For a longer time, when asked to identify myself in literary contexts, I used the term “wannabe author”. This felt appropriate and humorous without making unsubstantiated claims. Mostly people let it pass, but I did get some push-back. Sometimes this was direct, as in “don’t belittle yourself”, other times it was more subtle. In a mock presentation I made for submitting a (hypothetical) play script, my then writing teacher corrected it to “early author”.
Why not just “author”? I write, and I create things that are writing adjacent (photography, illustrations). An author, says my dictionary, is “a person who begins or creates something”. That’s me, isn’t it?
Yes. But no.
I’ve written pieces and made pictures that I’ve published variously on line. I’ve had a few items – poems, short stories, at least one photograph – published professionally, even if I’ve not exactly been paid for anything. (Though I did win a modest money prize for one poem a few years ago.) But I don’t feel that really allows me to call myself an author. An author, for me, is a title you give to someone who is established, who has written books (books in the plural), and had them published by a recognised publishing house.
So I’ve felt, and I still feel, that I need to qualify “author” when I talk about myself. But if not wannabe, what’s the right qualifier?
Casting around for something more appropriate, I found “emerging author”. I was even encouraged to use it by a couple of writer friends.
Emerging – as a butterfly from a chrysalis perhaps. I went through several stages of feeling about the term. It felt twee, it felt pretentious, it felt like something you might call a delicate young person. It didn’t seem appropriate for an overweight, over-sized, over-the-hill palemale.
(I did briefly picture myself as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, emerging monstrous and unsteady from a lake of tar. It didn’t help.)
On the positive side, emerging is an active and progressive adjective, suggesting that one is one a journey rather than that one has reached a destination.
More than this, given the range of places and contexts I saw it crop up in, “emerging author” clearly has a meaning beyond the obvious surface sense.
The three ‘E’s
In preparation for writing this, I went googling and fished up the following very appropriate quote from an article on the Writers Victoria website in Australia.
The three most used categories by funding bodies to describe artists are early (just starting), emerging (some professional experience and some recognition by your peers) or established (lots of experience and recognition).
For writers these categories correlate to how much you’ve had published. Early equals not much, emerging equals pieces in peer-reviewed journals and anthologies, and established means at least one full-length fiction or non-fiction book by a mainstream publisher.The emphases in the above are my additions.
Sarah Vincent, Writers Victoria, June 2020
Assuming what’s true for writers in Victoria is true for the rest of the writing world, then emerging really does describe me. Just about. Even if “peer-reviewed journals” has a smack of academia about it, I can say I’ve been published in at least one peer-reviewed anthology. And I’ve had pieces accepted for publication in a few magazines where there has been an editorial selection process. Let’s call them peer-reviewed too. And I have peers in my writing group who don’t laugh me off the stage when I share my efforts.
So that’s my new appellation: emerging author.
I’m getting used to it.
Below are six illustrations produced with the NightCafe Creator AI to the prompts as given in the captions. Which do you prefer?