The Taxman Cometh

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We’re counting down to tax day — April 15th here in the U.S. — which means some folks are scrambling to find their receipts and their statements and all of their various forms to take off to their accountants, while others are playing with tax software or reading through the intimidating tax brochures meant to walk you through filling out the forms yourself.

Writers and taxes have a contentious relationship at best. Writers understand that several aspects of their chosen careers are the very things that raise red flags with the IRS, such as taking a deduction for a home office space, research trips, and other costs of doing business. But that’s no reason to panic.

Whether you’re a new writer who has yet to make any money or a seasoned pro, it’s important to be diligent in your record keeping throughout the year, and to consult with a tax advisor in order to be certain of the tax laws, which tend to change pretty frequently.

A few tips:

Save everything. All those receipts from your trip to a writers’ conference, your books, cabs taken, office supplies, everything. Make sure you jot down a quick note on the back of the receipt regarding what the item was, and its purpose. If it’s a cab or restaurant receipt, indicate if you left a tip, and the amount.

Keep records of bills. If you work from home, you can deduct a portion of your heat, electricity, etc., so be sure to have copies of those household bills in with your work receipts. Likewise, if you pay for your own health insurance as a self-employed writer (as opposed to receiving coverage from a day job or through a spouse’s plan), those bills are also deductible.

Take pictures of your home office space, including any furnishings you’ve designated for work use, such as your desk, computer, bookcase, etc. This documents the existence of your dedicated office so that if you move and are later audited you have proof of that office’s features.

Don’t assume everything you do or purchase that seems “writerly” is automatically deductible. If you spend a thousand dollars every year on novels for your own reading pleasure, you can’t necessarily consider them all “research” materials. Talk to your tax advisor about the sorts of items that you can legitimately call work expenses, and under what circumstances they count.

Organize as you go. Set up a system that’s easy for you to remember and then take a little time once a week or so to keep it going. A simple accordion file with A-Z labels can be an easy way to track receipts. Designate categories that make sense to you and that will simplify the tax process when you sit down to actually do your taxes — whether on your own or with an accountant. For instance, you might separate your receipts out by Technology (computer, printer), Travel (accommodations, food, transportation), Conference fees, Office supplies, Insurance, Books and magazines, Utilities, and so on.

Plan for quarterly taxes. Self-employed individuals, for whom there is no company withholding a portion of their paychecks to send to the IRS, are required to pay their taxes on an installment plan, sending in a partial payment four times over the course of the year. The first year you file as a writer, you won’t need to worry about this, but as you wrap up that first tax return, you will be given the option to calculate your quarterly tax payments for the following year, with the first payment due April 15th, and subsequent payments to be sent on the 15th of June, September, and January. You will pay next year’s taxes based on whatever you earned this year, and must pay at least that amount. If you make more money than anticipated, you will make up the difference the following April. If you end up making less, you’ll get a refund. However, if you pay less than you did the previous year, and also end up owing more, you’ll owe a small penalty on top of the difference.

The safest bet is to plan to pay each quarter, and that means setting aside a portion of every check you receive as a writer to cover those tax bills. It can be difficult, especially in early days when the money might seem like small potatoes, or even later, because writers’ paychecks tend to come in waves — money when you sign a contract and then nothing until you turn in a manuscript, or royalty checks only a few times each year. But the better you become at remembering those tax bills on the horizon, the more likely you’ll be to set aside the money necessary to cover Uncle Sam’s demands. With a little planning and some good deductions, you’ll end up with some money left over at the end of the day.

 

Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a licensed tax professional, so please do speak with your own tax advisor regarding how to best handle your own tax return.

Friday Links

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Happy Friday! I hope you all enjoyed the week and have some great plans lined up for the weekend, perhaps including some quality time with your work in progress, or with your latest read. I come bearing links to some fun and interesting sites, so with any luck they’ll leave you inspired and itching for a bit of quality literary time. Enjoy!

How to Use Reading to Become a Better Writer – We understand there’s a correlation, but this post makes it abundantly clear.

Embed Let’s You Share Tens of Millions of Images – Looking for visuals for your blog? Getty Images has a new program that allows free usage.

2013 National Book Critics Circle Award Winners Announced – Some great titles.

Scrabble Contest Seeks New Words – Apparently Hasbro has decided to broaden the Scrabble dictionary of acceptable vocabulary.

The Frontier Spirit: Will Eisner and the Discovery of Comics’ Next Dimension – A look back at Eisner’s participation in the growth of comics and the subjects they address.

Friday Links

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Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you all had a terrific week and that you have even better plans for the weekend. Here in the U.S. we kick off Daylight Savings Time, so don’t forget to spring forward Saturday night before you go to bed. Yes, we lose an hour, but we gain all that lovely evening light. Makes me think of reading outside after dinner as a kid, no flashlight required.

So, I come bearing links to help you get in the weekend mood, including lists and lists of book recommendations. Wishing you many happy hours of reading and writing time ahead!

The Morning News Tournament of Books – This takes place every year and pits some of the most critically acclaimed and award-winning books of the year against each other. Always interesting to see reader responses from the judges.

Advice from Artists on How to Overcome Creative Block, Handle Criticism, and Nurture Your Self-Worth – Everyone can use a little bit of this.

26 Characters: Celebrating Childhood Story Heroes – For anyone in the UK or planning to travel there this year.

Spritz Has a New Technology that Might Change Reading Forever – Speed-reading app. Not sure how I feel about this. Love the premise, but I suspect it might take all the enjoyment out of the process, and also possibly make me a little crazy. Still, interesting.

Stephen King’s Reading List for Writers – Not a definitive list, but one comprised of the best books he’d read over a 3-4 year period. This list is from his book, On Writing, but it’s interesting both as a recommended books list and as a peek at a successful working writer’s influences.

All the Different Stories

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March is women’s history month. February was black history month. Someone asked me recently why we still needed black history month. The question had me flummoxed, not because I agreed that the month was unnecessary but because I couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t still celebrate the month. These dedicated days or months get determined for a reason — generally because some aspect of our society is under appreciated or insufficiently discussed and some organization decides it’s important to highlight it and call attention to it.

Growing up in the United States, going to school, learning the lessons we’re taught as children, most of us get a very specific view of our nation’s and the world’s histories. But the truth is that there are many points of view, many different stories out there, and in order to live in this world and get along with all of its varied populations, it’s important to widen our grasp of what constitutes the truth. Everyone’s experiences are valid, and not all of them are similar.

There are many stories being told right now, socially, in the news, politically, through science, and in the arts. Publishing is just one corner of the world, one arena where we can exercise our right to tell and explore those different stories.

I posted this TED talk previously, but I think it’s so important and so spot on in talking about why it’s important to embrace those different stories that I’m posting it again. In it, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the dangers of only having a single story.

Happy Book Day!

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Willing SacrificeCongratulations to Shannon K. Butcher, whose latest installment in her Sentinel Wars series, WILLING SACRIFICE, hits stores today! Go check it out for a sexy, exciting read.

They are the Sentinels. Three races descended from ancient guardians of mankind, each possessing unique abilities in their battle to protect humanity against their eternal foes: the Synestryn. Now a warrior weighs the price he will pay for love….

Theronai warrior Torr has never forgotten Grace, the human who stole his heart and nearly gave her life to save his. So when he is summoned to the aid of Brenya, the powerful woman who healed Grace, he is devastated to find that Grace’s cure has left her mind devoid of any memory of Torr or their love.

However, despite not knowing who he is, Grace is inexplicably drawn to the dark warrior. As they team up to stop the invasion that threatens the people Grace now considers family, her memories slowly start resurfacing. But sometimes the past is best forgotten—a lesson that Torr may learn too late….

 

Challenge Yourself

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I posted briefly over the weekend, but for those of you who missed it, I’m not doing a formal March Madness writing challenge this year. However, that’s no reason for you not to take this month and challenge yourself to take your writing to the next level. March is an excellent month for such things; it’s a full 31 days long (so the fact that you might have missed the first couple of days doesn’t matter much), lacks any major holidays that require travel or major shopping commitments, and it tends to be a lull that allows you a little more time to reassess and make new goals.

So whether you give last year’s March Madness challenge a try (I’d recommend starting today if you do) or come up with another way to stretch your writing muscles, I encourage you to take this month and soar. Happy writing!

Happy March!

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Last year I ran a March Madness writing challenge here on the blog. It got a lot of great feedback and quite a few people seemed to enjoy participating. I’m sorry to say that I will not be running a new challenge this year, simply because it’s a time consuming process and I am rather short of time these days.

However! Last year’s posts are still available, and I highly recommend taking a look, whether or not you gave it a go last year. If you’re new to the challenge, you’ll find it’s highly adaptable to whatever the stage of your writing career. If you played along the first time, I think you’ll discover that a new year will let you come to it with fresh eyes and to get something new out of the exercises. After all, you’ve made a year’s worth of progress since you last tackled the challenge.

Regardless, wishing you good luck and happy writing!

Friday Links

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Happy Friday! We’re in the midst of a rain storm here in Los Angeles, getting some much needed moisture to help fight off the recent drought. Weather like this makes me want to snuggle up with a good book, so I’m particularly excited that it’s supposed to last all weekend. I have a date with my couch and my to-read pile.

But first, I bring you links! I hope they appeal and keep you informed and entertained. Wishing you all a great weekend, filled with books and writing time and adventures (or maybe an Oscar-viewing party). Enjoy!

13 Wonderful Old English Words We Should Still Be Using Today – Fun list. I may have to incorporate a few of these into my vocabulary.

The Nebula Award Nominees (That You Can Read Online) – Catch up with some of your award-worthy reading.

28 Books You Should Read If You Want To – A great alternative to those “read these before you die” book lists.

Are the New “Golden Age” TV Shows the New Novels? – Two writers discuss modern attitudes toward the small screen vs. the big book.

Everybody in Almost Every Language Says “Huh”? – I kind of wish we could eliminate it in English, but it’s not looking likely.

Opportunities for Writers: March and April 2014 – A list of contests, calls for submissions, etc.

 

Happy Book Day!

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WhisperofSinNovella

Happy Book Day to Nalini Singh, whose novella Whisper of Sin is out today as a stand-alone e-novella. This Psy-Changeling story previously appeared as part of the Burning Up anthology, and this is the first time it has appeared on its own for anyone not interested in purchasing the entire collection. Check out Whisper of Sin today!

San Francisco is under threat from a violent gang…a gang that has no idea who they’re challenging. The DarkRiver pack of leopard changelings has already claimed the city as their territory, and they will fight with wild fury to protect its residents. Emmett, a lethally trained leopard soldier, isn’t about to let outsiders muscle in on his home ground—especially when they target a human named Ria.

Emmett has one word for the smart stranger with her curvy body and tough spirit: mine.

Possessive, dominant, unyielding in his demands and desires, Emmett is unlike anyone Ria has ever before met. But while the sexy leopard changeling makes her body ignite, his kisses molten and his touch addicting, she’s no pushover and she has a few demands of her own. This leopard has met his match…

Friday Links

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TGIF! I hope you’ve all had a lovely week and that your weekend looks to be even better. I’ve had a busy run of it over here, but things seem to be slowing down a tad, so I’m looking forward to actually prying myself away from my desk for a bit.

I come bearing this week’s links. I hope you find them fun and useful; I think there’s a little something for everyone here. And next week I’m hoping to get back to offering up a little more substance on the blog overall. In the meantime, happy writing, happy reading, and enjoy!

How These Six Highly Productive Bloggers Get So Much Done – Looking to expand your social media platform? Need more writing time? Figure out how to put your goals first with these handy tips.

The Writer’s RoomThe New York Times checks out the work spaces of a number of professional writers.

Is Amazon Bad for Books? – George Packer takes a long, hard look at the e-retailer.

Black Balloon Publishing’s Top 10 Favorite Literary Blogs – You may already be familiar with a handful of these, but there are also a few lesser known blogs mentioned that are well worth checking out.

Literary Prizes Make Books Less Popular, Study Finds – This seems a chicken-or-egg scenario. (Do they give prizes to books that are overly highbrow and unreadable? Or do readers simply perceive prize-winning books to be uninteresting?)

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