Authors and writers are one and the same, are they not? After all, your favorite author is the genius writer of your favorite novel, right? You may be surprised to learn that some professionals dislike being labeled a writer because they are, in fact, the author of a literary work. Confused? Let us help.
Today we use the labels of “author” and “writer” interchangeably. We mingle them so habitually that we forget a distinctive difference lives between them. Much like the spotlight we put on editing vs. proofreading, subjecting these two terms to a decoding exercise results in a better understanding of how and when to use each one.
The Job Description of an Author
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an author is first the creator or originator of an idea. They are the source of a story. You could use the adage “the brains of the outfit” to describe an author.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary goes on to state that an author is also the writer of a literary work. However, writing is their secondary task. Not only does an author create a literary idea, but they also write the literary work.
In effect, an author wears two hats. They generally infuse more into a literary work than writers do. As a result, you can understand why some authors might be insulted to be labeled as only a writer when their job description is more demanding.
The Tale of a Writer
In contrast, a writer wears only one hat. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a writer as “one that writes.”
Writers are usually given assignments or asked to pen down someone else’s words. In most cases, they are not the source or creator of the idea, which is yet another reason an author may be offended if labeled as a writer.
It is generally accepted that authors write novels and stories. Writers tend to inhabit the realm of magazines and articles. However, it is not uncommon for authors to sometimes work as writers, and writers to occasionally work as authors. Many industry professionals carry both titles by working under a pseudonym.
Enter the Pseudonym
A pseudonym, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a fictitious name; especially : pen name.” Many well-known professionals have worked under pseudonyms during their careers. For example, Mark Twain was Samuel L. Clemens’ pseudonym.
Professionals use fictitious names for many reasons. They afford a greater freedom to explore multiple genres without becoming pigeonholed or confusing their audience. After all, if you’re beloved thriller novelist suddenly hit the New York Times Review with a bestselling romance novel; some readers could refuse to read another mystery novel by the same novelist. Genres often create an image the audience associates with the author. And sometimes upsetting that image can be harmful.
The Bottom Line: The next time you’re facing the choice of labeling someone as an author or a writer, take a moment to think about the distinction between these two titles.
An author is the creator or originator of an idea who also writes the literary piece. A writer is the writer of a literary piece either by assignment or by penning someone else’s words. While writer is seen as an all-encompassing word, be aware that die-hard authors just might take offense to it.