Who Deserves the Titles of Writer & Author?

A lot of people label themselves “writer.” Fewer people label themselves “author.” With so many hanging out writer signs and claiming author titles, it gets hard to distinguish who’s who. Today I thought I’d give my two-cents on this topic. I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions too.

Who deserves the title of writer?

Donna Kohlstrom asked this thought-provoking question: “Is it enough to call yourself a writer when you do it only for self satisfaction and the pleasure of sharing it with others? Or are you only a writer if you are published and won contests?”

Like many of you, I started writing when I was young. I didn’t necessarily call myself a writer. All I knew is that I loved writing stories. But then there comes a point in our lives when we begin to feel pressure to don a title, to define ourselves in some way.

Somewhere along the way, I decided “writer” was a defining piece of who I am. I think it was after I tried to walk away from it, tried to be passionate about doing something else, but couldn’t. Nothing else was as fulfilling, and invariably the desire to write kept tugging me until I returned to it. That’s when I finally gave myself permission to call myself a writer. I loved doing it, my brain was wired for it, it was a part of me that would never go away.

I wrote for quite a few years and began pursuing publication. Then after my twins were born I took a long hiatus where I didn’t write except to journal. The funny thing was that during those many years, I still referred to myself as a writer. I didn’t shed the title just because I wasn’t writing. I saw myself as a writer, even though I wasn’t writing.

Likewise, just because someone is writing, doesn’t mean they’re a writer. Maybe they’re going through the motions, putting words on paper, even getting something published. Perhaps it’s more of a project, a hobby, or short term pursuit.

If I make a quilt or two, would I call myself a quilter? If I take pictures of my kids, does that really make me a photographer?

My test is to decide if it’s something I’m passionate about and defines a part of who I am. If it is, then I embrace the title for all its worth.

Who deserves the title of author?

Is there a difference between the titles of writer and author? Do they refer to one and the same person? Or is the title author reserved for someone who is published? T. Anne asked this question on her blog a couple weeks ago and it really got me thinking.

By definition an author is: 1. One who originates or create. 2. The writer of a literary work.

Here’s what I’ve finally concluded: The title “author” belongs to anyone who creates a literary work whether they’re published or not. Author has more to do with the originator, the one who creates the masterpiece (whether it’s poetry or a painting or whatever).

When I completed my first story, I became an author. I’d created something. Maybe it wasn’t of publishable quality. But I’d birthed it and ushered it into the world. I was the author or creator of the book.

I put the title Author on the top of my blog many months ago. I put it on the first business cards I designed. I saw myself as an author long before getting an agent or book contract.

Here’s my parting advice: If we’re passionate about writing and it defines who we are, and if we’re creating our own works—then we should stand tall and proud and call ourselves what we are: Writers AND Authors.

Claim it. Believe in it. Don’t be afraid to say it to the world. Because if we think of ourselves in positive ways and have confidence in who we are, we’re much more likely to succeed.

Now it’s your turn! I want to hear your opinions! Who deserves the titles of writer and author? Do you agree with the way I’ve defined the two? Or would you describe them differently?


  1. Eventually, there is quite some difficult in any definition, and this is liable to no exception. Debates are in order, I believe!

  2. Thanks for these enouraging words. What a great post! To believe in your work, and own it... how powerful. I love the idea that once you've completed a story you want to tell, you are an author and a writer. Thanks so much!


  3. I've adopted Lynn Austin's approach: Determine with God that you ARE a writer. Then act like one. Discipline. Craft study.

    You know THESE rules!!!

    Blessings, dear one.

  4. I agree with you.

    Still, for myself, I didn't really feel like an author until I sold a book (and popped the champagne!). Double standard, I know.

  5. No debating from me. I like your definitions. I'm a writer. I've been able to call myself that for a few years now. For whatever reason, I don't use the title Author very often. Not sure why. I guess I just lean toward writer. Maybe I have it in my head that Authors are those people with books on the shelves. But your definition is beautiful. I like it better than mine.

  6. I used to believe a writer was someone who wrote (published or not) but an author was someone who was published. I prefer your definition.

  7. I dunno, Jody, I have to disagree with you on this one -- and that doesn't happen often! I see writer as a blanket term that can apply to anyone who writes, published or not. Sometimes, to let people know I'm serious about it, I call myself a professional writer.

    But author? I think author means you've published a book. It seems misleading to call yourself an author when you haven't. Until your book is published, you're a writer, but not yet an author. Like many people who read your blog, I'm looking forward to the day when I become an author! But for now, I'm perfectly content being a writer -- and being called one :)

    Thanks for starting the conversation on this one!

  8. I heart you. I agree. If you strive hard to write day in and day out and pour your soul into manuscript after manuscript, then you are indeed an author.

  9. To me, a writer is anyone who writes, whether published or not - an author is someone with a published book. (Me, I would just go with "writer" either way, cos I think calling myself an author sounds a tad stuffy.)

    But to muddy the waters, what about "novelist"?

  10. Funny, I just did a post on this. I stole Sudipta Barthan-Quallen's distinction. She says, if you write purely for the love of writing, you are a writer. If you write with the express goal of getting published you are an author. According to her, I was a writer in 2007 (even though I already had one book out). It wasn't until more recently, when I decided to tailor my manuscripts more to the market's needs that I became an author. Does that make sense? I am no longer interested in writing a picture book that does not have a strong marketing hook. It's not enough for me to love it. It has to have the potential to sell.

  11. Great debating today! Love it! :-)

    Sara, I would consider "novelist" the title for anyone who writes fiction books. To me, it's a sub-title that gives a more specific description of what I do. Just like a poet describes someone who writes poetry. Or journalist as someone who does more of the non-fiction short article work. That's my two cents! Not saying I'm right! I can definitely be persuaded otherwise if someone has a good argument! :-)

  12. Jody, your ending brought tears to my eyes. You capture exactly how I've felt but have been afraid to say it out loud. I still have the 'what if I fail?' cloud looming over my subconscious.

    Down deep, I know my heart agrees with you but until I can eradicate that fear I can't live it. I think it's time I start. Thank you.

  13. Jody, can't believe you chose to write about this today, because I am agonizing over this very thing. Because I do self-identify as a writer and an author (I write and I am published) but I don't consider myself successful, these titles are disturbing. I'm thinking about self-identifying as retired, then anything that happens is just gravy, rather than feeling as if I am failing at a career choice. Oy!

  14. I love your definitions here! I've always called myself a writer - ever since I was 10, I think. Then I went to college and got my degree in creative writing and really considered myself a writer, but also an author because I was consistently producing quality written works.

    I would assume having twins would put your writing on hold for awhile! I can't even imagine!

  15. I assumed I had no right to claim myself an author until I was published. So I'd say aspiring author, but I kinda like your philosophy. Maybe I'll try to lose the "aspiring" part and fake it til I make it. ;)

  16. I don't talk about my writing much to people outside my family and close circle. So, now that word is getting around that I'm an "author," it has been difficult to know what to do with the label. I'm so grateful for it, but I'm just not comfortable wearing it yet. But I think you're right; I need to claim it and believe in it if I want people to take my writing seriously.

  17. I'm reluctant to call myself a writer because people inevitably ask "what have you written?" They expect to be able to walk into Barnes and Noble and pick it up. I don't think I'll be comfortable wih the title writer or author until I have a book in print.

  18. I always thought of an author as someone who has a book published. It figures I was wrong. : )

    I consider myself a writer because, well, I write. I don't have to have anything published to write.

    Thanks for clearing things up. I now know I'm a writer and an author, and dang proud to have both those titles.

  19. Well I guess I need to change my business cards:))

  20. I like what you're saying here, and agree that everyone needs to own the title at some point. It is fascinating to me the individual stories about when each person believes they are ready to move from "someone who write" to "writer."

  21. I've always been comfortable with the "writer" handle, but I wouldn't consider "author" appropriate until I have a publishing track record.

    But that doesn't mean I'm going to denigrate others who use the two terms interchangeably.

    Each to their own!

  22. "Freelance writer & communications consultant" is what goes on my promotional material ("communications consultant" covers additional stuff such as project managing pre-publication, advising on social media and too many more to mention).

    I'm saving "author" until I can say "Author of [insert name of novel here]" and have a nice photo of the cover art underneath.

    In the meanwhile, I consider "writer" a noble title. If you actively write, why not use it? If you knit, you're a knitter. If you write poetry, you're a poet. Doesn't matter if people pay you or not - that's between you and your bank account. I stick "freelance" onto my self-description to suggest to people that they can hire me, but I don't get all worked up when people who've never earned a dime for their writing use the title of "writer". I wouldn't expect someone who sells her knitted creations to deny my right to call myself a "knitter" because I knit for pleasure.

  23. Hi Jody,

    I tend to think of writers as those who are committed to the craft and trying to get published, while authors have publishing credentials. Right or wrong, that's how I've always seen things.

    I recently had new business cards made and after my name comes "Author and Speaker". Gulp. I've always used "Writer and Speaker", but after publishing more than 90 articles, I figure it's okay if I call myself an author.

    Like you said, we shouldn't be afraid to say it to the world. Thanks for the validation, Jody!

  24. Like many here, I feel like a writer is someone who writes and an author is someone who has published. I do like how you put it though. We should embrace who we are, what we are passionate about. Great post!

  25. I've always had a hard time defining myself as a writer or an author until I'm published. To me, I'm a person who likes to write. Maybe I need to get over that and empower myself my saying I'm a writer and an author because I have written two books.

  26. Isn't it funny how our definitions differ? I'm also of the writer=someone who writes and author=a writer with a published work camp. I write all the time... articles for the local paper, blog posts, nonfiction and fiction. I consider myself a writer, because that's what I do. But I won't "feel" like an author until I have that first novel in hand. Semantics. Crazy.

  27. I've also thought of the term Author as someone who is published, but I like your definition. Another thought-provoking post as always!

  28. If you add a word like "starving" in front of the word "author" people will let you call yourself whatever you'd like. Keep the modifier in place until you've made a couple sales. Then you can celebrate a new, shiny title at publication.

  29. Hi Jody -

    Your definitions are great in terms of how we view ourselves. What about how others look at us? When they hear the term, "author," I think most people connect it with someone who has published a book.

    I like to refer to myself as a writer or pre-published author. When I tell some people I'm a writer, they get excited...until they find out I haven't published a book.

    Susan :)

  30. I like the way you defined writer and author. I never thought of myself as an author. Thought that titled only went to those published successful books! But always thought of myself as a writer. Maybe I should change my business cards to read: writer/author!

  31. I prefer to use the term author for someone who has published a book or is a regular freelance journalist. I don't refer to myself as an author, but as an emerging writer, because I honestly feel that describes me best.

  32. I call myself a writer, even though I do have a short story coming out in October.

    There's no reason I avoid calling myself an author, just I don't (which I'm sure is most helpful!)

  33. I agree with your thoughts on writer, absolutely. It's much more than a descriptor; it's a way of life.

    Author, hmm. I undertand where you're coming from. I wouldn't argue your logic. In my head, though, I still haven't bridged that gap between writer and author. I've always told myself I'd transition to author when I have an agent. Maybe it deserves more thought.

  34. I'm a wife, and I'm a mother. Those titles are part of who I am. I do not get paid.

    I'm a nurse. Some people say, "Once a nurse, always a nurse." I do not work as a nurse or get paid as a nurse now--though I might write as a nurse. Nursing is part of who I am.

    I am a writer. I have finally embraced that title--as opposed to saying, "I write." Writing is part of who I am. My passion.

    I'm still struggling with "author." I've sold some articles. "Authored" a church newsletter (but no money.)

    I've been waiting to call myself an author until I actually sold a book. But maybe I don't have to wait.

    Yet "author" is not my passion. My passion is in the writing.

    I need help.

  35. I think writers and authors are way more hung up on who has the right to call themselves a writer or an author.

    I can call myself a mother because I have kids. I can call myself a wife because I am married. I can call myself a writer because I write consistently. But that doesn't mean I'm any good at it, nor does it mean that someone who has been writing longer is any better than someone who just discovered a love of writing.

    The question is, are you any good?

  36. I think I tend to agree with most commenting here that I'd happily call myself a writer because that's what I do, every day. However, I wouldn't call myself an author until I've had a book published - even though I've had articles, stories and poems published.

    I love the affirmation in your post that we should claim it and believe in it. Not least because we're more likely to succeed, if we think of ourselves in positive ways and have confidence in what we're doing, but others will also see us in a positive light, have confidence in us and encourage us to succeed, if not also help us get there.

  37. I am going to be honest and I hope I don't offend anyone. I think we are all writers, but author is something that we really need to earn. I believe we can unwittingly take away some of the joy of accomplishement by getting too much too soon without working for it.

    And today now that self-publishing is so much more popular and affordable, one can't even really make a distinction of being a "published author" because that distinction can be purchased.

    I used to teach martial arts. It took YEARS of getting the crap kicked out of me day after day, injury after injury, to call myself a brown belt. But, any yahoo could go to a martial arts supply and strut around in a black belt. Was it the same? No, my little brown belt represented a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It represented months of working to earn every color leading to brown.

    I feel it is important for writers to call themselves writers early on and to embrace that passion, but making a living as a writer is a life of a lot of sacrifice and discipline. Thus equating someone who journals once in a while when she is in the mood with someone who gets up before dawn to knock out 1000 words before the baby wakes up in order to meet a publishing deadline can be diminishing.

    I think it is good for us to earn things, so I am happy with authors being a distinction above.

  38. Had to pop back in to read the debate. Fun to read people's comments.

    Here's a simplified way to look at it. If you write a book, and somebody holds up the manuscript (whether published or not) and says "Who's the author of this thing?" You'd have to raise your hand if you were the one who wrote it, right? So there you go. You're an author.

  39. I'm LOVING the discussion today!

    Here's another question to think about when trying to determine whether you should call yourself an AUTHOR:

    Aren't YOU the AUTHOR of your book whether it's published or not?

    I think if we write a book, then we're the author, even if it never sees the light of day! Perhaps publication validates that title, but its still yours, even if only one person (YOU) reads the book or hundreds read it.

  40. I jumped to author when I put up my website. I have written books, have gotten serious about publication and am going to begin searching for an agent. I look at it as something I want to pursue professionally. I embraced it. I don't feel like I'm pretending or whatever - I'm not calling myself published or agented or any of those other benchmarks. I'm a writer. I'm an author. It's been a gift from God and one I want to use well.

    To whoever brought up novelist... I've used that one, too. I think as soon as I finished the first year of NaNoWriMo. Something about that association makes it a title that I care less about now. Maybe because I wrote a novel and didn't edit it and didn't pursue it well... It's not a bad title, it's just not one I care about much anymore.

  41. Personally, I think far too many people worry over titles and trying to define things 'just so' to fit their own world view. The people who are most upset when someone calls themselves a writer or an author are usually people who are trying to limit the use in some way so that it defines an elite group of people. "Are you published? No? Then how can you possibly call yourself an author or a writer?" (Uttered with absolute disdain and usually with a few snide remarks added to make sure the person is put in his or her place.)

    By that standard, it's a shame about Emily Dickinson who was never an author or writer in her own lifetime -- but only after her death. If you can only be a write or author if you publish, and your work is only published after you are dead -- what were you when you were alive?

    It's silly to worry too much about it. For my personal preference, I think of anyone who writes as a writer (especially if they actually finish projects) and an author as someone who is published. That just seems an easy breakpoint for me, but it might not work for others.

    The world of publication is changing. The world of writers already has -- look at us here and on Twitter, etc. Debates about writing have been interesting on the Internet, but in the end, all that's going to matter is the writing you do, no matter what title you give yourself.

  42. Great post! I've always struggled with this topic. I tend to hold the title of "author" under high esteem so I tend to give it more weight. In my opinion, an author is someone who has published a book (not by print-on-demand). But I like your definition of "writer." Your last 2 paragraphs states it well.

  43. I still like there being a distinction. Sorry. Author just implies more when it is used as a title. For years I was a writer. I started a lot of stories and never finished. I was an undisciplined hobbyist, etc. Then I decided I wanted to "become" an author. And with that there were changes that had to be made in my character and my life habits. Becoming an author made me face the worst parts of myself and my character.

    I had to become a finisher, first of all. Authors (in my definition :D) have 1) finished a novel 2) queried 3) earned the respect of peers in his or her profession by the validation that comes with getting an agent and then being published. The title "author" represents more steps than just the writing. "Author" implies a lifestyle. When I was finally able to have that distinction, I knew that the title represented years and years of hard work.

    But, that is just my opinion. I am just happy to see so many people take joy in the written word and use that to make the world better...regarless the title :)

  44. By Kristen's definition, I'm an author. I've finished a few manuscripts. I've placed in contests. I've queried. I've received complete requests from both agents and editors. Just no contract yet. I've had magazine and newspaper articles published, but that's not where my career intentions are.

    For me, personally, I've said I will use "author" when I have a book under contract to publication. For now, I'm a writer. A writer who is hopefully close to changing her status, but a writer nonetheless.

  45. Great food for thought and discussion here. (I've got a nice author interview up today if any of your readers are interested!) :)

  46. Funny, I was just thinking about this today. I was toying with the idea that an "author" is a published writer. But you know what? I like your definitions a lot better! So thank you.

  47. I disagree, Jody. I've struggled with calling myself an author, but that's more about my craziness than anything else. If a person writes and publishes a couple of articles, isn't she a writer? But is she an author?

    I've always seen authors as those who have published books, whether full-length fiction or non-fiction or even novellas. Writers, on the other hand, are those who pursue writing. They don't have to write for publication nor do they have to wait for someone to bestow the title upon them based on their definition. There are many authors, but many, many more writers.

    I could be completely wrong about this, but based on my own definition, no, I really can't. I'm a writer. I look forward to being a published author.

  48. To be honest, I don't worry much about titles. I do call myself a writer with ease. Writing is a part of who I am, one of the things I love most in life. I write every day, I've finished books, I'm studying the craft... in my opinion, I am a writer.

    However, I admit, I do tend to think of 'author' as someone whose books you can buy at the nearest bookstore. I think that's mostly because even before I started writing, I always thought writer = a person who wrote, but was unpublished, and author = a person who also wrote, but was published. Mostly habit in my case.

    Great post, by the way ;) I think it's neat to see everyone's different opinions on this.

  49. It took me a long time to claim my writer self. Like you I tried not to be and found it wasn't working. In my mind author is connected to publication, a title I hope to hold, one that I think is best worn by true heart-driven writers. Great reflecting here, as always.

  50. I'm with you on this one. I think for me, it has more to do with effort and passion.

  51. Jody, I do call myself a writer and author in the writing world, but in the other world, I shy away from that! I'm not sure why. Maybe because I feel someone would expect to see a book on shelves with my name on it. If someone asks if I have a job outside the home, I shake my head no. I shouldn't do that! *slaps my own wrist*

  52. Your words are encouraging. I usually call myself a writer and not an author. Why? I guess because I always thought an author was a published writer. Your views have opened my eyes in a good way.

    Thank you.

  53. Cool, thoughtful post.

    I usually think of writer as simply someone who writes and author as someone who has been published (especially books). I don't know why.

    I enjoy writing and hope to be a paid published author. Writing certainly enriches my life, but I don't think of it as defining who I am. By your definitions, I'm not sure what title that gives me, but I do what I do because I love it. :)

  54. Jody, I have considered myself a writer for some time, but reserved the title "author" for when my first book was accepted for publication. For me, it was an important distinction. Reaching that goal and then naming it was important to me. If I'd started calling myself an author before that first contract, it wouldn't have felt quite right. It was a wonderful privilege and honor when I became not just a writer but an author, too, and now I can claim that title forever. I'm not against your definitions by any means. And I wouldn't fault a writer for calling himself or herself an author prior to being published. Technically, you are right about what an author is. But for me, it was kind of like a rite of passage. :) And it was worth waiting for!

  55. Hi Jody! For some reason, in my mind the difference between a writer and an author is whether the writer writes books. For the past five years, I've worked as a writer for a website. I write articles and lists and slideshows and things like that. So, I'm a writer. BUT, to me, an author is someone who writes an actual book...

  56. A writer is hard to define. Was I a writer before I even knew I could write? Or am I only a writer once I start writing often? Are writers born or created? I think the answer is a mix of the two.

    An author is easier to define. They are someone whose writing has been published. Pure and simple. (I think anyway :)

  57. I think I've always associated the term "author" with the great classic novelists, thus the reason I would not put myself in that category (aside from the fact that I'm not published).

    I'm not sure I would call myself a writer either, because unlike most of you, I have not been writing since a young age, nor have I had any formal training. Writing has come to me late in life, but the passion for it grows every day.

    When asked, usually I leave title out of my response and simply say that I am writing a cookbook with the hopes that it will be published one day. But technically, in my book, anyone who writes for passion or profit, published or not is a writer. That's what we are all doing. Writing. Just my 2 cents.

  58. Sorry folks, I didn't mean to contradict myself in that last post. It just didn't come out quite right. Can I do a revision? :)

  59. Hi Jody. Before I answer your question, I want to let you know that you are a winner of a "non-contest" over at Middle Passages. May I ask you to please check out the 7/21 post and claim your prize?

    As for writer/authors, I am with you 100% with the writer piece. But for author, hmmm, that one is harder. I'm OK to say "I authored a piece in Boston Globe Magazine" but to tell the world I'm an "author?" That's a bit harder, and will be until I have a published book or two under my belt. Publication is key to me here. I think the term may have a bit to do with the volume of published work. A couple of magazine articles may not an author make. A book coming out with others under contract...that's an "author!"

  60. "Claim it. Believe in it. Don’t be afraid to say it to the world. Because if we think of ourselves in positive ways and have confidence in who we are, we’re much more likely to succeed."

    I love this thought. Its a lot like positive visualisation and affirmation, Jody.

    For me an author and writer are people who write. But people believe that author is someone with published work/s and a writer is someone unpublished.

  61. For "everyday" use, I call myself a writer. For professional use, I call myself a Novelist. I think the commonly accepted definition of an author is one who is published...and while I'll consider myself an author when I self-publish my first book next month, I doubt I'll use the title due to the elitist hoopla over whether a self-pub author is truly "published".

    I'm happy with the term "Novelist" though - it's very specific and defining, and people generally know what you mean when you say it without further clarification. :-)

  62. I've always thought of myself as a writer, but only recently have I had the courage to say it out loud (one of the reasons I started my blog, actually). I think your distinctions are pretty close to the mark. However, it gets tricky talking to people when you say you're a writer and they say, "What have you written?" What they really mean is, "What have you published?" Then I have to tell them I'm not yet published. Many times you can tell by the look they give you that they no longer think you are a "real" writer. So it's good to think about the distinctions.

  63. I feel comfortable calling myself a writer since that is how I spend my time when I'm not in our electrical contracting office, homeschooling, or keeping house. I write in my personal, spiritual, and dream journals daily, plus I'm working on a novel and post on my blog. I've also been published as a freelance writer.

    However, I don't see myself as an author since I've always considered that title reserved for those who have published books or a larger work such as a series of essays or short stories.

    But I understand your viewpoint on being the author of a work, not with the requirement of having that work published.

    I suppose part of how we identify ourselves in the writing world affects how others view us; and if I were to tell a person I'm an author, they would probably ask me if I've been published (re: have a book in the book store).
    So I'm more comfortable with the 'writer' title.

  64. I agree with you on both. Way to say it like it is! I should read through the rest of the comments. Are we the minority? I hope not. :)

  65. What interesting timing! I just did a post on this not too long ago:

    I find it strange that we fret over labeling ourselves writers or authors. My daughter is a wonderful artist, though she's only 9 years old. I've been a singer since I was old enough to talk. Why is it so hard to allow ourselves to "be" writers or authors if we write? And why does it matter so much to us? Writers write, singers sing, etc. My two cents!

  66. Great article. I think "writer" refers to the function of writing in a general sense while "author" refers to a specific article of work - published or otherwise.

  67. I think I'm a writer for sure. I've never taken the title author, because I'm not published. But I like your take on it. Perhaps I'll be changing my tune soon. :)

  68. I put author on my blog title when I set it up. I have been published x4 in magazines, but wanted to write a book. The word author kept me focused. I had to live up to it and not pretend I was a writer but to be one.
    I finished my novel yesterday, and after 18 months of hard work,finally feel I deserve the title. I really don't mind what others want to call me. :)

  69. For me it is not about just a title, but about defining who I am and what I am dedicated to in my life. It doesn’t matter if I’m called a “writer” or an “author”, since to a reader (my audience) it means practically the same thing. The rest is just a technicality :-)


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