There is some contention, among professionals, as to what constitutes an “author”.
When I was just dipping my toe into the writing world, one of my first experiences with this subject came from Rebecca Moesta, a professional of many years that insisted that a writer cannot call himself an author until he has published a book proffessionaly. She was quite firm in this belief, to the point of dogmatism.
And I, not knowing any better, assumed this was correct, even though it would necessarily exclude a lot of talented authors who are unpublished, self-published, or published-yet-unprofitable.
To put this statement into context, this was in 2010, and self-publishing wasn’t nearly the juggernaut it is today. But the attitude still persists in many circles.
Because of this, for many years I represented myself as an “aspiring author”. This seemed like a safe description for who I was at the time.
However, my naive preconceptions were once again shattered, once again by a professional who is highly esteemed in the industry. This next shock to my system was delivered by Peter S. Beagle—celebrated author of The Last Unicorn.
Mr. Beagle was blunt: “Never call yourself an ‘aspiring’ anything. If you’re serious about being an author, call yourself an author.”
This led me to change the way I introduced myself. I was serious about being an author. There was no future when I wasn’t going to have this for myself. So, for example, I updated my Twitter bio to read as follows:
Author. Keeper of Secrets.T. Alan Horne
I had decided for myself that I was an author. No one gave me that title, and no one can take it from me.
But, last October, an event happened that once again changed my relationship with this word.
My First Publication
One thing has been made abundantly clear, after taking the effort to publish a finished book: a book is not a manuscript. Even a finished manuscript with no errors or room for improvement…is merely the first ingredient of a book.
People don’t read ingredients. They read the final product. And though preparing the manuscript is the hardest and longest part of creating a book, it is not what makes the book a book. And, therefore, it is not what makes an author an author.
It’s clear to me now that an author is the producer a book, as one might be the producer of a movie or stage play. A writer is someone who merely writes a manuscript. By this definition, self-published writers generally have more right to the title of “author” than those who are traditionally published. Trad authors almost universally leave the producing to other professionals. Their cover and interior is chosen for them. Their marketing (if any exists) is handed to them. And the final product—the tangible object that the reader interfaces with—is the brainchild of the publisher, not the writer.
Futhermore, one can get paid for one’s writing without being an author. They can even turn a profit without meeting the mark of authorship. This is the case for most ghostwriters, who work for hire, deliver a manuscript, collect their fee, and usually have nothing further to do with the book. (Some full-service ghostwriters, such as Joshua Lisec, buck this trend, but they are a notable exception).
In cases where a book is not ghostwritten, the writer gets to choose how much of his authorship he cedes to others. A traditionally published author may have to write a number of successes before he is allowed to assume more of his own producer duties. An independent author may choose to be the executive of everything, though services exist that will make those choices for him.
Becoming an Author in Full
Despite what I’ve learned since October, I cannot say that Peter S. Beagle was wrong. I was right to call myself an author from the beginning, in the same way that an engineer on his first day on the job is still an engineer. Composing manuscripts is still the most important part of an author’s job.
But like an engineer on his first day, I was blissfully ignorant of all the duties I would be performing in this role. Assuming the presidency of my own company was a particularly eye-opening responsibility.
Still, the experience has come with many benefits, not the least of which is that I find it easier to write books now. So much of my identity and responsibility is wrapped up in the process of book writing that I find it harder and harder to stay away from the keyboard.
I also have a much easier time introducing myself as an author to the people around me. When they ask, “What books have you written?” I can simply show them my titles on Amazon, and they can ask follow-up questions about the author’s life that I can now easily answer.
I’m an author. Straight up.
And I’ve got the goods to prove it now.
One Other Benefit
It hasn’t escaped my notice that a number of people are more comfortable talking to me, ever since I published my first book.
Because a lot of people want to be authors. Quite a few of these dream or hope to become one. And a lot of them feel sadly out of the loop, unable to figure out where to even start.
Since I actually took the effort to seek out published authors before becoming one, I don’t quite have the same experience as these dreamers. I at least had a starting point. Some big hints were thrown my way even in my first semester of college, and it gave me the opportunity to begin my study of the subject.
But not everyone is so lucky. And to a number of people, meeting me is their first experience getting up close and personal with an author. It has broken the ice in a way I did not expect, and people with literary aspirations have opened up to me in ways I’ve seldom experienced before.
That, more than anything else, makes me feel like an authority. It’s the kind of thing I hope I can cultivate as I publish more books.
Until then, I’ve always got more writing to do.
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