Guest post: ‘When is a writer an author?’ by Bob Frey

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writers and authors, is brought to you by novelist and short story author (writer?) 🙂 Bob Frey.

When is a writer an author?

Is any writer an author? Or does he or she only become an author when someone reads what they have written? Or does it go beyond that? Does a writer only become an author when his or her words are published? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, an author is a) the original writer of a literary work, or b) one who practices writing as a profession.

Let’s examine the first definition. What is a literary work? Again, according to the dictionary, literature is a body of writing in prose or verse. It then goes on to say: imaginative or creative writing, esp. of recognized artistic value; belle letters. Under definitions for literary, it says relating to writers or the profession of literature. The second definition, b) is self-evident: someone who makes his or her living writing books.

While these definitions may be a bit old fashioned, they infer that to be an author one must produce works of recognized artistic value or be a professional writer. That is, someone who earns a living from their creative works.

However, what is recognized artistic value? Who’s to say? Must it be a positive review by a professional New York Times literary critic or someone similar? Or could it be your next-door neighbor or your spouse? Most people would probably go with the professional. But where does it begin or end? Is a good review by an obscure website or the Big Timber Pioneer as valuable as one by the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times? If it must be a rave review by a prestige reviewer, then there are a lot of books being sold that were penned by writers not authors. In addition, there are a tremendous number of writers or non-authors out there who are producing books who have not quit their day jobs, and someone who lives off their writing, is the exception and not the rule.

How this came up was in a discussion, well, an argument really with my better half. She maintains that if someone truly loves to write, they would write for their own pleasure and not care if anyone read it, or at the very least not give a darn if the story or book was published or not. I maintain that in order to be validated, someone must be willing to pay money to read what I have written. I enjoy the pats on the back by family and friends, but until someone puts down hard cash for my work, I feel I am not truly validated. It’s like acting. I was an actor for many years. I did a lot stage acting and acting in films, both amateur and professional. But believe me in those films for which I was paid SAG wages, I felt a helluva a lot better and more validated than the ones for which I received a pat on the back. Maybe I’m just mercenary, but, if so, that’s who I am. What about you? As a writer, what makes you feel validated? And when do you think a writer becomes an author?

I’m reminded of one curious case. I’m speaking of Franz Kafka. The way I understand it, not only did he not try to be published, he left instructions to destroy what he had written after his death. Maybe he was ashamed of his writing or didn’t think it was very good. But if you haven’t read Kafka, you are in for a treat. I wish I had never read him, so somebody could introduce me to him, so I could sit down, read his works, and feel like I had discovered a goldmine or won the lottery. He was an author whether he knew it or not. I just defeated my own argument. Maybe my wife was right.

As someone who is leaving their job in 11 (working) days (yes, I’m now counting!), this couldn’t be more timely (and scary!). Thank you Bob!

Bob Frey loves to entertain, make people laugh and think, and, perhaps, shake them up a little. He was a copywriter for several top Los Angeles advertising agencies and received several awards for his creative work. When he turned to writing fiction, he found it was a whole new ballgame and he had a lot to learn. He has since published a couple of mysteries, The DVD Murders and The Bashful Vampire Murder & Comic Book Murders, and Catawampus Tales, a book of short stories, a mixed bag of fast food for the mind.

Also an actor, he has appeared in some forty independent films and stage plays. Now retired, he lives in Sandy, Oregon, with his wife, Susan. Bob’s website is

mixed bag of fast food for the mind” – I love that. 🙂 If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with multi-genre author (or is that writer?) 🙂 Jean Henry Mead – the one hundred and tenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.

7 thoughts on “Guest post: ‘When is a writer an author?’ by Bob Frey

  1. williamdoonan says:

    Well this is an interesting post, Bob. You got me thinking. I’ve written two books – Grave Passage, and Mediterranean Grave. And yes, people have paid to read them. Precious few, but still precious people have plunked down their change, and that does validate me. I do write for pleasure, but I don’t have any interest in writing just for me, so I want people to buy my books, even if I have to make them super cheap for that to happen. But as to whether that makes me an author, I’m not sure. But I am sure that it’s up to me to decide. I’m an author when I say I’m an author. I’m just not there yet.

    William Doonan


    • Bob Frey (@AuthorBob) says:

      Hi, William:

      Some authors think writers were brainwashed by tradional publishers into thinking if they were not published by a legimate house their work wasn’t very good. In that way, they created a monopoly. It’s an intersting theory. I know I tried my damnest to get published with no success, and felt defeated by all the rejection slips. Since I published my own stuff, I feel a lot better about my self and my writing.



  2. Jane Risdon says:

    Really interesting Bob, thank you. I asked this very same question last week when I suddenly wondered if I were a writer or not, having written for years and only published Industry articles concerned with my previous incarnation in the entertainment business – not a novel or short stories. I am shy to call myself an author as I feel an author is the writer of published material and making money from it. However, perhaps a writer is one who writes and I can call myself that…I am still a bit shy about calling myself either.


    • Bob Frey (@AuthorBob) says:

      Hi, Jane:

      We all have to start out somewhere. Very few people are good writers from the get-go. My first writing experience was as a tech writer for electronic manuals. I’ve now written a number of books but I am still learning. As I said in the article, you are your best editor. If your writing pleases you, chances are it will please someone else.



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