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.