January 24, 2012

Do You Call Yourself a Writer or an Author?

Close-up of a man's suit

Recently, the Awesome-Dipped-in-Glitter (TM) Kristen Lamb pointed out that “aspiring is for pansies.”  We are not aspiring writers.

Aspiring: to have a plan, desire, or hope for something.

Writer: a person who writes.

If we put those together, that means an aspiring writer is a person who plans, desires, or hopes to write, but doesn’t actually write.

We know those types.  The neighbors who—when we tell them we’re writing a book—say, “Oh yeah, I’d like to write a book someday.”

Aspiring writers say they want to write, but they never actually do it.  They never carve time into their life to sit down and write.  They’re full of talk and no action.

Writers—real writers, those who can ditch the “aspiring” label—are the ones who make the time to plant their butt in a chair and write.  That’s it.  That’s all we have to do to call ourselves writers.

That’s it?

Yep.  That means we’ve already accomplished more than those who just talk about writing.  The act of writing gives us the authority to call ourselves a writer.

What about “aspiring author”?

That gets a bit trickier, as “author” comes with baggage.  According to the dictionary, “author” means a person who writes a completed work or is the creator of something.

Seems simple enough.  I’ve published over 150 blog posts.  Does that mean I can call myself an author?  I’ve completed several stories, does that count?

It used to be that the publishing industry (i.e., agents and editors) thought of “writers” as unpublished and “authors” as published.  I’m sure there are many who still have that attitude.  However, the ease of self-publishing makes that a useless distinction.

Why should Joe Schmo, who couldn’t tell the difference between a colon and a semicolon if his life depended on it, be called an author just because he self-published some incoherent crap on Amazon?  (My apologies if any of my readers are named Joe Schmo.  This is not directed at you.  I promise.  *smile*)

Why shouldn’t I, who could have self-published two years ago but decided to improve my craft before deciding on my path, not be called an author just because I value my work and my readers too much to subject them to crap-status?

That’s not a whine, by the way.  I don’t really care about labels.  I call myself a writer on this blog all the time because that’s what I do.  I write.

My point is that everyone interprets “author” differently.  Dean Wesley Smith recently wrote a blog post stating that authors focus on the past (what they’ve completed) and writers focus on the present and future (what they’re writing or will write).  So he calls himself a writer despite publishing over 100 stories.

I call myself “Paranormal Author” in the title of my blog even though I’m not published in book form yet.  No one has ever called me on it, but maybe they’re all snickering behind my back, thinking I’m a wanna-be or a poseur.

So why do I do it?  Why do I invite potential ridicule by using a word that has so much baggage?  Because to me, “author” implies an attitude of a career rather than a hobby.  Yet I don’t call myself an aspiring author either.

My family is geeky enough that we frequently quote Yoda from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: “Do or do not. There is no try.”  I’m not an aspiring author because I’m not trying.  I have more than just a plan or a hope to be published someday.  I’m doing, I’m working, and I will reach that goal.

When we want a promotion in our day jobs, we’re told to dress for the position we want, not for the position we currently have. People see us and judge us based on how we present ourselves. Therefore, I decided that if I want to be seen as an author, I should act like one.  (Or as Kristen Lamb says in her follow-up post to the one above: “Act like a professional and others will treat us like a professional.”)

Self-doubt causes me to question my decision all the time.  My choice is not for everyone.  Some still cling to that “aspiring writer” label.  Some, like Dean Wesley Smith, embrace the “writer” title.  Some will wait until someone else crowns them with the “author” designation.

But I want people’s first impression of me to be that I’m a professional writer and take my work seriously, so I claim the title of “author” in the header of my website.  I am a writer because I write, but “author” embodies my goals, my actions, and my attitude toward writing.  So I swallow the self-doubt that plagues most of us writers and strive to live up to the word “author.”

Do you use the “aspiring” label, and if so why?  Do you call yourself a writer or an author (or both, like I do)?  What do those words mean to you?  Do you think the old baggage or new self-publishing options make “author” a meaningless word?  Do you think it’s a mistake for me to call myself an author before I have a book published?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Hi Jami,
I enjoyed your post. Even though I have completed stories, I call myself a writer because that is what I do. I have been thinking genre labeling though. We could become published in an entirely different genre than what we think when we start out and I would like to keep that aspect “open.”

Paul Anthony Shortt

I use both author and writer to descrive myself. Like you, I’m a writer because I write, and an author because of my goals. 🙂

Melinda Collins

Hi Jami!

Great post today! This is one of those debates that – honestly – really is to each their own. Here’s why I refer to myself as a writer/aspiring author: not too long ago, I ended up in conversation with a stranger in B&N. When they asked what I did, I told them I’m an author (and mentioned I have a professional day job as well). The response I got was, “Nowadays everyone can be an author. It’s not like they make they difficult anymore. Do you have a book for sale in here?” to which I replied ‘no’….then I got the eyeroll.

Hmmm….. so it’s taking me some time before I feel comfortable enough to say outright to someone – once again – that I’m an author. With that being said, I give a million to kudos to you, an author – you have a clear vision, guts and the trail of words and hard work to back yourself up with. I do too at times, but still, I really to think it comes down to our personal experiences and comfort levels.

Who knows? I might say ‘screw it’ and start really thinking and referring to myself as an author again today. 🙂

Julie Glover

I’ve read a bit about the distinctions people make between these two labels. Most that I’ve seen come down on the side of using the term “writer.” However, to me, there are all kinds of writers — technical writers, grant writers, fiction writers, screen writers, etc. “Author” has always had the connotation of writing books in my mind, so I prefer it. Having said that, I use both to refer to myself.

By the way, Paranormal Author didn’t throw me one bit. I looked at that and simply thought, “Jami writes paranormal fiction.”

Angela Quarles

I’ve only lately had the guts to call myself a writer out loud when talking to people (and the first was done actually by a friend introducing me saying “Angela is a writer” and that felt good) so I applaud you for calling yourself an author. After all, you have authored novels, novellas and short stories, so you’re not someone who hasn’t written or finished anything being a poseur and calling themselves an author.

Susan Sipal

If I remember correctly, and that’s always doubtful, even in the days before self-publishing was so easy writers were still having this same discussion over terminology. Back then, I called myself a writer until I got that first book contract, then I eagerly embraced the author label. Now I just don’t care. When someone asks me now, half the time I say writer, the other half author, and the final half I say I’m crazy. 🙂

Kathrine Roid

“When someone asks me now, half the time I say writer, the other half author, and the final half I say I’m crazy.”

Do you mind me quoting that bit of brilliant, Susan?

Susan Sipal

I’d be honored if you want to quote my insanity. 🙂

Kristen Lamb
Kristen Lamb


Thanks for the shout-out and you KNOW how I feel about this. Name it and claim it. I think we have better things to do than argue over our title. Show, don’t tell. I know writers who wax on rhapsotic about why they don’t call themselves a writer yet….in a blog post that is 2000 words long.


Stop waiting for the world to give you permission. Fortune favors the bold.

Elizabeth Arroyo

I’m a writer and a short story author (I recently published a short story).

Nancy Kelley

I agree with your logic 100%, Jami. I used the title “author” even before my book came out in November, because this is my career rather than a hobby. Once I started taking myself seriously and honing my craft, I became an author.

Buffy Armstrong

I saw Kristin Lamb’s blog post – aspiring is for pansies. She was dead on. My twitter profile and my blog profile both said “aspiring writer.” I might be a lot of things, but pansy isn’t one of them. I immediately changed both profiles. I’m now okay calling myself a writer. Author sounds too fussy and Oprah Book Clubish to me. However, it’s like the distinction between “Chef” and “Cook.” Let’s face it, no matter what you call them, they both feed people. Writers and Authors both feed the mind and the soul.


Hi Jami, Been a while! Good topic today. Especially in this rapidly changing field. I agree with Kristen. Today, for all purveyors of media in any form, it’s a “show don’t tell” world. It makes no difference what we call ourselves, really. It’s all about the work. The work is readily available for any and all to see, consume or not-comsume, and to like or dislike. Here’s a good rhetorical question: But first a little backstory. So, I’ve been a professional writer (in many forms) for years. Recently I published my first novel. I barely even looked into finding a traditional publisher before I realized I could create my own business out of it. I don’t want to get into the old debate about traditional vs. independent, but from my point of view… Having spent many years in Hollywood, I am not a fan (at all) of dealing with middle men. That world can be very exciting for a time, but I now know that I pretty much just like writing and telling stories. So, this sudden change in the world of publishing that removed the stranglehold of middlemen on distribution is, in my opinion, the greatest thing that has ever happened to writers of fiction. Ever. I count my blessings every day that I was born in an era when this could happen. My day job is in branding/marketing where my wife and I own our own company already. We are successful doing our own thing and answerable to…  — Read More »

Susi Nonnemacher

I use writer, because it is what I am most comfortable with. I am not yet published, but I like the word writer because it is what I do, so I will likely favor that term even after I have been published. 🙂

Jamie DeBree

DWS’s post was awesome.

I’ll answer to both – the old distinction of an author being “someone who has published/been paid for work” vs. the writer being “one who writes” seems logical/reasonable to me, and I both actively write and make money from what I write. I didn’t call myself an author before I sold my first copy of a book – a personal choice (I never said I wasn’t an author either – I just didn’t use the term myself, aspiring or otherwise). I even throw in a “novelist” here and there (and I did use that title before I started selling), though it only applies to one of the genres I work in.

Overall, I prefer “writer”. It’s descriptive, non-pretentious, and it covers all lengths & genres. “Author” is a bit too stuffy/formal for me, and when I’m referred to as an author, people want to know what books I’m selling. When I’m referred to as a writer, people want to know what I’m writing. I don’t particularly care for either question (I’m anti-social that way), but of the two, I’d rather answer the latter.

That’s not to say that I care what anyone else calls themselves…the only thing that annoys me (even then, it’s a minor annoyance) is when I see someone actively writing who uses the “aspiring” qualifier. They’re selling themselves short, IMO.

Tiffany A White

My good friend (Amber West) blogged about this very topic a few weeks ago…’s the age-old question for us writers. Are we aspiring? When is it okay to call ourselves writers? What makes us authors?

I do not use the word aspiring anymore when talking about writing. I used to, back when I was an Executive Assistant and didn’t write a word down except for ideas when they struck me. I do, however, call myself an aspiring author…a part of me says aspiring because I’m not published, but another part of me says aspiring because I can’t stop working on my WIP, therefore I don’t have a “finished” product in my eyes.

I would never fault anyone for calling themselves an author or a writer, I actually encourage it! The more we take ourselves seriously, the faster we’ll see success (IMO).


It took me awhile to embrace the moniker “writer,” even though I’ve been writing since I was young. Really, it took until I completed my NaNo novel. I associate “author” with someone who has something published (self or traditional pub. house would fall into that category), so I’m loathe to use that term yet. But I like Kristen’s quote that “Fortune favors the bold.” I can certainly claim to be a BOLD WRITER, if nothing else as yet!

Aldrea Alien

Accordng to my daughter, authors write stories. And, since mummy writes stories, mummy must be an author too.

Love the uncomplicated minds of children. ^_^

Bob Cloud

I’m a writer. Didn’t know it until I read your post but now I do and I understand the distinction you make between writers and authors. An author I’m not and have no particular interest in being published. I am interested in documenting some of the experiences of my life. I don’t know why because I never had any desire to do that until the past year or so. (Maybe because the statutes of limitations have run out). What I want to do is get better at telling those stories. I have some of them parked on a raggety website I am learning how to set up. After reading some of your posts I know I can learn a lot about writing plus I’ve had some interesting experiences that I’ve never been able to explain so I know I’ll be able to learn a lot from your blog.

Bob Cloud

Maryanne Fantalis

Having finished three novels, I am an author. After all this time, I even got the business cards to prove it (to myself). 🙂

I love visiting here, Jami.

Laura Pauling

I think we’re both writers and authors! How’s that? I think authors are writing with the intent to get published. Honestly, I don’t think it matters. It’s not going to help anyone get published or sell a lot of books. But I think it’s fine to call yourself an author.

MSgt Dale Day

I am a story teller!
I tell stories in the hope people will be entertained and educated. There are things I’ve learned during my 70 plus years on this earth that I think are worth sharing and passing along.
Anybody can “write” and far too many don’t have the linguistic skills to do so intelligently.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, an author is:
The writer of a book, article, or other text.
One who practices writing as a profession.
One who writes or constructs an electronic document or system, such as a website.
An originator or creator, as of a theory or plan.
Author God.
Usage Problem. To assume responsibility for the content of (a published text).
To write or construct (an electronic document or system): authored the company’s website.
Read more:

In other words, an author is someone claiming to be a high-toned mucky-muck. That sure isn’t where I’m coming from.

Fabio Bueno

Interesting discussion, Jami! In my mind, aspiring writers are people who think about writing, but haven’t started yet.
In that sense, I’m a writer. And an aspiring astronaut.

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

Me 5 years ago: “aspiring writer”
Me now: “perspiring writer”
Me soon: “author” – once I finish my WIP and submit it to agents
Me after that, with luck: “published author”
Maybe someday: “professional author” – if I can support myself writing

I don’t mind people who take up the label ‘published author’ after publishing utter crap on Amazon.

It’s the label “good writer” that counts.

Ava Jae

Great post! The writer vs. author thing is still something I never really made a decision about–for now I call myself a writer, and I like what Dean Wesley Smith said about writers looking towards the future. To me I suppose I always associated “author” with published, but as you pointed out, that association is pretty much meaningless with the rise of self-publication now. It’s interesting to think about, though!


Gotta love friends that give you a shout out in comments (::Waves to Tiffany::). I did talk about why I personally call myself a writer, not an author recently. I should add: I take photos. I even get paid to do it. I am early on in creating a business out of it. Others call me a photographer, but I don’t. Why? In the photography business, assuming that title “too soon” can get you the cold shoulder by your peers. You have to earn it. Earning it means more than just getting paid. It’s a step, but it isn’t everything. I’m ok with saying I am a writer. Without a doubt, I spend plenty of time doing it. Am I earning a living as one? I haven’t really given that a go, but the answer is no. I’ve had articles published, but still. Until there is some kind of income, even if it is small, I just don’t feel right calling myself an author. Is that based on something external? Sure. I don’t want to have the bookstore encounter one of your readers mentioned. If I tell someone I am an author, I want to be able to tell them where they can buy my book, or what publication they’ve actually heard of they can pick up to read my articles. Does any of this mean that I think it is a bad idea if someone chooses differently? No. To each his own. Just as I don’t want my intentions…  — Read More »

Haley Whitehall

This same old debate, again? 😉

Another great post, Jami and I’m happy that so many people have weighted in. Here are my two cents worth.

I have found that the term author garners more respect. With the explosion of self-published books the line between writer and author is greatly blurred. I call myself an author although my first book won’t be out till Feb. To me “author” has nothing to do with being published but whether that is what you want to do for a living. When I was in first grade I didn’t say that when I grow up I want to be a writer. I said when I grow up I want to be an author.

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