When are you an author?
“Some of the authors (on a panel) were both self and traditionally published and I overhead a couple of them talk about how they felt legitimized by signing with an agent and being traditionally published. I heard the same comment when I taught a workshop recently. There were authors who felt they needed to be legitimized, and having an agent or publisher would deem it so.” Martin Crosbie in in How Do You Define Credibility and Legitimacy as an Author?
Indies Unlimited features a fair number of thought-provoking posts that help independent and small-press authors learn more about the business of writing, selling and marketing books. Martin Crosbie brings up some interesting points to add to the eternal discussion about the question: when are you (really) and author?
Traditionally, the answer was: when you have been published by a mainstream publisher and/or in a commercial magazine or literary journal.
In the old days, vanity press books didn’t count unless they managed to sell a whole lot of copies.
Now, the when of things has become blurred. Does uploading a book for sale as a paperback via CreateSpace or for sale as an e-book via Kindle make one an author? A lot of people want to say “no” because anybody can write anything and upload it and suddenly have a novel or a collection of short stories on the market.
In the old days, mainstream publication was validation because, in spite of the number of books that never sold very well, the harsh eyes of agents and editors were “proof” that one had gone before a jury of experts, survived, and had something better in print than a grade school short story.
Some people look at sales. This works in a self-publishing world but not in a mainstream world where literary presses and literary magazines gather up esteem in spite of lower sales than commercial fiction. Sales on Amazon are said to be validation. So, too, are a high number of book reviews.
In the world of books, movies and plays, it always comes down to credits. The more one has and the better places one has them, the more legitimate one can feel. Actors list their roles and awards: so do authors. Critical acclaim tells others that the roles and books weren’t schlock. Unfortunately, independent authors have to rely on reader reviews rather than professional critic and book reviewer reviews, much less the additional validation of on interviews and off-book-page feature articles.
Perhaps some day, sites/reviewers/publications of note will consider small press and self-published books as worthy of a look without charging a fee to do it. Until then, validation must come from somewhere else
If you’re an author, you know when you felt you had practiced the art and craft of your work long enough and had enough material published to claim that job title for yourself. If others don’t see you or your work that way, discounting your efforts as a hobby, it’s easy to get defensive about it. Becoming defensive might be proof that you’re not really comfortable saying “I’m an author.”
If a person hasn’t heard of you or your books, so what? Even before self publishing arrived, most mainstream authors’ names and works were unknown to the general public. The same is true now. As Snape sarcastically told Harry Potter, “fame isn’t everything.”
Many of us would much rather be solid “mid-list” authors with a happy group of regular readers and a modest amount of viable publicity and marketing than a Jo Rowling or a Tom Clancy. Why? We don’t feel like being on public view like actors, actresses and other celebrities. We also don’t want every critic in the world looking at each new book through a microscope to see whether we’re still worthy. Fame might be validation, but it can be very costly.
Whether or not one is or is not an author is often “controlled” by the viewpoints of others, their lists of statistics (books sold, novels published, number of positive reviews) and their personal opinions.
I put the word controlled in quotation marks because living up to or otherwise complying with the expectations of others isn’t necessary in order to feel validated. It can help. It can also limit us.
Are you an author? You tell me.