Authors discuss challenges of internet

Four authors came together to talk about the challenges of the internet age.
Four authors came together to talk about the challenges of the internet age. Photo by Sara Miller.

The Internet has created significant challenges for writers, according to four best-selling novelists.

On Wednesday afternoon at the Morse Crescent Theater, David Baldacci, Sue Grafton, Alice Hoffman and Scott Turow spoke to approximately 20 members of the Yale community about writing in the modern age. The rise of the Internet has created many copyright and intellectual property ownership issues for writers, they said.

“I think it’s important to remember that Apple, Amazon, Google and these kinds of companies are all for-profit businesses that are out for themselves,” Turow said. “Before, writers just had to duke it out with their editors. Now, they’re up against these big companies that are not necessarily looking out for the public good.”

Turow, author of the bestselling thriller “Presumed Innocent,” spoke about contemporary challenges for publishing academic writing in particular. Large companies like Google often make academic works widely available for free, sometimes without the author’s consent, he said, adding that websites like Google Scholar have encroached on scholars’ ownership of their work.

“A lot of people are enhancing their position at the expense of writers,” Baldacci said. “There are publishers online who don’t want to spend a lot of money on royalties. There are also companies like Amazon that are determined to sell books at the lowest price.”

Though Baldacci said the Internet provides helpful publicity for bestselling authors, he added that online publishing worries him because it discourages new writers who will not get compensated for their work.

The panelists also talked about the future of the novel as an art form and how traditional books must now compete with TV and the Internet.

Baldacci said he was once asked to write a three to five minute television episode for the Internet.

“My first reaction was, ‘You want me to write something that makes people’s attention span even shorter and makes them less likely to read my novels?’” Baldacci said.

Still, he said he believes in the traditional novel’s ability to attract readers. If a story is good enough, people will keep reading it, he said.

The four writers also spoke about their own personal experiences and writing habits.

Grafton said she previously wrote scripts in Hollywood but found that the profession did not suit her.

“There were all these people who couldn’t write going through my work with their golden pencils,” she said. “I learned from Hollywood that I’m not a team player.“

Grafton, who writes detective novels, advised aspiring mystery writers to focus not on the mechanics of writing but on how to create and develop characters.

Hoffman, who is best known for her 1996 novel “Practical Magic,” said that her biggest challenge was retaining “purity” in her writing even after she had graduated with her master’s degree from Stanford and had become a professional writer.

“At Stanford, we weren’t thinking about publishing, just about the writing,” she said. “But now that I’m a professional, I have to keep bringing myself back to that initial purity.”

Students interviewed had differing opinions about the Master’s Tea.

Though Adam Echelman ’17 said he enjoyed hearing about the authors’ own experiences, he added that the talk primarily consisted of general writing advice that “sounded a little hackneyed.”

“The part when they were talking about their experiences and attitudes was fantastic,” Jack O’Malley ’17 said. “It’s striking to hear how these bestselling authors really developed.”

Baldacci’s latest novel, “The Hit,” was published Apr. 2013.

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