Author, Writer, Adverb-Fighter: Let’s Talk Titles Today

One of my family’s inside jokes is that whenever we have the occasion to say “label”, the word cannot be left alone and naked like that. It must be said, “labellabellabel” with exactly the inflection of Alastair Sim in minute 5:40 of this video:

Accordingly, I wish to speak of labellabellabels today — specifically “author”, “writer”, and their attendant modifiers, such as “pre-published.”

The precipitant of this conversation, in case you haven’t figured it out, is my recent website unveiling. (Thank you all for your helpful feedback. Tartitude readership rawks!) What you don’t know, because I had the sage advice of one Teresa Frohock before I hit “publish”, is that the bar containing my name also contained the word “aspiring.” I’ve been encouraged to ditch that adjective, along with some of the self-deprecating attitude on my bio page. (Thank you, MJ!)

Writers are people who write, I’m told. That’s it. Period. Full-stop.

When I consult my Oxford Dictionary, because despite all appearances to the contrary I’m troubled by self-inflation, this is what it had to say:

writer n. 1 One who writes or has written something 2 One who writes professionally had almost identical language. When I look at the bios other unpublished writers have on Twitter or Facebook, popular usage seems to concur. So okay. I’m not exactly comfortable with calling myself a writer, unadorned, without half-apology, but I concede it’s justified.

What about another title I see bandied about? “Author.” Does the Tart qualify for that moniker? Here’s what the Oxford Dictionary has to say:

author n. 1 a writer, especially of books 2 the originator of an event, a condition, etc., possesses much the same information, but they snuck in this passage at the bottom of the page:

Usage Note : The verb author,  which had been out of use for a long period, has been rejuvenated in recent years with the sense “to assume responsibility for the content of a published text.” As such it is not quite synonymous with the verb write;  one can write, but not author, a love letter or an unpublished manuscript, and the writer who ghostwrites a book for a celebrity cannot be said to have “authored” the creation. The sentence He has authored a dozen books on the subject  was unacceptable to 74 percent of the Usage Panel, probably because it implies that having a book published is worthy of special lexical distinction, a notion that sits poorly with conventional literary sensibilities and seems to smack of press agentry. 

So according to these resources, three-quarters of you wouldn’t blink should I decide to call myself “Jan O’Hara, contemporary romance author.” As for the rest of you, I could feel 75% justified in telling you to shove it.

I don’t know, peeps. I do. Not. Know. That doesn’t sit well with me in the least. But then, like certain…personal activities of my adulthood, I now regularly partake in behaviors once alien.*

Here are my questions to you: If you write, at what stage of your career were you comfortable assuming the naked labels “author” or “writer”? How do you feel about adding in adjectives, such as “pre-published” or “aspiring”? If you don’t write, do you distinguish between authors and writers, and if so, on what grounds?

As for me, after reflection I’ve settled on this phrase as my descriptor:  Jan O’Hara, writer of quasi-humorous contemporary romances, author of Tartitude, and all-round epitome of modesty. Suits me to a T, dontcha think? 😉

*Like ordering business cards and cracking jokes with famous writers authors, people. Sheesh.


25 thoughts on “Author, Writer, Adverb-Fighter: Let’s Talk Titles Today

  1. In my family, the word author has to be spoken in a contemptuous faux-British accent, because of one of my cousins who once declared that when she grew up, she was going to be an “author.” Very snooty. Turns out…she wasn’t really a writer and I was. So here I am, having written some novels, published some short stories, found an agent, and languished in editorial silence… I still think of myself as a writer. Like being a plumber. I’ve got the training, the tool box, the skill set, and I like to think I’ve got that certain magic something that differentiates a good plumber from a great plumber. But I still feel like a craftsman. Perhaps after I have a novel published, I won’t feel ridiculous if someone else calls me an author, but I doubt I’d ever call myself that.

    As for “pre-published,” that seems like a special kind of ridiculous. Of course, it’s meant to make the aspiring writer feel like their publication is inevitable. Like calling live people “pre-dead.” Aren’t we all? I think “pre-published” is disingenuous at best.

  2. All right, Bryn, hand over the cash for a new keyboard. “Pre-dead.” Bwah!

    I agree with the OED. A writer is somebody who writes. Just claim the word and forget about all the earnest modifiers. As for authors, perhaps the connotation of the word has been skewed for my by many games of “Authors” (the card game) as a child, but to me authors are post-dead people with funny old-fashioned tintype photographs or painted portraits.

    You’re a writer, Jan. Live with it. 🙂

  3. Bryn, there’s another whole topic: how a British accent became synonymous with gratuitous self-inflation when many other cultures had a caste system, too.

    Like you, I’m not comfortable with “pre-published.” “Author”, I’m not sure. As even the definitions of “published” seem fluid these days, who knows what that term will mean in another 10 years.

    Elizabeth, ha! You snuck in there while I was posting. My response: “Um…yes’m?” Hee.

  4. Sorry to butt in here, I know I’m new and this post just sort of struck me so I’d thought I’d add my unsolicited .02 on the subject. To me an “aspiring writer” is someone who hopes to one day sit down and write a story/article/text book…whatever. They haven’t done it yet.

    “Author” is a word I reserve for those few people whose works I hold in high esteem. Works that have touched me, stay with me, and mean something to me. I would also use it in regards to those who produce non-fiction of any kind.

    “Writer” is someone who does just that…writes. Constantly. Endlessly. Creatively. With zeal and passion. The old saying is: A writer writers…always.

    Neither “author” or “writer” need be ‘published’ (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) in order to claim their titles.

    For myself, “writer” is synonymous with “story teller”. Therefore, I am a “writer” although I know that others call me “author” and I am always tickled & touched when they do that, I would never put myself on that (or any other) pedestal.

  5. Well, you already know how I feel about it, but for clarification, I’ll say it again:

    If you write a blog, short or long articles, short stories, or a novel, then you are a writer. To me, to hang the word aspiring in front of the word writer means that you’re still learning basic grammar. Most writers I know (yourself included, madam) are well beyond that point.

    You’re not an aspiring writer. You’re a writer aspiring toward publication. Those are two distinct animals in my mind.

    Personally, I’m starting to think of myself as a storyteller, a spinner of yarns, a teller of tales. However you think of yourself, think of yourself with confidence, even if you don’t feel it 100% right now. The more you write the more confident you will become, because on that magic day when it finally all comes together and you are published, you want to be ready for it.

  6. Jan- i haven’t cracked open a dictionary in years except to check for spellings:) I guess I think of it as writing is the act and that’s what I do. I can say that I write. I still don’t say it loudly or to a lot of people but that’s my issue. Whether you make money from the writing is another kettle of fish. Maybe ‘those’ people should be the ones that qualify themselves as ‘published writers’ LOL.

  7. LB Darling, we don’t stand on ceremony here; hence, there’s no “in” to “butt.” 😀 I’m intrigued by your definition of “author”, particularly since you don’t seem to require traditional publication for someone to qualify. This is not meant to be argumentative, but merely to aid my own understanding: who would fit into that category for you?

    Excellent point about “aspiring.” Thank you. You’ve set me even more at ease.

    Teresa, I loved this: “You’re not an aspiring writer. You’re a writer aspiring toward publication. Those are two distinct animals in my mind.”

    As for preparation for publication, I’m not sure whether I should disabuse you of the notion. 😉 From what I’ve seen of my friends’ success, it doesn’t quite work out that way.

    Stephanie, I lurve my dictionary, although it may not show in my prose. 😉 And good point about the catchphrase “published writer.” Perhaps we will be worthy one day.

  8. Great post as usual. I think I’ll have to go back through my site and ditch all the “aspirings” and such. I don’t feel like I’m a “real” writer, but I guess as long as I’m writing regularly, or even semi-regularly, I am. I think I’ll wait to label myself an Author until I get something published though.

    Oh, and the video was great! I don’t think I’ve seen that version of Scrooge, but I want to now! Hehehe. Labellabellabel.

    *sneaks away snickering at Bryn’s “pre-dead”* Love it.

  9. I’m a writer. I’ve been a writer since I was eight and decided that that’s what I was. It’s just who I am, what I do best, despite never making a living as such. I’m a writer. Actually I’m a damn good writer. My ego knows few bounds in that arena. Maybe because I’m not so great at much anything else!

    Now, “author”? Egads. My MOM calls me an author when she talks about me with people. Which I wish she would not do. (Both call me an author and talk about me with people.) Author is a tag I feel uncomfortable with outside of publication. Author says book covers and signings and fan clubs and so on. And though I aspire to be an author, and will shout if from the heavens when the day arrives, I wouldn’t put a qualifier on that word either. It’s ambiguous enough that it could be used in relation to what I do (though, thanks Mom, for stopping that, please) and could be used afterward in my own mind as an achievement.

    Either way, Jan, you’re a great writer and we’ll both one day be great authors. I have little doubt.

  10. Lia, Bryn has a wicked/sly sense of humor I adore. Like you, I have a bit of housekeeping to do too.

    Glad you liked the clip! Of course, that movie’s taken on cult status in my home, but I really don’t think any version can top it.

    Beki, *tackle hug* for the second-last sentence. Thank you, darlin’. I’m glad you’re not beset with self-doubt! It’s a hindrance, and a beast, and a…hindrance. 😉

  11. Curious that you think a British accent is “synonymous with gratuitous self-inflation.” I don’t think there’s a nationality more self-deprecating than ourselves. It’s one of the problems I’ve experienced with living in the US, I was taught “not to blow my own trumpet” and it can be difficult here as everyone takes you at your word. So when I say that I’m useless and that my novel is really rather silly, Americans are far more likely to take me at my word.

    I go with aspiring writer when introducing myself to new people. Most people interpret it as aspiring to publication rather than aspiring to learn grammar. If I drop off the “aspiring” people invariably follow up with a question about who I’m published by and how can they get a copy and then I really do feel like an utter prat when I have to explain that I’m not quite at that stage.

    1. Actually, I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say, which is probably why I’m “aspiring” rather than published. 😉 In NA culture, as a comedic short-cut, people often put on a posh British accent to appear haughty. My comment was intended to say I don’t think that’s quite fair.

      *I* believe the Canadian sensibility is more British, than American. To that end, I wouldn’t even introduce myself as “a writer” in person. Of course, I never wore a lab coat and my patients felt free to address me by my first name when I practiced medicine. I prefer people to know me as a person rather than a label.

      As for the prat feeling — hee — while I wouldn’t use that word, I’m intimately familiar with the feeling.

  12. No, I’m probably reading and then typing too quick. 🙂 I’m just fascinated when the comedic short-cut seems so far at odds from the reality. I’ve been trying to coach myself to be more “American” and losing the self-deprecation.

    From my own experience, yes, I’ve found Canadian sensibility more in line with my own. I’ve lost count of the number of times (well, I haven’t really – it’s happened about six occasions if I’m honest) where I’ve been at a party or dinner where I’ve been chatting with someone and they seemed to get what I was saying and understood my humour and I’d get a really warm feeling that I was finally making strides into adapting into American society. Then I’d learn that the person was, in fact, Canadian. It’s getting to the point if I meet someone at a party and we hit it off I just assume they’re from Canada – unless someone has a really broad accent, I can’t distinguish Canadian and American accents.

    Anyway, I shouldn’t hijack this comment section with my ramblings. I go with “aspiring” because if I don’t the conversation always seems to become a little on the awkward side.

  13. Interesting conversation. Personally, I hate labels. I think to label something is to limit it. Words like “aspiring” and “pre-published” drive me nuts. Unfortunately, in dealing with others, we seem to have to use words to be understood. Go figure.

    I use the word “author” in the sense of “the author of….” The “of can be anything in a concrete form: a blog, a website, a newsletter. To me, that could be an unpublished work. Not sure I would use the word with “only” a work in progress, but who knows?

    I am a huge fan of Steven King’s book, “On Writing.” One of the things he has been quoted many times as saying is how it is a pet peeve of his when people come up to him and say, “I always wanted to be a writer.” His view is that if you are a writer, you write. He says that nobody ever walks up to a doctor and says that they always wanted to be a brain surgeon in the same way or with the same unspoken expectation.

    And, just for the record, I liked the self-deprecating parts in the bio. Thought it added color, humanity and the zest of the Tart we all know and love. But maybe that’s because my sense of humor is similar. The changes make the bio too dry for my tastes. (No offense, just my humble opinion. I just liked it better before.)

  14. awindram, if you don’t get over your culture shock, you’ll just have to move north. 😉 BTW, and not to pimp out a post or anything, but I ran a blog article a while back about British humour. If you’re interested, I had a ton of response and people left links back to their blogs. I bet some of them would love to hear from you. (Check out The Bay Area Brit and the Botanist.)


    Glinda, no offense taken! I’m not quite happy with my bio on either. I think it’s better here, although it was easier to keep the voice because the citrus reference makes sense with the blog’s title and rest of the artwork. There? Not so much.

    In case you’re worried I’m a-changing, this is my FB bio at present. Hee.
    “This space reserved for a non-self-deprecating reference to my writing (contemporary romance), parenting (teenagers), and housekeeping……….

    Nuff said.”

    So, bio still a work-in-progress.

  15. It took a long time before I was comfortable saying out loud, “I’m a writer”. It felt like I was creating expectations in others that I wasn’t sure I could live up to. So I can see where adding the “aspiring” or “pre-published” modifiers would make things easier at first (kind of like writer “training wheels”). And maybe those phrases are also used to stay separate from the “someday-I-wannabe” writers. 🙂

  16. Funny, I was called a writer just this morning when a stranger saw me typing away on my folding keyboard and handheld PC. While my first three novels were self-published with iUniverse some people would still refuse to call me an author. Not so, with the more traditional publisher in Arizona who expects my latest finished manuscript by early August. So here’s a whole new facet of your ‘author or not an author’ dilemma. Do my first three novels make me ‘pre-published?’

    The general lack of respect for writers/authors and especially for anyone who ‘dares’ to self-publish is long-standing. Fortunately there are so many new publishing venues that attitudes are slowly beginning to change. People simply want to reach others with their writing. Maybe success with that is enough to call yourself an author. If the definition of being published can change so much I think it’s inevitable that the definition of an author must follow. Write on, regardless of the titles.

    1. Well, Phyllis, I consider you an author. Personall, I go out of my way to support independently published authors (that’s the new catchphrase for self-published. btw).

      In fact, Just went to Amazon to check out try to buy your books. They sound facinating. Now, I want to read the Martian Symbiont series, but it is not available for the Kindle. Please ask your publisher about that so I can read you. 🙂 And everybody else, please go click the “I’d like to read this book on the Kindle” button for me. Numbers count!

  17. My opinion on the matter is, as writer is one who writes. End of statement. YES, you probably want to keep going with WHAT you write, as there is great variation, but I feel this is a label we give ourselves when we’ve made an identity shift, and as with MANY identities… other people will just have to take your word for it.

    AUTHOR goes with… stuff people can get. If you are author of your church newsletter, more power to you… you are the AUTHOR. (though to be fair, I STILL think the ‘of what’ should follow)

    In other words, I agree absolutely… you are a WRITER of romance, and the AUTHOR of your blog… Though I think in professional circles we ought to use the term author conservatively or it appears to be inflating… “I author Confessions of a Watery Tart” seems okay while, “I am the author of…” seems over kill… like putting the THE on it gives it extra credence…

    Strictly my opinion, but there you have it.

  18. Seems most of the comments are in broad agreement. I hesitated to call myself a writer for ages, but would now be happy to do so in the right context. I blogged briefly about it here. For me, the turning point was actually completing the draft of a novel. Until then, I felt I was only aspiring to be a writer.

    When I say “the right context”, if people ask what I do, meaning for a living, then I’m a public servant, IT manager, whatever. I don’t say “I’m a writer” in a way that would imply that’s all I do.

    I think “pre-published” = “pretentious wannabe”. I generally reserve “author” for writing something that is out there for people to read.

    Interesting side conversation on the British accent. True that most Brits (and I’m one) are brought up to be modest to the point of self-harm, but I think that if you put on a fake English accent, as in a proper “BBC accent”, then you are really mimicking the English upper classes who, with some exceptions, are IMHO a stereotype of self-inflated arrogance and perfectly fair game.

  19. Sorry, guys. I had to get a big project off my plate and my reply here was delayed.

    awindram, thank you for the references! I’ll check them out. I haven’t finished going through the last batch yet. :eep:

    Donna C, sometimes I think my *life* requires training wheels, but your point is well-taken. 🙂

    Phyllis, you said: “Write on, regardless of the titles.” to which I say, “Amen.” So much of writing/authorship these days is about cultivating relationship, anyway. If people are willing to allow to intentions and effort, I doubt most of them feel the distinction between “author” and “writer” are significant. Good luck with your deadlines.

    Hart, I always value your opinion, except when you’re wrong, which is seldom because you’re a Tart. 😉

    Botanist, hee. A Brit mocking his own peers seems somewhat akin to a black person saying the N-word. Thank you for the permission, though. 😉

  20. I have an internal dialogue that goes like this”I’m a soon-to-be published AUTHOR,” or “I’m a real writer!” said to myself with a little shiver and no small amount of glee. None of that ever gets communicated aloud. For a long time I said, with self-deprecating shrug, “I’m an aspiring writer.” At that time I had actually written quite a lot of seminar materials, two (unpublished) novels, many poems and a short story that won a contest in a small town newspaper. But none of that really counted in my mind. I was still “wannabe” or “aspiring.”

    Like Botany, my day job is something else and I say that first, but now I add, “I’m also a writer.” Confidently, quietly, with conviction. Because no matter how you describe yourself, people are bound to ask what you’ve written, are you published and would they recognize your name. At least now, with a book coming out this year, I can say, “well, actually….”

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