This week we would like you to meet author and President of the Authors Guild Foundation Laura Pedersen.
1. What was the inspiration behind you becoming a writer and author?
I hail from a newspaper family. My people were animated storytellers around the dinner table, however, when sirens were heard, everyone jumped up and dashed out the door to see what was happening. I’ve had all kinds of jobs over the years, but writing is the only one that fully engages my mind and heart. In fact, I gave up being a partner in a Wall Street firm to become a full time writer.
2. Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you create make money?
As a columnist for The New York Times, my objective was to report stories that would be interesting and useful to readers. As a TV host, I created programs that I hoped would provide value to viewers in their daily lives. As a novelist and essayist, I write what I’d like to read and about topics I find intellectually challenging. An essay takes a day or so to write and a book takes about a year. If I calculate my wages, on average I earn one dollar per hour. It’s ridiculous so I try not to think about it and am sorry I ever did the math.
3. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
Based on conversations with friends and fans, I think people imagine my life as more glamorous than it actually is. There are plenty of 3:30 a.m. wake-ups to catch planes and trains. I ride the subway and buses when in New York City. Still, I feel lucky to be writing for publication because I meet many young people trying to break into the business in one form or another and the economics have collapsed. There’s no way most can be full-time writers.
4. When did you first become aware of copyright and why?
I first became aware of the ease and enormity of copyright infringement while a columnist at The New York Times in the 1990s when my work would regularly appear elsewhere and I received no notice or compensation. Meanwhile, book advances for mid-list authors are down by 80% since I first started publishing and author incomes are down by more than 50%. There’s no way of protecting my work after it’s appeared in a newspaper or magazine or as an ebook. If there was some avenue of recourse for creators, perhaps thieves would stop stealing with impunity and pay licensing fees, which are usually modest for a single essay or book chapter. It’s a catch-22 since we need our work to appear online so people can find it. Yet they can also appropriate it just as easily.
5. Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?
At this rate, fewer people will be able to write until eventually the canon is largely created by those with trust funds. This will reflect a narrow segment of the American experience, and more important, the human experience, which I think will be a loss for everyone and future generations. Aristotle says in Poetics that storytelling is what gives us a shareable world. We tell stories to heal and support one another because hearing about the hopes and challenges faced by others helps us better understand our own problems, concerns, and fears. It’s a craft worth supporting and protecting.
Laura Pedersen is a former New York Times columnist and the author of 18 books and 4 plays. She has appeared on national shows such as Oprah, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today, David Letterman, Primetime and others. Laura is president of the Authors Guild Foundation. The Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization of writers.
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