Writer V Author V Novelist what’s the difference?
According to the dictionary, a writer is ‘one who expresses ideas in writing’ or ‘one engaged in literary work.’
An author is ‘a person who writes a novel, poem, essay etc, the composer of a literary work.’
UPDATE 2022 This blog post was written some years ago and is still one of my most popular. It's obviously a perennial question asked by writers.
Writer V Author V Novelist
On the surface there doesn’t seem to be much difference.
But I’ve always known there was, without stopping to analyse why.
As I’m about to publish my first novel on Amazon, with a second to follow a few weeks after, I now think of myself as an author and novelist, not a writer.
UPDATE 2022 I have now published 6 novels, a book of short stories and a memoir.
Somehow author has a more authentic, professional ring to it.
An author and/or novelist is someone who takes their writing seriously and often makes a career of it.
Whereas a writer could be composing long, lovelorn sonnets in their attic for years with no-one being any the wiser.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you happen to be a budding Byron.
Am I an Author or a Writer?
When I Googled either ‘writer v author what's the difference,’ or alternatively ‘difference between writer and author,’ I came across the site ‘Difference Between,’ which explained it clearly.
If you’re a writer, you can write about other people’s thoughts and ideas.
But an author has to come up with the idea, the plot and content.
To my mind point 3 is the most important point – ‘you become an author when your books are published, but if your writings never publish, you remain a writer.’
In this age of digital self-publishing more and more of us are destined to become authors rather than writers.
However writer Dean Wesley Smith has a different take on it in his post The new world of publishing: Writer vs Author.
He doesn’t mince words.
He believes that ‘a writer is a person who writes, an author is a person who has written.’
In other words, a writer is focused on the process of writing, and as soon as they publish one book they’re on to the next.
Whereas an author is someone who remains in the past, resting on their laurels and promoting their book instead of getting on with the next one.
UPDATE 2022 Masterclass also agrees with the opinion that you're a writer until your work is published, then you're an author.
Elite Authors says, 'There is an ongoing debate on how to use the terms writer and author. For the most part, a person who has created a formal literary work—and has published and sold that work—is an author. Many writers, on the other hand, often work behind the scenes as freelance writers or ghostwriters.'
However, I take issue with the last sentence, being now a ghostwriter myself. A ghostwriter often writes books for others, as I do, so could definitely call themselves an author in the truest sense; it's just that the client gets all the credit, and the author attribution. But we ghostwriters smile to ourselves behind the scenes, happy knowing we are the real authors.
Whatever You Are You Must Promote
He has a valid point when he ends with ‘authors are missing the best promotion tool there is for their old books.
Their next book.’
And he’s a writer who takes his own advice, having written more than two hundred novels and five hundred published short stories.
And judging from his photo he definitely isn’t 96.
But I do believe that as a debut author I need to engage in a certain amount of promotion.
I need to create awareness of my book in the vast cyberspace of e-books.
Although I’m concerned about how much time it will take from my writing.
And promoting a novel you’ve already written can be a convenient way of putting off getting stuck into your next one.
But I still like the idea of being able to call myself an author.
As an aside, and speaking of ideas, if you're looking for ideas then maybe my post on where do authors get their ideas can help.
Now, back to the main topic. It's a reward for the last 10 years of nose to the literary grindstone.
For a short while – then it’s back to being a writer.
Except for filling in forms that ask for my occupation.
And at parties when people ask me what I do.
Then I’m an author.
UPDATE 2022: Since publishing my novels, I have transitioned to the world of ghostwriting and have now made that my profession.
What do you think?
Do you agree with Dean Wesley Smith's definition?
Let me know in the comments below.
How does one determine if they have what it takes to be a successful author?
That’s a tough one – I would say two qualities are necessary. First perseverance – it will take you years for success, depending on what your criteria of success is. Secondly, a willingness to accept constructive criticism and improve. It you’re not willing to do what it takes to improve your writing you’ll just be marking time. The best ways I’ve found to improve are constructive feedback from other writers/avid readers and and reading widely. Hope that helps!
Thank you for your insight, perspective regarding what seemed to be such a simplistic question, yet ended up proving to be a much more complex and thoughtful answer. My question for you is this. If you LOVE to write and the majority of writing stems from your own original content and you are not published and fear that the work you put out would not be accepted or deemed worthy of publication what does that make me? As I have assumed (perhaps ignorantly) that a writer has to have backing/support from a publisher who believes in your writing as much as you do. Coupled with the support and endorsement from a reputable publishing company. How does an aspiring writer accomplish such a the feat?
Thank-you for your comment. There are two ways you can go with your writing – send your manuscript to a publisher (they have standard submission guidelines) or publish it yourself. Either way, you have to put your work out there, which I agree is a scary process. It would be good to get some constructive criticism first; that way, you’re putting out the best work you possibly can. If you can’t afford a professional appraisal (and they are pretty expensive) ask a trusted friend or whoever you can find who reads in the genre you’re writing in and ask them to read it and give you feedback. Then go from there. Hope that clarifies it a bit. Happy to answer more questions.
In my card, is it better to say Author or Writer? (At the time of card printing, I would already have published, and would be working on my next book)
I think it would definitely be better to put author.
That is an absolutely hilarious exploration of the difference between author and writer. Dictionary definitions aside, I’ve always had the gut-feeling that an ‘author’ is somehow a more weighty identity than writer; and inclusive to the ‘weightiness’ is the production of full volumes of work. No rationale for that gut-feeling; just the onus of once having been an English major. I’ve written four books I’m about to self-publish (personal, intimate discussions …not commercially viable) but no way I will redefine myself as an author. I am a photojournalist who has a secret identity as a writer. Thanks again for that wonderful discussion! rfb, Napa, CA
Thanks for your comments Richard, glad you enjoyed the post. Your ‘secret identity’ as a writer sounds enticingly mysterious – although I’m sure if you wanted to call yourself an author, no-one would argue with you.
Since everyone seems to have their own interpretation, I probably would define it by my own view. I see myself as a writer and an author. I write books that are of my own composition, based on my own knowledge of what I am writing about. That alone makes me an author who writes ( i.e. a writer). I author my own writing. So I am the writer of my authored books.
That sounds complicated, but I understand (I think). 🙂
Thoroughly enjoyed this article and the comments, as I have just had a piece of my writing published in a national Canadian newspaper, and some folks have suggested that makes me an author. I agree with the comment that it is perhaps time to revisit the definition of author vs writer in the era of ebooks and blogging. And maybe it is time to revisit our insistence on labels and thinking one is superior to the other. I plan to write a blog, “Call me an author or a writer, I will answer to both.”
Hi Wilda thanks for your comment. I agree the labels can be an unnecessary complication.
“If you’re a writer, you can write about other people’s thoughts and ideas, but an author has to come up with the idea, the plot and content.”
This line sums up what I’ve always understood the difference to be. But then if you are a biographer – It’s someone else’s story – therefore you’d still be a writer not an author. Under this definition, Laura Hillenbrand would be a writer, not an author.
Yes that’s an interesting dichotomy. But I would still call a biographer an author because they are still shaping the facts and events of someone’s life into a coherent story and that takes just as much skill as creating the story – different skills but just as challenging,
I struggle with this definition too. In addition to being published online on numerous blogsites, I have been published, or as I’ve seen others phrase it, “contributed,” to two anthologies. Does “contributing” to an anthology make me an author?
As author and blogger Seth Godin puts it,’ ‘pick yourself!’ In other words, don’t wait for other people to confer a title upon you – call yourself whatever you are. In my book, contributing to two anthologies would make you an author.
Thank you, Robin. You’ve made my day!
These days publishing takes many forms, from blogs to ebooks. It seems those definitions were written when you could narrowly define publishing as traditionally printed books. I still struggle with if it is time to broaden the definition to reflect the new realities of our publishing world.
I agree with you, Lyn. These days I think it’s quite legitimate to call yourself an author if you’re self-published/or if you’ve only written e-books.
What if your writings have been published in print in say a magazine, but you’ve never published a book. How would you classify such a writer? Published Writer? Or Published Author? Or something different?
According to my dictionary definition, if you have any sort of writing published you can call yourself an author. So congratulations – you’re an author!