Lately I’ve been noticing some anxiety among writers about what they should call themselves.
There are so many terms now and some of them quite official (especially when applying for grants) – emerging writer, established author, aspiring author, aspiring writer, published writer, published author, unpublished writer.
Some don’t want to claim too much or too little progress. Others complain that some writers and authors claim too much.
The definition in the dictionary simply says that a writer, “is a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.”
As for Author it is usually associated with being professional but not always.
1 a). The writer of a book, article, or other text.
b. One who practices writing as a profession.
2. One who writes or constructs an electronic document or system, such as a website.
3. An originator or creator, as of a theory or plan.
And furthermore the same dictionary says the ultimate author is – God.
Where is this anxiety coming from?
It seems that the rise of the self published author is causing some in the publishing and writing industries consternation, including writers. Self published authors are many things depending on who you listen to. For some they bad writers who focuses on Romantic, Fantasy and Horror texts poorly written and edited, trying to break into the markets that make the most money. (Self publisher Authors should not be called Authors)
For others self published authors are people who couldn’t or just wouldn’t find a voice in mainstream publishing because of colour, gender and spirituality and have begun to publish the stories they know their community wants and others might want to hear too. This kind of self publisher is publishing histories and stories, manuals, self help books, and guidebooks, cultural heritage texts.
Some self published authors have formed ethical guilds to develop codes of practice and standards of writing. (Alliance of Self Published Authors)
Their books are not destined neccessarily to be best sellers but the stories they tell are important, that’s why they publish them. I think of The Story of Fred Murray pamphlet and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass.
And then there are some self published authors who were traditional authors once and worked out they were better going independent.
Add to that the world of bloggers – coming from all walks of life with varying degrees of writer training. They’re sharing life stories, crafts, photography, poetry, recipes, views on parenthood and more. They are now told that their blogs are publications when entering competitions.
Another element of the mix are the smaller independent publishers who catered once, for the voiceless. Who brought and still bring together collectives to create opportunities for voice and a strengthening of diversity. They are not self publishers but publishers of those on the margins. Independent publishers not in it for financial gain necessarily, almost not for profits, (see Publishing from the Margins)
As for the published authors they are not free from these frameworks – some are commercial writers, technical writers, literary writers, nature writers and more. Some make a lot of money writing in popular genres. Some scarcely survive and so writer communities create funding to look after them in their old age.
But both these professionals and semi professionals must engage the reader – and the reader’s choices are guided by – internet searches and bookshop shelves, online book stores and word of mouth recommendations. So many studies are being done in this area I could get side tracked and go off on a tangent right now.
So many people, so many stories, make it so hard at times to negotiate becoming a paid published author. When I see these discussions my conclusion is – be a storyteller. Just write. Examine all the options open to you to share your work with the people who will benefit from reading it.
As a second generation migrant, I’m writing and telling stories in many genres to find where my authentic voice lies. I try documentary, fiction, poetry, creative film, mainstream comedy and I keep on experimenting with the style and options of publishing open to me, some doors open and some don’t. My dream is that my readers will tell me what it is they want to hear from me the most and then I’ll be well on the way to building a bigger audience.
I work on making my writing the best it can be – and study and craft, study and craft. One day success however we measure it may arrive. But another way of measuring success is to keep writing and improving and learning from what others you respect say to you. Can we only measure success in financial and material terms?
It is interesting to note that a study found those authors who combined both traditional and self publishing modes where better off than those who stuck with one mode and authors often were dissatisfied with something in both modes. With Self Publishing you have more control, more input, but also more responsibility to know enough about everything to make your book professional and to legally cover yourself. With Traditional Publishing there are also many challenges; especially for authors to achieve that high selling status in order to be viable investments for the company. (Study cited in Lessons and Expectations as the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey Evolves)
I’ve been observing discussions where some claim that you are only worthy of respect if you sell a lot of books? Others think it’s if you win literary prizes judged by those who can really write. There is an extra dimension of the popular versus the high literary craft that creeps into many of these arguments. I for one am never going to be a fashion and celebrity blogger or writer. But how many celebrities turn their hand to writing children’s books and life style manuals.
Maybe it’s the craft and sales combined that determine a writer’s credibility today – a book that uplifts anyone, entertains, educates has had a portion of success.
Writing is diverse as the people who employ it as their primary mode of creative expression. It will keep developing and emerging, in spoken, written and digital cyber forms. I for one am excited about the possibilities it offers.
It’s all about being open to diverse opportunities to create and share and not denigrating anyone’s choices.
It about accessibility, diversity and supporting the writer and teller of stories to develop their craft. It’s about accepting that not all of us who write well will ever be able to make an income out of it. We may have to have other jobs.
So where is anxiety coming from for the new writer? Perhaps its from the growing realization that there are so many writers out there that not all of us will be able to do it full time, no matter how good we are or become, or which publishing option we go with.
You see however much writers and publishers complain there is the unknowable magic of writers finding their readers – and readers finding the writers they love, that is not something we can individually control or predict, even if we can have a pretty good guess and strengthen the odds with attractive writing.
(c) June Perkins