The Difference Between Author and Writer

The question keeps coming around in writing/editing forums: At what point can a writer be dubbed an author?

Some folks feel the term only applies when the writer has published a work, generally a book, in the traditional way. If you write a lot but don’t offer your writing for publication, you’re a writer.

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I take the other position, believing that a writer becomes an author when they have completed a work.

To support this opinion, I turn first to the dictionary accepted as the book-industry standard, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, 11th edition. It defines “author” as:

“a person who has written something; especially : a person who has written a book or who writes many books : a person who starts or creates something (such as a plan or idea)”

Yep, that covers it.

To further substantiate my opinion, I also consider copyright law. The dictionary definition of copyright is “the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work).”

The law goes on to describe that a work is subject to copyright upon its creation. You don’t have to register a book with the official copyright office to be protected. The right is yours the minute you capture a creative work in tangible form.

Thus I think that a writer becomes an author when they write “the end” after however many pages. Whether that writing is released to the public does not factor in. There are many reasons why a work isn’t published; and the law does not require it to be in order to consider it valid.

What matters is that ideas have been organized in a unique way, and something involving time, labor, passion, persistence, and skill has made it from concept to existence. As anyone who has written a book knows, the investment of all those things is huge, and completion is a triumph. Whether or not it’s good, or sellable, is beside the point.

So congratulations to everyone who has composed a work with a beginning, a middle, and an end that conveys their intention. You are indeed an author and can claim that with pride.

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