Monday, March 10, 2014


Last night I was directed to a blog post that said self-publishers should not be allowed to call themselves authors.  Fighting words, I know.  It was a ham-fisted, blanket statement,  and I think it’s pretty tough to say something that broad without getting some deserved backlash.  Plus, in all fairness, the person who wrote it had a bunch of issues when it came to their own writing ability.  Then again, said writer wasn’t insisting on being called an author anywhere that I saw...

I found myself kind of agreeing with the general idea, though, if not the way it was delivered.  “Author” used to be a term that meant something.  It implied a degree of prestige, that someone had worked at their chosen art for years and been rewarded with a title.

Nowadays, though... no work needed.  I can just demand that title for doing well... anything.  Or nothing.

Take the Baboon Fart Story book.  If you’re not familiar with it, the story goes something like this.  Chuck Wendig made an offhand comment a while back that these days someone can just print the word “fart” 100,000 times, slap a picture of a baboon on the cover, and have it up on Amazon within the hour.  So, this being the internet, someone did just that.  Baboon Fart Story, clearly stating it was just the word “fart” repeated 100,000 times and referencing Wendig, was for sale on Amazon for about a day before someone at the company realized it was a mockery of their whole business plan and it was pulled for content reasons.  I think their official excuse was “a less than satisfactory reading experience.”

So, question for the floor... should the person who slapped Baboon Fart Story together be considered an author?  Has he or she earned that title with that book?  It was 100,000 words.  It even sold a couple dozen copies (some of the equally humorous reviews on Amazon were verified purchases).

Baboon Fart Story.  Author or not?

Now, let me spare some of you a bit of time.  I’m sure someone’s leaping down to the comments right now to explain that Baboon Fart was just a joke.  A not-very elaborate joke to illustrate a point.  Heck, it was really just an exercise in cut-and-paste.

To which I say, whoa!  Are we now putting definitions on what counts as a book?  On who gets to call themselves an author?

Of course we are.

As I’ve said many times over on my ranty blog, most of us know how to cook, but very few of us would consider ourselves chefs.  I make a fairly good almost-from-scratch pizza and decent stir-fried rice, but I’d never call myself a chef.  Someone would have to be arrogant as hell to insist we call them a chef because they poured orange juice and heated up waffles in the toaster.  Because we all understand that chef is a title which reflects a certain degree of experience and education past the commonly-known basics. 

Are there self-published writers who deserve to be called authors?  Absolutely and without question.  There are some phenomenally talented and practiced people who’ve chosen to go that route, and they’ve earned that title a hundred times over.  I’d argue the point with anyone who tried to say otherwise.

Does everyone who self-publishes immediately and automatically deserve the title of author?  No.  No, they do not.  Because being an author means something, and it’s more than “able to upload files.”  It implies someone doesn’t just have a base ability to write—or to cut and paste—but a certain level of experience and ability with words.  The exact definition is changing with some of these new paths, but it’s still there.  And it should be there. And we should all be happy it's there and strive to earn it.

Because if anyone can call themselves an author for doing anything, then the word is meaningless.