In my mind, I'm now considered 'pro'. What triggered that change? My first royalty check. It ended up a bit bigger than I expected, even with the distribution hassles. It arrived via PayPal and so though I don't have a genuine check to fondle or photocopy and frame, it's still a FIRST.
Firsts, as I call them, should be savored. For most of you it's that first time with a lover, your first job, child, car, house, etc. Besides those (minus the child) for me it was my first book, my first contract, and now my very first check.
Validation comes in many forms. A stellar review, a reader who says, "I can't wait for the next book!" or a fellow author who remarks, "That book rocks, babe." And, of course, the $$.
I've always treated writing like a career. I love what I do, even though I can bitch like crazy when a story is playing hell with me. But at the bottom of it all, this is what I want to do with my life.
Now I have proof that others agree with that opinon. It's a strangely humbling experience.