Author vs. Writer: The truth about why they're different

Here are all the differences you should know about.
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In my opinion, writing well is one of the most powerful skills a person can have. But the process of turning that skill into a career can be a little fuzzy at times. With so many different job titles, descriptions, and duties, it can be confusing to understand what a writer or author actually does, and how it all works.

In this article, you’ll learn exactly what those differences are, along with specific details that make authors and writers unique.

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Summary: Authors focus on creating new ideas and capturing them in books. Writers focus on communicating new and existing ideas in shorter works.

What do the words ‘author’ and ‘writer’ mean?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the words themselves. Etymology, or the study of the origin and history of words, often tells us things that are missed in simple definitions.

The word author comes from a combination of Latin and French terms that mean to create, make, and grow. For authors, the emphasis is on bringing something into the world that wasn’t there before.

The word writer is actually newer than author (by a few hundred years) and means one who paints signs, carves, or produces literary work. For writers, the emphasis is on the production of communication.

Differences between authors and writers

There is definitely an overlap between the two professions. Both use words as their primary tool, conduct research in one form or another, and rely on a similar skill set to get the job done. The main differences lie in what their goals are and the types of projects they choose to work on.

Traditionally, authors spend most of their time creating new worlds, stories, and ideas. They want to show readers something they’ve never seen before or something familiar in a new light. They accomplish this through writing books because new things usually require a lot of space to be understood.

In contrast, writers spend most of their time observing (e.g., interviews, research, experiences). They build bridges with words so that readers can learn, experience, and feel things that otherwise would have been out of their reach. Because writers cover such a wide variety of topics, they also play with numerous formats: essays, blogs, news articles, scripts, etc.

How much money do they make?

Writers and authors are often lumped into a single professional category. According to official statistics, they make an average income of $67,000 per year.

However, this can vary drastically by job title. Journalists earn an average salary of $42,000 per year, while UX writers earn almost triple that at $112,000 per year.

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Other job titles include: Blogger, Book Coach, Copy Editor, Copywriters, Creative Consultant, Content Marketing Manager, Content Writer, Content Strategist, Content Designer, Freelancer, Ghostwriter, Infopreneur, Literary Editor, Manuscript Formatter, Novelist, Poet, Reviewer, Screenwriter, Scribe, Script Coordinator, Script Doctor, Scrivener, Songwriter, Speechwriter, Staff Writer, Technical Writer, Investigative Journalist, UI Writer

If you look at who the highest-paid writers are in the world, you'll find a list of fiction book authors and television scriptwriters. Both of these groups are able to earn so much because they get paid royalties — meaning, they can produce a written work one time and get paid continually for it in the future (sometimes to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars).

Writers continue to experiment with new ways to make money in our digital economy. Many of which are enabling them to earn much more by writing less.

What kind of projects do they work on?

Books are the obvious answer here, but both authors and writers work on a vast assortment of projects. It might surprise you how many things require good writers.

  • Books, fiction and nonfiction
  • Blogs, for individuals and companies
  • Websites
  • Apps (every button, page, or feature requires a writer to explain it)
  • Magazines
  • Email newsletters
  • Newspapers, digital and print
  • Ad copy
  • Scripts, for movies, commercials, even YouTube videos
  • Transcriptions
  • Technical manuals
  • Textbooks
  • Songs or lyrics

Some have feared that as our world becomes increasingly digitized, writers would fade away since fewer people read physical books. But that couldn't be further from the truth.

In fact, as our world changes, writers are now more in demand than ever. People rely on writers to help them understand what is happening around them. Companies need writers to help customers find, use, and understand their products.

Writers are the intermediaries at so many different stages, and they are essential.

How to become a writer

There are two distinct pathways to becoming a writer in this modern age.

First, there is the old way: get a college degree (in English or a similar subject), go to graduate school, get writing-focused internships, pay your dues in the industry for a decade or so, then get the opportunity to work on more meaningful projects.

This way is prominent because, for a very long time, there was no other way. There were gatekeepers in charge of publishing, and no internet existed to level the playing field. Furthermore, if you're not willing to move to a major city like New York or Los Angeles, your chances of success are greatly diminished because this is where traditional writing careers are made.

Thankfully, there is another option. The new way: Start a blog to write in public, learn as you go, develop your voice and expertise in real-time, create assets you can leverage into multiple income streams, and, eventually, traditional publishing opportunities too.

For example, the biggest book deals used to be given to people who paid their dues at large publishing houses or prestigious journalism departments. Now, they’re given to individuals who have built followings online. The playing field hasn’t just been leveled, it’s been completely rewritten, and if you want to win in this new game, you must start writing for yourself.

What skills do you need?

Different types of writing require different skills (e.g., the ability to write dialogue for scripts versus conducting an in-depth interview for a report). Nevertheless, there are a handful of skills that every writer will benefit from developing.

  • Master your native language (grammar, syntax, style)
  • Become an avid reader familiar with influential works
  • Creativity: ability to connect dots in a way others can’t, a fresh idea machine
  • Reliability and speed: always meet your deadlines (even self-imposed ones)
  • Ability to persuade: don't just tell your readers something; make them believe it
  • Critical thinking and research: can you find the answers you need
  • Pleasure — if you don’t enjoy the process, you won’t last long enough to become great at it

Why I call myself a writer

Finally, I thought it’d be appropriate to share my own view. As someone who has written and published books, essays, articles, and more online, why do I call myself a writer instead of an author?

Personally, when I referred to myself solely as an author, I felt like my identity was tied to the books I had put out. But in reality, each book was more like a time capsule, capturing my thoughts, beliefs, and expertise at that moment. I was a different person by the time I finished a book than when I started. Multiply that by a dozen books, and you start to see how much a person can change over time.

For me, writer is a more fluid term. It speaks to my love of the craft, the diversity of what I produce, and the fact that I will continue to change with each piece I publish. I hope to publish more books in the future, but for now, I’m happy to share my ideas and expertise through formats like one.

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