Why Self-Published Authors Should Call Themselves Anything They Want

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Michael Kozlowski, editor of digital publishing and device blog Good E Reader, sent the indie author world into a tizzy this past weekend when he published the piece Self-Publishers Should Not Be Called Authors.

While I consider Michael a colleague and friend, I have to disagree with his main premise here, which is that, “Just because its easy to upload your written word, so that it can be downloaded to another machine does not make you an author, any more than me buying a stethoscope allows me to be called a doctor.”

I’m sure you can see why this would upset indie authors, many of whom have struggled over the past five years to secure legitimacy in the eyes of retailers, readers and the publishing industry.

First off, I don’t think that the doctor analogy is apt. When it comes to creative pursuits, like painting, sculpture, dance, writing, etc., who is to say who is a practitioner and who is not?

I may not be scheduled to appear on American Idol any time soon, but when I pick up a microphone and sing this at karaoke, I consider myself a singer. And who is to tell me I’m not? The criteria for judging whether I’m as good or better than more well-known singers is subjective. Whereas, there are very sophisticated and long-standing procedures in place to determine who is a doctor.

Because of the subjective nature of judging creative pursuits, I think authors and others should be able to self-identify. If I say I’m an author, then I am.

Of course, there are useful and relevant professional distinctions that Michael points out — being a member of the Authors Guild, for instance, can be useful because an author’s support of the Guild could help it advance a certain agenda that is theoretically useful to authors. And the Authors Guild may want to be selective about its membership to ensure that it continues to fulfill the mission that its current membership finds useful.

Many of the professional author organizations are adjusting their membership requirements to include indie authors, Michael points out, and suggests that if one makes a living from their writing they should have the right to call themselves “author,” but if they don’t, then they’re just a “writer.”

I don’t like that argument either — for a few reasons.

First, why not just do what is done with every other pursuit and add the word “professional” — and let people define that more or less as they want. If you make a few dollars from your writing, or your writing catapults you to some speaking engagements that make you money, go ahead, call yourself a “professional.”

I do think this distinction is important at least for professional organizations like the Romance Writers of America, because the concerns of professional writers when joining an organization like RWA will likely differ from those who do it not to make money but for some other reason; or from those who do it to make money but are unsuccessful at it thus far.

For instance, RWA members who are hybrid authors who make all or most of the money they live off of from their writing may be more concerned with tax issues and royalty rates than advice on how to find an agent, which might be of more concern to aspiring writers.

I would leave it up to these organizations to determine how their membership policies can best serve their stated missions.

But you don’t have to be part of a membership organization in the creative pursuits to be a practitioner.

Last, I think there’s a subtext in Michael’s post that one of the problems with everyone calling themselves authors is that what “professional authors” do is better than what “writers” do and not making a distinction is dangerous for the state of letters.

I don’t mean to put words in his mouth, but regardless of whether that’s an accurate reading of the post, I disagree strongly with this idea.

Hundreds of thousands of books are “professionally” published in the U.S. every year. Hundreds of thousands of books are self-published, too. And the sad truth is the only a miniscule percentage of both groups are worth reading by most people. This of course is a personal value judgement but I’m willing to guess that it’s largely accurate, especially when you consider how long it takes to read a book and how many most people read in a year (of the three quarters of Americans who read a book last year, the median number of books read was six).

I love books and reading, but most books are probably not worth reading, considering how much time I have. It’s wonderful that anyone can widely distribute a book these days using new digital technologies. It has opened up a who new world of literature that didn’t go through the bottleneck of agents and publishers. But even if every self-published book out there is crap — and I don’t believe they are — then it’s only adding to the gigantic pile of “books not worth your time to read” that are published every year.

That said, some great books are being self-published. And even if they don’t make that much money, I think the brave and creative people who made them available to the world should call themselves whatever they want.

32 thoughts on “Why Self-Published Authors Should Call Themselves Anything They Want

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  3. William Ash

    Why can’t we get along? Are we going to say van Gogh was not a painter because he only sold two in his lifetime and both by his brother? The intrinsic value of the work will be determined over time. To make artificial qualifications does no good. I am unsure why people get upset by others following their passion, especially when it has no impact on that individual.

    1. Dianna Narciso

      They get upset because for so long publishing has been held hostage by companies who chose who would and who would not be granted the right to call himself an author. Those who got through decided they were special; they were told they were special; the public thought they were special.

      They’ve forgotten, if they ever knew, that writing a book is an act of self-expression, of self-discovery. There should be no barriers to the production of and enjoyment of art.

      They’re not so special anymore. And they don’t like it.

  4. Helen Hollick

    I am a hybrid author (note the word ‘author’) I have been a professional author for over 20 years. My historical fiction novels are published mainstream in the US & indie here in the UK – with my pirate-based nautical adventure series also Indie worldwide. I went Indie when Random House UK dropped me a few years back when HF took a tumble in readers’ interest & they decided not to re-print my backlist. I had the choice of giving up writing or going indie – I selected indie and it was the best decision I ever made.
    I am also the Managing Editor for Indie Reviews for the Historical Novel Society. Our aim is to prove that indie HF can be every bit as good as mainstream – some of the books we review, I admit are rejects because they are either not well written or are poorly presented (i.e incorrectly formatted) but some – well, I am baffled as to why they were not snapped up by the big publishing houses!
    I must add, my indie novels are a far better quality than some of my mainstream ones – because I have control over them. Any errors are MY errors, which I can choose to correct and re-print if I want to. The errors in my mainstream books (typesetting errors which were faults of the publisher, and a need for a good re-edit of my earlier books, written 20 years ago) have to remain (embarrassingly) in print because the publisher will not consider republishing.
    I am an indie author – and proud of it!

  5. Robert Gottlieb

    Who is to say weather or not a writer is an “author” or not. The ebook platform is allowing a great many writers to express their talent and enter into the book market place. Is success a barometer in order to judge an author? Writing a poem, short story, a novella or a book length work I believe makes you an author. The self published ebook has allowed writers to reach an audience that up until recently they were unable to access. Not every writer will find success and not every writer will be read by large numbers. What is important is that they have a voice to share with others. That makes them writers in my view.

    Robert Gottlieb
    Trident Media Group, LLC
    Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

    1. Robert Gottlieb


      Who is to say whether or not a writer is an “author” or not? The ebook platform is allowing a great many writers to express their talent and enter into the book marketplace. Is success a barometer in order to judge an author? Writing a poem, short story, a novella or a book length work I believe makes you an author. The self-published ebook has allowed writers to reach an audience that up until recently they were unable to access. Not every writer will find success and not every writer will be read by large numbers. What is important is that they have a voice to share with others. That makes them writers in my view.

      Robert Gottlieb
      Trident Media Group, LLC
      Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

  6. Renee

    If a person writes an article, he or she is said to be the author of that article. Also, many authors who are traditionally published multiple times do not make enough money to support themselves. That does not mean they are not authors.

  7. Dan

    An author is a writer who has earned some respect in his profession. An artist is a painter who has earned some respect in HIS profession. I never introduced myself as a writer–let alone as an author–until my first book was accepted for publication by Doubleday.

  8. Kate

    This is a thorny issue. I cannot get on board with the money aspect. First, many worthwhile books never earn out their advance. Is that making money, based on the years taken to write that book? Any analysis of cost/benefit would reveal the writer as nuts. She’d make more working a minimum wage job, more than likely.

    It pains me when a kid hands me a drawing and it says, \From Alicia, almost an artist.\ She drew that picture. She’s an artist.

    Secondly, I tried to read two novels by a very popular mystery writer. The first two paragraphs were so poorly written, I didn’t know if the narrator was in his office or his car. The second one fared a little better, but I gave it up because the writing was still so awful. This author is probably a gazzillionaire. Good writing in this business is not necessarily the way to achieve success, especially if readers don’t notice the clunky prose.

    So how do we distinguish a professional photographer from a hobbyist? A grandfather who self-publishes poems for his church and family?

    Not a clue.

  9. Linton Robinson

    Incredible. I thought this non-issue was only debated on raw newbie writing forums along with “why do you write?” The idea that associations would try to stipulate that sort of thing is incredibly absurd… especially since it required ignoring something fairly important to writers: the dictionary. But why bother with that when a very simple thought experiment clears it up for anybody not wanking an ego? Here goes. There’s a book lying on the table. Did somebody write it? Then that somebody is the author of that book. End of story. (Or should be, but probably won’t.)

  10. David Mark Brown

    Indeed. This could be treacherous waters for many quality writers who are traditionally published. Turn around, and they may find themselves no longer able to “support themselves” with their writing. Thus they would stumble from the platform of “Author” back to being a lowly “Writer.”

  11. Sarah Smith

    Apples and oranges. Some authors worth reading make their rent and sandwich money in other ways. Some authors who support themselves by their work alone aren’t worth reading. Professional societies are interested in (1) helping authors make money and (2) serving as some form of Good Reading Seal of Approval. Everybody has their own idea of what makes a real author. For me, an author is truly, passionately interested in giving an authentic reading experience to her readers. A professional has a healthy interest in the bottom line. A writer writes, and can be either, neither, or both.

  12. T L Thomas

    Taken from Amazon.com:
    Michael Kozlowski hails from Thunder Bay Ontario and currently lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada! He went to Art School for 2 years and worked in the local video games industry in Vancouver before starting Good e-Reader! For the last 2 years he has been focused on making goodereader.com the definitive online nexus for all things e-reader, digital publishing, ebooks and tablet computers. Currently Michael is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader and spends most of his time travelling to various international conferences and trade shows to bring the latest news.

    His own book, published in 2011, was also self published and is available for Kindle through Amazon:
    Goodereader – e-Reader Buyers Guide 2011 by Michael Kozlowski (Sep 13, 2011)
    Formats Price NewUsedKindle Edition Auto-delivered wirelessly $0.00
    $0.99 (read for free, Join Amazon Prime)

    I guess we forgot to mention that.

  13. Theresa M. Moore

    I tried to comment on the other guy’s article but it was so full of comments they would not load, and there was a “download now” banner across it. This banner is a hackjob. Anyway, I have written and published 17 books, with another 4 in the hopper. One of them happens to be a book on publishing. He is an idiot if he thinks I am going to call myself a “writer” instead of an author just because I have not signed with a publisher which will pay me no more than pittance for my hard work, change everything around to suit its bored editors and cover designers, then push it out while killing several trees in the bargain, only to have it sent back to be destroyed a month later.

    Besides that, I challenge him to prove his biased viewpoint in that the publishers already shove indie books to the back of the store by buying out the prime space in the front. When bookstores start categorizing books by the Dewey decimal system is the only way indie authors will have any chance of seeing their books in the front. In addition to insulting me and fellow self-publishing, independent authors, he trotted out his own titles to show his ability to write books. The titles were uninspiring and certainly no title made me want to buy them. When he learns how to pick his topics, and show that he really is a “professional” is when I will believe him. I work too damn hard to be told to sit in the back of the bus.

  14. Charles Sheehan-Miles

    Posting from my phone so please forgive any typos. But I’m a \professional\ self-published author and make my living writing books. I’m also a member of the Author’s Guild. Gatekeepers didn’t decide I was an author. The audience who buys my books determined that.

    1. Ernie Zelinski

      I totally agree with you. I am mainly a self-published author with over 800,000 copieos of my books sold worldwide. (I used to be a member of the Authors Guild but let my membership lapse.) I also make my living from writing books. I work only one or two hours a day. This year I will likely make in the range of $150,000 in pretax income (90 percent from the proceeds of my self-published print books and ebooks). On the other hand, an author in my hometown about 5 years ago got a $200,000+ advance from a mainstream publisher. His novel ended up selling fewer than 5,000 copies so far. This guy still works at his government job because he can’t afford to retire. I can afford to retire totally because I have saved plenty and my residual income will likely be over $100,000 for several more years. Who is the professional author? Him or me? As you say, “The audience who buys my books determined that.” And as Jack Canfield says, “Results don’t lie.”

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  17. Terri

    Meh – the original article was nothing more than inflammatory click-bait to drive traffic to the site. He is no different than the chick who wrote \Having kids is a stupid idea,\ on another platform.

    1. Michael J Sullivan

      I agree…especially given that his argument was all about whether you earn money from your writing and he acknowledged that it is easier to earn money as an indie. A bit of a paradox given the click-bait title.

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  19. Judy Goodwin

    I like Dean Wesley Smith’s definitions of “author” and “writer.” An author is a person who has written a book. A writer is someone who writes.

    All else is subjective.

  20. Michael J Sullivan

    I love debates over such nonsense. Why do people care what they are called or what other people call them? Am I a writer? Author? Published Author? Hybrid Author? Traditionally published author? Big-five author? Full-time Author? I’m all of the above and it just doesn’t matter.

    The only thing I care about is writing books that I’m compelled to write. The hope is that there will be readers who want to read, and pay for them, which is important only as it allows me to spend more time doing what I love most. So far that has turned out to be true, but instead of worrying about what I’m called or how many people can share that distinction or whether someone uses a title that someone else feels they don’t deserve…heck I just don’t have time for such things. I have stories to create.

  21. self publishing software

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  22. Craig

    If you wrote a book you are an author. One of the issues with self publishing is quality. I have created an indie publishing company that has a model that I think will overcome this problem. We have a submission system in which the author submits their work (for a fee), and then they either get accepted for publication with 70% royalties, or they get comments on how to improve the manuscript. They can then make revisions and resubmit the manuscript for another round of comments or acceptance. this can be done up to three times for one submission fee. Our promise to the author of no form rejections is one we can keep with this model. In this way we hope to improve the quality of the work and make the final product great. http://www.cawingcrowpress.com

  23. Evanzz Kurei

    I found this honest and constructive advice. After just reading an article that claims self-publishers lack quality and spam social media telling people to buy books, it is interesting to read some specific advice that can benefit self-published authors as opposed to just slamming them. Being new to this industry, this post has helped to make my expectations more realistic, whilst still enjoying the process.

  24. David Donahue

    Interesting article. Most Ithink flooded the kindle writing platforms looking to cash in by writing a book or whatever. Hell I wrote a book years ago too but wouldn’t call myself an author. Stephen King is an author, the 99% or as called writers probly do it to make a buck but they cheapened the publishing industry by writing crap.Now if you say you wrote a book or are an author people think “who cares or who hasn’t.

  25. oh please

    What are you talking about, David Donahue? Publishers cheapen the industry all the time by publishing crap because they know it will sell. Let’s stop pretending the traditional publishing gods are innocent and benevolent and that self-published authors are messing up something that isn’t already messed up. If publishers were innocent, things like Twilight would never have hit the shelves. 50 Shades happened because of Twilight, just like self-publishing happens because of gatekeepers.



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