What Makes an Author? Thoughts on Self vs. Traditional Publishing

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My kids watched a cartoon after lunch today. I half-listened as I cleaned the kitchen, perking up as the young character showed his teacher a story. The teacher said, “Good job! You just wrote your own book. That makes you an author!”

Well, no, I argued internally. It hasn’t been published, so he’s not technically an author yet. After all, if every person who wrote a book called themselves authors–whether the book was Uncle Fred’s yet-to-be-proven World War II story or the next great American novel–then the title “Author” would lose its value, don’t you think? There are millions of people who say they’ll write a book but never do–so shouldn’t those of us who actually do be entitled to the term Author? 

I’ve thought about it all day. I know, I must be bored (hey, it’s cleaning day, all right?). But here’s why–where do you draw the line between two people and say, “You’re an author, but you aren’t.” It’s like saying, “You play football, but you aren’t a football player.” Some of the best cooks I know don’t consider themselves chefs because they don’t have their own cooking shows. Some of my favorite teachers didn’t have degrees, but taught me powerful lessons. So what is an author? 

Fifty years ago–heck, even twenty years ago–authors were writers who’d had their work published traditionally, in a hardbound book that people could purchase at bookstores. Now, it’s not that simple. Mine was published traditionally, sure, but what if it had been exclusively an ebook? What if I’d self-published, and my book wasn’t available at brick-and-mortar bookstores? What if my book had come out in sections in a magazine, but nowhere else? Now it gets complicated. The old definition of an author breaks down at that point. We’ve got Amazon, handheld reading devices, and thousands of books available for free online. So what is an author?

It makes me sad when some high-and-mighty authors who’ve chosen the traditional route frown on self-publishing authors, as if their method is the only legitimate one. I love being able to go to the bookstore and see my book, How to Have Peace When You’re Falling to Pieces, on the shelves–it’s a great feeling, and I’ll never get tired of it (or the funny looks I get from the staff when I pull out my camera like a proud momma). But does that make me more an author than someone else who chose a different publishing path? In an age of worldwide media at the click of a button, where 300,000 books are released a day, does it really matter HOW it entered the universe? Personally, I don’t think so. I think it’s an exciting time for writers and authors alike. There are more books enticing readers to their pages–er, um, screens–than ever before.

Honestly, this musing has confused me more than anything, but I do feel strongly about one thing. An author is someone who loves to write, lives to entertain others, and will never be able to stop–because the art of storytelling is one of the most fulfilling services a person can leave behind. Free or not, print or not, and best-selling or not. Period.

Best of luck to my author friends. For more information about my book and fun content, click here.

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