Over the years, there have been plenty of arguments about what makes someone a “real” writer or a “real” author. Those who fail the various tests are considered merely “aspiring” — if the tester is feeling generous.
In other cases, those who fail the test-of-the-day might be called worse, like a poser or hack or accused of producing (not creating) garbage or fluff. Impostor syndrome is rampant among writers, and “titles” like those take advantage of our self-doubt.
However, this question doesn’t have to be nearly as complicated as the naysayers—or our negative thoughts—pretend to be case. Let’s look at the question of what makes a writer or author “real” from another perspective.
What Makes Someone a “Real” Writer?
We often differentiate between the titles of writer and author. The term author is usually considered an add-on to the title of writer, so let’s first look at the qualifications to be a writer.
Do you write? Yes? Okay, you’re a writer. *grin*
Think that’s too easy or simplistic? Fine. We could add in some thoughts about a writer being someone who was trying to improve their writing skills and not just typing random things, but really the idea is that we’ve outgrown the “aspiring writer” label.
An aspiring writer is someone who’s just thinking about writing, in a “I think I’d like to write a book someday” kind of way. If we’re beyond that thinking-only stage and have moved on to putting words to a page or screen, we’re not aspiring anymore. We’re doing it. We’re capturing our thoughts and ideas in writing, so therefore we’re a writer.
What Makes It Harder to Define a “Real” Author?
For many in the industry, the simplest definition of an author is someone who’s published — sometimes with the additional qualifier of being paid for their writing. At the very least, the term author refers to whether a writer is sharing their work in a way that can be referenced by others.
What do you think makes someone a “real” author? Click To TweetIf we’re no longer just writing for ourselves, such as in a diary or private journal, then we have readers. Having a readership changes our relationship with our writing, which many point to as a reason for the title change.
However at the same time, the public aspect of publishing means that others are able to see — and judge. And those judgments can include tests of who’s considered a “real” author…and who’s not.
Why Does Published=Author … Sometimes?
Let’s first dig into why publishing is seen as a reason for adding the title of author to our resume…
The easiest aspect to explain is that being published changes how others view us. Being published separates us from others — we’re the author, and they’re the readers. We’re the producer, and they’re the consumers.
But there’s a deeper level to the changes we go through when we’re published. As I mentioned above, publishing and having a readership changes our relationship with our writing.
Once we’ve shared our work and have readers, we might be more professional about it, take it more seriously, or attempt to make money from our efforts. Our goals change from simply writing because we want to capture our thoughts and ideas to those that we no longer have control over, such as having others like our ideas.
As writers, we mostly control whether we meet our goals:
- Did we make our word count for the week?
- Did we finish a writing project?
- Did we learn a new writing skill this month?
Once we publish, we’re still writers, but extra elements come with the addition of the author title.
When we wear our author hat, we don’t have complete control of meeting our goals:
- Did we get the industry interested in our work (agents, publishers, foreign rights, etc)?
- Did we get positive feedback from readers in the form of reviews or sales?
- Did we reach our personal milestones of success as far as readership or sales?
Obviously, there’s a lot of gray area between someone focused simply on the writing and someone who’s published, as we can already be thinking of future readers and actively trying to get published, complete with many of those out-of-our-control goals. Some call this in-between stage pre-published to describe when someone is thinking and acting professionally but they’re not quite published yet.
When Doesn’t Published=Author?
Yet even after we’ve shared our writing and even earned income from it, some still won’t consider us an author. Or even if they’ll begrudgingly allow for author, they won’t consider us a “real” author.
Years ago, I’d pointed out that those of us who blog actually click a button labeled Publish each time we go live with a blog post. Along similar lines, developing our social media presence can include thinking of our audience before we click the button to share our thoughts.
For the vast majority of us, there’s no money in those endeavors. But for a few influencers or blogs with significant advertising traffic or how-to workshops, social media and blogging can lead to income from our writing before we’ve actually published a book.
That’s an extreme example of how there are many ways of looking at what it means to be published. However, even after we’ve published an income-earning book, some will still want to withhold the title of author from us. The problem comes in when some judge us, our writing, or our publishing journey and decide it doesn’t count.
Why Wouldn’t Our Publishing Journey Count?
Over the years, I’ve heard these various excuses for why some authors are more “real” than others:
- Big Publisher vs. Small Publisher: “Publishing with a small publisher means you weren’t good enough for a “real” publisher, so it doesn’t count.”
- Print Publisher vs. E-Publisher: “Everyone knows that ebooks aren’t “real” books, so publishers who release only ebooks don’t count.”
- Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction: “Genre stories and genre writing don’t require skills, so they don’t count.”
- Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: “Self-publishing means gatekeepers must have rejected you for poor quality, so doing it on your own doesn’t count.”
- Plotter vs. Pantser: “Writing by the seat of your pants is more luck than skill, so it doesn’t count.”
I’ve been around long enough to remember the first time a book from an e-publisher won one of the RWA’s coveted RITA awards. At the time, the assumption was that e-publishers couldn’t produce quality books, that they didn’t even care about quality. E-books themselves were often seen as “not real books.”
Fast forward a few years, and similar arguments broke out about the assumed quality of self-published books. It’s always about assumptions—their assumptions.
(Currently, some are arguing over whether audiobooks should be considered “real” books, and so on. Some always seem to insist on defining themselves by who or what they exclude. *sigh*)
The Issue with a Romance Publishing Journey
That’s not even touching how the entire genre of romance is often denigrated, even by other genre authors.
If we're published, we're an author, aren't we? What happens when someone judges that our journey doesn't count? Click To TweetVirtually every romance author can share stories of people asking them when they were going to write a “real” book, as though the whole genre doesn’t count to make them qualified for the “real” author title. Or they can share painful examples of family, friends, co-workers, or strangers treating them poorly, with sexual innuendos or accusations of porn, as though writing stories of happily ever after were something to be ashamed of.
Countless—and I do mean countless—articles by those outside the genre of romance somehow keep expressing surprise that romance stories and their authors are intelligent, professional, skilled, and knowledgeable. The latest travesty involves a woman who falsified her interest in writing the genre to win a scholarship to a romance writing conference, just so she could get a free vacation and make fun of the authors she met, even when they were trying to be professional with her.
We get it. Those who sit in judgment have puny imaginations. They therefore can’t possibly imagine how, say, a self-published author of romance ebooks could be professional enough to have their journey count. </sarcasm>
What Matters Is Whether We Respect Our Readers
As with so many situations where people make judgments and assumptions about others, the perspective they use for judging others says more about themselves than about those they’re judging. And in many cases, they’re not just judging the authors, but also the readers.
Some people will always want to find reasons to exclude others, or to make them feel “less than.” But that’s a losing game because there’s always plenty of commonalities between both sides of the dividing line.
I recently saw some of the stream from the finals of a worldwide e-sports tournament (EVO Smash Ultimate). I’m sure plenty roll their eyes at the idea of e-sports being “real” sports (and I might have leaned toward that camp before witnessing the level of competition), but they’re forgetting all the things that e-sports have in common with sports like car racing, where intense focus and quick reflexes that are required for hours at a time are the measurement of success.
Those gamers respected the competition and the tournament regardless of whether any of those e-sports scoffers did. We can say the same about what it takes to be a “real” author. Skills are skills, writing is writing, and reading is reading.
Do we respect our stories? Do we respect our readers? If so—if we try our best to deliver a story that’s worthy of readers and the money we charge—that’s what matters. Just as those gamers delivered a real sports competition, we’re delivering a real story for our readers to enjoy, and that’s what counts.
So if we encounter someone who acts like we’re not a “real” author, think about what that says about them, about what and who they think don’t count or should be excluded and what beliefs they must have to reach that conclusion. And remember that’s it’s probably not about us. *smile*
Have you ever encountered attitudes about whether someone is a “real” writer or author? What assumptions lay behind that attitude? What do you think makes someone a real author? Do you agree or disagree with my perspective of how it comes down to respecting readers? Can you think of other ways to define a real author that doesn’t denigrate others’ journeys?Pin It