seriously, people, write something original.
This is all so confusing, and in my book, irrelevant. There are people who spend days debating such esoteric topics. I’m not one of them. I’m good with “if you write, you’re a writer; if you’ve been published, you’re an author.”
My definition does differentiate based on the likelihood that some significant amount of people not living in your household will have read your work. There are people who write but their writing literally is never read by anybody (dresser drawer novelists, I’m talking to you). A larger number have work read by some small number of people – family, friends, and stray e-book sales on Amazon. And then there are some small number whose writing has been read by a larger number of people, say like, thousands. [I’ll ignore those who have sold millions of copies because rather than reading this article you’re working on your next million-seller]
Keep in mind that “significant,” “larger,” and “small” are relative terms. The absolute numbers of what constitutes “significant” will depend on many factors. If you’re David McCollough, selling only a million copies might seem a failure. If you’re me, selling in the tens of thousands is not as satisfying as breaking 100,000, but I’ll take it (the average number of copies sold for non-fiction titles is around 3,000). If you’re 95% of all writers, breaking out of the hundreds (or tens) is about all you can hope for.
The bottom line is that whether you consider yourself a writer or an author is pretty much meaningless. All that matters is that you write.
I take that back. Besides writing you have to put it out there for people to read. After all, every writer wants to be read. Don’t be the base of the writer pyramid, put yourself at the tip and give yourself a chance at the roulette wheel.
Now go forth and multiply, er, write. And author.
David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.