Friday, December 9, 2016

The Writer vs The Author

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Did you know there's a difference between being a writer and being an author?

A writer is someone who creates art using only words. She creates story. A writer has all sorts of tools at her disposal. Pens and pencils, computers and tablets, story boards and craft books. A writer might be messy or organized. A writer might be highly motivated or not. Sometimes a writer writes because she wants to and sometimes she writes because she has to. Sometimes a writer doesn't write at all--she simply watches the world twist and turn around this moment and that and she allows story to percolate deep in her soul.

An author is different. While an author spends much of her time wearing her writing hat, she understands that though story might be the most important thing she does, if she wants her book on the shelf, she has other responsibilities. 

Keeping it simple: The writer's focus is craft and creativity whereas the author in us understands that publishing is an industry.

Young writers often confuse these two roles and falsely assume that being good at one means you will naturally excel at the other. In truth, mastering these two roles and finding a healthy balance for each in your day-to-day life, takes practice. 

Because the writing always precedes the authoring, the writer in us tends to be more dominant. We practice writing, fill our free time with words, and willingly surrender our resources for tools that will make us better. 

Today, I want to remind you that learning to be an author is just as important as learning to be a writer

Here are six skills you, as an author, must hone:

Respect others' time. This is the earmark of a true professional. Each interaction you have should begin with the understanding that everyone's time is valuable and no one has enough of it. From the readers who will one day read your stories to the agents and editors, sales reps and marketing gurus who will help make your book a reality--everyone is busy. Any time these individuals choose to devote to you and your stories is time they could be filling with any number of other things. Gratitude is never, ever amiss. Be sure to show it.

Take pride in your work. When you send off a story to an agent or editor, you are saying "I believe this belongs on a shelf somewhere." If you don't truly believe your work belongs on a shelf, you have some soul searching to do--or perhaps some rewriting. We never want to submit anything less than our best to industry professionals. Work hard, write well, and then rest in the pride that comes with a job well done. I know--I KNOW--this is hard for those of us who struggle with issues relating to our confidence and I don't mean to imply that if you struggle here, you're not fit to be an author. We all struggle with our own worthiness to some extent, but if we do not think we've created publishable work, it's dishonest to attempt to convince the professionals to believe something we do not. So work hard and then be proud of what you've accomplished.

Do your own research. In the course of any given day, I receive emails asking me for information the sender could have easily acquired by doing a simple internet search. Don't be this person. I know it's easier to drop someone an email or a text to gather information, but it's also lazy. Asking your agent or editor to do something you can do on your own is unprofessional and clutters their inbox with minutiae that screams, "MY TIME IS MORE VALUABLE THAN YOURS!"

Build your platform. As an author you'll be expected to cultivate an audience. Ideally, your stories will gather readers to your stage, but in the current climate, publishers are looking for authors who already have people gathering around to hear whatever it is they're saying. While your stories should absolutely take priority, you must give consideration to how you plan to interact with potential readers as you build your platform. More and more of this responsibility is falling onto authors and while social media has opened many doors, it is imperative that you learn to use it thoughtfully and intentionally.

Establish a support system. Your family will play a role here, I'm sure. As will any editors and agents you team up with along the way. But what I want to stress here is that your agent cannot be your entire support system. Neither can your editor. You will drain the life out of those who believe in your writing the most if you do not take the time to extend your reach beyond the obvious. Go to conferences. Join critique groups. Make friends in the industry, friends who will understand the unique calling and responsibility of being a storyteller. You'll need these friends along the way. They'll keep you sane. They'll keep you writing. And they'll keep you from taxing your agent and editor with expectations that are wholly unfair.

Meet your deadlines. This sounds simple at the outset, but as writing turns to authoring and your career begins to grow, so does the quantity of deadlines that must be met. Get yourself a calendar, mark these dates in permanent marker and do everything in your power to finish your job on time. As an author, your deadlines usually start the clock ticking for others and if you do not get your work turned in on time, you're eating up workdays that do not belong to you. Oh, look at that! We're talking about valuing others' time again. I cannot stress enough how important this is.

And that brings us full circle, I think. That whole respect thing. It's at the very core of being professional and is a foundational skill you must master if you're to be an author others want to work with.

I wonder, do you have a hard time balancing the writer in you with the author you're working to be? I do. At times, I struggle violently against it. The writer in me is selfish and wants to write only when she is inspired and hates waiting for others to do their job. It can be a challenge to maintain professionalism when writing requires such emotion of us. And yet, I so value these things in others. It shows maturity and a commitment to excellence. And the authors I admire most, work hard to hone these skills. 

How about you? Which persona is hardest for you to wrangle: the author or the writer?


  1. I really think I need to work a little in every area... life and writing is an ongoing process ;) I am good at finishing things, with deadlines, love research, and all that stuff. But sometimes I do feel drained and just need a break from my writing (so I have been learning after long periods of writing to just live for a couple days). I really enjoy writing, but I like it to be original, creative, flowing. I know that it can't always be that way with ease, though. Often I do need to just force myself to write, and work out the perfections later on.

    1. Me too! I am always looking to get better across the board! Don't feel guilty about taking breaks. They're necessary.

  2. These are great thoughts, Shan. The idea of building a platform really confused me as a new writer. When my first series got picked up without me having any kind of presence, I thought this meant I had outsmarted the system. What it actually meant is that it was extremely difficult for me to sell my books; I had such limited exposure to people! It's easy to think the platform is just something you do for publishers, but it really isn't. It's for anyone who wants people to read what they wrote!

    1. That's a really interesting point, Ms. Morrill! I've been working on building a platform ahead of time, but honestly, blogging is so much fun it hardly feels like that kind of publicity work. :) One question, though: is there an average number of followers that publishers consider to be significant? I love and appreciate all my readers, and I never want to see them as mere numbers, but it would be good to know what's worth mentioning to industry professionals and what's not.

    2. That's a great question, Tracey. And I understand what you mean because I feel similarly. That's the best kind of publicity work there is!

      It's been a few years since I've heard specific numbers throw around so I don't know how accurately I can answer your question. I've heard things like 5,000 Twitter followers, a blog following of 25,000, etc. Those numbers seem like huge things to expect from a debut fiction writer, and I do think there's more slack for first time novelists.

      But one encouraging thing I'm hearing is an emphasis on engaged followers. That publishers recognize not all followers are created equal, and that someone with a smaller but engaged audience has power to move the same or even more books than someone with a large but disengaged social media following.

      That's probably not as concrete of information as you were wanting, but I think it's important to keep building your audience the way it sounds like you have been. Where you care about them and they care about you.

    3. Thank you! That's good to know--even if it shows me I have a long way to go! XD It is encouraging to hear that publishers value engages followers too. Because what's the point of having 25k blog followers if most of them never read your blog? Thanks for the reply and encouragement! You guys make GTW such an awesome place.

    4. Thank you, Tracey! And Steph, you're always so on top of the numbers! I'll be real, the whole platform building thing is daunting at times and I feel like there's so many voices screaming for attention, it's often hard to be heard. But, nothing, NOTHING beats authentic interaction and I think it takes times, but platforms can be built that way. Small but real can slowly but surely grow into something more.

  3. I'd most definitely say the 'author' side of me is the one I have trouble with. Though I rather dreaded reading this article to see how far I had yet to go, I found the important points you made for being an author achievable, except maybe the platform part. Still not sure how to do that part. I've started blogging, but it's hard to know for sure what people like to read about (especially if you're a fiction writer, but you aren't about to post too much of your hopeful stories on a blog for public reading, or do you?). I think if you're a non-fiction writer, your blogging platform would work more accurately to show interest in your work. I don't know. *shrugs*

    1. YES! They are all achievable! Every single one of them. Blogging is an interesting beast these days--they say fewer and fewer readers are actually commenting on blogs which makes it insanely difficult for a writer to know how she's doing. I come back again to authenticity and consistency. These two things will serve you well.