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Published or Not Published? - that is the question

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

This discussion has come up in some of the other threads, so I thought it should be on it's own.

We've already covered, multiple times, the issues with getting on with an agent or a publishing house. However, one question that came up and I didn't see a clear or uniform answer on, is: Exactly what is meant by being a published author now?

In the past you had two options:

1. Get picked up by a Publishing House to print your story.

2. Use a Vanity Print House to print your own books for sale.

Today there are more options:

1. Get picked up by a Publishing House to print your story.

2. Use a Vanity Print House to print your own books for sale.

3. Publish through an Electronic Publishing House where they have internal editors approve or reject books for sale via them as e-books.

4. Self Publish via sites like Lulu, Amazon, Draft 2 Digital, etc.

...................

I think we can agree anyone who gets accepted and stories sold via options 1 or 3 above is a published author. I also think we can agree if someone uses options 2 or 4 and the only books purchased are by them which they give out free to family and friends aren't published authors.

Personally, I think if someone uses options 2 or 4 and they sell the books for cash via fairs, car boot sales, or on-line they count as a published author. If someone use options 2 or 3 or 4 and they have more than 20 copies sold on-line for which they receive an actual royalty (as against free copies given away) they count as a published author regardless of the sales being a print book or an e-book.

...............................

Please indicate if you agree or disagree with my opinions on what is a published author above.

...................................

It's only through the points others raised on this issue that I've looked into this further, and while I don't have a contract with a major print house I feel I qualify as a published author.

The first fiction stories I had out in the world was back around 2005 or so via an Irish e-book publisher who vetted the manuscripts and then decided on what they would or wouldn't have on their site. Through them I have the original 7 book Clan Amir series, and six other books they've been selling for me on which I get royalties. Over 200 copies sold through them.

Through Lulu I have 110 stories in 39 books plus 6 help guides available as print books or e-book. Since the first sale via Lulu on August 6th 2008 I've sold 7,354 books. However, about a third of those have been books I have at zero dollars for various reasons. Over the almost ten years I've earned almost $13,000 from the book sales with the bulk of that coming from Lulu.

NB: The Clan Amir series on Lulu is a single book Omnibus only.

While I've never had a contract with a print publishing house, I think you'd have a hard time saying I'm not a published author of fiction stories.

typo edit.

robberhands

@Ernest Bywater

I'm not certain how to understand your list. Is the list exclusive? So, someone who sells a hundred copies of his book, either via a publisher or by self-publishing, is a published author, but someone who posts his stories on a publically accessible website and has 10,000 readers, is not a published author?

Well, if so, then the term 'published author' appears to be a meaningless vanity label.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

I think we can agree anyone who gets accepted and stories sold via options 1 or 3 above is a published author.


I'm not familiar with 3 but it also sounds like a 'no' to me. The BBC, for example, wouldn't allow such authors to enter their national story writing contest because it's only for published authors, and an Electronic Publishing House wouldn't appear in its list of acceptable publishers.

AJ

red61544

@Ernest Bywater

I think it depends entirely on who you ask. If you ask the New York Times book editor, he will say that only those manuscripts falling under your #1 option are actually published works. After all, they are the only books that ever appear on the NYT Best Sellers List. They are also the only books considered for most awards from the Edgar to the Pulitzer.

Many people wouldn't consider a person who writes only for magazines or a newspaper a published author. They reserve that title for those who have published books.

That leads to the question of what constitutes an author as opposed to a writer? Is the title "author" only reserved for those who have been published; does it imply a level of skill above a mere writer or can anyone who endeavors to write more than his weekly shopping list be considered an author? How about a diarist or a copywriter for an ad agency? Are they writers or authors and what constitutes the difference?

This could easily become one of those endless discussions.

Ernest Bywater

@robberhands

In the other threads some people were implying only those who had a book published via a recognised publishing house is a a published author.

I'm not excluding any other options, just listing the two options that were all that was available, plus two more modern options where you can get paid for your story today. If you wish to include more options, feel free to do so.

Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking

AJ,

There are e-book publishing houses out there that don't provide print books at all. However, they do have editors and an in-house selection process where a manuscript has to be approved before they allow it to be on their site. So the stories are vetted by experienced editors and either rejected or approved for distribution. That's much the same as the traditional publishers, except no typesetting or printing.

As to if the BBC accepts it for their contest or not isn't a relevant filter as they only allow authors from a select list of print publishers, according to what was said before, and not all print publishers. So the BBC is already ignore a lot of published authors, this is just another group they're ignoring.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ross at Play
Updated:

@robberhands

Well, if so, then the term 'published author' appears to be a meaningless vanity label.

Forget the term 'published author'; consider what the word 'published' means.

Publish is a transitive verb.
When the past participle of a transitive verb is used as an adjective it MEANS the noun being modified is receiving the action of the verb.
When the present participle of a transitive verb is used as an adjective it MEANS the noun being modified is performing the action of the verb.

So, a 'published author' is someone whose works have been published by someone else - and that's it. Their level of sales and whether their works were published in print or digital format is utterly irrelevant to whether they are published authors.

This site has some successful self-published authors, but the fact they've sold many more books than many published authors does not make them published authors too.

For the options listed in the OP, #1 and #3 satisfy the meaning of 'published author', while #2 and #4 only satisfy the meaning '(self-)publishing authors'.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

I didn't know this was meant to be a grammatical question.

Replies:   Ross at Play  REP
Ernest Bywater

@red61544

That leads to the question of what constitutes an author as opposed to a writer?


True, and 30 years ago the dividing line was closely watched by a bunch of gatekeepers at the print houses so you couldn't get your book out there before the public. No one had a way around that unless they paid to have the book printed themselves - the way Grisham did with his first book. However, with the Internet and self publishing it's now a lot easier to get your work out there before the public. The old gatekeepers are screaming hard to reserve the right to continue to be the arbitrators of what is and isn't allowed to be read by the public, but are rapidly losing ground.

Of course the gatekeepers want to continue to control the gate to have their power and income, but now they can be sidelined.

Are they writers or authors and what constitutes the difference?


That question is an integral and key part of the reason why I thought to start this thread.

Replies:   REP
Ross at Play
Updated:

@robberhands

I didn't know this was meant to be a grammatical question.

I'd say the grammatical answer is clear-cut. :-)

When the expressions are used as jargon they probably do take on extra nuances among various groups, but I don't see those as ever contradicting their literal grammatical meanings.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

I'd say the grammatical answer is clear-cut.

Grammatical maybe, but it could be a semantic issue. Although an author's stories can be published, I don't think it's proper to describe an author as being published.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


Please indicate if you agree or disagree with my opinions on what is a published author above.


In the "Today," numbers 1 and 3 could be the same publishing companies. The Big 5 (e.g., #1) offer books in print (#1) and digital (#3) and maybe audio. Though it's true some small publishers only publish ebooks (#3).

I think Hugh Howey and other successful self-pubbed authors would disagree that only #1 is published.

I also don't believe the sales should be in the equation. What that shows is how successful you are. And the success might simply be your marketing skills.

When I put my novel on Amazon, I tell people I published it. Because I did. Even if it never sells a single copy.

The question is, are my self-pubbed novels as good as the traditionally published ones? I'll never know. That's why I originally wanted to go the traditional publishing route. I wanted someone to confirm it's as good. But I couldn't put up with the industry for my Young Adult novel and there are no publishers for my erotica.

And you have to take into account the size of the publisher when you say you're traditionally published. The small publishers can't get your books on bookstore shelves (so why give them a large chunk of your royalty?). A lot don't provide editors. A lot do cheap covers. So if you sign a contract with one of them and they publish your book, are you traditionally published? You're published and you're not self-published and it's not a Vanity Publisher. I can start up an indie publishing company and publish your book. Are you traditionally published if I do that?

The industry is changing.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@red61544


Many people wouldn't consider a person who writes only for magazines or a newspaper a published author. They reserve that title for those who have published books.


If you get published in a magazine, you're a published author. Now if it's a fly-by-night nothing of an online magazine, there's not much value in being published by them.

College professors have to be published in order to keep their jobs or tenure (I'm not in that field so I don't know the details). So they find a small publisher to publish their book. They're published. But the only sales they probably make is when they require the book be used in their class.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ross at Play
Updated:

@robberhands

Grammatical maybe, but it could be a semantic issue. Although an author's stories can be published, I don't think it's proper to describe an author as being published.

As a question of usage rather than grammar, I'd agree that 'published author' should mean something - something more than published anywhere, as long as it was done by someone else.

I have no idea how to classify the extra criteria I'd want to see before I'd be comfortable using that term.

ETA - I think Switch's musings on it being a "gray area" were spot on.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

Well then, since I submit my stories to the SOL administrator, and he's the one who makes the decision to publish my stories on his site and acts accordingly, I feel grammatically justified to call myself a published author.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

I feel grammatically justified to call myself a published author.

Liars, damn liars, and grammarians. :-)

Banadin

Publishing is the act of presenting to the public. Any other definition is that of a vested interest group whose self interest is paramount and should be treated as such. A published author is one whose work has been presented to the public; cuniform, papyrus, paper, smoke signals or photons. Payment is irrelevent. That there are different prestige levels of being published is also true. A story published on SOL does not carry the same prestige as being on the NYT best seller list. Sigh.

Replies:   Capt. Zapp
Capt. Zapp

@Banadin

A story published on SOL does not carry the same prestige as being on the NYT best seller list.


It may not be prestigious, but I have read more on SOL (almost 1700 stories) than from the NYT BS list (Zero).

REP
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


I'm not familiar with 3 but it also sounds like a 'no' to me


It is essentially option 4 with someone aiding the author with editing, marketing, and distribution.

REP

@robberhands

Well, if so, then the term 'published author' appears to be a meaningless vanity label.


I agree.

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

I'm not certain how to understand your list. Is the list exclusive? So, someone who sells a hundred copies of his book, either via a publisher or by self-publishing, is a published author, but someone who posts his stories on a publically accessible website and has 10,000 readers, is not a published author?

I think that someone who posts online, whether stories or a simple (or complex) blog, is either an 'online poster' or an 'online blogger'. Publishing is a more specific term, meaning they make their books available for sale (even if they only offer them for free). That involves formatting the document, either for print, or in a formalized ebook format (mobi, epub, pdt, etc.). However, simply posting words on a page doesn't count as being "published".

That's not to diminish bloggers, as some do quite well for themselves, but it's a different technical specification.

However, I'd have to question Ernest's definition of '20 or more copies', as that seems a dubious quantity, as it's a purely subjective number, not based on any specific objective guideline. If we start taking individual definitions, we'll have thousands of different definitions, from selling 2 copies to 5 million.

Replies:   REP
REP

@red61544

That leads to the question of what constitutes an author as opposed to a writer?


I would say a writer regurgitates facts in things like magazines and newspapers. Authors take an idea or concept adds imagination and generates a story.

Replies:   red61544
REP

@robberhands

I didn't know this was meant to be a grammatical question.


It may not have been. Ross blew it from a grammatical point of view when he added 'by someone else'. The dictionaries don't define who is doing the publishing.

I consider posting a story on SOL to be publishing a story for it meets the definition of making it available to readers. No mention of financial compensation in the dictionary either.

REP

@Ernest Bywater

True, but their being gate keepers is a different issue.

REP

@Crumbly Writer

Publishing is a more specific term, meaning they make their books available for sale (


Go check a few dictionaries and you will find they don't mention the stories have to be sold, all the dictionaries say is the stories must be distributed to the public.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I'm not familiar with 3 but it also sounds like a 'no' to me. The BBC, for example, wouldn't allow such authors to enter their national story writing contest because it's only for published authors, and an Electronic Publishing House wouldn't appear in its list of acceptable publishers.

I'm not sure the BBC is a qualified definition of who IS or IS NOT qualified. Rather, they're simply trying to weed out the novice from the accomplished, and 'traditionally published' is a more restrictive guideline than 'anyone with a book for sale'. Their definition is probably left over from 20 or 30 years ago, rather than a definitive review of current publishing trends.

@red61544

Many people wouldn't consider a person who writes only for magazines or a newspaper a published author. They reserve that title for those who have published books.

I think we're being overly restrictive here. Again, we're talking 'published', not 'recognized as a best-selling novelist by the N.Y. Times'. Thus, yes, anyone 'published' in a major magazine (i.e. something you don't print in your basement with a memo machine or a $120 print) is a 'published author'). I'm not sure how you'd define a 'self-published magazine', as that's not really an accepted category.

This could easily become one of those endless discussions.

Now this I can agree with, as most of these distinctions are based on nothing more than random contests, random opinions, or random points of view.

As for the definition of 'writer', if you check the damn dictionary, anyone who can spell the alphabet is technically a 'writer'!

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ross at Play
Updated:

@REP

Ross blew it from a grammatical point of view when he added 'by someone else'. The dictionaries don't define who is doing the publishing.

It is implied by their definition of publish as a transitive verb.

Try it with a different transitive verb, accuse. In the statement, 'the accused man was found not guilty', who did the accusing? Was it the 'accused man' or somebody else?

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

If you get published in a magazine, you're a published author.


I believe the BBC included a few highbrow magazines in their list.

I have to admit, when a 'writing-expert' blogger claims to be a published author, I check Amazon to see what books they've had published, and whether the publisher is reputable.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

I'm not sure the BBC is a qualified definition of who IS or IS NOT qualified. Rather, they're simply trying to weed out the novice from the accomplished


The BBC's criteria are pretty much in line with other story competitions open only to published authors, although some don't specify a list of publishers but require the author to specify the details of who published their work and it's up to the competition holders to verify.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@REP

It may not have been. Ross blew it from a grammatical point of view when he added 'by someone else'. The dictionaries don't define who is doing the publishing.


Otherwise self-published author would be an oxymoron.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Otherwise self-published author would be an oxymoron.

No, 'self-published' is the legitimate opposite of 'other-published'. But people only say 'published' for that because the 'other-' would be redundant.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

I still don't believe grammar can answer the question when are you allowed to call yourself a 'published author'. You, Bruce, may feel an elevated self-worth due to grammatical correctness but I assume most other authors are longing for another form of acknowledgment to set themselves apart from the inferior masses of unpublished bloggers.

Replies:   Ross at Play
red61544

@REP

I would say a writer regurgitates facts in things like magazines and newspapers. Authors take an idea or concept adds imagination and generates a story.


That describes what an author of fiction does; but what about non-fiction? Biographers try to "regurgitate" all of the facts and find some new ones. If the author of a cookbook didn't stick to the facts, it could cause severe indigestion.

To all the grammarians, you missed one. My initial post in this thread used "who" instead of the correct object of a preposition "whom".

Replies:   Ross at Play  REP
Ross at Play

@robberhands

I still don't believe grammar can answer the question

I agree. At best it provides a part of the answer, but I would never classify anyone who self-publishes to be a 'published author', no matter how successful they may be.

I assume most other authors are longing for another form of acknowledgment to set themselves apart from the inferior masses of unpublished bloggers.

I can see the need for that, and a strictly literal interpretation of the expression is not enough. So what if someone else publishes an author's story! I would not consider that gives it any credibility until I know who published it.

The expression needs some extra criteria to have any useful meaning. What should those be? We could discuss that here forever, and we possibly will. My choice would be something like whoever did the publishing chose the story knowing that their profits would depend on its popularity. That is quite arbitrary and I've no interest in discussing whether agree with it or not.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

There are e-book publishing houses out there that don't provide print books at all.


I think there's a useful analogy between a book appearing in print and a movie getting a cinema release. A book only available as an e-book is analogous to a movie going straight to video or a TV movie.

Whether people think it's justified or not, there's still enormous industry cachet attached to a reputable publisher releasing a print edition of a book.

AJ

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ross at Play
Updated:

@red61544

To all the grammarians, you missed one. My initial post in this thread used "who" instead of the correct object of a preposition "whom".

We've discussed this before and I doubt you'll find anyone here who'd be fussed by what you wrote, which was:

I think it depends entirely on who you ask.

Especially for fiction, even the strictest of grammarians here seem content to ignore technical rules of grammar when following them would sound too stuffy or archaic.

I get very flexible with the cases for personal pronouns. I try to get those correct near the beginning of clauses, but later on I'll generally use what sounds "natural". For instance, I often use "me" instead of "I" when the following word is not a verb. Likewise, I rarely use "whom" unless it is following "to".

PotomacBob

@robberhands

What does a publisher do? If you post your story on SOL, who is the publisher? You? or SOL? How does a publisher differ from the person (or company) who prints your book?

REP

@red61544

If the author of a cookbook didn't stick to the facts, it could cause severe indigestion.


Biographers take facts and create an imaginative way to present them so they are entertaining. The same with non-fiction authors.

I consider cook books to be written by writers. They may be creative as cooks, but the writing isn't intended to be creative.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


Whether people think it's justified or not, there's still enormous industry cachet attached to a reputable publisher releasing a print edition of a book.


I never said otherwise. The issue is some people say you're only a published author if one of the big publishing houses takes your book and does a full print run then distributes it through their system. While that may have been true 40 years ago, it's not true today due to the many electronic options available for distribution and making it available to the public.

So the issue today is where do you draw the line, and how do you define the new line? Which is the point of the discussion, to get people thinking and talking about that to see if we can find a reasonable consensus on the new line.

typo edit of ti=it

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

While that may have been true 40 years ago, it's not true today due to the many electronic options available for distribution and making ti available to the public.


We'll have to disagree on that. The industry has its jargon, and whether it's traditional publishers, book reviewers like the New York Times, story competition organisers like the BBC, or various creative writing courses and groups, more respect is accorded authors who meet their criteria of 'published author'.

ETA:
If Joanna Average writes a good novel, which she thinks is a good prospect for commercial success, and sends it to a reputable agent, the chances of the novel not being rejected are around 1%. Even then the agent may stipulate considerable reworking before it's good enough to submit to a reputable publisher.

It's that degree of selectivity which makes the cachet of being a published author so enduring. Alternatives to a reputable publisher will have to match that exclusivity before users can legitimately claim equality with published authors.

AJ

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