When is a Book not a Book?

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

When it’s a manuscript

Boom boom.  Not much of a joke is it?  So how’s the book going?  That was the title of my last blog post and it posed another interesting question and one that has troubled me for some time.  What can I call my cherished 77,000 words lovingly saved in a special folder on my lap top?  My friends call it my book but is that right and proper?  It hasn’t been published so technically it isn’t what most people would regard as a book.  So what is it then?  It tells a story, it has a structure, characters, a theme, a moral dilemma, three acts, beginning, middle and end.  It has all the ingredients of a book. But no one can buy it.  It hasn’t been printed and bound with a glossy cover. There’s no blurb or supportive quotes and reviews.
Is there an interim term, a holding pattern for those would-be books circling the publishing runway waiting to be called in to land?  I think this is also linked to a similar question – when can I call myself a writer?
My job is in communications for a charity.  That’s how I pay my mortgage and put food on the table and it is what keeps me in gin.  Writing doesn’t do that.  Writing is something I enjoy although I would dearly love it to be the thing that keeps me in gin.  Reading blogs from other writers the advice seems to be that we should call ourselves writers if we write regularly, regardless of whether or not any cash changes hands.  The  thinking is that if we say we are writers to family and friends and random people we meet in bars then we will take ourselves seriously, write regularly, put effort into it and create things that will have more value than if we just dabble, call it a hobby and don’t give a project the focus it deserves.  That makes sense.  My experience of life in general confirms that the more effort one puts in the more one is rewarded at the end. Diddling about delivers little.
But I still find myself embarrassed.  A Sunday league footballer who works in a bank calls himself a banker and not a footballer when he is at a party.  So is it the intention that makes me different from my footballing friend?  He has no hope or expectation of making it to Wembley yet I want to make writing my job and maybe what currently pays my bills is just a temporary measure whilst I wait for someone to be bowled over by my book/manuscript and for the big bucks to roll in.
Which brings me back to the initial question.  What do I call this thing I have written? My fear is that I will sound too grand if I call it a book. “Where can I buy it?” would be the natural response.  “It’s not published,” would come the answer whispered shamefully.  Embarrassed glances all round would then follow.
So am I a writer with a book or do I enjoy creative writing in my spare time and have completed a manuscript? Who knows?

When is a book not a book?

4 thoughts on “When is a book not a book?

  1. This is a really good post, I’ve often felt the same way. I work at a bank by day but pretty much I spend a large portion of my spare time writing not only books, but interviews, reviews, articles, etc. When I little I used to dabble in fan fiction (I know, I know) with my friends. My life has always been about writing – but what’s the line where it becomes more than a hobby?

    I have an unpublished book too, ones that haven’t seen the light of day — that I have barely let anyone know — so I’m not really an author and its technically not a book until I decide to go the route of putting it out there for someone to read…

    I still however, think of myself as a writer — and I feel embarrassed about publicly saying it because of the connotations… I feel like writer is in the same class as an artist… a cute little hobby that someone has because there’s not enough money in it to make it their career.

    Not unless you’re JK Rowling….

    Good thoughts 🙂


    • Hi Jess

      Thanks for the comment. I think there are a lot of aspiring writers like us who enjoy the process, would love to do it full time but are unsure how to describe ourselves in the meantime. An interesting conundrum


  2. Call it a novel. That’s what it is.

    As for the ‘what do you call yourself’ thing…. I don’t think it makes much difference. I’ve published 12 books (some of which sell quite well!), have been writing for over 20 years, have blogs that have had hundreds of thousands of views, but I think I’ve only called myself ‘a writer’ (other than on my Twitter bio) about twice. Partly because you end up having to have a conversation about it, once you’ve said it 😉

    Easier to let other people do the label thing for you, as they wish, I think!


    • Hi Terry

      Thanks for the comment. Novel is a great word – don’t know why I didn’t think of that myself! I think for the time being I will follow your advice and avoid using the W word and all the subsequent conversations which have to follow. Much easier that way


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