Who Is a Writer?

by Gordon Haber

Hybrid author. Photo: Wikipedia.

Hybrid author. Photo: Wikipedia.


Michael Kozlowski at GoodEReader says the term “author” should be reserved for those who make a living from writing:

“Calling everyone authors who puts words on a document and submits them to the public devalues the word so much, it makes it meaningless. Indie Author, Self-Published Author, Hybrid¬†Author, Published Author, Blog Author, Forum Author. All of these titles mean different things, depending on who you talk to. I would like to see the process simplified, you are either a writer or a professional author. If you can earn your living from your writing, you are a professional author, anyone else is just a plain old writer.”

I’m going to put aside the punctuation issues in the above paragraph and merely state that calling yourself an “author” is annoying. It’s like the difference between calling yourself an “actor” or a “thespian.” It’s a free country (or free-ish); call yourself whatever you want. But you’re probably not someone I’d want to have a beer with. And if you don’t want to have a beer with me because I am pedantic about punctuation, I’ll survive.

Also: the woman who writes Bigfoot porn reportedly makes $30K a month from her writing. By Kozlowski’s definition she’s a professional author.

Also: I have a friend who writes beautifully, curates a reading series and published one short story and one essay last year. Apparently he’s not a professional author.

Also: as I mentioned in a previous post, I know dozens of writers who publish well and often but most still supplement their income with other jobs.

The question, for Kozlowski, is how to tell the difference between professionals and amateurs. He points out that “major writing organizations” set eligibility standards for their members. The Published Authors Network, for example, won’t let you in unless you’ve earned at least $1000 from a traditional publisher or $5000 from self-publishing. (The PAN makes no mention of how much it costs for them to learn where to put an apostrophe.) I suppose those standards make sense for membership purposes, and I guess it’s nice to know I’d get in. But most “major writing organizations,” with perhaps the exception of PEN, are simply ways of distracting oneself from writing while still feeling like a writer.

As for Kozlowski’s definition: OK, publishing is a business. Let’s not be naive. But do we have to define everything in terms of the marketplace? Can’t we leave a little room for the vagueries of art?