Who is a “professional author” and are they any different from a writer?
Back in June, I wrote a post in response to a column — and I use that word loosely — claiming that indies and small press published authors were destroying the publishing industry. To be specific, the fellow I was responding to contended that those of us who weren’t going the traditional route and paying our dues by trying to find an agent and then get a contract with a legacy publisher were destroying literature. Well, guess what? He’s at it again and I just can’t sit back and not respond yet again.
Michael Kozlowski is “the editor in chief” (that is exactly how it appears on the site, not editor-in-chief) of Good eReader. His latest words of wisdom (yes, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek) is titled “Self-Publishers Should Not Be Called Authors”. According to him, “I think a line needs to be drawn in the sand so that we know who is the real deal.” The real deal, you see, is the distinction between who is a writer and who is an author. So yes, my children, you can only be a author (I supposed that is said with your nose in the air and a sense of entitlement surrounding you) if you have a “real” publisher. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or how many books you’ve written. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not being fair to Kowzlowski. So let’s look closer at what he has to say.
“Just because its easy to upload your written word, so that it can be downloaded to another machine does not make you an author, any more than me buying a stethoscope allows me to be called a doctor.” Sigh. Here’s a classic example of comparing apples to oranges. Unless, of course, he’s saying that you have to go to years and years of college and have mountains of student loan debt in order to be au author. His next example, the difference between being a singer and a “professional” singer makes a bit more sense. Maybe he’s just saying that you need to be a pro in order to qualify for that wonderful title of “author”.
(Right here, I’ll stop and admit that one thing that often cues a reader into whether or not someone is a new writer — or author — and who hasn’t gotten a legacy publishing contract is how the person identifies himself on social media. John Smith, author on Facebook quite often means someone who is newly published, quite often as an indie. I urge people not to use this sort of tag because it does make it look like you are a newbie and that doesn’t necessarily serve you well.)
“There is a stark contrast between being a writer and being a professional author. Many indie writers who publish a title or two on Amazon or Smashwords normally think otherwise. They wear the title as an author as a badge of honor.”
What is the contrast and how is he defining a professional author? He still hasn’t really told us anything except a professional author can’t be an indie. Hmmmm. It is starting to look like money and not necessarily quality of work is what he is looking at. My other issue with the above quote is that he says “many indie writers” think otherwise. How does he know? What sources is he using? If we are to take him seriously, shouldn’t he give us facts to back up his comments?
He does point out that some writers organizations such as RWA and Published Authors Network have now expanded their “pro” levels to include indies but that the indies have to make more than a traditionally published author to be recognized as a “professional author”. According to Kozlowski, this is because it is easier to earn money as an indie than it is as a traditionally published author. The problem with that statement is that it oversimplifies the issue. It isn’t “easier” to earn more money as an indie. The fact of the matter is, as an indie, you receive more of the cover price — much more — than you do as a traditionally published author. You don’t have a publisher who is keeping something like 65% or more of the cover price for themselves. Nor do you have an agent taking 15% – 20% of what you get paid. So, if you are putting a monetary requirement on traditionally published authors for members as “pros”, it is only fair to require an indie to perform at an equivalent sales level.
It all basically comes down to this, according to Kozlowski: If you can earn your living from your writing, you are a professional author, anyone else is just a plain old writer.
That sound you just heard was the sound of innumerable heads of people who have met the “pro” requirements for their respective writers’ organizations, who have had multiple traditional publishing contracts exploding because they aren’t, according to Kozlowski, professional authors. Why, you ask. Because they don’t make their living from writing.
Here is where Kozlowski falls into the trap so many people who aren’t part of the industry do. He seems to think if you have a contract, or several contracts, with a traditional publisher, you must live the life of Castle or other fictitious authors we see on TV. He ignores the fact that most books never earn out their advances. He ignores the fact that each subsequent print run is then lessened based on the sell-through of the previous book and that, in turn, lowers the advance for the author. Instead, he thinks only the best sellers should be “professional authors” — and that ignores the fact that many best sellers, if they are honest with you, will also admit that their advances aren’t what they used to be.
No where in his post does he address quality of writing, quality of editing, formatting or cover design. It is, yet again, an attack on indies. When he is called on it in the comments, he attacks back. He ignores the comments that do try to engage in a debate with him. In fact, if you really want to know what his opinion about indies, all indies, happens to be, this one comment pretty much tells all — “Real Authors are ones that make money from their books, anyone can submit a word doc, a real author lives from their book sales.”
Or then there is this comment, “When you can’t find fault with a valued statement you have to attack the author, typical of you indie idiots.”
Or this, “I wish we could just cull 90% of indie writers and use them for bio-fuel.”
This is from a man who keeps claiming that the only way to help indie authors is to standardize terminology. Well, I have a standard for him. A “professional” author is someone who takes pride in his work, who does everything possible to make sure he puts out the best product possible and who continues to try to hone his craft, all the while getting paid for it. He doesn’t have to belong to any particular organization nor does he have to have a traditional publishing contract. He doesn’t have to write any particular genre nor does he have to follow in the footsteps of any author before him. He has to write. He has to follow what is going on in the industry and adapt as the industry adapts. No, he doesn’t have to be making his living from writing but he does have to be making money from it. As he publishes more and more work, he should see that money increase. He has to look at writing as his job and treat it as such, even if it is his second “job”.
But then, that’s just my opinion as an indie and small press published author who does qualify for RWA PAN (pro level) members but not SFWA because they have yet to recognize indie and small press work.