What is an author?

by Pari

I adore words. What writer doesn’t? But lately, it feels like meanings are changing faster that I can keep up. Really rarely denotes truly; people now use it interchangeably with very. And what about gay? Few speakers equate it with giddily happy.

Words tied to qualifications have shifted too. It used to be that doctor meant someone who had graduated from medical school and survived an internship. Now, PhDs often use the term without specification. Naturopathic, chiropractic and osteopathic doctors employ the shorthand as well. I’m not arguing whether these folks have the right to simply call themselves "doctors" — they do — but the assumptions their listeners make often are based on half the facts.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t go to a PhD in English for an appendectomy.

Author used to mean something different too. That’s when book production was difficult and required a lot of equipment. Back in 1995, I was told on more than one occasion, that author meant "a person whose manuscript had been bought and published." I bet that was the main definition in 1885 as well.

But in 2008, I think the word has lost its oomph, its clarity.

Publishing has changed. There are two distinct models:
#1 is democratic; if you’ve got the money to do it, you’ve got a book. You’ve got total control from beginning to end. (Publish America falls into this model.)

#2 involves a group of people who judge the merits of your work against whether or not they can make a buck off of it. If they think they can, they invest in you.

However, just as an optometrist doesn’t have the same training as an opthalmologist, a writer who opts for model #1 in publishing doesn’t have the same experience as the person who opts for #2.

Which brings me back to the word AUTHOR.
It’s not enough anymore.

The act of writing a manuscript may be similar for all of us. We create. We suffer. We hit blocks and merciless valleys. We keep our butts in the chair long enough to finish. We all deserve a big ol’ pat on the back.

But what happens to that completed manuscript — and our part in its journey to people’s hands — just isn’t the same.

I can’t speak to self-publishing for novels; I’ve never done it. However, I have written this blog for more than two years — AND I’ve been published in magazines and newspapers. In one case, I’m my own editor. In the other, I have to deal with editors. These experiences are significantly different.

As a traditionally-published author, I suspect that the process from manuscript to novel with UNM Press is also substantially different from that at iUniverse. I am certain that the latter doesn’t include the publisher’s initial vetting read; the editorial review; the editing; the copyediting; the fact checking; the editing again that happens at my publisher with every single book.

I find it distressing that the discussion about self-publishing and traditional publishing has become so acrimonious.

As far as I’m concerned, self-publishing is great for some people. Publishing traditionally is wonderful for others. Readers have more choices. Fine. Dandy. Next customer, please.

But damnit, I want a new word (or two).

I want something that more accurately reflects the difference in the two processes of publishing. I don’t want the term to be loaded with judgment or arguments about quality; after all, there’s a need for both opthalmologists and optometrists in this world. A person could make the same argument about self-publishing and traditional publishing.

But they’re not the same. I’ve never paid to have my work in print. I DO want potential readers to know that.

So . . .

I want a NEW WORD!

Any suggestions?

32 thoughts on “What is an author?

  1. billie

    I’ve heard a number of people using the term “traditionally published author.” It’s a mouthful, but at least it gets the message across.

  2. Wilfred Bereswill

    Being a newbie AUTHOR?, I wondered when I officially moved from writer to author.

    I’m an engineer by degree and full-time profession. I’m a bit sensitive about those people without a four-year engineering degree that consulting firms title “Engineer” to raise their billing rates.

    With that in mind, I was/am very careful about calling myself an author. I’m not sure when I become/became an author. I’m being published by a small traditional publisher that is paying me. Was it when I signed the contract or is it when the book graces the virtual shelves Amazon or the local bookstore (which should be in the next two weeks)?

    Several months ago, my wife and I ran into some old highschool friends (the emphasis on old) and my wife blurted out that I’m an author. The first words out of the other woman’s mouth was, “Did you self-publish?”

    At least I was able to smile and say, “No, I got an advance and I get royalties.”

    Then and only then did she seem slightly impressed.

  3. Hadrian

    I don’t see the need for a new term to distinguish a published author and a self published author. The term author can be attributed to anyone who creates. Both the poet who scribbles in his notebook and never finds the courage to read his work aloud, and the novelist who raises her glass as she cracks the bestseller list for the first time in her twenty years of publishing, are authors.

    Creating a term to separate published authors from self published authors (other then the terms “published” and “self published”) would really only serve as a tool for marketing or a pat on the back for the author. And I mean this for both authors as it take persistence, determination, and a thick skin to work towards a book deal, while this effort is mirrored by the courage and personal investment it takes to self publish.

    I believe your metaphor of ophthalmologists and optometrists lends itself better to the division of genres in writing then to forms of publication. It would be a mistake to go to a PhD in English for an appendectomy, just as it would be a mistake to read The Harvard Review and hope to find the next Thomas Harris.

    Sorry for the long reply. I guess I’m just in the mood for a healthy debate. 🙂

  4. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Will,Congratulations on that book. As Barbara Peters once told me, “You’re only a book virgin once.” Enjoy it.

    As to the designation of “author,” I know what you mean.

    Actually, someone once told me that you are an “author” when you sign that contract. I found that was true at the mystery conventions because after I signed, I was put on panels and considered “published.”

  5. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Hadrian,I appreciate your views . . . and don’t worry about long posts.

    Your point about the word “author” being applicable to any writer is well taken. But it’s also the reason I want a new word.

    IMHO, those of us who write — from that poet who does so privately to Dan Brown — are all writers.

    I think “author” in common usage implies something else.

    As to the analogy, I stand by it for now because it has to do with the process–not a qualitative judgment, but a measurable, important difference in how the manuscript becomes a book (I deliberately stayed away from emotional/qualitative words).

    However, I might be persuaded to abandon it for another today as the discussion continues.

  6. Louise Ure

    I have never once introduced myself, or been introduced, as “an author.” (Although I must admit to having used “authorina” a couple of times.)

    Author is a title, writer is what I am. As are we all.

    I don’t need a new word.

  7. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Well said, Louise.

    I’m glad it doesn’t matter to you. It’s possible I’m overly sensitive about this particular word and how it’s used nowadays.

    I don’t know.

    That’s why I wrote this blog.

    Sometimes I post when I have a question because I truly want to read what others think about whatever is disturbing or puzzling me at the time.

  8. Jake Nantz

    I would say “pauper”, but that can apply to paid and paying authors as well.

    How about “triter” for traditionally published, and “paythor” for the paying writer.

    Would that help you out, Ms. Taichert?

    Me personally, I don’t need a new word, because I’m neither. And I think anyone who automatically assumes once I am published (traditionally) that I self-published my book(s) is entitled to think that, because they obviously don’t know me well enough to know better and didn’t bother to ask. As such, their opinion one way or the other matters less to me than the stuff I clean up behind my dogs.

    But that’s just me.

  9. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Jake,Actually, I like your suggestions 😉

    I’m not digging my heels in here about the whole idea of a new word but . . .

    The longer I am published, the more I hear people grumbling, I hear the judgments and the dissatisfaction among published writers and I think we’re all refusing to talk about the shift in attitude toward “authors” that exists.

    Again, maybe I’m making mountains out of molehills. But I think there’s a real problem here and that it needs to be addressed.

    I believe the issue isn’t about the intrinsic quality of one publication method over the other; it’s about process.

    If everyone is happy with the status quo — GREAT! But I’ve heard far too much anger and complaining out there to believe most people are being honest when they say they don’t care.

  10. Stacey Cochran

    Pari, you are a breath of fresh air. I love reading your blog posts because you don’t make me feel bad for being a self-published author. If anything, your earnest questions seem to validate the questions that I (and so many others) have about “who” we’re published with.

    If I had a medal, I’d give one to you. Seriously. lol

    This business is so subjective; I’ve seen first-hand very good agents or editors pass on a book they didn’t think would sell, only to see that book become a NYT bestseller via a different agent and/or editor.

    I have met a handful of authors (not a lot; maybe less than 6) over the past few years whose books really would sell and market better than those that actually get acquired, and yet these aspiring authors aren’t able to get lucky.

    It happens.

    I’m not sure what exactly I’ve learned by being rejected more than 2000 times over the past 13 years. But I think it probably has something to do with compassion…

    Hopefully I’ll never judge an author because of who they’re published with.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Pari.

    And here’s my made-up word: “Luft”

    Luft – verb. To be in a state (sometimes for many years) where only a small number of people see the value in what you write but to persevere with a positive attitude, heart, and compassion towards others.

    Example in a sentence: Nicolas lufted for many years before a publisher took a chance on him, and he ended up selling more books than any author previously in the thriller genre.

  11. Dana King

    We have the words we need. A writer is anyone who puts words on paper; an author is someone who is piad for the rights to his/her novel. To me, it’s a mater of whicvh way the money flows; authors don’t pay to be published.

    Lest anyone think I’m being a prig about it, I am still a writer.

  12. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Brahahahaha, Stacey! “Luft” is a wonderful word. It’s right up there with one of my favorites “chuffy.” The latter means “chubby,” but just sounds so much friendlier. I learned it while playing the dictionary game.

    As to my post . . .

    Thank you for your kind words. I was beginning to feel like I’d really written it badly because readers — in the comments — weren’t understanding what I was driving at.

    Thank you also for lightening up the discussion. I don’t know if I lufted for many years before I got published; compassion wasn’t part of my perspective back then.

  13. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Dana,You see, that’s the definition of “author” I was operating under–but I don’t know where I actually got it.

    And, it’s the definition that seems to be changing in common usage.

    Our language constantly evolves.

    Maybe rather than screaming that I WANT A NEW WORD, I should just sit back and see how the language evolves WITHOUT my whining 😉

  14. Tammy Cravit

    The trouble with language is that the meanings of words shade and change over time…once a word is created and set free on the lexicon, there’s no guarantee it will continue to mean the same thing. And, there’ll always be someone who’s willing to fudge their business model for the sake of playing “buzzword bingo”.

    Consider this: What happens if we create such a word, and then iUniverse or one of those folks sets up a new model where you get paid an “advance” of 37 cents when you publish your book, and royalties of 1/1000 of a cent per copy sold? Would authors who use that model then qualify to use your new word? If not, why not? And if so, what good does the word do?

    Here’s what I think: The new business models aren’t going away, and there will always be companies willing to take a pile of cash from writers who are willing to pay to see their work in print. I don’t think there’s a good way to solve that problem from the writer side of the equation.

    Rather, I think the solution stems from what you talked about last week. Publishers need to get serious and start (re-)creating some brand recognition and brand loyalty. If readers know that (the imaginary) Big Honking Hand Cannon Press puts out top-quality mysteries, the ones who care about quality will seek out BHHCP’s books. And, over time, the marketplace will learn that You Pay Us We Docutech Any Old Garbage Press puts out junk.

    We as writers create brands around our work, and that brand recognition works in the marketplace. I’m willing to buy most any Marcia Muller or Sue Grafton in hardback, because I know what those authors have to offer me, and I know I won’t be disappointed. I can think of examples in other genres, too — you may love or hate Laurell K. Hamilton, but when you pick up one of her books, you have a fair idea what you’re in for.

    Why shouldn’t publishers create that same brand awareness? In the past, many of them did, but the increasing consolidation in the publishing business seems to have led to an abandonment of that practice. But if it worked before, and it works in countless other industries, why shouldn’t it work again for publishing?

  15. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Tammy,You’re absolutely right and your suggestion/solution might be the true key.

    You know what? If there was a self-publisher that branded well — told me about the kind of quality book I’d get — I’d be happy with that too.

    This is a fascinating time to be a novelist. All of this flux, this gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair, provides so many opportunities to think, learn and grow.

  16. JT Ellison

    Pari, excellent topic. I’ve started calling myself a novelist, because “author” isn’t specific enough.

    And everyone can be a writer. Anyone can be published too, which takes a bit of the shine off of those of us who’ve gone the traditional route.

    That said, and this is unfortunate, readers don’t know the difference, especially the two-three book a year folks. Typical conversation ensues: You’re a writer? Did you self-publish?” I answer that no, I’m with a traditional New York house. And I’m proud of that fact. Taking absolutely nothing away from people who decide that isn’t their route — I decided early on that it was mine.

    The other phenomenon I’m seeing is the idea that if you’re on Amazon, you are somehow a big cheese. The vast majority of readers, especially young readers, think Amazon is the bomb. I tell them that Amazon counts for only 5% of our sales, but they’re still impressed. Sigh.

    Perhaps in the end, one will triumph over the other. In the meantime, I keep plugging away, my own little corner of the writing world, as a novelist.

  17. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Yep,A novelist. That’s what I am.

    It’s interesting to me that self-publishing is so stuck in the general consciousness at this point that people jump to that conclusion rather than assuming the other.

    I don’t know what that says about anything other than that the self-publishing industry has done a better job of “branding” than has the traditional-publishing industry.

    As to Amazon . . .That’s really funny, but I think you’re right. I know people who spend quite a bit of time fretting about their numbers there AND they mean so little in the grand scheme of things.

    Again, it’s wonderful marketing on the part of Amazon to pull off that impression of power in the consumer world.

    All of this just fascinates the heck out of me.

  18. JT Ellison

    “It’s interesting to me that self-publishing is so stuck in the general consciousness at this point that people jump to that conclusion rather than assuming the other.”

    You know, Pari, I think there’s also a touch of dream-fulfillment in the self-publishing model. Every author on the planet, when talking to a reader, has heard the words, “I have a great story. I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

    Then along comes an option that seems quite reasonable, marketed just to these people. No fuss, no muss, for $500 you can write your story, see it published, and fulfill your dream. That’s a very, very powerful persuasion, one that every self-publishing venture capitalizes on.

    Again — there are several excellent professional writers who self-publish. I’m just talking in generalities here.

  19. Pammy D

    Pari, you wrote,

    “It used to be that doctor meant someone who had graduated from medical school and survived an internship.”… “Naturopathic, chiropractic and osteopathic doctors employ the shorthand as well.”

    Osteopathic medicine has been in existence since 1874. Both D.O.s and M.D.s complete 4 years of basic med ed, have internships and residencies that last 3 to 6 years. They can choose their practice specialty.

    Chiropractic medicine has been in existence since 1895. Most Chiropractic Schools have 10 semester programs, with approximately 28 hours of class time a week, per semester. (This does not include extra lab hours.) There are internships. Following graduation you must pass several National Boards as well as State Boards. There are additional programs in place should you wish to accrue the academic hours and skills required to have a practice specialty.

    M.D.s, D.O.s, and D.C.s are all considered primary health care providers in the U.S. and Canada.

    Pari, you wrote, “I’m not arguing whether these folks have the right to simply call themselves “doctors” — they do –“

    I don’t understand your statement, “but the assumptions their listeners make often are based on half the facts.” What “listeners”? Do you mean, ‘patients’? And what do you mean by, “half the facts.”?

    “I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t go to a PhD in English for an appendectomy.”

    Yikes, I wouldn’t either! I think common sense prevails, here.

    As to creating a new word to distinguish “authors” from “writers”, I don’t really understand the need. Can’t you be proud and appreciative that all your hard work and talent is being acknowledged? Would a different word really change your life or your accomplishments?

  20. Becky Hutchison

    I’m one of those people who prefers buying traditionally published books…even though I know that traditional publishing is based on the potential economic value of the book. A traditionally published book tells me that the manuscript has passed through many edits and screenings before final publication, so if I pay hard earned money for the book, my chances are better the book was worth buying. As for the word “author,” I agree with Dana’s statement “authors don’t pay to be published.”

    The word “novelist” is great for fiction, but what about authors of nonfiction? So there’s the problem of the term “author” again.

  21. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Pammy D,Thanks for the education about the specific requirements for those professions.

    I see an DO myself for primary care; it was choice because I liked his bedside manner and no-nonsense approach to health. That said, when I worked in healthcare marketing and had to interview several medical professionals, they drew tremendous distinctions between the traditions of their training and foci.

    As to the statement re: half the facts:By “listeners” I meant potential patients, those that listen to what these professionals call themselves. And I do think there are substantive differences between these healthcare providers. One of the reasons I like my DO is because he’s trained in osteopathy–he can crack my spine when it gets out of whack — my MD can’t do that.

    RE: the new wordNo, a new word wouldn’t change my life or sense of accomplishment, but it MIGHT be a shorthand, a clearer designation for potential readers . . .

  22. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Becky,It’s very interesting to me that you actually notice whether the publisher is traditional or not. During last week’s discussion, the consensus seemed to be that most readers don’t care.

    I’ve become a warier buyer. I’ve read one absolutely wonderful self-published book–one that knocked my socks off–but at this point, I usually only buy names or publishers I recognize.

    And, yes, “novelist” only covers a portion of those book-length writers out there.

  23. Toni L.P. Kelner

    Someone pointed out that novelist doesn’t work for nonfiction writers. It also doesn’t work for us short story writers. (I mean, writers of short stories. I’m personally short, too, but that’s another post.)

    I just use writer. When some unwary sole asks if I’m published, then I strike! I tell them far more than they wanted to know about my work. Ha! That’ll learn ’em!

  24. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari – again, coming late to this one. Apologies.

    Me? I’m a writer. Yes, I went the traditional route. It didn’t occur to me at the time not to. I wanted the reassurance that somebody other than me thought that first book was worthwhile putting out there. If others have more self-confidence than that, good for them.

    Yes, there are some dreadful self-published books out there.

    But, to be honest, there are some pretty awful books out there, full stop, regardless of the means that got them into print.

    We’re back to good writing and bad writing, and everything else just being a flavour. Was it Marcus Sakey who said that a few weeks ago?

    And even among the traditionally-published crowd, there’s a real caste system, depending on which publishing house you’re with. Human nature just seems to need a pecking order, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change.

  25. Al Guthrie

    Just a technicality. There’s potentially a huge difference between an author and a writer. An author is the person whose name appears on the book jacket. A writer is the person who puts together the words between the covers. It’s often the case that the author and the writer are not always the same person.

  26. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Toni,I knew what you meant ;-)And you’re right about the short story issue as well.

    Maybe it’s simply a matter of more education.

    Zoe,The whole concept of a caste system in publishing is spot on. I think you’re right about the need for a pecking order. For some reason, it’s easier to know your place when you gauge it in relation to others.

    Thanks for that perspective.

    Al,You’ve brought up an entirely different and important consideration, one I hadn’t even thought about. Thank you.I learn so much from everyone who comments here.

  27. JMH

    Having been an employment law attorney for over 20 years, I’ve seen my share of discrimination and weird behavior. I must say, though, that I really don’t understanding this discriminatory obsession by “traditionally published authors” against others. I’ve never seen a group of people so obsessed over worrying about what other people in the world do, or so quick to judge them when they do something differently than they have done.

    What is all this bashing of others supposed to accomplish? Is it meant to promote a feeling of superiority? “We want to distance ourselves, so much so that we seek a new word, therefore we are superior.”

    As long as you’re searching for two definitions of AUTHOR, maybe you could also explore two definitions of PEOPLE,so no one confuses you with those other “people”(you know, the ones who are ______)(insert the prejudice of your choice).

  28. Pari Noskin Taichert

    JMH,Thanks for your comment.

    I don’t think it’s *bashing* to acknowledge differences. I doubt you’d consider a paralegal a lawyer.

    There ARE differences in degree, experience, education etc. in that case.

    I think that people who are “self-published” are just as quick with the judgments, and prejudices, etc as those who are “traditionally published.”

    To me, the issue deserves consideration without the steam.

    And, I also know that this kind of subject isn’t restricted to writers. It’s apparent in many other fields — medicine, law, real estate etc.


Leave a Reply to Pari Noskin Taichert Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *