Sunday, September 13, 2009

Are You a Real Writer?

Side profile of a boy sitting in a classroom

Recently, I had a rather startling experience. One of the writer's groups I belong to wanted people who had been published to sign up as “Published Authors.” I checked out the criteria and discovered, to my surprise, that the only criteria for becoming a”Published Author” was having an advance from a publisher. This seemed a rather narrow criterion, so I asked the person in charge if I was reading it correctly. I was assured that I was, and further, this meant anyone published by a small publisher, ebook publisher, self-published, or unlucky enough to have a NY publisher who didn't give advances, wasn't a “Published, or Real, Author.”

This experience led me to ask the question: What makes you identify yourself as a real writer? There are many criteria. Do you have to have a NY publisher? I know several people who don't feel like “real writers” unless they have a “Big Publisher.” At the present time, many big publishers are in deep financial trouble. They're consolidating, dropping publishing lines, mid-list authors, editors and generally trying to downsize. I applaud these moves from an economic perspective, but is this a criteria we should tie our understanding of ourselves to?

If you're published by a small publisher, are you a “Real Writer?” Many small publishers have excellent lists. Sometimes they publish, and have in the past published, outstanding novels that didn't fit the mainstream publishers. Classics have come from small publisher imprints. Are some of our best writers not "Read Writers," because they took a chance on what they wanted to write rather than on what a publisher thought would sell?

Ebooks are taking the world by storm. While sales of hardback and paperback books are declining, the sale of ebooks last quarter was up by 134 percent. Admittedly, they had a smaller base to work from, but to me, it's a sign of the times. The champions of ebooks aren't the NY publishers, they're book sellers: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Google. What happened to the publishers? Some of them are trying to jump on the bandwagon, but they're running fast to catch up. Aren't you a “Real Writer,” if your publisher specializes in ebooks?

People who self-publish, are they somehow a lesser breed of writers? In the past, many books that have subsequently become best sellers were published by the authors. I suppose these writers weren't “Real Writers” either. We have all sorts of pejorative terms for self-published writers, but is that only because we're afraid that they have more guts than we do? Believing in yourself is critical. If you truly believe you have something to say, why not self-publish. In today's internet age, we have Lulu and Create Space who publish books not only for their own websites, but have them listed on the big sellers like Barnes and Noble and Amazon. There are other options like iUniverse and First Books. If writers use these mechanisms to get their message out, aren't they “Real Writers?”

Personally, I believe that anyone who has the guts to get his or her ideas in front of other people is a “Real Writer.” I admire people who believe in themselves enough to self-publish, use ebook publishers, small publishers, or any other mechanism to get their ideas out. I may not want to read their books, but then, I don't read all the books that come out of NY either.

So the question is “What makes you feel like a “Real Writer?” I talked mostly about book publishing, but that's not necessarily what makes a "Real Writer." Don't be shy, tell us about your criteria. If you post on your blog. I promise to come and read what you have to say, if you let me know where you are.


  1. This is such a powerful question. I think many writers don't view themselves as "real writers" unless they're accepted by traditional publishers.

    The problem arises in that there are a sea of writers and only a bucket of publishers. What happens to the majority of writers who don't fit into the bucket?

    I, most days, don't feel like a "real writer," but I keep plugging away!

    I'll have more to say at my site:


  2. This is an interesting question. I guess I distinguish 'writer' from 'author'. I would say there are many writers who never become published authors. To me, a 'real writer' is someone who writes at an acceptable quality level compared to other accepted writers. I'll explain more what I mean and when I first knew I was a 'real writer' on my blog so I can go into more detail.

  3. Great comments Karen and Harry. I think many people don't feel they're real writers, or authors, unless they have a publisher -- preferably a NY publisher who gives advances. I'll be visiting your sites shortly.

  4. Ah, what an interesting question.

    I'll not be able to post my linked article until tomorrow sometime, but I will.


  5. I'll be visiting you Vivian. Let us know when it's up!

  6. If someone wants to read what you wrote, you are an author. I write a free monthly newsletter that keeps growing in popularity. That makes me feel like ma mreal writer. It would be nice to make some money someday.LOL

  7. You're right, Kathy, whenever we touch people with our writing we're real writers, whether we get paid or not. How many great writers in the past did it for love, not money?

  8. Great writer from the past who wrote for the love of it, not for pay - Emily Dickenson.

  9. I think an author generates something. hey conceive and develop the concept, and are accountable for their work via critique. A writer, well, they write. I think a writer is more of a generic term, while an author is more of an accomplished writer.

    Stephen Tremp

  10. I agree, Carolyn, and I think that writers are "real writers" whenever they have written something (and completed it) weather it be a novel, a poem, etc. Now, when these "writers" turn into "Real Authors" I think that's when his/her book is avaible for purchase somewhere - anywhere.

  11. I, too, think defining a real writer as only someone with an advance is wrong. I have a book under contract. I didn't get an advance for it, but I am thankful for the opportunity to work with this small publishing house.

    My first writing publications were in our local newspaper; my column was right next to Billy Graham's!

    I became a "real writer" in my own mind after going to a wedding wherein a friend introduced me to her friends as "my writing friend, Katie!" I was flabbergasted, but thrilled, and I changed my thinking right then.

  12. Katie, what a delightful way to find that you're a "real" writer. I, too, have a small publisher. Personally, I think the advance is much less important than the relationship you're able to establish with your publisher/editor.

    Heather, definitely, finishing your novel, poem, or whatever is the mark of a "real" writer. I love Vivian's comment. Emily Dickenson never got paid, in fact, many of her poems were found after her death, but she is regarded as one of our greatest poets.

    Steven, being responsible for what you write is definitely the mark of an author.

  13. My blog post linked to this one is now posted:

  14. I felt like a real writer when I could see my words in print. It took years to get there where I was a writer, but sometimes it's still difficult to remember that's what I am.

  15. Interesting post, Nancy -- and I'm darned if I can figure out exactly when I thought I was a "real" writer -- but being published having my poetry published in a print magazine and being paid for it is probably pretty close..

    I do remember when I thought I was a "real" musician -- I'd been working on the Devienne flute concerto and finally got hold of a recording of Alain Marion playing it -- I listened, and thought to myself, "I like it - but that's not how *I'd* play it."

    And, yeah, I guess that for me a big piece of being a "real writer" is having opinions about other people's writing...

  16. I felt like a real writer when I saw my book in the front window of a Barnes and Noble along with authors I considered real writers. However, there are still times when I have a hard time classifying myself as a real writer.

  17. Noble, it does take a long time to feel like a real writer. I have that problem, too.

    Margaret, I agree. Having a opinion about someone else's writing means you've grown as a professional.

    Jane, what a thrill to see your work in the window at Barnes and Noble. That would definitely make me feel like a "real" writer!

  18. I agree that this is an interesting question. Unfortunately, many of us don't think of ourselves as real writers or authors unless we are published by one of the "big houses." That concept has changed over time for me. My first published works were editorials that appeared regularly for five years in our regional newspaper. I've worked as a ghostwriter with several published books. Then, when my book "Rebekah Redeemed" was published early this year by a small press I decided I was an author because my name is on the book. However, I've been a real writer for about 8 years.

    I think what makes us real writers is that we actually write everyday consistently. I would write even if no one read it or published it.

  19. It's nice to know that other authors struggle with the question of when to define themselves as "real writers". I am self-published, with my fourth novel soon to come out. Unfortunately, the stigma of "self-published" is often like telling people you aren't good enough to get a "real publisher".

    I imagine that artists go through a similar problem. Are you an artist when you sell your paintings at a flea market? Or do you have to have your work hung in a New York gallery before you are proclaimed a real artist?

    When asked what I do, I still stutter over the word "writer". And I guess that's a good thing. It keeps me humble!

  20. Ah, difficult question! I guess I feel like a real writer every time I sell an article or a story; people want to read them, so it makes me feel more confident of my work. Also, the local paper I contribute to has made me see myself as a real writer-I get encouraging feedback! As an artist it's more difficult; real artists have studied in big Art schools and have displayed their work in well known Galleries. Real or not, I don't bother! I am going to have my next group exhibition next month in Corfu.

  21. I make the distinction or myself between author & writer. I was a writer when I was published (for no money) in magazines.
    I became an author when my first picture book was put under contract, but I imagine when I hold the book I think it will reaffirm that feeling again.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Children's Author
    Coming this winter Klutzy Kantor picture book