The question of whether someone is an author or writer frequently crops up even though, due to modern day usage, it tends to be a superfluous enquiry. It is often posed by people new to publishing though, occasionally, it may also be raised by those who have already published something but remain confused about the possible distinction.
In modern usage the two words have become interchangeable and synonymous. Consequently, any distinction is really no longer of import. Nevertheless, there are those who like to have everything defined as well as those who can get a bit het up about the issue. Regrettably, some can be quite disparaging and abrasive. That is not fair to those who are new to the issue and who are naturally sensitive to any criticism until they join the rest in growing a tough skin.
Because of the confusion it may be worth looking at the various dictionary definitions before any further contemplation.
‘The writer of a book etc.; An originator.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)
‘A writer of a book, article, or document.’ (Unknown)
‘The writer of a book, article, play, etc. (Cambridge Dictionary)
‘A person who begins or creates something.’ (Cambridge Dictionary)
‘The writer of a book, article, or other text.’ (The Free Dictionary)
‘One who practices writing as a profession.’ (The Free Dictionary)
‘A person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.’ (Dictionary.com)
‘The literary production or productions of a writer.’ (Dictionary.com)
‘The maker of anything: creator; originator.’ (Dictionary.com)
‘The author of a piece of writing is the person who wrote it.’ (Collins Dictionary)
‘An author is a person whose job is writing books.’ (Collins Dictionary)
‘The writer of a literary work (such as a book).’ (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
‘One that originates or creates something.’ (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
‘A person who has written something, or who writes as an occupation.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)
‘A person who has written something or who writes in a particular way.’ (Unknown)
‘A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or occupation.’ (Unknown)
‘A writer is a person who uses written words to communicate ideas.’ (Unknown)
‘One who writes, especially as an occupation.’ (The Free Dictionary)
‘A person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc. especially as an occupation or profession.’ (The Free Dictionary)
‘A person who writes books or articles to be published.’ (Cambridge Dictionary)
‘A person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.’ (Dictionary.com)
‘A person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing. (Dictionary.com)
‘One that writes: such as author.’ (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
As may be seen, there is considerable crossover, disclosing how the terms have truly become interchangeable. Remember, these are DICTIONARY definitions and therefore generally recognised as formal and accurate interpretations.
Now to cater for the purists and those of pedantic inclination. Historically the term ‘author’ was recognised as applying to the ‘originator’ of an idea. This appears to be the crucial word for many. To them the difference between the two boils down to an author being the original creator of an idea and a writer simply reflecting other people’s ideas. But is it really that simple? Well, technically probably but life and terminology usage are not static. Both are in constant flux and even those responsible for compiling and updating dictionaries acknowledge the fact and frequently incorporate popular usage.
Some describe a writer as being someone who writes any sort of content related to a topic assigned to them, from any source, but not generally in book form but in articles, magazines, newspapers, websites, etc. A few go so far as to state the writer of an autobiography may be addressed as the author but the writer of a biography may only be referred to as a writer. This seems a bit of a stretch, especially as others reckon anyone who has published a book has the right to refer to themselves as an author. Of course, there are exceptions, for example ghost writers who help ‘authors’ put their words into meaningful form. In these instances the ghost writer may only consider themselves the writer whereas the originator, even if they have not actually written a single word, will always be referred to as the author.
Naturally, everyone is entitled to their own opinion but in general it has to be acknowledged a majority of people automatically refer to the writer of any information as the author of such material. Further, anyone who has published a book is always referred to as the author of the book.
Like it or not, it must be accepted, in modern day usage, the terms ‘author’ and ‘writer’ have become synonymous and are used interchangeably by the general public, readers included. To criticise this usage in a bombastic manner is unfair. Of course, it is acceptable to gently explain and highlight the roots of both words for the education of the reader but the changes modern usage has brought for many words and phrases must, if reluctantly, be recognised.