Friday, August 14, 2009

When Does a Writer Become an Author?

What is the difference between a writer and an author? In a recent comment to Rachelle Gardner’s blog, one person implied that it is pretentious to call one’s self an author until one has a publishing contract. Comments like that leave me feeling a little uneasy because it makes published authors to be snobs. I have four books in print. No one will say that I am not the author of those books, so that makes me an author. That doesn’t, however, make me better than the lowly writer who has no books in print. Either there is no difference between a writer and an author or we need a better way of drawing the distinction.

I suggest we go back to the beginnings of the word. The word author comes from the word autor (“father”). An author is the father of a work. An author is the person who began or originated the work. You will recall the use of the word in Hebrews 12:2, which describes Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith.” As we frequently use the term author, an author is a writer, but a writer isn’t always an author. For a writer to be an author, the work must have originated with the writer.

A ghost writer may have written a number of full length books, but that doesn’t make him an author. The idea for the book began with someone else and the writer only wrote the book. I would go as far as to say that a writer who converts a screenplay into a novel has no right to claim to be the author of the work. He is doing the work of a writer, but not the work of an author. That work was done by the person who wrote the screenplay.

The author is a person who originates the work and has authority to say what goes into the work. The writer is the person who pens the work.


Lady Glamis said...

Perfect description, Timothy. Makes total sense. I've seen this discussion floating around the blogosphere before, but you've pretty much nailed the answer down. I agree with your thoughts, proudly call myself an author although I have yet to be published.

benning said...

I think you've nailed the definitions perfectly. Just as long as we don't all get a tad snooty, y'know?