When Do You Know
You're an Author?
by Donna Alward
I started to
think about this a lot when someone posed the question on their E-harlequin.com
blog. When do you know you’re an author?
dictionary defines an author as a “writer
of a literary work (as a book).” According to this definition, one
needn’t sell that work to be considered an author. You only have to
write it. There you go…validation straight from Mr. Webster
I also looked up the definition for
writer and discovered that a writer is “one who writes
esp. as an occupation”.
between author and writer seems to be the almighty
dollar, but those of us in the trenches know that it’s not nearly as
simple as all that.
When did you first
realize you were an author? Was it the moment you first sat down to
write? When you finished your first manuscript or story? Was it
the first time you submitted your work to a publisher, or that first
rejection? Was it when you signed your first contract, or maybe
your tenth sale? Eightieth? Was it when you made your first
dollar? It is different for everyone, so I enlisted the help of a
few friends to share their experiences.
Harlequin NeXT author, said “I
knew I was an author when I put WRITER in the space on my passport
where they asked for occupation.” When you’re a writer in
the eyes of the tax man, I guess that’s pretty good validation!
“I knew I was an author the moment I
held my very first book in my hands. Seeing my name on the cover
was the biggest buzz!” says Nicola Marsh, Romance and
Presents Extra author.
But when can you stop being an employee
and be a full-time writer, and do you even want to?
Sorenson (Silhouette Romantic Suspense, Dell) said, “As
a stay-at-home mom, I had the opportunity to follow my dream. I was
willing to make financial sacrifices to stay home with the kids, so
why not make sacrifices for writing?”
I worked for several years and then had
my children and, like Jill, became a stay-at-home mom. Jill’s
right…we’d already made the sacrifice to be a one-income family, so
our finances didn’t change at all. But what about those who do have
I was working part time when I sold my
first book, and for the last few months of the school year I felt
pulled in too many directions. Suddenly I had deadlines and new
books to write, and there was nothing I wanted more than to be able
to stay home and write full time.
But some people thrive on the contact
that an outside job provides: Rachel Caine (Bombshell) says that she
likes the stability and socialization of employment, and while she’s
currently writing full time, is seriously considering going back to
work at least part time.
Writing for a
living is more than a job, though. When does your writing move from
being something you do to being a part of who you are?
I’ve always written. I remember being in elementary
school and needing a poem to go with a class project, and everyone
just turning around and looking at me, expecting me to write it. I
also remember whiling away hours in high school, pouring out my soul
in poetry and taking Creative Writing as part of my English degree.
Did I feel like an author? Nope. But the day I finished my first
complete manuscript, and my husband surprised me with a new watch,
it hit home – this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Jacqueline Diamond (Harlequin American) claims she always knew
she was a writer… “In college, for one
of those typical sociology assignments, another student asked two
questions: Who are you? and What are you? To both, I answered; A
There’s a big
difference between knowing it in your heart and sharing it with the
world. It can take a long time to get to a point where you feel
confident enough to come out of the authorial closet. There is no
right time…only you know when it is.
What is it we
fear? The reaction? Sometimes we aren’t comfortable saying it out
loud. There will be questions. When someone asks, “What do you
do?” and you respond “I’m an author”, frequently the next question
will be, “Are you published?” or “What have you published?” To
admit that you haven’t been published can sometimes make you feel
like af raud. How dare you
call yourself an author, when you don’t even have any books out!
Or perhaps you have
a day job and you’re doing that and writing. Do you say,
“I’m a teacher and a writer”? Do you mention the writing at all?
I had a really hard
time with this one. For some reason it felt so presumptuous of me
to call myself an author, especially during the five years it took
for me to get published. And even after I signed my first contract,
and had a title and release date, I still kept that part a little
bit quiet among the general population. Like no one would believe
me. Or maybe that they’d pat me on the head and say, “That’s nice
Part of that has
been bound up in being a newbie, especially when daily I’m
cyber-surrounded by other authors who have a backlist as long as my
arm. Fiona Lowe, Harlequin Medicals author, told me: “I was giving
a talk at a conference about conflict and I realized that I must
really understand it as I could answer all the participant's
questions. It really surprised me and I remember thinking, “Hey,
maybe I do know something after all.”
I’ll also admit I’m
getting more at ease with it as time goes on. With every new book
contracted, with a growing backlist, somehow I feel more comfortable
saying this is my job. With more titles under your belt, feeling
legitimate comes a little bit easier. But it probably won’t happen
overnight. “As far as truly feeling like a legitimate professional,
I'd have to say that it took at least ten years of steady
publication. Even then, I often feel like it's a dream that could
end at any time.” (Rachel Caine. Bombshell)
The truth of the
matter is, you’re an author when YOU decide, even if the world
doesn’t see it or acknowledge it yet. I know I worked very hard
before publication--I took it seriously. I wrote and got rejected,
and wrote some more and got rejected some more…but I can say with
absolute certainty that even if I hadn’t made that first sale, I’d
still be writing, and submitting. 2008 RITA finalist Samantha Hunter
concurs. “Authors don't just write with no endpoint, they finish
books, submit them, get rejected or accepted, and write some more.”
That says it so
much better than Mr. Webster, don’t you think?
Donna Alward is a Canadian author
for Harlequin Romance and belongs to the Calgary chapter of RWA (CaRWA).
You can visit her website at