When is a book – a book?

I ask the question, ‘when is a book – a book?’ out of curiosity – not because of any forgone conclusion or opinion. Though I do admit I’m old-school swayed.

The question has puzzled and bemused me over the years. I hear many writers call their WIP (work-in-progress) a book. Some even say they’ve written four books – though all may be as yet unpublished.

I’m wondering at what point other writers, and also publishers and editors, consider a book to be a book, or refer to it as such. When I started my Diploma of Professional Writing & Editing (God, can it be 14 years ago?) my Writing for Children tutor told us in no uncertain terms that a WIP/current mss is not a book until it’s published. She said that the right to call your work a book comes with the printed copy or referring to it as your ‘book’ once commissioned and not before.

This ideology seems outdated when I hear writers talk today.

So, I’d love to know – when is a book a book to you? Is there a consensus? Does it matter? Please share by leaving your thoughts/opinion in the comments.

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Corinne Fenton" alt="Corinne Fenton">

Corinne Fenton

Great question Chris and for me it’s definitely not a book until it has a cover and arrives from the publisher in all its glory, till then it’s a manuscript. But now of course with e publishing it’s a different story.

May 23, 2011 at 7:07 am
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Thanks, Corinne.

    I always felt the same way, but notice even the tutors at Master’s level ask what is your book about? So my curiosity grew. I’ll be really interested and hopeful to get some opinions from other writers and those in the industry.

    Cheers, Chris 🙂

    May 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm
Alison" alt="Alison">


Ah ha, good question indeed! According to the dictionary a book is a portable written or printed word filling a number of sheets fastened together… So, if you cart your MS around in an elastic band it’s a manuscript, stick it in a binder and it’s a book 😛

Lol, I don’t really think it matters what you call it but if you go on the Law of Attraction then by calling your WIP a book then by that law it must become a book, call it a manuscript and it will always just be a manuscript!

May 24, 2011 at 9:11 am
alison reynolds" alt="alison reynolds">

alison reynolds

I used to always think a manuscript didn’t turn into a book until it was in a cover and available for sale.
Now I tend to say a wip is a book when it’s commissioned and I know it will become one.
Maybe it’s more optimistic to call your wip a book, and perhaps will encourage yourself to take it more seriously/professionally?


May 24, 2011 at 9:32 am
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Thanks, Alison.

    I too tend to say I’ve got a new book coming out once it has been accepted/commissioned. Before then I tend to think of it as a mss or “work”. But I asked the question because I notice that the reference is changing lately, and I wondered what the general consensus is. It seems it doesn’t matter so much, as long as it inspires the work.


    May 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm
Lorraine" alt="Lorraine">


I think an author can take the liberty of saying that the manuscript they are working on is a book- it’s the vision that ultimately drives a book into existence.

May 24, 2011 at 10:37 am
Karen Tyrrell" alt="Karen Tyrrell">

Karen Tyrrell

Hi Chris,
My use of the term, book changes for the occasion. When I’m submitting to agents and publishers its strictly a manuscript. But when I’m want to dream and envisage the future my types pages become my BOOK.

May 25, 2011 at 8:22 pm

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