Author vs Writer: What’s the Difference?

People often mix up the terms “author” and “writer”, but there is a difference. A writer is someone who wrote, but an author is someone who wrote books. There were many types of writers, and here, you’ll learn about what makes an author different from a writer, and how you can become one.

With this knowledge, you'll be able to better understand authorship and determine if your path is that of a writer or an author.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What is the difference between a writer and an author.
  2. Who originates the ideas and owns the writing
  3. Whether your work is published under your name
  4. Whether you should be a writer or an author
  5. How to become an author

What is a Writer?

A writer is someone who engages in the act and process of writing. This is a broad definition that encompasses many types of writing. Essentially, if you spend time writing creatively, whether it's fiction, nonfiction, prose, poetry, scripts, blogs, or journaling, you can consider yourself a writer.

The key criteria is that you are actively involved in writing as an ongoing pursuit or hobby. You don't necessarily have to be published or make money from your writing to be called a writer.

Types of Writers

There are many different types of writers that fall under the broad definition above. Some of the most common include:

  • Fiction writers – Writers who focus on fictional stories, novels, or other creative works. This includes genres like romance, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, historical fiction, and more.
  • Nonfiction writers – Writers who create factual, informational, or journalistic works like biographies, memoirs, self-help books, news articles, and blogs.
  • Freelance writers – Also known as commercial writers, freelancers are hired by companies, publishers, or individuals to create specific written content, like website copy, marketing materials, technical documentation, research reports, scripts, and more.
  • Journalists – Writers who report on factual events and news for newspapers, magazines, websites, TV, or radio.
  • Bloggers – Writers who create regular blog content focusing on a specific topic or niche.
  • Screenwriters – Writers who create scripts and screenplays for television, movies, and digital productions.
  • Content writers – Similar to freelance writers, content writers create written web content for businesses and websites.
  • Academic writers – Writers who create scholarly books, papers, articles, and other content, usually within a specific academic discipline.
  • Technical writers – Writers who create instruction guides, manuals, how-to guides, and other technical documentation.
  • Copywriters – Writers who create advertising and marketing materials like brochures, websites, digital ads, commercials, and more.

So basically, a ‘writer’ is anyone who writes, no matter the genre, format, or industry.

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What is an Author?

An author is a writer who originates ideas and content for a book or other literary work that is formally published. In other words, authors are published writers. Simply writing a manuscript does not make someone an author – it requires actual publication and distribution of the work.

Some key criteria that distinguish authors from general writers include:

  • They compose original ideas, stories, and information for publication in book format or other literary formats.
  • Their full work is published formally under their name, as the originator of the content.
  • They typically own the copyright and intellectual property of the published work.
  • There is an element of authority or expertise lent to being the named author of a published book or major literary work.
  • For full-length book publications, most authors partner with a publisher who prints, markets, distributes, and sells the book.

So an author is someone who comes up with the ideas for a book, and it is published under their name, giving them the rights to the content.

What’s the Difference?

While there is overlap between writers and authors, and all authors consider themselves writers, there are some key differences that distinguish the two titles:

Who Originates the Ideas

  • Writers may write up other people's ideas, rewrite content, or work from an assigned topic. For example, freelance writers are hired to write content for clients on various subjects.
  • Authors are the original creators and originators of the ideas, content, and stories covered in their literary works. Their books come from their own minds and perspectives.

Who Owns the Writing?

  • Writers usually write content that is owned or copyrighted by an employer or client. For example, freelancers who write website copy for a marketing firm don't own or have rights to that content.
  • Authors own the full rights and copyrights to their published books and works, since they are the sole creator. There are some exceptions if rights are sold or transferred to a publisher.

Is Your Work Published Under Your Name?

  • Writers may never see their name published or receive credit for written works. For example, ghostwriters or staff writers for companies.
  • Authors are published under their own name and are publicly credited for their books and other literary creations. Their named authorship is key to their title.

When it comes to publication, authors have two main options: traditional publishing or self-publishing.

Traditional publishing involves submitting book proposals to publishing houses, who then contract and publish approved manuscripts. The publisher handles editing, distribution, marketing, and sales. The author receives an advance and royalties.

Self-publishing allows the author to publish their book independently by paying for editing, design, printing, and distribution themselves. The author retains full creative control and rights over their work. Popular self-publishing platforms include Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, IngramSpark, and Draft2Digital.

Basically, an author credit is given to anyone who publishes a full literary work under their own name. The ideas and content have to be theirs in order for them to be considered the author of the book.

Should You Be an Author or a Writer?

So, how do you know which path is right for you? Here are a few tips:

Consider your motivation – Do you want to write for the joy of writing, or do you feel called to author and publish your own book? Writings fulfill the act itself while authors want to complete and distribute a major work.

Does originating ideas appeal to you? – Authors thrive on creating their own stories, worldviews, characters, and topics. If this suits you, authoring a book may be appealing.

Evaluate your commitment – Writing can be casual while authoring a book takes immense commitment. Are you excited by a major project and willing to spend months or years completing an entire manuscript?

Do you crave control over your work? – Authors maintain creative control and ownership over their books. If this control matters to you, authorship may be the path.

How do you feel about professional editing? – Writers may not get much editing while manuscript development and professional editing are key to authorship. If you're open to constructive feedback, authoring could work.

Consider public recognition – Writers often go unpublished while authors get public credit and recognition. If you desire acknowledgement, authorship provides this.

Weigh your willingness to promote a book – Writers have less marketing responsibility while authors must vigorously promote their books through tours, social media, and more. If you’re willing to be your book’s biggest champion through marketing campaigns, talks, and events, authoring has greater appeal.

Think about monetary motivations – Writing gigs can provide steady paychecks to writers while authors only earn money if their book sells. Advances and royalties over the long-term may incentivize those drawn to authorship.

These can help you decide if your temperament, motivation, commitment, and goals are more in line with writing or authorship. Know yourself before you decide which is the better fit.

How to Become an Author

If examining your motivations leads you to pursue authorship, here is a brief overview of common steps to publishing your first book:

  • Pick your genre or nonfiction topic – Choose a book category and narrow your focus to a specific concept, story premise, or area of expertise. Research the target market.
  • Create an outline – Map out your full manuscript with a beginning, middle, and end. Authors often start with a chapter outline and expand it as they write.
  • Write the first draft – With initial research done, it's time to start writing your manuscript. Set a regular writing schedule to maintain momentum. Expect many revisions along the way.
  • Hire a professional editor – Once the draft is done, invest in editing services to refine your manuscript. A critique of plot, characters, pacing, structure, and grammar is invaluable.
  • Design your book cover and interior – Work with a graphic designer to create an eye-catching cover and appealing interior formatting.
  • Choose traditional vs self-publishing – Decide which publishing route is right for your book and follow the steps to get your manuscript printed and distributed.
  • Market relentlessly – As the author, dedicating time to tirelessly promoting your book through social media, speaking engagements, book signings and any other creative avenues is vital to sales. Leverage your network.

This provides a high-level overview of the path to becoming a published author. We have much more in-depth information on successfully writing and publishing your first book available here.

Can You Be an Author Without Writing?

An interesting question that often comes up is whether someone can be credited as a book's author without writing the manuscript themselves. There are two common scenarios where this happens:

  • With a ghostwriter – Celebrities, public figures, and business leaders frequently hire ghostwriters to author their memoirs and guidebooks. The named author provides background info and may outline topics, while the ghostwriter does the actual writing. The celebrity is still listed as the credited author.
  • When physically unable to write – Writers who become paralyzed or lose the use of their hands may bring on co-writers who assist with the physical typing and writing. As long as the original author dictates the outlines and content, they maintain their authorship.

So in both cases, as long as the author initiated the ideas and content direction, they can get author credit even if they didn't physically type the manuscript themselves. The core creativity and ownership still stems from them as the originator.

Bottom Line: Get Writing

When you get right down to it, the only thing that writers and authors have in common is that they write. Regardless of your publishing aspirations, you have to start with writing. 

Maybe you just want to write short stories for fun, or you want to write a novel. 

Just start writing. 

Join a writing group for support. Take a class or workshop to get better. Or set aside time every day to write.

You won’t get far as an author if you don’t write every day. So write something every day. Just focus on writing at first. Worry about publishing later.

Learn to love the act of writing. And soon, you might find that you’ve taken the first steps to go from writer to author.

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