Thursday, September 24, 2009


By Beth Terrell

Today, I came across not one, but two different blogs complaining about the use of the term pre-published to refer to writers with no published works. It seems a number of aspiring writers are referring to themselves as pre-published and that a number of published authors are taking offense at the practice.

One commenter compared pre-published to pre-med and pre-law, but that the latter two were valid terms because they implied a specific course of study and an implication that the pre-med/pre-law student was expressing a serious intent to attend medical/law school. Thus, even if he or she never actually entered the medical/legal profession, the student had fulfilled the promise of the "pre" label by entering the medical or law program. However, there is no specific course of study for the aspiring author. With no program to enter, the only way to fulfill the promise of the label would be to actually BE published. Since there is no guarantee that the writer in question has what it takes to become published (the argument goes), claiming to be pre-published is akin to claiming to be pre-rich, pre-thin, or a pre-Nobel-Prize-winner. (Hmm. I wouldn't mind being pre-rich or pre-thin, either.) Apparently, a lot of people think anyone who would describe himself or herself as pre-published is: arrogant, delusional, full of false hope, pathetic, or all of the above. Unpublished writers, they say, should just call themselves what they are: unpublished.

But when I first started hearing the term, it was being used by published authors to described other writers who hadn't (or hadn't yet) signed publishing contracts. Some were in the query process, and others had never completed so much as a short story, but all dreamed of one day becoming professional authors. The published authors who used the term weren't trying to be cute or coy. They used the "pre-published" as a sort of "attaboy," or "hang in there" or "You'll make it, just don't give up." The term was inclusive. It was created as a kindness.

"Pre-published" sounds like hope. "Unpublished," on the other hand, is reminiscent of all those other "un" words: unloved, unwanted, unfortunate, unworthy. Nobody wants to be an "un."

To me, a writer who says "I am pre-published" IS expressing a serious intent. He (or she) is saying , "I will do whatever it takes to raise the quality of my writing to a publishable level, and then I will do what is necessary to find a publisher and an audience for that work." Does every writer who calls himself or herself pre-published go on to be published? Of course not, just as not every pre-law student goes to law school.

But I say, what's the harm? In this difficult profession, the "pre-published" label gives some aspiring writers a little hope. I don't know about you, but to me, that doesn't sound like a bad thing.


Sheila Deeth said...

I guess I mustn't have heard the term much. When I started reading your article I was assuming it was something to do with being "sort of" previously published, like when something's been online before being submitted. Thanks for setting me right.

Beth Terrell said...

Sheila, several commenters mentioned that they considered themselves pre-published because they had a publishing contract, but the book had not yet been made available. Even the peopler who disliked the term in general conceded that was probably a viable use for the term.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Interesting, Beth. Can't say I've heard the term before. It kind of reminds me of when I was flying the F-4 and couldn't drop a live bomb because I hadn't dropped a live bomb before. During that period, I guess I was a "pre-bomber". Then one day I dropped live and was suddenly "good to go" -- kind of like having been published.