Tag Archives: author

Do you know how to run your writing business?

Many of us don’t realize that, once we start to sell something, we’re a business. Do you make and sell pies or cupcakes? You’re a business. Do you knit sweaters or hats? You’re a business. Watercolors? Pottery? Calligraphy? Business.

calvin-on-counterfeiting-money

So if you’ve published a book and are selling it — even if you haven’t broken even on your initial investment — you are a business. And that’s good news for you! Now, I’m not a CPA, so please don’t take my advice on the finances as gospel. But I’ve been in charge of our business’s finances for 20 years, and my non-profit’s for 4, so I do know something about it.

Here’s what you need to consider:

You don’t have to be an S-corp, an LLC, or incorporated to be a business and get the benefits thereof. As an independent contractor, a sole proprietor or a DBA (ie if you publish under a different name), you’re still a business. What that means is that you can write off your expenses and apply them against your income, if you file anything other than a 1040EZ tax form.

What are your expenses? Here’s a non-comprehensive list –

  • Postage when you have a giveaway, send ARC copies out, or otherwise give away books for review/advertising (ie to generate word of mouth).
  • The cost of producing your book (ie cover art, editor, proofreader, formatter, copyright filing, paper you used to print it).
  • The cost of marketing your book (any paid advertising, even a $5 guaranteed listing for your free book promo). This includes services like MailChimp, your website hosting costs, purchasing a domain name, etc.
  • The cost of paperback copies of your book (ie for giveaways, ARCs, etc).
  • The cost of any signage you have produced for a book signing or book fair.
  • The cost of entering a book fair.
  • The cost to join professional organizations (ie I belong to the Alliance of Independent Authors, the North Carolina Writers Network, and several others that had membership dues to join).
  • The cost of advertising materials like bookmarks and postcards and things you give out to people to advertise your book.
  • Any legal or accounting expenses you incur.
  • Mileage on your vehicle if you are driving to a book-selling-specific event (ie a signing). You can find the current mileage allowance on the government’s website. Last I checked it was about 54 cents a mile, but it could be more (or less). Keep a log and be very specific, with dates, locations and names.
  • Any travel required for your promotion beyond driving (ie airfare to a signing). In this case your hotel and meals are expenses also, and any wining and dining of agents or publishers, bookstores, etc. Your child or spouse’s expenses don’t count!

In general, you can’t write off a home office anymore, unless absolutely NOTHING, and I mean nothing, happens in that office except writing. And even then, I wouldn’t do it. It’s a red flag for an audit. Same with cell phone (unless you have a dedicated line just for your writing) and other utility-like costs associated. If you do rent an office outside your home, that IS a business expense.

You don’t have to use a program like Quickbooks to keep track of all this. Excel has perfectly serviceable templates, at least until you get a half dozen books and find yourself doing a lot of book related things. Open a new spreadsheet and click Gallery, then Budgets. I use the Expenses sheet, and have added a Memo field where I specify exactly which book I was spending money on and what it was for (ie. Solomon’s Throne bookmarks). Any spreadsheet that lets you itemize an Account for your entry is fine, at least until you get into hundreds of entries. You want to specify your expenses into General Accounting Chart of Accounts, such as Advertising, Postage, Services (this is the production of your book, etc), Mileage, etc. Excel has a good starting list in that template, although you will need to add your own. You can find a standard Chart of Accounts easily online.

Since we’re coming to the end of the year, it’s time for you to put all your expenses in one place, and have them organized. You’ll need your income, too, although you should get tax forms from all your online retailers to submit with your taxes. You’re entitled to these deductions on your taxes, and Lord knows we all need all the help we can get! Take the time to learn what it means to you financially, now that you’re officially Joe Smith, Writer. It could save you some money!

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Do you write in a bubble?

No, me neither. Life happens. Our best laid plans go awry. Sometimes it’s our day job, sometimes it’s our kids, and sometimes it’s us. The key is to balance taking the time you need to deal with the issues at hand, and still staying on the path to your writing goals.

Last week I found out that I tested positive on a blood test for celiac disease. That was Thursday morning, and, to be honest, it threw me for a loop for a few days. I like to eat. I love pasta and pizza and this delicious sushi roll at our favorite sushi place that uses fried shrimp. Other than migraine medicine, I take no other pain relievers, even after a surgery, other than Advil Liqui-gels, and guess what? Advil Liqui-gels (plus Advil Migraine and Advil PM) that are made in the US have gluten in them. Beer, too… Now that’s just sad.

I took Thursday off from writing, because I was doing my OCD thing and researching celiac disease to death, plus my brain wasn’t exactly on the fiction fast track. Saturday I only wrote half of my 2000 words a day goal. Sunday I felt much better because I felt like I had a handle on the whole thing, and wrote 2777 words. Last night I wrote almost 2300. But tomorrow is the biopsy, and I’ll be sedated and all that, so I probably won’t write (or what I write will be gibberish!).

All that is to say this – life happens. Good and bad. Babies are born. People get sick or hurt. The opportunity for a road trip comes up. You get unexpected visitors. A deadline gets moved back. Your company gets a new account and suddenly you’re working 80 hours a week. Since I’m not Buddhist, I won’t say you need to maintain your “zen” but I will say that you need to have realistic expectations. And realistically, well, shit happens. (Pardon my magic word.)

It’s actually amazing that, in my 4th NaNo event, this is the first time that something like this has come up. Surely that’s beating the odds! But I’m OK with it. I’ll get my 50,000 words in August, even if I don’t get my goal of 60,000, so I’ll win. And I’ve begun to realize that this YA novel isn’t going to be finished in 60k words anyway, at least not the way I’m write it now. I’m not changing my 2000 word a day goal, but I’m realizing that there may be a few more days off or deficit days than I’d planned for. And I’m OK with that, too.

We tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Florida sailing… but I’m pretty mellow. But I can still start freaking out over my self-imposed goals. So once again, I’m giving myself permission to do my best, even if it’s not what I’d hoped, and to write a really bad first draft. It’s all OK – really.

Happy writing, friends!

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Nike has the answer to would-be writers’ question

I am new to the world of published writers, with my first book, Solomon’s Throne, just appearing in print and ebook in mid-July, so this isn’t an article about marketing – I’m new, I’m an introvert, I’m not in advertising, don’t ask me!

However, what I have done is complete three novels, a screenplay, a non-fiction book and start another novel in 14 months. Respectively, so you know they’re really novels, the word counts are:

  • Solomon’s Throne – 89,000
  • The Hoard of the Doges (before final edit) – 88,000
  • Undaunted Love – 89,000
  • Freedom – 53,000
  • Laid Waste (screenplay) – 130 pages

That’s a lot of words! And a lot of people have started asking me, “How did you do it?” I have a friend who’s been trying to write a memoir for some time, and she asks me just about every month. I have another friend, who has much younger children than I, who says I’m a “word machine”. It seems to be a mystery along the same lines as the Loch Ness Monster and “where’s the beef?”

I would love to write a 50,000 word book with all the secrets. I really would. And since I am a firm believer in self-publishing it, I’d like to get a great cover and sell it as the end-all be-all of writing secrets. But honestly, there’s only one. So that would be a short book. Nike says it most succinctly: Just do it.

Here’s a visual of the same thing –

Seriously. This is it. Kind of disappointing that there’s no magic bullet, no foolproof plan, that the secret is *gag* discipline. Sucks, doesn’t it?

I’ve talked before about my personal process, which wouldn’t work for everyone. I am not the 1000 words a day (or 2000 words a day, like Stephen King), every day, without fail, kind of writer. One of the guys in my writing group took four years on a book. Honestly – and this is the God’s honest truth – if I had to make writing a book take four years, I would never, ever finish it.

I don’t think I’m ADD, but I am a project person. I can focus intensely for a short amount of time and do a really good job at whatever I’m doing. But then I’m done. I am terrible at on-going things like laundry and cleaning and exercise and taking supplements. After a few days, it’s not that I intentionally give up, I just…forget. Literally. I’ll go on with life and a few months later will have a head-slap moment where I remember what I was doing and never finished. (Perhaps this is some sort of long-range ADD?!)

So for me, writing an entire first draft in a month (a la NaNoWriMo) is perfect. Writing an entire first draft in a year is a death sentence for my story. What do I do when I’m not writing? Well, I think. I stare off into space a lot (OK, not really, but I do a lot of thinking on stories when I’m driving or walking). I read weird books like “World History for Dummies” and obscure reference books and write down the random facts that interest me. I edit (yuck). I don’t think about it at all, sometimes.

But when I’m writing, I write. Not necessarily every day out of 30, but most, until I’m done with that first draft. And there is no other secret, no matter if you’re a project person like me, or a disciplined, daily writer like the guy in my writers group. Neither of us would finish if we didn’t do the one thing that would seem self explanatory for a writer. WRITE.

So just do it! (Thanks, Nike!) If you want to be a writer, it involves that one little thing that changes you from a daydreamer to an author. Writing. There’s literally no substitute.

 

 

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Semantics…Why authors are really small business owners

In my attempt at doing marketing research yesterday, I came across a comment on a blog (unfortunately I didn’t save the link) about self publishing. The commentor, whose only identity was his/her name, which indicated someone in the publishing industry, said not to use the terms “indie author” or “indie publishing” because (paraphrasing, since I didn’t copy it down) “it has a negative connotation in the business.”

Well. Guess that settles it, huh? Um, no.

Here’s the thing… I’m not the only one who has seen, and who predicts, tension between the traditional publishers and the new wave of authors foregoing them and going out on their own. It’s been happening for several years, and, as time goes by, it’s going to continue happening as the traditional publishers figure out if they are going to adapt or die. I don’t say that flippantly – companies like AT&T adapted and thrive. Companies like Circuit City didn’t. We don’t ride around on horses anymore, and I expect a good number of people lost their livelihood in the shift to cars (blacksmiths, feed providors, tack manufacturers, carriage houses). It’s just how things work in a free market economy. Sure, it’s sad to wave goodbye to Kodachrome film or to know there’s no more Saab dealers who can service my car. But companies that survive know they have to change and adapt, or they’ll follow suit.

Not that they don’t fight it… Hence the above mentioned comment. One tactic is always fear – fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of being wrong. So promoters of the old product (in this case publishing) try to scare a fairly easily scared group – artists. It’s hard enough to put yourself and your work out there for others to see and judge (and perhaps find lacking). Keep the rumor going that doing it yourself will make you even more of an outcast, and you can keep a lot of people from publishing and promoting their own work.

Not that you, the publisher, will swoop in and help them out. No, you’ll do what you’ve always done and let many a good, maybe even great, writer pass you by because their work doesn’t fit in a genre, or because they’re not already famous. You’ll continue to give the ones you do choose one sided contracts that make it virtually impossible for them to make a living writing. You will cite the economy and budget cuts and hand the reins of marketing over to introverted writers who know nothing about it, then complain because their books didn’t make back the investment. And then you’ll wonder why you have a bad reputation…

I am not against publishers, contrary to what the above paragraph my indicate. I’m against their traditional business practices, which have been heavily weighted in their favor. And I’m glad that technology has now caught up to the point where writers have an alternative, or a bargaining chip. I’ve always been an outside-the-box person anyway (homeschooling before it was “in,” traveling to Africa for my non-profit with no outside support, fashion, whatever…), so I don’t really care much about labels. But a lot of people do, and a lot of great writers may be afraid to self-publish for fear of tarnishing their future potential, while not ever being picked up by an agent or publisher because of the random and convoluted nature of the querying process.

What I hope, and situations like this contribute to that hope, is that the traditional publishers will adapt to the current market. They will figure out ways to help indie authors, change their contracts to allow for more ownership of the product by the author, perhaps divvy up the rights better so that the author has the right to pursue avenues that the publisher will never pursue but that might be open. John Locke has made a deal with Simon & Schuster to distribute his books. He’s still self-publishing them… but they’re getting them in bookstores. Now that’s creative, adaptive thinking. And it’s a win-win.

So really, it boils down to semantics, your belief in yourself, and your willingness to work hard. I saw but couldn’t click the link on a Twitter post yesterday, unfortunately, because the title was something like “should authors pay to publish”, and I wanted to see what it said (and Twitter is like Pinterest – you’d better click RIGHT THEN or you will never see it again!). My feeling is that, at least these days, being a writer is the same as any other small business owner (and I have a lot of experience as a small business owner!). You don’t start a business without putting in your own money, sweat, time and tears. What makes selling books any different? If you believe in your book(s), sell it like any other product. Don’t sit around and wait for money to come to you – go out and build your business. Work hard. Work smart. Learn by research, trial and error.

I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will. Marketing will be the hardest thing for this introvert… But I’m going to figure it out. And I’ll share it with you, if you promise to work hard and believe in yourself.

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Editing Frenzy… Now what?

This week was, admittedly, a little bit nuts. I finished the first draft of The Hoard of the Doges, the Quinn sequel; got the ebooks up and running on Kindle and Nook; did the first quick edit of The Hoard of the Doges; did the final edit of Undaunted Love; emailed the agent who suggested the romance that it was done; did several hours of plotting for the August Camp NaNo novel (working title is “Where the Ducks Went” but be assured that’s not the title!); and started figuring out about marketing.

I’ve written about my editing process here before, but it seems to be a frequent question, on all forums (and in person), so I thought I’d share it briefly again. Keeping in mind that, for whatever reason, I write very clean first drafts, here’s what I do:

*  Print it out. There is something really satisfying about a couple hundred sheets of paper, filled with words that your wrote.

*  Quick edit. This is my first run through, as I do zero editing during the writing phase. Zero. My inner editor is on vacation. This edit is for typos, name changes (I always have at least one secondary character whose name has changed mysteriously during the writing process), and anything obviously flawed. What I am not doing is checking for grammar, sentence structure, perfect word placement, etc.

*  Beta readers. I have a few people who are always my go-to’s, but if I’m writing in a new genre, I get more. For Undaunted Love, my foray into Christian historical romance, I asked a dozen people to read it. All they are reading for is the big stuff: characters, dialogue, plot, believability, etc. NO small stuff.

*  Word-by-word edit. Now we come to the big edit, first on paper. This is where I take (or don’t) suggestions by beta readers (my rule of thumb is that at least 30% need to comment on the same thing before I make a change, although I consider all the comments and decide for myself if I agree). I read for word placement. I do spellcheck. I fix grammar. I change the formatting if necessary (for instance, there are a lot of letters, and one song, in Undaunted Love, and it took me awhile to decide how to structure those from a formatting standpoint). I add chapter numbers (not always successfully, unfortunately!). In short, I am thorough.

*  Make all the above changes in the document. Sometimes I decide, reading it on the computer, that I like the original better. Sometimes I change it differently than I changed it on the printed manuscript. Basically, I’m trying to re-re-read, and polish it up.

And that’s it. That’s my editing. The writing takes me 3-4 weeks (usually), and the editing process, from first edit to betas to final, between 4-6 more. Most of that depends on how long I give the beta readers to get back to me – and I tell them up front what that deadline will be, and don’t bug them. Out of the 12 betas for Undaunted Love, I got detailed feedback from half, spotty from a couple, and nothing from the rest. And that’s OK – your betas are doing you a HUGE favor, for free… They have lives, and things happen! Ask enough that, if you only get 50% response, that’s workable.

So now what? My goal was to get Undaunted Love finished and the agent contacted by the end of the weekend. I was on a roll yesterday, though, and pushed through, so now I have two days. The August Camp NaNo doesn’t start until Wednesday, and I’m mostly done with plotting, just need to do some research on EMPs, the Enigma machine, non-viral WMDs, and some geography.

My thought is, marketing.  I know, it’s a bad thought. At least for non-marketing professionals like myself. But, other than word of mouth, an author has to do it (even if you’re published by a traditional publisher, anymore you have to do it). I’ve saved a lot of links in a folder, so I think this weekend is the time I get those out, see what I need to do next, and start tooting my own horn… Not my strong suit, by any means, but I believe in Solomon’s Throne, and the Quinn series, and I really think you’d like it. And your friends. And your neighbors. I just have to figure out a way to convince you of that, too! Hence my crash course in marketing.

Trust me, I’ll keep you posted!

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