By Marivir R. Montebon
Manhattan — Tim Sheard is one gentle giant in the journalism in New York. He sits as chairperson of the National Writers Union – New York Chapter, the biggest aggrupation of freelance journalists and writers in the US.
Mainly concerned with developing the professional skills of its members and expanding membership, he gives much of his time to the group, especially now that he has retired from his profession as a nurse.
Sheard has published his most recent novel, A Bitter Pill, the 6th Lenny Moss Mystery, under his own publishing company, the Hard Ball Press. His company finds its niche in nurturing working class writers and promoting working class literature in schools, unions, and the public. Hard Ball Press has established the publishing of this writer’s memoir, Biting the Big Apple and Val Woodward’s Remembering Rollo.
While competition is tough and rough in the city that never sleeps, Sheard still has reason to say New York is the still the best place for writers, the new ones as well as the seasoned. Excerpts from the interview.
1. What big issues are freelance writers facing in NYC?
Freelance writers are facing declines in reimbursement fees for our work. In many cases, online media producers such as the Huffington Post demand that writers send them work for zero compensation. Even CNN is asking for free content in the form of photos and videos, which is cutting the income of professional freelance photo-journalists. The decline in reimbursement rates is partly due to the popularity of free content on the web. Many readers expect the information to be free for them. As a result, media companies have difficulty raising revenues – advertisements alone often do not provide a sufficient revenue stream to maintain their site.
Other issues include affordable health care, given the steep decline in income for writers, piracy of our work – an ongoing issue – and isolation, since many of us work alone.
2. How is the NWU responding to these?
The National Writers Union has joined with other professional organizations in demanding that publishers and media companies pay a living wage to writers. We recommend publications that pay a sustainable fee. And we encourage writers to refuse to provide free content.
3. Is New York still the place for ‘making it big’ in the US, as far as writers are concerned?
Yes, New York is still a great place for writers. For one thing, the atmosphere and culture is stimulating and supportive. You will find writing groups through Meet-up, for example, all over the city. The New York Chapter of the NWU has free monthly programs with guest speakers who talk about the business side of writing. Many literary agents and publishers are in the city. And there are still a number of book stores open to new writers. And of course, the pubs.
4. What must writers do in order to be read and recognized in the midst of competition in media institutions?
To be read you must find a niche, reach out to that niche and keep in contact with them. Social media helps. Going to events and making your voice heard also helps. Take part in online discussions, but don’t talk about yourself, contribute to the topic at hand, with a mention of your writing services attached to your signature. Also, do your research. Examine what types of material the media companies are publishing and learn how to write it.
Research is easy now thanks to the Web – use it and polish your pitch letters to editors.
5. Do you believe that writers are in competition with each other, or they will always be distinct from one another?
Of course, we are in competition, and we are also brothers and sisters. Most writers support other writers, sharing publisher information, giving advice on writing techniques, etc. Since we all want to sell stories and books, we must learn to find our special audience and connect with them.
6. Many media institutions are corporate entities and political machineries as well. How does a writer protect himself or herself from political biases or commercialism and simply emerge truthful and for the values of balanced reportage and justice?
There is still room in publishing for honest reporting. Online journals like Mother Jones, Democracy Now, Counterpunch, and so on are looking for timely content, well researched and crisply written. Admittedly, there is a bias among the big news companies against articles and stories that are sharply critical of the status quo and the current power structure.
But upstart publishers are ready to take them on, though they don’t pay much. Still, you will receive important writing credits and experience.
It’s true, close to 90% of writers do not support themselves with writing alone, at least as far as fiction goes. Many work as editors, librarians, teachers, etc. Many write for union newsletters. Their work provides access to people and information they can write about, so work and writing support each other. I was luck to have my nursing career of 43 years, it gave me the financial security to sit and write. And nursing provided the stories and characters I was able to weave into my novels. I don’t think I would have been much of a writer without many years of experience in the workplace. Now that I’m retired, with social security and a small pension, I’m free to write and to nurture other writers – help them find their voice and get into print.
8. What prospects are there for NWU this year?
The NWU has opportunities for reaching many freelance writers this year. We will participate in several book fairs, will host another International Writers Conference – “Writing Across Borders” on May 18, and we have free monthly programs with speakers discussing the business side of writing. With so many self-published writers being ripped off by by greedy, expensive service companies, we must find ways to warn them against those jackals and to learn how they can publish their work for a modest fee while retaining all rights and all the revenues.