The dictionary definition of an author is “someone who writes (books, stories, articles or the like) professionally.”
But is that all there is to the title? What is the difference between an author and a writer? Can you author a book without writing it?
Although the terms “author” and “writer” are often used interchangeably, they are different, and there is an important dividing line that writers and authors (including the established ones) need to know.
And, as usual, I, the bearer of good news and informative pieces, am here to educate you on these subtle differences.
Let’s close the author vs. writer debate.
Who Is a Writer?
In simple terms, a writer is someone who can write and has written something. But in this context, a writer is someone who writes (i.e., books, stories, newspaper articles, blog posts, screenplays, etc.) professionally.
Professional writers often spend days, weeks, months, and even years writing academic papers, nonfiction works, novels, novellas, short stories, and the like.
There are different types of writers; some are pantsers (those who just sit down and start writing their story with little or no planning), and others are plotters (those who plan their writing before starting the actual writing.)
Writers can also be categorized according to the content they produce; using this classification, we have bloggers, journalists, ghostwriters, academic writers, screenwriters, novelists, et cetera.
Also, you don’t have to come up with the subject matter, idea, or theme for the piece that you’re writing. Nowadays, outsourcing is an efficient way of producing and managing publications.
That is why we find a lot of writers making a living by writing pieces that are derived from ideas conceived by someone else and are published in the originator’s name (ghostwriting).
Who is a professional writer?
So, as I said, there are many different classes within the “professional writer” category.
You could be a novelist, short story writer, ghostwriter, blogger, or journalist, and you could do all this as a freelance writer or as a permanent employee in an organization.
This is not a comprehensive guide on how to become a professional writer, but here are some brief steps.
- Perfect your craft. You have to write regularly to sharpen your writing skills. So, write, write, and write more!
- Research different types of writing categories and figure out your specialty to see what writer you could become. Amateur writers usually have their hands in almost everything and that’s good if you know what you are doing.
- Learn and upgrade. You can take premium online courses or teach yourself using free online resources (which are abundant nowadays).
- Use writing tools. Take advantage of writing tools (i.e., Grammarly, Frase, Quetext, etc.) to improve your writing.
- Create a strong writing portfolio.
- Look for writing work. Search for writing gigs, writing grants, and other opportunities to publish your work.
- Self-Publish. If you can’t get a publishing deal with a traditional publishing house or aren’t patient enough to wait for their response, you can self-publish.
- Build a strong social capital by collaborating with other professional writers and editors.
- Continue improving your writing portfolio.
Again, it’s okay to try a lot of genres and writing categories but later you will find out that you need to have some specialty to be a good writer (or to be taken seriously when applying for writing jobs).
Once you choose to focus on a certain type of content, learning, improving your skill, and hence finding a gig becomes easier.
Even if you choose to self-publish your novels, the more content you produce in one genre, the higher the chance of your work ranking higher.
So, pick a category that you’re most comfortable with or good at, and get yourself a new career.
Who Is an Author?
An author is an entity whose written work has been published. Usually, the author is the mastermind behind the work and they write their own content.
When they actively work in the writing stage of producing a book or any written work, authors are considered writers. They write and publish content that is mostly their views and creative inspiration, and they are liable to receive any backlash or acclaim from the audience and critics of the published work.
However, in some cases, authors are but the originators of their work—the actual writing is done by someone else.
Now, this is where the confusion, which I have explained in the next section, comes in.
How to Become an Author
Becoming a published author is hard work especially if you are going to write the to-be-published work (manuscript).
And there are a lot of other things you have to do after writing the manuscript—although self-published authors tend to have more after-writing work since they—usually—don’t have teams to help them out.
However, it doesn’t really matter whether you are self-publishing or using traditional publishing companies, you’ll need discipline to do the unavoidable hard work (unless you are doing nothing but dig into your pockets and pay for everything).
If you want to use the shortcut to becoming an author, my advice is to get yourself some good money, hire a ghostwriter, outline your idea, and hope that the ghostwriter is good enough.
Then, hire an editor and a graphic designer for the book cover, and choose a method of publishing.
Voila! You’re an author!
However, if you want to be the writer and the author of your book, follow the steps below:
- Follow most of the steps I recommended in the previous section.
- Write shorter pieces like flash fiction, short stories, and novelettes and get them published.
- Join a community of reading enthusiasts, writers, and editors.
- Learn from seasoned writers. Research their views on discipline and scheduling.
- Research and plan your book.
- Start writing your book and follow a strict schedule (maybe until writer’s block stops you in your tracks).
- Identify your target audience.
- Be your own biggest critic but only do the heavy editing after writing the whole first draft.
- Look for a publishing contract or self-publish. You can get an agent to help you with getting a publishing contract (easier said than done) or go straight to an online platform and get your book published.
Whether you want to self-publish or work with traditional publishers, make sure you write a killer manuscript, one that will sell like hotcakes!
People mistakenly believe that authors write their work, but this is not always the case.
Typically, the author possesses the copyright and hence the ownership of the work. A writer, on the other hand, does not always have copyright and ownership.
Furthermore, you can only be called an author if the ideas behind published work are your own (whether you conceived or purchased them). Otherwise, you might face legal battles because of plagiarism and end up losing the published work plus a hefty fine.
In short, not every writer is an author. Likewise, not every author is a writer.
The primary difference between a writer and an author has nothing to do with whether you write or not. Instead, the difference between a writer and an author mostly hinges on the status of your work, do you legally own it? And is it published?
You might have written loads of books (i.e., nonfiction; fiction genres such as historical, crime, science fiction, romance, suspense, horror, mystery; and children’s books), but if you don’t get them published, you’re nothing more than a writer.
Theirs is also another distinguishing factor, which doesn’t always hold, but it’s an important distinction nonetheless. Authors tend to take their writing seriously and are typically ready to make a career out of it. Or, they give it their all so that their work can reach as many readers as it can.
Nowadays we have a lot of authors because the allure and difficultness of traditional publishing are slowly being replaced by the simplicity and speed of modern self-publishing platforms.
With platforms such as Amazon Kindle, it has become easier to become an author without ever facing the heartbreaking rejections from traditional publishing houses.
There appears to be little difference between an author and a writer. Well… they’re the same entity in most cases.
However, not every author is a writer, and not every writer is an author.
Most writers would agree with me that writing with the word ‘Author’ sounds more professional.
“The difference between a writer and an author is that the other one finished writing his book,” says one inaccurate but somewhat relatable quote about authors vs writers.
So, although you can have a finished manuscript and be called a writer because it’s unpublished, the fact remains that only the one with a completed work can publish and earn the right to be called an author.