Baldur Bjarnason describes what he sees as the five different “types” of author, and their relationship to the de-professionalisation of the, er, profession.
Broadly, Bjarnason’s Five Types are:
- Old guard authors, most of whom started their careers prior to the start of heavy consolidation in the publishing and bookselling industries, in around the 1980s and 1990s respectively. These authors are products of a time when “Author” was a viable, paying profession in-and-of-itself, meaning “someone who writes marketable books” as opposed to the “minor self-promoting media celebrity” it now implies.
- What Bjarnason called “chattering amateurs“, but which he seems to more correctly define as cross-media celebrities with book deals. These are individuals who can leverage popularity gained outside of publishing in order to sell books. Think reality TV stars and politicians, but also bloggers and online media personalities. Hillary Clinton and Kim Kardashian fall into this class, but so do E.L. James (who leveraged her popularity as a fanfic writer), and the Welcome to Night Vale crew (who turned their popular podcast into a book deal with HarperCollins/Orbit). Disclaimer: I think Bjarnason is far too dismissive of this category, even if I don’t think he’s wrong in his identification of it per se.
- One person creativity businesses, a.k.a. the modern full-time author. This is the author with all the skills of a Type #1, minus the external platform of a Type #2, and coupled with the business and marketing savvy required nowadays in order to be a full-time author. Compare and contrast to:
- The day job author, a.k.a. the author who has a career outside of their writing in order to support their writing. Some have the “quit your day job” dream, but not all. Bjarnason identifies this category as more likely to produce avant garde works, because having a non-writing income stream leaves Type #4 authors more open to producing books that aren’t necessarily immediately commercially successful (as opposed to a Type #3, who doesn’t eat if they don’t sell).
- Non-author writers. These are the “misc./other” category; writers who aren’t necessarily considered “authors” in the traditional sense, generally because they’re using their writing as a means to an end rather than the end itself. They tend not to be published in the traditional sense. Think someone who runs a craft blog, diligently publishing long and detailed how-tos on the creation of costume components for cosplay outfits, for example.
The point of identifying these categories is to realise that the craft of writing itself is not core to their existence. This is what Bjarnason means by the “de-professionalisation” of the job of author. Type #1 and #2 authors rely on their brand recognition, Type #3s on the marketing skill, Type #4s on their day job, and Type #5s on their particular community service niche. Writing-as-craft is important to each of these types of authors, but it isn’t the key/core component that differentiates them; Type #1s can be popular hacks just as easily as Type #5s can be gifted unknowns.
It’s also worth noting that each of these different types is served best by different aspects of the publishing industry, from Big 5 tradpub, to niche tradpub, to self-pub, to “misc./other” (e.g. blogging). Which is why it’s useful for authors to think about which category they’re in (or want to be in).
Basically, the life of the modern author is a fraught and confusing one. Actually writing the damn book is the least of your worries…