What Do You Call an Unpublished Writer? by Pat Bertram

What do you call an unpublished writer? A writer, of course. All it takes to be a writer is to write, and going by the proliferation of blogs on the Internet, almost all of us are writers.

Being a novelist is something completely different. You need to be a writer, certainly, but you also need to know the elements of storytelling, how to create characters that come alive, how to describe a scene without losing the momentum of the story. And then you need to put it all together into a cohesive whole that engages the reader’s attention.

But most of all, you need to actually write the novel, to put your idea into words and get it down on paper or into your word processor. That takes discipline. So does rewriting the same novel perhaps a dozen times until you get it right. Because, as we all know, there are no great writers, only great rewriters.

You do all that, and then one day your novel is finished. You’re proud of yourself for having accomplished something many people only dream about, then the terrible truth comes crashing into you with all the force of a linebacker’s tackle: no one cares. Perhaps your family and friends will care, but even from them you will hear the same self-absorbed comments you get from strangers.

You know the ones I mean:

  1. I could have written a book, but . . .
  2. I always thought my life would make a good book . . .
  3. I wrote a book: My diary.
  4. I’ve written a book; it’s all up here in my head, I just have to get it down on paper.
  5. So? I’ve written a hundred books; they’re all packed away in my closet.

Taking their lack of support in stride, you send out your opus to find you’ve reached another level of indifference. On this level, you are not the only person who had the discipline, the ability, perhaps even the talent to have written a good novel; you are one of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. And the agents and editorial assistants who have to plow through those mountains of words don’t care; they haven’t the energy.

If you are lucky, one day your manuscript will be on the right desk at the right time, but until then all you can do is what you’ve always done. You write.

Because, even though no one else knows the truth, you do. You are a writer, and even more than that, you are a novelist.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One,  and A Spark of Heavenly Fire now available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.



Filed under books, life, Pat Bertram, writing

15 responses to “What Do You Call an Unpublished Writer? by Pat Bertram

  1. Janet L. Brook

    Thank you, Pat for that timely reminder. I woke up a bit discouraged this morning because my work wasn’t going as quickly or smoothly as I would have liked. Your post was just the shot in the arm I needed.

  2. I would call unpublished writers “amateur writers”.
    Published writers should of course be called “professional writers”.

  3. Nice post, Pat.

    Leafless, I get what you’re saying, but there are a number of circles that don’t consider you a “professional” unless at least 70% of your annual income comes from writing. I’ve had a variety of things published in different venues, but until recently that percentage kept me from thinking of myself as a “pro” (and frankly, I still don’t–especially when considering my income against my husband’s–How can a person be a professional and make so little comparatively? 😉

    I do like the distinction between writer and novelist…Where do we put “author?” I always (mentally) rank them above “writer”…

    Always curious,

  4. “Amateur” vs “professional” nahhh. Maybe for the IRS, but who would call vanGogh an amateur painter? So many legendary writers spent so many years without making a dime. Seems like taking yourself seriously is most important… then, maybe, looking for an audience to interact with…

  5. Pingback: Speaking of Writers . . . « Bertram’s Blog

  6. Then we have to determine what “published” means these days. On a personal blog? On someone else’s blog? On someone’s eZine? In print?

    Which qualifies as published with credibility?

    My opinions keep changing.

  7. dellanioakes

    I totally agree with what you’ve said here. I recently went through a purge of my walk-in closet cause I couldn’t walk into it anymore. In a file cabinet, I found the envelope of my rejection letters. My husband thought I should keep them so I never did business with them in the future, but I thought that really wasn’t healthy. Instead, I uncerimoniously dumped them in trash can, dusting my hands together, glad they were gone. It was an amazing feeling of release! I’ve found acceptance at Second Wind, who needs to hold onto the negativism of rejection. So they said no. So what? Who’s next?

  8. amydetrempe

    “Because, as we all know, there are no great writers, only great rewriters.”

    I think that one line says it all. I believe you are a novelest / writer when, after you have written your initial draft, you still have the passion to spend the hours (sometimes years) necessary to polish to perfection before you put yourself out there to be open for rejection or acceptance.

  9. Tooty

    During the 90’s I tried desperately to get into writing for TV – and came horribly close once or twice. But eventually my resolve was worn down, and I quit – everything – and went on a sabbatical to Spain. There I discovered ‘proper writing’. Or rather I discovered that I could write fiction – and, surprisingly, comedy too. But it wasn’t until I created my two WordPress sites (The Bucktooth Times and Nauseous Nolan) in 2008, upon which I posted extracts of my comedy material, that I found that other people shared my off-beat sense of humour, and not only encouraged me to publish my work, but actively went in search of it upon Lulu, Amazon, E-bay, etc . And the amount of blogs that have plagiarised me is astounding: So I guess I must be hitting the right keys in the right order every so often. But although there is the potential for millions of readers to view my work – out there upon the internet – until those same people can actually hold my book in their hands – or at least conjure up its electronic equivalent upon their Sony Reader or Kindle – I can’t really call myself a writer.
    Opinions anyone? P.S – yes I know one should never begin a sentence with the word ‘And’ – but rules are meant to be massaged and reconfigured into interesting new shapes – aren’t they? And anyway – I like it – it suits my style.
    Paul Trevor (Tooty) Nolan

    • Tooty, John Milton often used to begin a sentence with “And.” Here is just one example from Areopagitica (1644).

      And out of those ages, to whose polite wisdom and letters we owe that we are not yet Goths and Jutlanders, I could name him who from his private house wrote that discourse to the Parliament of Athens, that persuades them to change the form of democracy which was then established.

      Blake is also an “And” fan.

      And did those feet in ancient time,
      Walk upon England’s mountains green:
      And was the holy Lamb of God,
      On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

      And did the Countenance Divine,
      Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
      And was Jerusalem builded here,
      Among these dark Satanic Mills?

      This takes me back many years to the days when I used to be a professional writer and had to defend a sentence that began with the word “However.” An indignant lawyer trained in the Classics said I couldn’t start a sentence with “however” because the word was enclitic. It is very useful to be able to give examples from John Milton and Lancelot Andrewes (who oversaw the translation of the King James Bible) because they knew Greek and Latin and thoroughly understood the classical rules.

      Here is the beginning of Ezekiel, Chapter 5:

      And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weight, and divide the hair.

      • Sorry for this rather belated reply, but I have been otherwise indisposed. Writing actually. Well I’m sure I’ve started many more sentences with the word ‘and’, but it doesn’t seem to matter one way or the other. I’ve actually sold some books. So I guess I must be doing something right, even if I’m doing it wrong. So far I’ve published nine books on Lulu.com. Two sci-fi thrillers, and seven comedy/fantasy tomes in my Hamster-Britain series. Thanks for the support.

  10. Tooty, I don’t call myself a writer except online and for purposes of promotion. Otherwise, I don’t define myself that way. (Don’t define myself at all, actually.) You, though, are more of a writer than most. A writer needs readers, and you seem to have those. Maybe it’s time for you to pursue publication again?

  11. I have been writing since childhood. I have recently (in the past year) been writing for a magazine. I have five articles published in this magazine. I now officially refer to myself as a writer. My income is irrelevant. I write articles and the magazine publishes them. The magazine has a readership of over 10,000. Now I also maintain a blog on blogger. My blog has attracted a few readers, some of whom feel the need to comment on my posts. For this particular venture, I also refer to myself as a “blogger”. There you have it, a “writer” and a “blogger”. I do not write fiction or creative nonfiction. My writing style is more journalism or like a columnist.

  12. I’ve met many people who claim they have a book in them. When I ask them when they intend to start it, they usually tell me they have no idea where to start. To which I reply, how about with the first sentence? That, for me, was the most difficult task when I wrote my first novel. After that, it was like an exercise routine: the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. When I started, I didn’t really think much about finishing it; it was just good therapy. But when I turned out about 50,000 words, about halfway, I realized I likely would finish it.

    It seems many people desire to write a book; few will ever sit down to write word one, and fewer still will ever stay with it to “the end.” Fewer still will ever see their work in print with a traditional publisher.

    Thanks, Pat, for your words.

    • Good advice, J. Conrad — start with a first sentence. Any sentence, actually. Doesn’t have to be good since it can always be changed.

      I was so proud of myself when I actually finished that first book, then I hit that wall of indifference from others. It’s amazing how people think that thinking about writing a book is the same as actually writing it.

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