Friday, December 3, 2010

Are All Self-Published Authors Amateurs?

In a post on my blog about competition, a commenter made several points about why he felt self-published books were in no way part of anyone's competition. He also had a lot to say about amateurs vs. professionals (self-pub authors, of course, being the amateurs).

Anyway, a fellow indie friend said to me in IM... "Did he just call you an AMATEUR?" And I was like "LOL, I don't know, it was possibly implied."

So, I added a general comment on the issue of amateurs, but, that comment could have been it's own post and it's definitely something I would like to open the floor up to discuss. (Wow, that sounded hoity toity.)

Here was my original comment:

Something else to think about… amateur vs. professional. How are these terms defined?

Why is a self-published author automatically an “amateur”. Exactly how many times do I have to double my husband’s salary before I’m considered a “professional”?

Do these kinds of prejudices exist for other entrepreneurs?

When someone opens a flower shop do you consider them an amateur florist?

When someone opens a restaurant are they an amateur restaurant owner?

Are independent filmmakers who make a living from their craft, amateurs?



1. a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional.

2. an athlete who has never competed for payment or for a monetary prize.

3. a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity: Hunting lions is not for amateurs.

4. a person who admires something; devotee; fan: an amateur of the cinema.

There are several indies making a living, so definitely definition 1 doesn’t apply to them. Definition 3 could be argued for perhaps, but experience and skill are highly subjective things in artistic endeavors. I’ve been writing seriously since junior high school (in fact, in school I ignored most of my other classes and wrote during lectures.) And surely a certain sales threshold proves at least a competent level of skill.

This wasn't part of the original comment but I felt like adding it now:

Here are the definitions of "Professional" at


1. a person who belongs to one of the professions, esp. one of the learned professions.

2. a person who earns a living in a sport or other occupation frequently engaged in by amateurs: a golf professional.

3. an expert player, as of golf or tennis, serving as a teacher, consultant, performer, or contestant; pro.

4. a person who is expert at his or her work: You can tell by her comments that this editor is a real professional.

I suppose we could rehash the expert thing, but expert is SO subjective. Like... raise your hand if you think Stephenie Meyer is an expert at writing? And yet, she makes more money than God right now and I'm pretty sure most people who identify as professional writers consider Meyer a professional writer.

The definition with regards to earning a living... many indies are fulfilling that requirement.

Now in the grand scheme, it doesn't really matter if you or anyone else calls or thinks of me or any other indie as an amateur or a professional. It doesn't change the fact that several of us are making a living doing what we love while maintaining creative control. In much the same way that Stephenie Meyer laughs all the way to the bank despite the people who say she sucks... I laugh to the bank whether or not you think I'm an amateur or a "fake author". Of course Meyer laughs much louder than me. Still, there is much merriment going on.

Thoughts? What makes a writer a "professional", and is it fair to keep indies out of that club by definition of being indie?


  1. I think a professional is someone who transforms their hobby into a business venture, whether it is athletic or culinary or literary. Once you publish your writing to the public and start selling it for money, you have crossed over from amateur writer to professional author.

    There's no difference between you, me, and Stephen King except for a few numbers: career longevity, sales figures, fans, etc.

  2. That's my feeling of it, Joseph. We might differ on that I think a professional is someone who has a career, which entails "making a living", BUT many professions have a period of internship, so if an author has self-published and isn't making the big bucks yet, then we could see them as being a part of that internship part of things. I was making $200 or less for the first 17 months, and while I wouldn't have referred to myself as an "amateur" because that tends to have negative connotations, I don't think I started to see myself as a 'professional' with a career until a couple of months ago when I started making a strong living wage. I did pretty well in June and several months after that, but it still wasn't what I personally would think of as "career level".

    By this point though, I consider myself as having a writing career.

    But that's how *I* see it. Other people's mileage may vary, and if it does, I certainly don't begrudge them their labels for what they're doing.

    I've also had people refer to me as a "bestselling author" but I personally refuse to self-describe like that until I hit the top 25 in the overall Kindle store or make a list like the NYT bestseller ebook list. If I reach one of those, THEN I'll start calling myself a bestselling author.

  3. Most mid-list traditionally published writers also have day jobs. Does that mean they are amateurs? Just curious... Obviously they aren't earning full time pay from their work.

    And what if my expenses are really low so I earn enough to live on from my writing but not enough that another writer could live on it? Am I a professional writer?

    I know writers who hardly make anything from book sales, but they teach, edit, and coach other writers to make a living. Are they professionals?

    And, while I'm not doing much of it right now, I made a pretty good living writing commercial copy and ghostwriting for about five years. I was "published" under someone else's name several times, and my copy on the internet anonymously, but I don't have that stamp of approval on my own name from a publishing house. Am I a professional?

    I'm quite willing to be generous with the title "professional" writer or author. I think it's a mindset--if you are actively pursuing publication, self or otherwise, and if you are actively pursuing improvement of your craft, you can call yourself a professional writer/author.

    In my (not so) humble opinion.....


  4. I'd have to agree with Joseph here.

    I was in another industry for 20 years. I owned numerous stores and ran a wholesale company. I worked hard at it and made great money doing it. I was considered a professional in that industry.

    Now I write for a living. Each and every day I edit, do some Social marketing and write at least 2000-3000 words.

    I have an income from this every day as my books sell in quantities every day.

    I would not say I'm an amateur anymore...


  5. I agree with you Zoe, so I won't repeat what you've said.

    Writing is a solitary thing and even if you did go behind the scenes, it'd probably be a boring process to watch. It's not like visiting a movie set or a restaurant to see how the food is made.

    Plus self publishing is home based. I wouldn't be surprised if other home based businesses are looked at the same.

    I can say from experience that no one aside from my wife took me seriously until I put a major foot forward in building my platform. It was something concrete that said, "This guy isn't kidding around. He wants to make it."
    In my head I always thought I was pro, but no one saw it until then.

  6. Modicum, you make a good point. I definitely don't consider midlist writers amateurs. And I DO consider them professionals, but... I don't consider it a "career" until you're making career-level money.

    So... that makes me have to rethink my position a little, i.e. perhaps I shouldn't tie "professional" in with "career" and should stick with the definition given by the first commenter. Because I definitely feel like there is a certain level of income you need to have achieved to call what you're doing a "career".

    If you can't live solely on it, to me, it's not a career. But other people's mileage may vary. I just know in every other industry a career is something you can make a living on, not a side income and I think in writer-world people tend to play fast and loose with the term career.

  7. Oh and sorry, Amy, you posted a name at the end of your post and I was replying to like your first paragraph! hahaha. ZoeFail!

    Anyway, I agree with what you're saying about professional. Like this past June I made money that most wouldn't consider a living wage, but that I could live on in my area of the country quite easily. I still think "career" is kind of a "financial next level" thing, but I think you're right with regards to professional/amateur.


  8. It's all sour grapes. Again. There will always be those who decry the indie publishing movement as a bunch of amateurs who didn't go through the right channels or pass the tests or whatever. It's their loss. And when traditional publishing collapses rather than changing their business model, we'll see who's laughing to the bank.

    BTW, can y'all add an RSS feed button in the sidebar because I can't for the life of me figure out how to subscribe to the blog and my Bloglines add on can't find it.

  9. Congrats, Daryl, I agree!

    @Andrew I think that's a very good point about prejudice being aimed generally at home-based businesses. Though some lawyers and psychologists operate out of their homes. So there seems to be this weird sliding scale and dividing line. But I think if I was a florist operating out of my home, for example, some might still not consider me a "professional".

    When I first started doing this I told Tom I was going to make a living writing, and he sort of looked at me like I was a cute naive little puppy. He supported my writing from the beginning, but I don't think he ever believed I'd make a solid living doing it. Of course now he's 100% behind me, and according to him I'm publishing "the right way". hahahahaha

  10. Hey Kait, I agree with regards to sour grapes. I think when a lot of this started and no one could really name an indie making a living, we were sort of the joke of publishing. But now that several of us are starting to make a living there seems to be this effort to label us as "amateurs" by definition of being indie. Sort of a hole we could never crawl out of unless we "submitted" and went over to the traditional side of publishing.

    But people can call me what they want to. Today my husband IM'd me when he saw this blog post and he said: "Man, that amateur comment really got under your skin" And I said: "LOL, not really. I just needed something to blog about."

    By this point I'm all validated up. Some random person saying indie authors are all amateurs really makes no difference to me in the grand scheme. But I know it still bugs a lot of indies, and so it's something to discuss.

    Also, I'll email Selena about the blog subscribing issue.

  11. OMG, all these definitions! Well, let me add another one, just for fun.

    SERIOUS Writers: People who are passionate about writing, for whom writing is one of the most important things (or the most important thing)in their lives, who invest energy and time into it, who hone their craft, who are willing to learn and improve, who want to share their work with others (whether through self-publishing or traditional publishing), regardless of whether they make a living from it, earn a few dollars of royalty payments or give their books away for free.

    Somehow, defining a writer as professional versus amateur solely based on their earning power seems to leave out a lot of excellent writers and would include some really crappy ones.

    Just a thought.
    Author of "Love of a Stonemason"

  12. I try not to focus my energy on people like that. I have too much to do and other things more important to fill my mind. He/she is wrong, and that's it. lol

  13. What's in a name? That which we call an amateur by any other name would still garner payment. So a writer would, were he not self-published call'd, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title.
    I’m just saying . . .

  14. Okay I could swear I replied to Christa and Edie but it seems it ate my comments, I'll try to paraphrase:

    @Christa, yes I'm certainly not saying someone who isn't a professional writer isn't a serious writer, but... in no other industry do we pretend like people are engaged in a vocation when they are still just practicing or learning. There is no crime in practicing or learning, but we have to separate the art from the business here. And when we're talking about the business there are certain things you have to do to call it a vocation/career/etc.

    No one is trying to denigrate writers not making a living from what they're doing, but... it's insane to say an author making a living isn't a professional because they are an entrepreneur. And also, this argument was brought up by another person.

    They were the one who used the terms "amateur" and "professional", thereby framing the argument with those terms.

    Which isn't to say your point isn't valid. Of course it's valid. It's just not what this particular question is about IMO. Amateur and professional are terms dealing specifically with income levels in writing, IMO. It's not saying anyone who isn't making money is bad.

    @Edie, I mainly just needed something to blog about. I personally could care less if the whole world thinks I'm an amateur. It doesn't change the fact that I'm making a living from writing.

    @Helen HA!!! That's awesome. And pretty much my feeling on it. I just have to have stuff to blog about. I have an opinion on the issue, obviously, but I'm not that riled up about it, beyond the mental masturbation of blog argument.

  15. Hey, Zoe, I wasn't trying to invalidate your argument. Just wanted to throw in an additional point of view.

  16. The arts, like sports, are so strange, because there so many people who do them for fun. There aren't as many people who do accounting for fun. Not because there aren't people who don't enjoy accounting but because as soon as they start to do it, people throw money at them. It takes artists a little longer to reach that stage. The thing is... there are more accountants who think they can be artists, with no training or experience, than artist who think they can be accountants with no training or experience. So I would say the dividing line is those who take seriously training, practice and experience.

  17. Oh I know you weren't Christa! (grrr text communication is hard! LOL)

    @Tara, I think that's a good dividing line and point also. To me the amateurs are people who are doing it as a hobby with no real financial goals involved.

    I think "professional" is when you're making a living (for whatever your personal income needs are), but to me I think maybe there is something in the space between an amateur and professional, maybe it's Christa's "serious writer". So maybe that all fits in without making it a black and white dichotomy because amateur vs. professional seems too black and white.

    Because it's not hard to keep a lot of people out of the professional camp just by the fact that they don't meet the professional requirements as people understand the term "professional" when it comes to a career. But by the same token, acting like that makes them an "amateur" by definition, likely isn't correct either.

    So "intent" and work ethic seems to play heavily into the issue.

  18. I think the problem is that some people view being an author as a status thing rather than an artistic thing. Status requires, of course, that you defend it, and such folks, in my experience, spend a lot of time doing just that. Thus to them it matters that they jumped through certain hoops to get where they are (or they want to jump through those hoops) so they can set themselves above the plebians. These sorts seem to need adulation, they often view competition as knocking the other guy down rather than lifting themselves up.

    An artist, on the other hand, doesn't care about the fame and the adulation. They don't care about beating the other guy or looking down their noses at people. An artist simply creates. They might want to make money doing it, but they'd probably do it anyway. As an editor, I prefer working with artists rather than egos.

  19. I'm a professional now, thanks to Selena.

    When I wrote Cinderella Club I was challenging myself to incorporate sex themes into my art. I chose to do this in written form. I attacked the project as I would a canvas with a paintbrush, but like my paintings,I knew I needed to find a way to exhibit/sell it. Because I never make art for my own self-actualization. It's about sharing and the idea that someone else will value it. Will pay for it. And luckily that's exactly what happened.

    It does kind of give me the fever to continue to produce. You cannot help but get swept up in that - oh they like me, they really like me - stuff.

    So what if I can't make a living at it yet? That's not necessarily a marker of success. A professional gets paid for something and I got paid. Yay!