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.
- authors get paid, and usually well, for their efforts
- authors get published
- authors go through the gatekeepers of the mainstream publishing houses
- authors have books physical on the shelf of a major bookstore
- 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.