I’m Patricia Morrison, Acquisitions Editor of Penumbra Publishing (a royalty-paying micro-publisher offering books in print and ebook format). Authors, staff, and guest bloggers of Penumbra Publishing will be providing blog posts for your amusement and enjoyment each Tuesday, right here at Paranormal Wire. The content will usually deal with helpful tips for fiction authors or issues that affect readers, but may occasionally touch on other subjects generally related to the publishing world. We’re open for suggestions on this, so contact us if you have specific questions.
And now, on with the show...
Today is the dreaded IDES OF MARCH! (That’s the 15th of March, in case you don’t know what ‘ides’ means, or your electronic calendar isn’t working properly.)
In ancient Rome, this day was dedicated as a fun-filled festival celebrating Mars, the God of War. It was on this day, while Julius Caesar made his way to the Theatre of Pompey, that a seer warned him he would die that very day. (“Beware the Ides of March.” – quote from William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar.)
And segueing from Caesar to the quote, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s...” (attributed to Jesus in the Bible, Matthew 22:21) brings me to the real point of this article. That’s right, it’s exactly one month before the dreaded T-Day.
No, not Turkey-Day! That’s in November. I’m talking about April 15, TAX DAY in the USA.
You’ve got 31 days from today to get your taxes done and postmarked (or e-filed) by midnight, April 15, for the tax year 2010. While this may not give you time to prepare for the tax ramifications of being a professional author doing your tax return for last year’s earnings, now’s the time to plan ahead for your 2011 tax return – especially if you’ve recently been published or are about to be published, and are just now starting to deal with all the paperwork involved with trying to document your business activities.
“Business activities?” you say with a questioning lilt in your voice...
Yep, that’s right. BUSINESS. If you’re a writer who’s serious about being a professional author, then you have to treat your writing pursuit as a business – not a hobby. And then you can use the expenses associated with your business to offset your earnings.
“But I haven’t even earned any royalties yet,” you object in abject denial...
Well, yes, but what if you suddenly start earning royalties? (Trust me, stranger things have happened, and you don’t want to get caught surprised and unprepared.) It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been working to become a writer for a month, a year, or ten years. It doesn’t matter whether your family and friends believe in you or not. It doesn’t matter whether all those hours you’ve spent trying to cultivate your craft have yielded no fruit – yet. And the important word here is YET, because if you keep working at it, and working at it smart, then you might actually see some fruits of your labor.
“Really?” you ask in with genuine interest as you bat your eyelids in astonishment...
Yes. Really. Because, if you treat your chosen profession (writing) as a business rather than a pipe dream, you’re more likely to succeed. Why? Because you’ll be seriously pursuing your dream with the intention of making it a reality. You’ll do what is necessary to make yourself succeed. You’ll join a good critique group or find a writing partner who will help you learn how to write better if your work isn’t appreciated enough to be snapped up by an interested publisher. You’ll learn what it takes to clean up your sloppy manuscript full of errors that keeps getting rejected. You’ll learn how to write a query letter that sings like a canary rather than squawking like a crow. You’ll go to writing conferences to pitch to editors or agents who may be interested in your writing. In short, you will ACT like a professional – and that will go a long way toward molding you into the professional you need to be in order to succeed.
But ... what about the tax advice I seemed to be offering? Well, I’m not really qualified to give advice in that area, but I can tell you a few basics to get you started.
- Keep a journal of your writing-related business activities and attendant expenses, as well as receipts. Expenses would certainly include travel to writing conferences and the cost of said conferences, and postage to send snail-mail submissions, for example.
- Keep track of expenses for related costs of purchasing a web domain and activating an author web page.
- If you use a portion of your home as a dedicated office for the business part of your profession, keep a record of utilities and repairs, purchase cost, and year put into service, to help you decide how best to provide depreciation information and cost of operation for the home-office portion of your business.
- Be aware that if your earnings from writing are fairly large (like a couple thousand a month – don’t laugh, it could happen), you might need to make quarterly payments to the government for Social Security and Medicare that would normally be deducted from a ‘day job’ paycheck. This would be done to avoid substantial penalties being imposed for underpayment of these estimated contributions.
- The business activity code to use on Schedule C of your self-employment reporting is 711510 for independent artists, writers, and performers.
- http://www.irs.gov has a lot of information online (a LOT), including some tips for self-employed folks and those thinking of starting their own businesses.
- If you find the paperwork requirements overwhelming and have the means to do so, you might wish to hire a dedicated bookkeeper and have your taxes done by a CPA. However, even these professionals will need to have something to work with, so keep track of your expenses and your earnings by retaining receipts and notifications of payment.
Just remember, don’t let the business of writing sap all the fun out of writing. After all, you didn’t decide to become a writer because you wanted to be saddled with paperwork. No, you wanted to WRITE – so go do it, and do it well!