The Tax Man Cometh, Writer’s Edition

ImageAs we scratch our heads to recall the difference between a 1098 and a 1099, the writing life adds a whole other layer of complexity to filing our taxes. We’ve slaved away, dreaming of the day we’d see our darling stories in print. And then the day comes. And with it, comes the taxes.

As a disclaimer, I’m a writer by trade—whether writing feature articles or romance novels. This article is intended to be food for thought. Definitely, definitely consult a tax professional before you take any steps tax-wise. I spoke with my tax-preparer about preparing for the days when I’m actually earning an income as a writer, and I thought I’d share some of what I learned with my fellow writers.

A few tax caveats for writers:

1.)    Quarterly taxes. In the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, most writers are self-employed. And as if filing annually wasn’t stressful enough, you may be required to file quarterly. If you don’t, you could be stuck with penalties when you finally do file. According to the IRS, “As a self-employed individual, generally you are required to file an annual return and pay estimated tax quarterly.” Visit the IRS’s website for the self-employed to see where you fall and read the guidelines.

2.)    Hobby vs. business. The IRS is skeptical about people trying to pass off a hobby as a business. One of the criteria is that you must earn a profit three out of five years. So if you write off expenses for your writing career before you actually have an income stream, in a few years, your writing career could be relegated to the hobby category—at least, for tax purposes. To determine if your writing career currently qualifies as a business, click here.

3.)    Business expenses. Being a writer is an expensive business. Paying for trade publications, professional membership dues, conference registration and travel expenses, advertising expenses, or website design and maintenance could all legitimately be written off as business expenses, but in the event of an audit, be prepared to prove how it benefited your business. Keep careful track of your expenses in case you’re audited, and make sure to note how a given expense directly benefited your career. It’s a really complex process, so consulting a tax professional could definitely be to your advantage.

4.)    The home office pitfall. Most writers work from home, so it’s tempting to write off the expenses associated with a home office. But if your office isn’t used exclusively as an office for your writing, you might want to steer clear. Rooms that double as a guest room, living room, or dining space don’t count, in the eyes of the IRS.

I’m not yet ready to declare my writing a business for tax purposes, but I’d like to be prepared when I get there. For those of you who are published, what tips do you have for managing your taxes as a writer?

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Yet another confession from a lifelong paranormal junkie: I used to be a vampire slayer.

This is how much of a dork I am: When my brother, cousin, and I were younger (I’d so, oh, about ages 10-11), we started our own vampire-slaying business.

Buffy

Okay, so I was no Buffy...

The trouble had started long before then. It started as an innocent interest in fireside ghost stories and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and progressed to an addiction to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. In the years to come, I’d discover his Fear Street series and the works of L.J. Smith, and my obsession would be solidified for life. But once my brother and I started buying up books about vampires, zombies, and other bump-in-the-night phantasms and creatures, we knew that there was only one solution. Vampires couldn’t just roam the streets of our town, preying on unsuspecting old ladies who mistook them for encyclopedia salesmen or on giggling teenagers completely unaware of the dangers that lurked in the dark recesses of the high school gymnasium. Did I mention we were Buffy fans? (The movie, that is. My addiction to Joss Whedon’s works for television came later.)

And so Vampires Inc. was born. Armed with freshly gathered stakes, cloves of garlic, and jars of “holy water,” we were at your service, ready to meet any and all of your vampire-slaying needs. We even wrote a manifesto including tips for how to protect oneself against the pale-skinned, smooth-talking undead. (In my defense, we didn’t have cable, and this was in the days before Internet. We had to do something to keep ourselves entertained.)

Eventually, our mother made us take down the “vampires not invited” sign from the front door, our dog chewed up all of our stakes, and we moved on to less lofty endeavors. But I can’t help but think that somehow, it’s all my brother and cousin’s fault that I became an incurable geek with an insatiable interest in the strange and unusual. Thanks, guys.

Are you a writer or fan of the paranormal or fantastic? When did this interest take hold for you? Please share your story below.

Side note: Free stuff! Something about autumn makes me feel generous. Must be all the candied apples. 🙂 I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card. Click here to enter. And my crit partner Kathleen Foucart is offering two chances to win a free first-chapter critique. Click here to find out how to enter.

Author Q&A with Paranormal Romance Writer Rachel Firasek:

 I’m very excited to bring you my inaugural author Q&A on the blog. My first guest is paranormal romance writer Rachel Firasek, author of The Last Rising, Piper’s Fury, and Stone Hard Love. I’m a big fan of Rachel’s books (if my questions don’t give that away…) and recommend them to anyone looking for a dark, tempting read.

In celebration of autumn, I’m offering fellow bibliophiles a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card. Click here to enter the contest, which runs through Oct. 8, 2011. Good Luck!

Without further ado, the Q&A:

Q: Rachel, your stories offer plenty of sizzling heat, and The Last Rising is no different. What’s your secret for weaving sexual tension into a story from beginning to end?

A: Wow, I wish I knew how I did it when it works. LOL. Really? I play pretend. I get into characters’ heads, shall we say. LOL. Meaning, I will walk around the house getting into my kitten mode. I’ll say lines out loud. I’ll practice on my hubs when he thinks that I’m really just looking for a make-out session. It’s really quite funny and they have all claimed that I’m quite mad. Lewis Carroll couldn’t have written a better role himself.

Q: On your website, you mention that your family encouraged you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and write your stories. How does your family support your writing on a day-to-day basis, and how does their support influence your writing?

A: I’m so glad you asked this question. Let me tell ya! If it wasn’t for my husband and amazingly understanding kids, I would have cracked a long time ago. They forgive me for not paying attention to every conversation and when one gets mad at me for not always being the “best mom” the other will take up for me. It’s really cute. My husband doesn’t mind picking up the slack around the house and helping with the carpool. He knows my goal and how long I’ve waited for this. Recently, I surprised hubs with a big basket of candy at work. We hadn’t been communicating all that well, and I know in my heart it was because he didn’t think I appreciated him. It’s not always easy to remember to say thank you!

I’ll never forget his call to me. It was the sweetest words he’ll ever say, “I’m so proud of you and I love you.”

He didn’t say “thank you” for the candy; it was my “thank you” to him. But, his “you’re welcome” totally rocked. I love that man!

Q:  What does the future hold in store for Ice’s fellow phoenix sisters? And what about Piper and Slade of Piper’s Fury? What should fans expect?

A:

a. The Last Awakening is coming soon, so I can’t tell you much, but Ari and Grey are going to heat up the pages. There will be a stronger paranormal element in book 2, and that’s all I’m going to say.

b. Ah, Piper’s Fury. I love that book. You’ll be happy to know that the book is complete–mostly. I have a revision pass that I need to do, and then I’ll decide what will happen to that little book. I love book 2 even more that book one and I’m fondly calling it The Gypsy Triangle.

c. I’m hoping for a big year next year, which means that I’ll have to get busy writing new and fresh stories, but yes, I’d like to see PF #2 release. I’d also like to find a home for a new YA that I’m working on. TOP SECRET project. LOL.

I’m so glad that I was your first guest. This was fun and the questions were great. It’s fun to interview with someone that already knows your work. It always makes the questions so personal.

About Rachel:

Rachel Firasek grew up in the South, and despite the gentle pace, she harassed life at full steam. Her curiosity about mythology, human nature, and the chemical imbalance we call love led her to writing. Her stories began with macabre war poems and shifted to enchanted fairy tales before she settled on a blending of the two. Today, you’ll find her tucked on a small parcel of land, surrounded by bleating sheep and barking dogs, with her husband and children. She entertains them all with her wacky sense of humor or animated reenactments of bad Eighties dance moves. She’s intrigued by anything unexplained and seeks the answers to this crazy thing we call life. You can find her where the heart twists the soul and lights the shadows…

Recommend your “Autumn Read” and enter for a chance to win an Amazon gift card

As I’ve said before on my blog, I am totally a summer child. Lounging by the pool, going to the beach, picnics, walks in the park, that’s definitely my scene. And winter in the mountains, even as far south as Virginia, can be pretty damn chilly. Winter—not so much.

But fall holds a special place in my heart. It seems to hold so much potential, so much inspiration, so much magic. It’s like the grand finale of the fireworks—you don’t necessarily want the fireworks to end, but that vibrant bursting of color is what it’s all about. Fall, for me, is the witching season. Magic is afoot. Stories are whispering in the scarlet and gold of the trees.

Maybe my love affair with autumn has something to do with the fact that it never sticks around very long. Always leaves you wanting more.

If I had a fireplace, I would spend my autumn evenings curled up in front of a roaring fire, drinking tea and reading a good book. Alas, apartment living does not allow such luxuries as fireplaces (not mine, anyway), but there are plenty cups of tea to be had.

And lots of good books. So, if you were to select books by season, which books belong to fall? I’ve culled together a few, and I’m looking for additions.

Good Autumn Reads:

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Yasmine Galenorn’s Witchling (Sisters of the Moon, book 1)
  • Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (what? too predictable?)
  • Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic
  • Cate Tiernan’s Book of Shadows (Sweep, book 1)
  • L.J. Smith’s The Secret Circle trilogy

I would love, once I get through the backlog of ideas in my head, to write a good autumn, witchy story. Dark, vibrant, and lots of magic. And fireworks. Definitely fireworks.

I’m looking for good additions to my Autumn Reads list. So I’m making a deal. If you comment and tell me your Autumn Reads pick, I’ll enter your name in a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card. Books from all genres are welcome.

Like a healthy competition? If you mention the contest and link to this post on your blog, you’ll be entered two more times. (If you post about the contest on your blog, please comment on this entry to let me know. Be sure to include a link back to your site in the comment.)

Rules:

Only relevant comments count (no spam). It’s a max of one entry per person per comment and two entries per person per blog link (i.e., a max of three total per person). When the clock strikes 12 midnight (EST) Oct. 8, this contest will turn back into a pumpkin. I will announce the winner on Monday, Oct. 10. That way, the lucky winner will get a chance to cozy up with a yummy read of his/her own choosing.

Happy autumn, and good luck!