Or, when is an author an author?

published 1

Yes, you read the title correctly, I kid you not. Last week I was perusing a Google+ writers’ community and there it was, posted in all its inglorious splendor—a writer shouting to the literary world that s/he had finally fulfilled her/his (“he/his” from here on) lifelong dream of becoming a published author. I read the euphoric pronouncement which was also somewhat grammatically-challenged; perhaps in his excitement the author’s fingers leapt ahead of his brain. This new contribution to literature was a PI mystery, one of my favorite genres.

John D. MacDonald

I clicked the link to the author’s title, available as an ebook only, from “A” large venue—no name-dropping here. In celebration of its release, the novel was on sale for a measly $0.99, limited time only. Hmm, the cover was so-so. Okay, I’m being kind; it whispered, “Amateurish!” but I scrolled down to check out some of the twenty-seven reviews (all four & five stars) the book had garnered in only its third day of publication. Not bad—pretty darn good actually. There were comparisons to John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Lee Child, even Raymond Chandler. “Bold, witty.” “Didn’t see the ending coming.” “The action is fast-paced, like a runaway train.” “Couldn’t put it down,” etc., etc.

dollar bill 1

Wow, what’s not to like, and for less than a buck! But wait . . . I scrolled back up. Only 96 pages. Come on, this was touted as a novel, not a novella, the first in a continuing series of Blankety Blank Mysteries. That <dollar was stretching a little thin. But what the hey, it might turn out to be a great read. I wasn’t going to give up on what promised to be an exciting new PI series simply because the first course was a little on the light side.

It was nitty-gritty time, the “Look inside” feature. As I left-clicked on the cover, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” ran through my mind. I scrolled past the cover, the usual copyright, acknowledgments, dedication, and those annoying chapters one-through-whatever in blue.

Ah, finally—Chapter 1.

fancy font 2

Yikes! The entire first line was set in some almost illegible script font. Each paragraph was indented a third of the way across the page. No justification, and the text of this 96-page tome were generously double-spaced, with additional double-spacing between each paragraph. The word count instantly shrunk by half, and the price shot up. This wasn’t such a bargain after all. But not to worry.

the glass key 2

By page 4 I gave up. Not only did I find seven typos, but the opening sentence—after I painstakingly deciphered it—proved to be an exact word-for-word rip-off of Dashiell Hammet’s The Glass Key, with one exception: the dice in our newly published author’s story were white, not green. (I had re-read Hammet’s classic a couple of weeks earlier after watching the film version starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. While Ms. Lake is very easy on the eyes, I still prefer the book.)

Alas, no sale and no review for our new author.

the point 2

Which brings me to my point, which might piss-off some people, a risk I’m willing to take: when is an author an author? With the explosion of digital technology ebooks have proliferated beyond what most could’ve imagined a few short years ago. Anyone with a little money and enough intelligence to string sentences together (typos, punctuation, or proper layout be damned!) can, in short order, have an ebook on the market and ready to sell. Voila—another published author!

blackeye 1

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to give self-publishing a black eye, or to denigrate the process in any way, shape, or form. What I am trying to point out is that there are tons of poorly written self-published works flooding the marketplace. The majority are hastily flung together and published with little—if any—thought as to proper editing. The number of typos, punctuation, and other errors is astounding. A lot of the writing is simply atrocious. Books (I use the term loosely) like these make it more difficult for traditionally published and self-published authors who’ve paid their dues by learning the craft and producing quality products. They must compete with all the garbage—ebooks and printed books—on the virtual shelves of online booksellers.

As stated earlier, I have nothing against self-publishing and those who choose that path to publication. There are many hundreds if not thousands of self-publishing authors whose work is every bit as good—often better—as authors who’ve traveled the traditional route. I’ve considered self-pubbing myself, and might very well choose to do so in the future. Those doing things the right way, those who’ve worked hard and spent untold hours trying to master the craft (which none of us fully will) have every right to stand tall and be proud of their labor and product.

question mark 2

So, when is an author really an author? When he uploads an inferior, error-riddled ebook to the marketplace? I suppose by strict definition that qualifies. But what if I go out and buy a stethoscope and other medical tools of the trade—does that qualify me to the title of doctor? If I can wire and install a ceiling fan in my own home, am I then an electrician? If I go to a NASCAR facility and pay to drive a few high-speed laps around the track, am I a bona-fide racecar driver?

I think not.

As reader and/or writer, what’s your opinion?


23 thoughts on “FINALLY I’M A AUTHOR!!!

  1. Michael,
    I found this article insightful. I am a boat Captain by trade but have been writting a book in my spare time. I am by no means a professional writter or Author but feel like i have a great story. I have been reading books my whole life and feel like i know a good read. My book is inspired by writer’s like Randy Wayne White. Stewart Woods,etc…
    Is there professional help I can get with editing or in some cases a little rewrite?
    Thanks in advance for any advise.

    Capt. Tom

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi, Capt. Tom: Thanks for visiting our site and reading the article. My brother Ken Helms is also a boat Captain by trade. He works mostly in the oil industry in Louisiana now.
    I’m also self-taught as a writer. You’re doing one very important thing right–reading! Reading is the best education a prospective writer can get.
    In answer to your question, see my article, “On Writing–Some Favorite Books,” on this site. Here are a couple of books that should be of good help to you: “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Browne and Dave King; and “SHUT UP!” He Explained, by William Noble: A Writer’s Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue. Read and study these books and apply their lessons and you’ll have a good start to “polishing” your manuscript.
    Thanks again for your comments, and best of luck with your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hope you complained to Amazon if this book is plagiarising another. I self-publish my work but I pay for a structural edit, copy-edit, proofread, cover designer etc etc. It is exactly the people like this “author” who give us a bad name.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi, Rebecca! Thanks for reading and commenting on the article. I took a quick glance at your website. It looks like you’re among those who are upholding professional standards and doing things right. Congratulations on your work. You certainly have the professional background to draw from for your books! Also, very attractive book cover I noticed. Still have your site up and will explore more later. Also, I followed your blog; hope you’ll follow ours!
    I did happen to mention the opening line to Amazon. However, no action has been taken, and I’m not sure if Amazon can actually do anything about it. It was only the first sentence; the rest of the scene was different from Hammett’s The Glass Key. I’m not certain they would be able to do anything about it, anyway. It’s always possible the “author” read Hammett’s book and the sentence just stuck in his mind. Farfetched? Yes. Impossible? No. Most likely they wouldn’t want to risk litigation simply to prove their point. I’ve found that Amazon sometimes takes some very controversial sides in matters of reviews and such.
    Would you consider guest posting for MMO sometime in the future? You could write about anything to do with your experience as a police personnel, how it affected/inspired your writing, or anything at all to do with the mystery/crime/thriller/suspense genre at all. Toot your horn about your books, etc. Our contact information can be found on the site. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting article, Mike, and one without an answer I think. Like Rebecca (and I second Mike’s invitation–love to see a guest post from you) the key to successful and professional quality self-publishing is extensive editing, usually by professionals. I ran into CJ Lyons at a conference a few years ago. CJ is a well-known hybrid writer (publishes both traditionally and self-publishes) and she was talking about getting her latest self-pub back from a developmental editor. One of the other attendees expressed surprise that she hired a developmental editor to vet her work. CJ’s reply…she felt she owed it to her readers that her self-published books were as professional as her traditionally published books and part of the traditional process was professional editing.

    As to when a writer is an author? Hard to say. I kind of prefer the title of writer myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, editing, editing and more editing. What rankles me is when I see punctuation, especially when used in dialogue, such as these made-up examples:
      “What is the matter with you?” She implored. Or, “I can’t find my jacket.” He said exasperatedly. “I know I hung it on that chair, you saw me, didn’t you?” He inquired.
      There are far worse examples in many self-pubbed books. Luckily I have a difficult time trying to imitate them.
      My point is, so many writers want to be published and wear the title “author” that they simply don’t give a rat’s behind to take the time to learn the ropes. It gives legitimate, knowledgeable self-publishers a scarlet letter, if you will. And this is SO WRONG because the learned and talented writers/author out there struggling to get their work recognized suffer for it. Same for traditionally published writers/authors, especially mid-list/small press ones. The market is flooded with CRAP and that makes it ever more difficult for the cream to rise to the top.
      And I agree, Kait–I don’t give a flip about being called an “author.” I write, therefore I am. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think your story points to one of the biggest issues with self-publishing. On the one hand, you have all of the advantages of flexibility, empowerment, and greater selection. On the other hand, you have…that novella. Still, as many problems as there are with self-publishing, I think it’s an important part of the publishing landscape, and one I’m glad is there. It’s very tricky, though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad self-publishing exists too, Margot. I hope I got my point across in the post that I’m NOT against self-pubbing, I’m against putting out crappy, inferior work that clogs the pipeline for those doing it the right way. I believe self-publishing is one of the best things to happen in the literary world in years. It’s revolutionary and has the biggies running scared. Speaking of the Big Guys, they’re also guilty of pouring crap into the stream of literature. All those “celebrity” and “latest scandal” books that are ghost-written and tagged with the “newsmakers” names make me want to puke. They dish out millions for them and thereby shut out many talented and deserving “no-name” writers.
      Sorry for the rant.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I agree with you, Michael. For me, I didn’t utter the phrase “author” until I landed a publisher, even though I’d written four novels. In the good ol’ days, if you “authored” a book, you were in fact an author. But in this day of digital publishing it seems everyone can claim the title. Personally, I use “crime writer” more than author. When I first started writing, authors amazed me with their words; they won Edgar and Shamus awards; they hit the NYTBS list (not some obscure category on AZ), they became critically acclaimed; they touched lives; they touched my life. To wear that same hat felt wrong. That said, it doesn’t bother me who wears the title of author. That’s on them if they haven’t earned it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sue, thanks for your comments. I suppose “author” rubs me the wrong way, just like the term “hero.” In this day and age every serviceman or woman is hailed as a hero. Same with cops and firemen–they’re all “heroes.” Not don’t take my words the wrong way. Cops and firemen have difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs. But does that entitle ALL of them to be known as heroes? I was a combat Marine and fought in Vietnam. I don’t consider myself a hero. I did everything I could to save my own butt and those of my brothers fighting alongside me. I witnessed what could be called “heroic” acts many times, but to us we were simply doing our job. Nowadays even support units returning from a deployment who never came close to combat are hailed as heroes. My beef is, this waters-down the word and is a disservice to those who truly put their lives on the line and often cost them everything. Those men and women–military, law enforcement, firefighters, and civilians who risk all for others–those are the real heroes.
      To be a “real” author, a person should at least put out a credible product, IMHO. I guess the misuse of “hero” got under my skin. No sour grapes, just my position.
      “I am what I am, and that’s all I ever will be.” –The Turtles, “Let Me Be”

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Personally, I prefer the verb to the noun: I write; I’m not a writer. (Note: my self-appointed title of Obscure Mystery Writer is, of course, a joke that has the added benefit of being true.) But I’ve always struggled with the word “writer” and what it meant (and means) to me. The last thing I want is to be a cliche, some half-ass English instructor who writes short stories and novels that ten people actually read. . .but this isn’t a therapy group, so I’ll sign off now. Good post, Mike. And I agree. Some–not all–of the books that get tons of good reviews are just average.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks, Max. First of all, those “ten” people who actually read your stories/books have invested well-spent time and money. You write good stuff, and I AM NOT blowing smoke. (In fact, I don’t smoke, never have.) You write, you are a writer, and you are an author of well-written, quality, and damn entertaining crime/mystery novels. I suppose that makes you a “novelist” also.
    I meant nothing profound, esoteric, or therapeutic in this simple post/rant. I just wanted to vent a bit, and I’ve accomplished that.
    One final thought: ever notice how many of these books in question amass hundreds of reviews? Where do they come from? Is the reading public that dumbed-down to slap four or five stars on such aromatic feces? My opinion? La mierda! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great article. I always encourage my students and the writers I coach to call themselves “writers” because I think taking that step is important. I think naming your goal is useful for one’s mindset and confidence. I think if a person is working on learning the craft, they are a “writer.” The “author” title, however, is different (to me). I do think that belongs to those who have paid their dues. (Maybe the difference between a sailor and a captain!) Professional publications can be either traditional (including Indie Press) or self-published – but in my opinion it has to include professional editing and professional cover art. If you’re putting out unfinished, unpolished, unedited work, that doesn’t make you an “author” – if you’ve put in the time to learn the craft, hired a professional editor, and cover artist, then a self-published writer is an author too. I know some might argue with me about what that line is, between professional quality and not, but I think it’s like the description of porn. You know it when you see it.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thanks for your input, Elena. What you present is, to me, reasonable. It’s not whether you have a contract with Random House/Penguin or are taking the reins in-hand and guiding your book through the self-publishing route; it’s the finished product that matters. As I’ve mentioned before, many self-pubbers produce quality work that will stand up to the Big Guys. But so many “wannabes” don’t bother learning even the basic ropes. They want it NOW! Quality products will emerge, but they have to work their way through a massive garbage spill choking today’s market. That’s my beef.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I had to think about what I wanted to say to this. Still not sure I’ll say it right but I’m going to go for it anyway. First, I prefer to call myself a writer. Because I write. I write stories, blog posts, comments to blog posts and I write books. Are they good books? I like to think so because I have toiled over them for many hours, days, and months. Are they professionally edited? No, they are not.

    It’s not lack of not wanting them professionally edited. It’s a lack of funds. Period. I’m a poor person. I take care of a disabled husband, we live in a tin can and we get groceries from the food bank.

    I don’t have the money to hire someone, not even for 100 bucks. I barely have money to cover the bills every month. But…..I have this desire to write. My dream since I was five years old was to write a book that someone else wanted to read. I believe I have done that. I wrote a novella and a full-length book.

    I put a lot of hours in fine tuning those books. I had friends who are also writers read them and edit them for me. As a favor to me, they did this and I am extremely grateful. I edited those two books for weeks. Eight hours or more a day. We did the best we could. I think the books turned out great and so did the covers (also not professionally done).

    I get a bit miffed when other writers throw out that ALL ebooks should be professionally edited and have professionally done covers. Not all of us can afford that. So should we hang up our dream? Should we let go what motivates us to get up every morning? Should we just stop writing?

    Granted I have read other ebooks that are like the one you described. Terrible things. Lots of grammar mistakes, lots of bad editing, if any at all. There are those out there. Why they publish these books makes us scratch our heads. But not all of us self-published writers are like that. I don’t like being generalized in with them. I don’t think it will stop anytime soon.

    I know that you know not all of us are the same. I know a few other writers who have published good books without professionals involved.

    Everyone has an opinion about publishing. Which is the ‘right’ way to do it. With self-publishing now being so popular, there will be many more conversations, debates, and outright feuds. What is the best way? I don’t know.

    As long as my readers enjoy what I do and how I do it, I will leave it up to them.

    (looks like I wrote a post here! sorry about that)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jackie – your work sounds like it is professionally edited. You have writer friends who edit for you, whether or not you pay for it isn’t the point (in my opinion). The point is about the quality of the work and editing. You work hard on your own material, not just putting it out as soon as you can, also the mark of a professional. You work at your craft and have it professionally edited, that was my definition of an “author.” I also say to my students, the difference between a professional and an amateur isn’t about money – it’s that the professional writes when it’s hard, the amateur stops when it’s not fun any more. But one thought for you – submitting to agents and Indie presses doesn’t cost anything, most of us writers are poor. If your work is published through traditional (including Indie) you don’t have to spend the money to pay for the publishing. What I think some self-published authors don’t think about is the cost of self-publishing can be more than the cost of a professional editor, who might help them land them a publishing deal, so their out-of-pocket costs are the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Elena for your thoughtful comment. I do work hard to try and put out the best writing I possibly can. I want to be proud of my work and I am. The cost of publishing my books was close to zero as I have great friends who choose to help me. I’m lucky that way. I went self-publishing as I wanted more control over my books. Also, I wanted them published in my lifetime. 😉 It is hard work writing a book, editing it until it shines and then publishing it. But I loved doing it. Everyone who writes needs to educate themselves in the different process’s and decide which way suits them best. Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Jackie, thank you so very much for your heartfelt and well-thought-out comments. I’d like to make a few comments about your “post.” 🙂

    (JP): First, I prefer to call myself a writer. Because I write. I write stories, blog posts, comments to blog posts and I write books. Are they good books? I like to think so because I have toiled over them for many hours, days, and months.

    (MH): You, dear lady, ARE most definitely a writer. Your passion for it burns through your comments.

    (JP): Are they professionally edited? No, they are not. (And): I put a lot of hours in fine tuning those books. I had friends who are also writers read them and edit them for me. As a favor to me, they did this and I am extremely grateful. I edited those two books for weeks. Eight hours or more a day. We did the best we could.

    (MH): From another reply to comments, I wrote: <> I didn’t mention a word about “professional” editing. What constitutes a “professional editor?” Are there editing schools out there? If so, I haven’t heard about them. There may be editing courses available in some colleges/universities. Again, I don’t know. I didn’t go to college (okay, for one and a half semesters, then I dropped out). What I DO know is that hands-on, on-the-job-training is probably the most valuable “school” a person can attend to learn how to edit. That, along with a love for extensive reading. I’ve said it a thousand times: reading (and observing what one reads) is the single-most valuable education a person can give themselves. And all it costs is a library card.
    You HAVE editors, Jackie. Those friends who are also writers more than likely read extensively . You don’t have to have a shingle hanging on the door that says “Professional Editor.” With reading comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes KNOWHOW.

    (JP): I get a bit miffed when other writers throw out that ALL ebooks should be professionally edited and have professionally done covers. Not all of us can afford that. So should we hang up our dream? Should we let go what motivates us to get up every morning? Should we just stop writing?

    (MH): I LOVE the fire and passion in your comments above. See my earlier thoughts regarding editors, and toss in a bit of artistic knowledge. You don’t have to be a professional artist/designer to make a beautiful and effective cover. Notice what’s “out there” in your genre, what works and what doesn’t. iStock, Shutterstock, and many other venues can provide suitable images for a few bucks. You know the score–you’ve DONE it!

    In closing I’ll offer this: “professionals” don’t have to be involved. Dedicated, knowledgeable (i.e., hands-on) people with fire in their guts and determination in their hearts MUST be involved. Take the “professional” moniker and toss it out the nearest window. Replace it with “CAN DO.” Now, go forth and write, writer! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Michael for your reply. I did get a bit, um, passionate didn’t I? When it’s about writing and books I do tend to get that way.
      I want to say thank you for your in-depth reply to my rather long comment. You, sir, are very kind. You are also like me in respect of writing. We are writers who work hard at what we do. We love what we do and it shows. We don’t write and publish a book just to tell people we wrote a book. We write and publish a little bit of ourselves in each book.
      So I will take your advice and go forth and write! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I confess I didn’t answer this because of the grammar and waited and am glad I did. It was your sense of humor Michael that put it on the tomorrow list. I think the reading part is so important and that’s why I got a degree in writing. I read all the time. I was lucky in that I had great profs in writing but I worked my behind off to get that Phi Beta Kappa. If you have no passion a PBK means nothing. I had a need to write that hung over me like a thunder cloud and it had to come out. The best writers probably write from experience and not from my desperate need to learn. I have said before that the writing that Is purchased is often from the dumbing down of American education. Sometimes people call me a snob. I can deal with that. I have discussed the issue of the bad writing and the lack of passion for a perfect word before. Susan Sontag wrote that every word is important and I believe it. Writing is solitary in many ways. I think that reading the classics is important and that is why I do it.
    I understand that many people do not have the means to self publish. Their voices should not be stopped. However, I read so much junk that it terrifies me. Subjects that need to be addressed are not addressed because of social prejudices and that makes books like mine unreadable. I would have written it anyway because of the pain in life it causes. I imagine it is like what Michael said about heroism and the lack of understanding of it.
    I did indie write my first book and it was returned to me five times filled with errors that I did not include in the manuscript. I worked over those errors and sent them back over and over and I worked over those editing errors again and again. My hope is that I got most of them out. Indie writers who do care about their content must stop the errors and edit, edit, edit, and if you have a friend who will help you make your work better you are blessed. Let’s not give in to the people who don’t care about the quality of their work, but continue to do what we feel driven to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very well stated, MJ. Often publishers don’t want to touch controversial or “hush-hush” subject matter. My second Mac McClellan Mystery confronted the subject of today’s widespread human trafficking industry. I was frankly aghast when my editor sent it back and said to rewrite the entire manuscript, leaving out any reference to human trafficking. I did as told, and although the re-written book has been well-received, it lacked the “punch” it would’ve had if the editor possessed the balls to publish it as written. I might add that I did literally weeks of research of the subject in order to get it right–which it was.
      As I’ve said many times, publishing is a crapshoot, especially in these days and times of political correctness and “anything for a buck.”
      Thanks for your insightful comments!


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