Sunday, March 13, 2005


When I first met another person who wrote books for money (circa 1998) he introduced himself as an author. First thing out of his mouth, too: "Hi, I'm author John Smith."

A week later, I had to introduce myself to a critique group I'd joined through an ad at the library (not something I recommend, btw) so I said I was an author. After learning my first book had yet to be released, a lady in the group gently corrected me: "You're not an author, dear, until you actually have a book in print. Refer to yourself as a writer."

That was my first run-in with the Word Police. Interesting side note: they actually kicked me out of the group when they discovered that I wrote SF. Official Reason: none of them wrote it, read it, or understood it. Nothing to do with the fact that I was the only writer in the group who had sold anything, of course.

I thought it was like a rule or something, and referred to myself a writer until my first writer conference, at which I was introduced as an author. Which confused me, and I tried to correct, but I was again corrected -- by a moderator at a panel who was also a member of the Word Police -- and was told I was an author because I was published.

That time I was an author for about an hour, until I made a joke about it to another author on the panel. "Don't call yourself an author," this person said. "It's pretentious and it makes the writers who aren't published feel bad. You're a novelist."

Anyone with five books in print had to be right, right? And very high up in the ranks of the Word Police, I assumed. From that day I went around calling myself a novelist.

No one said anything for a few years, until an editor I pitched commented on my business cards, on which I had my name, pseudonyms and the job title novelist. "Calling yourself a novelist sounds so rookie," said this vocabulary cop. "You've got a bunch of books in print; put author on the cards." When I mentioned the advice about giving those not yet published a complex, the editor chuckled. "Who cares what the wannabes think?"

Don't get out your voodoo dolls; that editor no longer works in publishing. Does the Word Police have an Internal Affairs Division? I've always wondered . . .

Anyway, I went back to using author, very reluctantly, and switched occasionally to writer when no one was looking. I'd slip now and then and say novelist, too. One interviewer referred to me as a freelancer, evidently because I wrote in so many different genres. Then I started working writer-for-hire jobs, which threw hyphens into the mix.

I was so confused.

Hate mail didn't help. "Your writing sucks and so do all your novels," one staunch genre guardian informed me. "You're nothing but a hack." There were other words the SWAT Branch of the Word Police threw at me, but nothing I could put on my business cards (I still really like nemesis, though, G. Has kind of an elegant ring to it.)

Two years ago I gave up trying to please the Word Police about the same time I stopped caring about a lot of stuff. So depending on my mood, I can be a writer, author, novelist, hack, hired gun, or whatever else you want to call a person who writes books for money. True, the terms likely all offend someone, but until you people get together and decide on one word, I'm going with whatever pops into my head.

I might even get creative with it. Plot Crisis Manager, now there's a job title for you . . .

1 comment:

  1. This piece made me laugh. I have just built up the courage to call myself a writer/poet. I actually feel like a flasher when I mention it - usually with my hand over my mouth.


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