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WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A WRITER AND AN AUTHOR?

Joan Signing at Diesel Books, Oakland
Photo by Rob Shiefer

 

What is the difference between being a writer and an author? I am sometimes asked. The process of writing a book (I have completed eight and sold seven) is so lengthy, so all-consuming, that it merits the separate designation. Author: a person who has completed a grueling, rewarding activity, composing a coherent narrative of some length—generally at least 60,000 words. Keeping track of all the threads over many years and tying them together, while maintaining some linguistic elegance, is quite different from the week-long task of writing an essay or article.

 

When I write the latter, I experience the joy of losing myself in the material and the composition, then sending it off. When it is accepted for publication I feel the immediate pleasure of reaching a reading public. Soon, I forget it until months or years later, I may come across it, and read it again with some fleeting interest.

 

With a book, every stage of the adventure lengthens. I labor for years, writing, revising, discovering the theme of my story (ah! That’s what it was) editing it over and over again, until off it goes to the agent. There it receives more scrutiny and will always require further revision. Ditto with feedback from the acquiring editor, and the managing editor, the copy editor, the proofreader. At each step I have another chance to make changes.

 

Finally, I work with the art director on the cover, the publicity director on the jacket copy, until many months later, a box of printed books arrives in the mail. I feel immense pride as I gaze at it, and more when I share the book with the world.

 

Simultaneously, though, I experience an emptiness, after all that intense effort. Here I have been engaged in an intimate process—just the material and me, night and day, year after year. Now the printed copy, allowing no opportunity to redo a sentence or add a word, is almost a dead thing. I enjoy readers’ delight with it, of course, but the book, for me, is no longer a living being, but rather an object, even if a cherished one.

 

The difference in being a writer and an author is profound. A writer of articles is a bit like being a baby-sitter for a week-end: a nice, quick gig, but hardly memorable. An author raises the progeny full-time, at least until it’s time for grammar school, ultimately saying Good-bye as one’s offspring leaves home to set out on an independent life.

 

The moment I have awaited for so long—publication—is always a mix of relief, loss, and pride. That is the life of an author.

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