Writers vs Authors

While goofing off on Twitter a while ago, I came across a stranger whose profile read that they are an author. When I saw it, I stopped in my tracks and wondered what my own profile said. A quick check revealed that I refer to myself as a “writer” despite having a few accomplishments under my belt.

I let it be and went about my day. But the thought kept bubbling back. The term “author” is (in the context of literature) synonymous with “writer.” But not every writer is an author. The English language is peppered with comparable words which have similar meanings but slight variations within a subset. Every glimpse is a look, but not every look is a glimpse. Authors and writers share such a distinction.

I admit that author has a degree of prestige, and that the label of “writer” does not. In my experience (translation: anecdotal evidence), if you tell your audience that you’re an author, they’ll want to know what you’ve penned. If you tell someone you’re a writer, they get bored. Granted, I’ve yet to have someone say, “That’s great tiger, keep living the dream…” as they condescendingly pat me on the back and excuse themselves to the bar. But the writer-title doesn’t really carry the weight of “author.”

I suppose the biggest difference between the two revolves around questions of pre and post production. A writer is focused on writing (what else?) but while an author might continue to scribe, he or she has other responsibilities around his or her finished works.

As I’ve wrapped up some pieces, I’ve come to ask myself questions regarding ideal etiquette for authors. A single Google search yielded plenty of examples of authors who have behaved badly over the last few years. I read these articles not for snark but to gauge and learn a few lessons.

Heck, I even sat back and recalled memories from author events I’ve visited. The first (and only) Black Library Weekender that I attended a few years back was an educational affair, as I watched how those authors handled large panels of interested fans. During that event, I even met a guy (I won’t be name dropping) who was observing the affair with very good reason: A little later, that same gentleman went on to publish several books with the Black Library, and was catapulted into their authorship ranks. My guess is that it was “training” for their new authors, a smart, premeditated PR move to teach them how to handle the crowds.

The one vice so many authors who behave badly make seems to be going after readers who leave poor reviews. The abuse isn’t one sided, I know. There are plenty of customers who haven’t even read a book and will leave a one-star review because of some obscure and perhaps unrelated issue they have. But it’s the poor reactions of the authors that are better remembered.

The professional author would probably say, “Never read the reviews. That way lies torture with no pay off.”

But the writer would say, “Read them, because of that one in twenty which provides invaluable feedback on how to improve your craft.”

I understand the thinking of both sides. On one hand, having a thick skin is a requirement in all things business, doubly so if it’s a matter of creativity. On the flip side, being too dense to improve helps no one and worse, may plateau one’s scrivener skills. It takes a fine balance to be open to improvement for the rest of one’s life.

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The Joy of Controversy

Yesterday, I sat down to talk about a controversial subject but ended up deleting the post. With a handful of anthologies due out soon, I decided, “Hey! Y’know, maybe you should wait until it’s just you before you screw up everyone’s careers with needless drama.”

There’s good controversy and there is bad controversy. Everyone has ugly thoughts, but we just pound on the few people who voice them. The joy of blogging is that if you take your time, you can eloquently discuss a controversial subject without offending anyone. You have all the words in the world, and you can carefully approach a topic and talk about it with respect.

There’s always going to be people who want you to screw that up though. Whenever you say something intelligently that they disagree with, they’ll probably ignore you. The most damaging thing they can do is pretend you never said it at all. Some are vicious enough to take whatever you said and pull a few words out of context, but they can reasonably be called on it.

But when you say something stupid? They will never forget.  The brother of my childhood friend used this quote a few times to explain the nature of this beast:

“You can build a million bridges, but if you suck one c$%^, you’re a c&#$sucker and not a bridge builder.”

I mentioned a couple of days ago how easy it is to get into trouble on Twitter. It’s true, a lot of celebrities have gotten into all kinds of hot water in 140 characters or less. Why? Well, 140 characters calls for putting a thought very concisely. Get it right or don’t bother. It’s easy to be passionate and not think about what you’re about to do, especially when the only thing between you and hundreds of thousands of followers is a typed sentence and the ‘Tweet’ button.

The internet is not one for giving things back. Before you ever tell that non-PC joke, send that tweet or publish that blog, take one hot minute and ask yourself:
1) Could this message start a swarm of angry, bothered people coming after me?
2) If so, is this statement something I’m jesting about, or am I serious about?
3) If I am serious, is it worth the trouble?

Chalk it all up to personal experience. Mastering answering these three questions have proven invaluable for in keeping me out of trouble probably 97% of the time. This has been a PSA in no way connected to that other 3% of the time.