The Difference Between a Writer and an Author

William Faulkner

Every once in a while, I see the question brought up in a Facebook discussion group, or posed even here on the blog. There are those who equate the word author with only the highest literary form. The word writer is reserved for the next echelon of those who sully the art for mere profit, writing populist tripe about sparkly vampires and little boys going off to some sorcerer’s academy. But at least these were published by a genuine traditional publishing house.

Then, I suppose, are we mere doodlers and scribblers—little better than chimps with keyboards, the indies. We are the “Cousin Eddie” of the entire tradition. No respectable publisher would have us. Why don’t we just die? Oh, the humanity.

Far be it from little old me to cast aspersions on such delusions of grandeur. I certainly do not come from any great literary tradition. I am a proud heathen. I have little appreciation for the giants of Western Literature. I believe they largely serve the purpose of assisting English Lit majors* in attaining an air of superiority. I have read some few of the masters and the most praise I can muster for the best among them is that it certainly takes a great deal of words to say a very long thing like that.

Still, I do not begrudge the likes of William Faulkner, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, and the others their high place in the pantheon of literature merely because their books were not to my taste. Why should they or their acolytes begrudge me mine? Must we be regarded as a separate species? I would never hold myself out as heir to their literary legacy. I have no such aspirations. Does that mean I cannot justly lay claim to the title “author”?

What does it mean to call one person an author and another a writer, using the latter almost as an epithet? Did Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Dickens, Joyce, and Wilde not write?

Me

I come from the tradition of medicine. By definition, there is a difference between a victim and a patient. A person who has suffered an illness or injury is a victim until medical help arrives—from that point on, the person is a patient. That is, until they contact their lawyers, whereupon they once more become victims.

Allow me to posit my own characterization of the difference between a writer and an author. One is a writer up until the point one hits the “publish” button. The published writer becomes an author by virtue of making his or her work available to the masses. Notwithstanding the degree of favor with which that work is received, authorship has been attained. We do not need the imprimatur of a publishing house, the acclaim of critics, the approval of our peers, nor even the adulation of the public.

Let those who would cast their stones do so. If it curdles their blood to think I tread upon the same path as their heroes, that is their burden—not mine. We need not let such dusty prejudice find purchase among our own souls. We will find our way. If no one else will help us, let us help each other. Let us aid and comfort each other. Let us shine a light upon the path for those who are behind us now. Let us be open to improving ourselves, to listening, to learning, to honing our craft to the finest edge we dare wield.

I am an author. There is no need to eschew a rightly earned title. The fact is not contingent upon approval by any group or institution. An architect is still an architect even if he is not Frank Lloyd Wright. A doctor is still a doctor even if he is not Michael DeBakey. Not every baseball player is Ruth, even though he may have worn the same uniform and played on the same field. I am no Faulkner, I am no Ed McNally, but I have published, therefore I am.

*We assure our audience that no English Lit majors were harmed in the making of this post. In fact, I gots only the goodest respectification for English Lit majors.

*     *     *     *     *

Stephen Hise is an author and the Founder and Evil Mastermind of Indies Unlimited. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his website: http://stephenhise.com/

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

49 thoughts on “The Difference Between a Writer and an Author”

  1. Nicely put. There will always be people who define their importance by excluding others from their gang.

    I call myself and author because I have also pushed the publish button – seven times. I don't really care if someone doesn't think I deserve the title.

  2. How are English Lit majors different from anyone else who reads and writes? Perhaps we become more irritated when we see one star ratings given to books written by Pulitzer Prize winning authors, appearing on the Goodreads shelves of readers whose favorite five star rated books are The DaVinvi Code or Bridges of Madison County.

    I suppose everyone has their own definitions, but I don't see the point in arguing for mine. If you have published anything, you're an author. Authors write. Authors are writers. When people ask me what I do, I'm a writer. They never ask who I am, which might be a better question.

    1. Marcia, I'm training myself to reply to the "what do you do?" question with this: "I work as a , but I am an author."

      Stephen, I agree with you. Especially the part about how indies help each other. The indie community rocks.

      1. HTML fail! It's supposed to say, “I work as a (day job title), but I am an author.” (I put the parenthetical phrase inside carrots the first time. Duh, Lynne…)

        1. I'm at the point now where I generally just leave out the "work as a…" part and say "writer". That's not where I earn most of my income yet. But it's my career; the other is just a job.

  3. You are welcome to call yourself whatever you want. 😉

    To me, though? An Author is someone who *has written* and been published. Today, almost anyone can call themselves authors. Being published someplace is easy.

    A Writer, on the other hand? Writers WRITE. If I am actively writing new work, then I am a writer. If I'm no longer actively producing new work, then I'm not a writer anymore.

    If I stop producing new work, then I'm just an author.

    Author is passive, past tense, a sign that you once wrote something.

    Writer is active, present tense, a title only earned by those actively writing.

    If I had to choose between the two, I'll take the latter with a smile.

  4. I was taught that the only difference between 'author' and 'writer' was that an author has been published, while a writer has not… yet.

    It was given to me as a pretty hard and fast distinction and so as of now I don't call myself an author, as I haven't been published, yet.

    That's not to say that I don't know there is snobbery. But using the technical definition above, and with all the means there are these days to be published, I don't think such an attitude is deserved.

    1. It is a specious and appealing argument, but upon close examination, fraught with as many perils as any other label. When one has published a title, one is referred to as the author of the title, (not the writer).

      However, that is merely a rite of passage. It does not change the fact that authors are writers. I think it is also legitimate to use the term "aspiring author" to describe someone who is working on a first book or has completed a manuscript, but not published.

  5. I'm peeking over the fence at "real" authors: no alcohol, no pony rides, and the bounce house has sprung a leak. I like writers, they don't even need a bounce house.

  6. Ostensibly, writing is requisite to becoming an author. However, one may also (these days) be an author without being a writer. Any number of books attributed to politicians and celebrities were actually penned by ghostwriters.

    On the whole, these distinctions are relatively meaningless. To say that Snookie is an author and Kevin O. McLaughlin, Brian Beam, or Yvonne Hertzberger are not simply by virtue of the MEANS by which their books are published is ridiculous IMHO.

  7. Awesome post….stuff like this is exactly why I love Indies Unlimited so much. 🙂 I work in an academic environment that can be very (*ahem*) judgmental at times, and I get tired of the debate about what makes an author vs. writer. It's slowly changing, but still…Joyce self-published, for cripes sake, and he's one of the beloved deities in the academic world (and I *still* haven't made it through any of this books)! Bookmarked, and the next time I encounter attitude, I'll simply forward this link.

    1. Thanks Christine. I doubt the post will carry any weight in those circles, but perhaps it will precipitate an amusing bout of indignant sputtering. 🙂

      1. And I see, oh evil mastermind, that you have finally emerged from the closet. Planet of the Apes is real – and it's here NOW. Woe is us. (what does a snooty ape look like when his nose is in the air?)

  8. To be honest I don't care what they want to call me. I'm having a blast and I plan to continue! Writing my books has been an adventure for me and I love to see where each one will go. So call me an Author, Writer or simple storyteller because any of those are just fine with me. LOL

  9. What a completely pleasing post. 😉 I, for one, could give a damn whether anyone calls me an author or a writer. I call myself a writer (active as was mentioned). Author is not a trophy I aspire to, though I guess I've earned it. To me, it would be like my ancestors being Coal Acquisition Experts or some such nonsense. I'm just mining…I mean writing.

  10. I agree totally. A writer writes, an author has published. When folks ask what I do I say I'm a writer, but I do X to put a roof over my head. I teach my students to self identify as writers because it helps make it real. I used to work in the writing center of a local university. The young English majors would have passionate arguments that lasted for weeks over the smallest nuance. I was already old enough to be wearied by such drama but also began to wonder why I didn't care. Wasn't I smart, dedicated to the craft, involved? (I was an industrial/organizational psych major with a minor in creative writing) Then I spent a summer listening to English Ph.D candidates prepping for their dissertations and realized they were just people trapped in a place where they'd be judged forever. Huh, just like any writer, only with a slightly different audience. It all boils down to wanting approval for the work we do. ~Pam, Writer, Author, Coffee Addict

  11. I don't care. I tend to use "writer" for the most part, but don't completely exclude it (my Facebook page includes the word "author"). In this context (as opposed to late night at some seedy dive of a bar), I honestly don't care what others call me.

    For me, calling a writer an author is like calling an actor a thespian. Kind of an amusingly weird thing to do, sort of too frilly for my tastes, you know what I mean?

    1. If I ever publish anything I write, I shall expect you to call me by the frilly amusing title of Author Jo Teal. Please start practicing now Mr. Antrobus, Esquire. 😉

  12. I think we have to put Fitz and Hemingway in the class with Shakie Willie–masters of the art in their time. Gatsby day is to far away and Fitzgerald's writing was fine it its day, but I never did enjoy it enough to get page 2. Doesn't mean I don't honor him as a famous writer/author/bewitcher of words–he's just NOT my favorite author. Shakie Willie was a star of his time and decades after–doesn't mean I have to enjoy him. I admit he was great in his day–I just don't happen to live "then", so I ENJOY others who he, Fitz and Papa would never have bothered to read–or would they? After all, they aren't here to tell us who they think is good today–so I'll take my own opinion as gospel on this one. As for me, I write–therefore I am–an author.

    1. Off topic but, who is Shakie Willie?

      I respect how differently readers respond to any author/writer. That may be why reviews are so fascinating.

      Lit teachers are notorious for pushing their favorite classic authors and dissing the ones they don't like as unworthy or lesser than. Being set free from other people's reading lists is like being let out of jail.

      Now I am reading Indie authors, almost exclusively. I see a great deal of talent blooming out there and love supporting my fellow renegades.

  13. Mr. Evil Mastermind, with all due respect, if you want to evoke an air of snootiness, you should go with "ecrivain" – not only does it sound hoity toity, it will confuse folks long enough for you to lift their wallets and make your getaway.

  14. Author, writer, they both love words. They both live in a place where they can take others and never leave the room. They are one in the same no matter what side of the ladder the rung is on.

  15. By Defrinition:

    An author is broadly defined as "the person who originated or gave existence to anything" and whose authorship determines responsibility for what was created.

    Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.

    I AM AN AUTHOR!

  16. Writer or author, chicken or egg…

    I have great admiration for the "giants," if only for tireless dedication to their craft.

    Any can become a "writer." If I add a hint of flare to my shopping list, I am a writer, the same as the person who blogs about his terrible morning — "blah, my car wouldn't start, I spilled my coffee, my boss was a turd, ergo, today sucked major butt!"

    Authors are still the rarified breed, though the semantics are becoming muddied every time an unedited, first-draft MS makes its way on to Amazon.

    Let the debate continue!

    -A.M.
    http://amschultz.com

  17. I agree. Have you noticed how the imprimatur of the publishing houses is reserved for a club – either you're in, or you're out? And how getting in today is restricted to those who are somehow already connected to the publishing industry (like Elizabeth Gilbert), or are celebrities (Snookie)?

    The major publishers' claim to quality is belied by their output. We've all read best-sellers that stank, even according to the standards put out by the literary snobs – like the Da Vinci Code.

  18. *LIKE* Thanks Evil Mastermind for clearing that up. I guess with my body of work I am indeed an Author. Although some days I don't feel like it. But I pull up my bootlaces and carry on, hoping for my few seconds of fame…

    Great article as usual!

  19. When someone asks one of us indie authors about our vocation or avocation, we need to state, "I'm an author," and not feel we have to qualify our response with a disclaimer such as, "but only a self-published author."

    If we don't start calling ourselves authors and feel comfortable with the description, we are helping perpetuate the myth.

Comments are closed.