Thursday, January 27, 2011

"But are you a -real- author?"

You are nothing without the bind.
"I'll read your books once they're published!"

If you're a writer you've probably heard this before...unless you're not interested in people reading your works, then maybe you haven't.  But if you have then you're probably also familiar with the connotations a phrase like this carries.  On the surface it's innocuous and means "When you're out there I'll support you", which is always nice to know, I suppose.  But on the other, if you've been "in the business" long enough, what you're interpreting is "I do not take your writing seriously enough because you are not published."

This whole topic comes from the interview I had the other day with the local newspaper.  At one point while we talked about writing life in a rare sunny January morning, one of us mentioned how writing is that one art that you usually don't have much to "show" for.  If you're a painter, a sketcher, even a sculptor, or hell even a master quilter, you've usually got that tangible product to show for all your hard work.  In this day and age, however, most of us authors do our thing electronically.  All of my writing is stored (in various places, because I've learned many lessons...) primarily on my laptop, on my web server, and even on a USB drive for good measure.  And while way back when I used to print off my manuscripts and bind them in a binder, that quickly became impractical and something that wasn't worth my time anyway.  Yet that was the extent of which you could see a tangible product of my work.  Even if you've painted something too large to carry around with you for people to look at, odds are you can still take even a cell phone photo to whip out at all those small-talk parties.  But if you're a writer, you can say, "Yeah, I'm a writer..." and worst case scenario they say, "Oh, have you been published?"

The moment you say "no", you've lost all credibility.  It doesn't even matter if that person is someone who swears that it doesn't matter if you've been published or not - once "no" passes through your lips, you see their faces fall and their eyes say, "Oh, well...then how are you a writer?"

If a painter is somebody who paints, then a writer is somebody who writes.  Nobody would really argue with the guy in his studio whether or not  he is actually accomplishing something with his may not be "good", it may not make him any money, but the painting is there and people can clearly see the outcome of his time spent.  With writing, however, you usually have to work on the basis of good faith, especially if you're like me and have a propensity for deleting everything you just wrote because it's crap.  The painter who destroyed his works for the same reason still has to take out those scraps to the garbage, but we (electronic) writers just have to hit "delete" and it's like it was never there.  We know we wrote something, but now nobody else does.

Unless you've been published.

And even "yes, I have been published" means different things.  How?  When?  "I published a short story in a magazine ten years ago" is not as exciting as "I just released my first book last year."  The first thing people usually want to know is if they can get a hold of your work.  Depends on what they mean by that,, eh?  They want to hear, "You can get it off Amazon / at Borders" not "I think there's still a downloadable PDF at the magazine's website."  And heaven forbid if your publishing claim to fame is an academic piece about Gnostic mysticism and there was this guy named Jesus and can see them yawning already and quickly losing interest. 

As someone who has claimed to be a writer / author (the difference or interchangeability of the two is a discussion for another day) for over ten years now, it's a song and dance I'm quite used to and have finally responded by simply saying "I'm an author" and then pretending I don't hear anything else after that.  No, I as of yet have not been "legitimately" published, and I'm pretty okay with that.  Right now I'm focusing on finishing projects and cleaning them up, which one would hope precedes any actual publishing.  And with my impending move overseas looming in front of me, I don't exactly have time to see if I want to try sending things off to be published or not.  These aren't even excuses:  it's reality, and it's something that does not bother me.  It seems to really bother other people, though.  How dare I call myself an author when I haven't even been published before?  Sometimes I wonder if other people would also have a problem with finding out that anything I published was self-published, since there is certainly still a stigma around that in the writing world, but like most other things that's a topic for another day.

Believe it or not, this wasn't really where I was planning to go with my opening topic.  While I may not be published, many of my works are available in various formats for people to read - freely, even.  More than once I've pointed this out to those who lament that I'm not published for them to read...and the usual response?  "Oh, well, I'll read your books when they're published!"  Gee, thanks?  Where does that leave me in the mean time?  Oh, and thanks for insinuating that I'm not a real author and my novels have no real merit unless they're published...that's not what you meant?  Well, for me, and many other writers out there, that's sort of how we interpret it now.   Furthermore, we love beta readers.  What's a beta reader?  Someone who reads our drafts (and takes into account which draft it is) and helps us figure out what's working and what isn't.  That way when we do attempt publishing we're the best we can be at that stage, and you've got a finely polished book in your hands that you've apparently been waiting for so long to have.

Or maybe I'll just screw with everyone and only do electronic publishing.  What now.


  1. I get a glimmer of, "Ooh, really? Wow!" when I admit to having published a book, but their faces always fall as soon as I add that I'm self-published. I am so sick of that insufferable, "Ohh...(so you aren't really published. I see.)"

    So, yeah, I'm incredibly sick of hearing that question, too.

    ~ Morgan

  2. I really liked this post. You make a great point: that writers are (unfairly) only considered "legitimate" if they have been published. I especially found the analogy of artists and their artwork particularly enlightening. I mean, I don't know of ANYONE who would consider a artist who actually creates art, without having actually sold any pieces, still not an artist. However, writers are rarely thought of in a similar vein ("You're only a writer when you've been 'legitimately' published!"). I enjoyed the insight!


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