What is a “Real Author” Anyway?

In the previous post, my advice on writing, someone said it was “dishonest” to call myself an author since I self-publish, and then went on to ask if I’ve published anything since 2013. The next day on Gab a woman going by the handle @donna told me something similar. It may be my opinion of myself but that doesn’t make it true, any more than taking online courses from an Ivy makes you an Ivy Leage graduate. So I know there are people asking the question, both writers and readers, what is a real author/writer?

I’m going to try to do this without being flippant or snarky. “A writer is someone who writes… derp” Even emails? “Ok not emails but you know what I mean”

So before we can reason we must define terms. Writer can mean anyone who writes for either a living, as in a journalist on a newspaper’s payroll, or a blogger who writes without pay but who still writes. This question takes me back to the elitism of people in the MSM who dismissed bloggers as “journalists in pajamas” trying to protect their Ivory Tower of lies and narrative control.

Author is a little trickier. An author can be the author of a work of fiction, the author of a website, the author of a poem, a novel a calendar or even in a way the author of an installation of street art. For the most part when people use the word author it is referring to someone who writes books though. And for the purpose of this article I’ll be using the word author that way.

Below are a series of points (qualifications maybe) that define what it means to be an author/writer. I’ll go through and show why self-published authors qualify for them, usually.

  1. authors get paid, and usually well, for their efforts
  2. authors get published
  3. authors go through the gatekeepers of the mainstream publishing houses
  4. authors have books physical on the shelf of a major bookstore
  5. authors have a fan base

First point. I’ve gotten paid for my novels. Not a lot. I still work at my academic career in case I never write a best seller or end up with JK Rowling money. But plenty of authors are in that boat. I’ve met some who need food stamps or public assistance even though they are writing and publishing. If you want to be rich, being a novelist isn’t the best of paths. Go to medical school.

Second point. I’ve also gotten published. Most of my publishing is self-publishing. Does that make my publishing illegitimate? I don’t think so. People start somewhere, and I would very much like a deal like Hugh Howey got for his self-published novella Wool. Would you say Howey isn’t (or wasn’t) a real author until he got picked up? There is still a little stigma in some minds about self-publishing. They say it is vanity publishing. But to me the real vanity publishing today is waiting for years sometimes for an agent or editor to “discover” you.

Third point. This is a question of legitimacy and kind of ties into pint two. @donna said going through the big houses ensures quality of work. I pointed out EL James and she admitted that I was right. For most authors the mainstream publishing houses will not do much for you. They advertise their stars and put little money into someone who has yet to prove he’s a marketable author. Then comes the question of an advance. I’ve known people who get advances. Most of them are very small. Few get the celebrity sized advances you hear about from time to time. But most of all I reject the notion that an author must go through a gatekeeper. I hired a freelance editor to edit my books for me and it wasn’t too expensive. He had two MA degrees one in philosophy and one in English. He did a good job of cleaning up my first novel and then did a good job of helping me become a better writer. Would I get that from an editor at a mainstream publishing house? Doubtful. And I would still have to do my own marketing, for a lot smaller piece of pie than I get self-publishing.

Point four. This one is a bit tricky because there are plenty of great authors, mostly from non-English speaking countries, that don’t have their books on the bookshelves of Barnes and Noble. If one choses it is possible to put books on consignment with a bookstore, but this can be time consuming. A large publisher can, if they are willing, put your book in the store, get it on end caps and even get it into the hands of people who make movies. So it’s difficult for a self-published author on this front. But then again, mainstream bookstores are in financial trouble thanks to ebooks. I wonder if in ten years B&N will go the way of Borders?

Point five. This one is tricky. Some things are popular because they are good, like medicine. Other things are popular because they are trendy, like shitty europop dance music (remember the Macarena?) I don’t think you need a lot of popularity or a huge fan base to be considered an author. There are plenty of more “literary” novels and authors with small fan bases. Are they less legitimate authors because only a few grad students in English read their books? I don’t think so. And fan bases take time to build. Stephen King and JK Rowling have enormous readership, but they’ve been doing it for years. For me, as long as someone reads my books I’m happy. And I’m an author.

So that’s my humble, slightly buzzed, and totally sincere attempt to show the world that self-publishing is not only a way to become a legitimate author, it is the wave of the future. And we’re not going anywhere.


  1. I’m really sorry that someone questioned you on whether or not you’re even an author just because you self-publish. Yes you are!!!

    On point 3 – I firmly believe that traditional publishing houses are NOT always the gatekeepers of quality. Reviews and ratings (such as on amazon) are now the gatekeepers of quality. When most readers buy books online they are looking at the quantity and quality of reviews – not necessarily the publisher. I mean, I don’t! If anyone thinks otherwise then they probably only buy books from bookstores and are not up to date with the real world. This @donna character sounds pretty misguided in my opinion (and I bet she’s 40+ too or works in the industry).

    Point 4 – bookstores are OUTDATED. There are also some publishing imprints of big name houses (such as romance books) that are eBooks only.

    Point 5 – Even traditionally published author’s books tank. And if it was a debut? Then technically that author never even had a chance to develop a fan base.

    The only thing that this @donna character could have said was that the ‘prestige and trump of being traditionally published still exists, which creates a superiority complex in people such as @donna and makes self-published authors feel sub-par’.

    Phew, rant done. (Just so you know I’m not a self-published author, and I’d love to be traditionally published, but also believe self-publishing might be the way of the future.)

    1. Author

      Thank you Millie! I don’t feel subpar for being self-published. In fact, it was the notion that I could use self-publishing as a way to market that made me finally give up on screenwriting and move towards novels. That and the fact that my stories are more geared towards novels than movies. Thank you for the comment.

      1. No problem!! The same happened to me – as soon as I realised I could self-publish easily through Amazon, I became incredibly motivated and finished my first novel in record time! Knowing I have the power to publish my own novels has really given me the kick start I needed ☺️

      2. Oh and seems like you have thick skin and know exactly who & what you are – definitely a trait self-publishers need when they come across people like that Tom dude!! Like unbelievable

        1. Author

          Thank you. Yes I have pretty thick skin. I blame all the online gaming I do. You have to be brave to venture into tradechat or listen to people playing Counter Strike. 😀

        2. Author

          So I’m curious, are your novels available from US Amazon as well? I noticed you are an Ozzie and thought I would ask. Also what are your novels generally about? What themes do you work with? Time, era, characters, genre? It’s nice to meet a fellow author on WordPress. I’ve been told there is quite a large community here but you are the first fellow author I’ve met.

          1. Yep I’m an aussie! If I self-published I would do so in all of the available amazon stores. I haven’t published my novels yet, I’ve finished the first book in my trilogy but know that it’s a better marketing strategy to bring more than one of a trilogy out at once – so I’m going to hold out until I finish the second book. I’m going to try submitting to some publishers and agents first, and if that falls through I aim to start publishing next year around May. I generally write young adult urban fantasy, dystopian or science fiction. But I mainly love writing anything with the romance story as the central plot – luckily a romance story is pretty much a requirement in young adult novels these days! How about you? I need to go and properly check out your page 🙂 Oh and there are so many other authors on here! Just look through the comment sections on my blog posts and you’ll see heaps of comments by other authors, especially if you see any by D.Wallace Peach: https://mythsofthemirror.com/ – she’s absolutely lovely and has recently turned to self-publishing after being traditionally published for years. Nate Philbrick’s WordPress is also awesome: https://youwritefiction.wordpress.com/ Philbrick has already self-published his first novel ‘Little One’ and is working on his second. I definitely think Philbrick and Peach are a great place to start!!

          2. Author

            My first book, Autumn Leaves: A Novel of Old Japan, is what I call a “classical romance” It’s a little like a Japanese Ivanhoe only with samurai and magic. It’s based in historical facts, since I trained as a historian I thought I could give it a good level of authenticity. But I do take liberty with several major things that most people won’t notice unless you just love Japanese history. My second novel, which comes out on the 31st of this month, is a YA fantasy called Andy the Ninja. It’s the first of a trilogy about a young American man who moves to Japan to escape the mundanity of his life and train as a ninja which he has wanted since he was a kid. (Like most boys of my generation who grew up with martial arts movies). There is romance, action, magic, a talking fox and a spider queen. It’s really kind of good too. I learned to hold back some of my ideas and just write what is called for at the time. And my editor told me my writing improved by leaps and bounds between the books. I also published a short story collection called “The Storm Fishers and Other Stories” which is made up of stories set in my SF world I’m working on. Sooner or later I’ll put out a full length novel and possibly series in the “apostrophe universe” as I call it.

            I’ll definatly check out some of the other authors on your blog. I’m so glad you commented! And if you want a free copy of any of my work just email me (I think you should be able to see my email in the WordPress comments section) I’d be happy to give you the ebooks in exchange for a review. And of course I’ll do the same for you when yours come out!

          3. Author

            Also, I really like your website. It is so much more professional than mine. I may have to hit you up for some tips on how to make a good writer site (even though mine also covers politics). Would you mind if I emailed you with some questions?

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