by Richard A. Sherer, Laura Meyers and Marvin J. Wolf
In summer 1982, a half dozen writers gathered on a porch swing at a colleague’s home to discuss their careers. Each opted for self-employment over a steady job. They were all well-educated and accomplished in their fields, but they knew that many publishers and editors failed to perceive independent writers as professionals.
This coterie of writers agreed that, as independents, they often coped with low or slow pay and extended payment terms. They lacked such elementary job benefits as health insurance or a credit union. As they sat on that porch back in ’82, they began to play the old game of “There-ought-to-be. ”
“There ought to be a way that self-employed writers could get business services at a reasonable rate.”
“There ought to be a way of getting respect for writers.”
“There ought to be a way of finding out what other writers are charging for their work.”
There ought to be. . .
. . . an organization. One that did not require its members to sell to particular markets. One that would help self-employed writers improve their lot in life. One that could approach publishers, agency heads and editors to settle grievances.
A spark was lit from these conversations. The writers decided to create an organization dedicated to the idea that they could deal with these issues and find solutions as a group. No self-employed writer need stand alone.
Their first task was to test the interest of other writers – and to get the seed money to fund the work. The new organizing group put up their own money. They rented the Los Angeles Press Club for a meeting and mailed announcements to 800 writers in Southern California. The response proved the validity of their initial vision: The room was packed, and so many attendees signed on as charter members that they launched the Independent Writers of Southern California – IWOSC.
Many years of hard work by dedicated volunteers later that fledgling organization is among the preeminent writers organizations in the region. IWOSC is now a group of several hundred writers as remarkable for our joint efforts as for our individual talents and virtuosity. IWOSC’s record has been impressive.
Since our inception, IWOSC has helped thousands of writers hone their literary and business skills through our programs of continuing education. Our grievance committee has a framework for resolving disputes and has helped numerous writers settle claims. We have created a jobline to match employers with writers. We promulgated codes of ethics and of standards and practices, and we assembled a package of support services, including reduced-cost legal advice, a credit union, an online support and networking discussion e-group for writers, a website, and drop-in satellite sessions. *
We have sponsored programs on media ethics, new opportunities in multimedia and copyright issues on the Information Superhighway. We have grilled panels of editors about their pay rates and requirements, and we have created an environment for writers to share ideas, needs, gripes and leads.
Our accomplishments are many. Early in our organizational life, we raised more than $10,000 for the Los Angeles Save The Books campaign, to help rebuild the downtown Central Library’s collection after a devastating fire. IWOSC has contributed thousands of books to literacy programs and lobbied against threats to First Amendment freedoms. We have fought to preserve intellectual property rights. We have worked to repeal unfair taxation of self-employed writers. We have held numerous social events to lessen the loneliness of the writing life and to emulate the “water-cooler effect” of company workplaces.
In December 2014, IWOSC donated $2500 to Sojourn Services for Battered Women and Their Children, the domestic violence program within Santa Monica’s OPCC (Ocean Park Community Center, www.opcc.org), as a tribute to IWOSC’s esteemed, longtime treasurer Pam Leven, who died a year earlier in a cycling accident.
Most of all, we have defined and refined the concept of an organization that thrives on serving its members, on sharing whatever we can to make the writing life better.
The same spirit that moved those first few writers on a summer afternoon still operates. While we have done much in a short time, much remains for us to do. If the next 25 years are as fruitful as the first 25-plus, IWOSC will continue to be a major force in the Southern California writing community. With your help.
(*) Please note: While all of these benefits have been offered over our nearly 40-year history, not all are available now. We no longer offer membership in a credit union, for example, nor do we have a jobline at present.