A Taxing Situation: Tax 101 for Authors

Let’s talk taxes. Come on, wake up!

I know this is a dry topic but it is one that is crucial to writers, artists, and other people with similar jobs. We like to concentrate on the creative aspects of our jobs and tend to lock the mundane tasks away in a dark cabinet. I would much rather describe the glint of sunlight on a mountain pond than try to figure out what percentage of my recapture on the depreciable property I can claim on my Schedule C or 8829!

I will say right here that I’m not an expert. While writing this article, I had much more technical details and jargon, but I stopped myself. I am not an accountant! I was confusing myself and I know I would confuse all of you. The best thing you can do is consult your tax professional. I don’t know how my air conditioner or car or computer work (other than press ‘On’ or turn the key), so I rely on experts to help me. It is the same with our taxes. Talk to your accountant and make sure you are taking all the steps necessary to protect yourself.

For tax purposes, you need to think of yourself as your own employee. Open a separate bank account from your own personal funds. Find the best organization method for you, whether it is file folders with paper copies of everything you do or a digital system. No one wants to be audited but if you are, you will save yourself the stress and worry by being prepared and having easy access to your information.

The downside to being self-employed – you are responsible for paying all taxes out of your income. With a steady employer, they pay part of your Social Security and Medicare taxes. (Remember the old joke – Who is FICA and why did he take all my money?) As a self-employed worker, you get pay as the boss and the employee! Yeah! This can throw you into higher tax brackets which means paying more money.

There is good news though. Deductions, deductions, deductions! They are a writer’s best friend. By keeping track of certain items, you can reduce the amount you owe Uncle Sam. So what is deductible?

  • One glory of the home office is writing in your pajamas. Another is you might be able to declare the office portion of your home as a deduction. Be honest. If you have a dedicated desk where you work for hours on your craft, you could deduct that. Even a small corner with a desk and chair can count. If you write an occasional article on your laptop sitting on the couch, the deck, or at the kitchen table, you probably cannot use the home office deduction. If you qualify, you can even deduct a portion of your utilities and mortgage payments.
  • Writing a piece on the Corn Cob Festival of Moulton, Alabama? (There is no such festival, but I am going to start a petition to get one!) Travel for research, including mileage, lodging, meals, gratuities, and tickets may be deducted. Keep track of all your receipts! Make notes if necessary. Today you’ll remember this lunch receipt is for an interview you did with an interesting artist or historian for research, but will you remember in three years if you are audited?
  • You will appreciate depreciation. We all have our trusted computers, laptops, phones, and printers. And they all cost us plenty. You can offset the cost of these items by ‘depreciating’ their value. If you buy an expensive new laptop, you can deduct portions of the cost over a period of years and not have to claim the whole expense in one year.
  • Remember I said you were responsible for paying all of your taxes out of your earnings? Here’s a little good news – you can claim 50% of that amount as an income tax deduction. You don’t even have to itemize to take this deduction. It goes on Form 1040 as an adjustment to income. This can save you a nice amount by reducing your taxable income.
  • Health insurance is a must. As a self-employed person, you are responsible for the costs of your own health care, vision care, and dental care. Luckily, health insurance is tax deductible if you are a self-employed worker. If the policy is in your name, these deductions could extend to your family members. This is a wonderful deduction – it could save you thousands of dollars.
  • Are you a member of a writing-related organization or group? Most genres have national organizations for writers, such as Romance Writers of America, The Author’s Guild, or the National Association of Writers. Membership dues and fees are deductible.
  • Do you host a website or use word processing programs or send emails? Silly question, right? As writers, we can deduct the cost and expense of software programs we use to run our business. You can even deduct cell phone usage, as long as it is for legitimate business purposes.

This information is just the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. There are so many resources out there for writers! Knowing what deductions are possible can save you money – hundreds, even thousands. So find yourself an accountant you like, track your expenses, and stay organized! Uncle Sam will appreciate it as much as you do!

Writing prompt – Caroline put her head down on her desk and squeezed her eyes shut. Adding the numbers again would not help. No matter how many times she refigured, the total was the same. How could she tell her boss she had lost $150,000.00?

Click-to-Tweet: The downside to being self-employed – you are responsible for paying all taxes out of your income. A Taxing Situation: Tax 101 for Authors by Cammi Woodall via @InspiredPrompt

The Growing Trend of Audiobooks

By Cammi Woodall

We have come full circle. Humankind’s rich story telling tradition started with nomads huddled around a campfire, listening to the elders spin tales and lore. We graduated to words written on animal skins, papyrus, clay tablets, paper, and even a digital screen. Now, with the popularity of audiobooks, the spoken story is once again skyrocketing in popularity. With sales in 2017 reaching multi-billions of dollars, oral story telling has once again become the norm.

Audiobooks started out as a reading alternative for the visually impaired. In the early 1930’s, the American Foundation for the Blind and the Library of Congress joined to create vinyl records. Now the blind could enjoy works by William Shakespeare, Helen Keller, and Edgar Allen Poe, along with selections from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. These early recordings were about fifteen minutes long per side. To help with distribution, the United States Postal Service agreed to send ‘talking books’ free of charge through the mail. This allowed people across the nation to benefit and enjoy literature with ease.

From vinyl records, the recordings graduated to cassette tapes. During the 1970s, most audiobooks were abridged books produced for the visually impaired, but companies began to see other opportunities for a wider customer range. Professional voice actors were hired and studios were opened to produce better quality recordings. By the 1980s, new technology allowed twice as much recording on a single cassette. This allowed unabridged versions of classics and best-sellers. Audiobooks became more mainstream and available through such places as Time-Life or the Book-of-the-Month club. Soon CDs became the standard as technology marched forward.

In 1997, Audible.com (pre-Amazon) introduced the ‘Audible Player’, a mass-market digital media player dedicated solely for audiobooks. Retailing for $200, the device held two hours of audio. Up to this time, people were limited by the physicality of cassettes and CDs. You had to go to a library or bookstore to get one, or wait for one to come through the mail. Digital downloads meant you could get a book anywhere and anytime you could get online.

Then Amazon came along and bought Audible. The two companies combined to become the biggest seller of audible downloads. On the chase behind them is Apple iTunes, Google Play, and Japanese-based Rakuten. Healthy competition benefits the readers – I mean, listeners – of audiobooks. More titles are released each year, with publishers pouring over backlogs or asking authors for original works.

So who listens to audiobooks, and where do they listen to them? Simply put, everybody listens everywhere. Approximately 54% of listeners are 18 to 44 years of age. They read or listen to 15 books per year on average, with the most popular categories being suspense/thriller, romance, and science fiction. At home and in the car are the most common places to listen, usually on a Smartphone.

Audiobooks have achieved sales increases in the double digits for the last six years. With advances in technology, these numbers are expected to keep growing over the next few years. So what does this mean for an author? New avenues for your stories. Today’s technology means we no longer have to rely upon traditional brick-and-mortar publishing houses.

Those nomads around the campfire would be overwhelmed by the technology we have to access information and entertainment. I think they would be glad however, that we have returned to the voice, to a tale enriched by the human emotions and nuances that bring a story to life.

 

Prompt – She jumped as she heard the crashing sound behind her. Pulling out her earbuds, she spun around.

So How Do You Find an Editor?

By Cammi Woodall

Our articles this month have told us all about editors. I personally did not realize the different types of editors available. My mental picture was always a hunched figure surrounded by stacks of books, red pencil scribbling and slashing! April’s articles have taught me I have much to learn. So now that we know what an editor does and we know if we need one, how do we find that elusive creature?

  1. Family and friends – We all do it. We have our finished project and we pass it along to a sibling, parent, or friend with the request, “Tell me if you find any errors!” But how many of us have family and friends who edit and proofread professionally? This is a good first step to editing, but often we need more.
  2. Online platforms like Reedsy, Upwork, Ebook Launch, or New York Book Editors. These and other sites like them are staffed by vetted professionals. Most will look at various genres and offer a range of prices.
  3. Let the editors come to you. Authors can post editing jobs on various sites like the Editorial Freelancers Association, Guru, or Servicescape. A writer can post a job listing the specifics, such as what kind of editing needed, total pages, turnaround time, and payment.
  4. Read articles about your favorite authors, scan their social media pages, and look at their websites. Writers will often thank the management team.

A word of caution: there are scams and con artists in the publishing world. Research any editor or service before you pay to make sure they are legitimate. One popular website I have always heard about is pred-ed.com, known as Predators and Editors.  At the time of this writing, the website is under construction and is moving to a new platform with new staff. Keep an eye out for them.

Another popular service I came across is Writer Beware. This service is sponsored through the Science Fiction Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Writer Beware has a Facebook page, plus can be accessed through accrispin.blogspot.com. It has been going since 1998 and had posts on the blog as recent as March 29 of this year, so it appears to be going strong. Their goal is to help new, aspiring authors as well as established writers. I found information about company alerts, scams, and legal actions. Their March post was updating information from 2011 and 2012 about a company.

We all know that writing a book is not a solitary venture. While we do toil at our keyboards or notebooks alone, a published book requires a team of dedicated members all working for the same goal – that perfect book. Hopefully our help this month will lead you straight to the perfect editor for your project. Happy writing!

Writing Prompt – She didn’t know if she could carry her burden any farthe.

Genre Month: Horror, Part Two

By Cammi Woodall

It was a dark and stormy night. It automatically sets the mood, doesn’t it? Horror as a literary theme continued into the 1900’s and gained  in popularity.

The late 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of the Penny Dreadful, mass produced periodicals that made popular fiction available to a much larger section of the population than books. Lurid tales of werewolves, vampires, and ghouls helped spur sales. Due to their low cost, sales of the magazines skyrocketed. After purchase, the magazines could then be passed around for many to enjoy, escaping the uncertainty and fear of the Depression and the World Wars.  

During the 1960’s and 70’s, elements of horror in literature became more visceral. Supernatural and creepy overtones were no longer enough for the reading public. Intense moral situations, vivid descriptions of gore, and stories based on real-life tragedies flooded the best sellers list. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, The Amityville Horror by Jan Anson, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby contained graphic accounts of adult situations more extreme than previously depicted in mainstream literature. The public responded favorably, with several horror novels reaching epic sales during this time.

Click to tweet: What do you think is the bestselling modern horror novel of all time? Names like Stephen King or Clive Barker may come to mind, but that title goes to a book published in 1979. V. C. Andrews wrote Flowers in Attic. #horror #amreading

Due to intense moral dilemmas, the book was banned from many schools and reading fairs. The shocking tale follows the Dollanganger children. The unexpected death of their father is only the first of many calamities that follows the siblings through the five book series.

No article about horror fiction would be complete without mentioning Stephen King. He is the master of horror with over 50 best selling novels. Just a few of his titles include The Shining, Cujo, Carrie, Misery, Needful Things, Thinner, Salem’s Lot, It, and The Running Man. His tales range from a rabid dog terrorizing a town (a real-life horror we could all encounter) to a post apocalyptic America fighting a maniacal evil (something I hope we never face). Often knocked by critics, especially for his earlier work, King’s stories resonate with the reading public. People who do not typically read horror will read Stephen King.

Even kids want to get scared. R. L. Stine published his first scary teen novel, Blind Date, in 1986. (Tagline – It wasn’t a date! It was a nightmare!) It was an instant success. He went on to write the Fear Street series and the Goosebumps series. Both series spawned movies, television shows, and merchandise that were extremely popular. The Fear Street series remains one of the best selling Young Adult series of all time.

This article only touches on a few writes of horror literature, but I am running out of room! There are countless other authors to explore – H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Frank E. Peretti, Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, RAy Bradbury, Dean Koontz, Joe Hill, Seth Grahame-Smith… Well, you get the idea. There are horror novels for whatever ‘fear level’ you want. Your public library is a great way to check out a new author and see if you like their style.

So, after this history lesson, you may be wondering. Why do we read or write horror stories? Isn’t real life filled with enough despair, mistrust, uncertainty, and cruelty to fill dozens of horror novels? Yes, unfortunately. I hope none of us will face a killer clown crawling out of the sewer, or have a family member converse with skeleton parts, or conduct cadaver experiments in our creepy lab. These are abstract horrors because they are not liable to happen.

But we will experience grief as we lose a loved one, terror if we are attacked, loneliness, despair, regret, anxiety, betrayal… By reading horror, you escape the everyday fears we face. Writing horror allows the author to exorcise demons they hold within. When you hold a book or an unfinished manuscript in your hand, your are the master of that tiny little section of your universe. The story can allow you to escape for minutes or hours; the heroes and heroines may save the day and defeat the horror. If it gets to be too much? Simply close the book. Stop writing or reading. You control the horror.

All this research has made me want to re-visit some old favorites. I think I will curl up with my dog-eared copy of It. Wait, do I hear a tapping at my chamber door? It is a dark and stormy night, after all.

Writing Prompt: The pounding on the door stopped. The sudden silence was more unsettling than the rattling door.

Genre Month: Horror, Part One

By Cammi Woodall

Ho, ho, horror! Not your typical December greeting, is it? My topic for today is horror literature. The first part of this article focuses on classical horror, up to the 20th century.

We are all scared of something. Maybe your fear is something concrete – spiders, clowns, darkness, thunder, taxes. Maybe you are scared of intangibles – loneliness, death, imprisonment, hatred, racism.  A typical definition of horror is ‘a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay.’ Horror writers attempt to make some sort of sense of the senseless, bring order to the chaos, and scare the daylights out of you!

Horror in literature actually dates back to ancient Sumer with tales of a supernatural being called Emikku who could inhabit dead bodies. Its roots began in early Church essays describing how to combat witchcraft and devil worship. Works such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy took these essays and put the Church’s warnings into a fictional account of the atrocities of Hell and Purgatory.

William Shakespeare might be an odd choice for an article on the horror genre, but the Bard’s work has several overtones of horror – the Weird Sisters of Macbeth, the Ghost of Hamlet’s father running around plotting and encouraging revenge, Hamlet’s slow descent into madness.  Alas, think of poor Yorick! Hamlet stands in a cemetery speaking to the skull of his dead companion while he contemplates the finality of death. It doesn’t get much creepier than that! His macabre elements still inspire authors today.

The first true horror book is often credited to Horace Wadpole.  His Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, was published in 1765 and contained the elements that would become standard for Gothic novels to come. A creepy mansion, underground passages, maidens in distress, ghosts, and mistaken identity depicted a supernatural fantasy at a time when most authors strove for realism. Critics considered the story in poor taste, but the public loved it.

The early 1800’s saw the rise of horror’s most well-known author, Edgar Allen Poe.  Poe’s use of short, staccato sentences and use of first-person view throughout his work heightened the tension, drawing the reader in to the terror happening on the page. Stories and poems such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask of Amontillado, Annabel Lee, and The Tell-Tale Heart still enthrall readers today. Who can ever forget the epic poem The Raven, never flitting, still sitting, and the ever lost Lenore?

The 19th century saw a turn away from Gothic elements to what is considered modern horror. Tales such as Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man relied less upon creepy atmosphere and drew inspiration from science and alchemy. Many of the novels during this time went on to become iconic classics immortalized in film, stage, and television.

No article on classical horror would be complete with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Both are available as public domain books, so no true sales figures exist, but together they are considered the highest selling horror novels of all time.

Frankenstein is considered by many to be the first modern horror novel, as well as the first science fiction novel. During a bout of bad weather and boredom, Shelley’s companion Percy Bysshe Shelley a contest for best ghost story. Mary was fascinated with galvanism, a scientific fad at the time of using electrical currents on animals and convicted criminals to stimulate muscle contractions. Study of her journals also reveal that she constantly thought of a baby she’d lost a few years earlier. Her emotional state helped her craft a true tale of horror, with both Dr. Frankenstein and his creation.

Bram Stoker spent seven years writing his masterpiece, Dracula. Many believe he based his story on Vlad the Impaler, and that is was the first vampire story. Actually, Transylvania and its famous nocturnal inhabitants had been popular in literature for many years. Stoker just took these basic elements and crafted a true tale of horror and suspense. His influence lives on today, with popular vampire stories like Joe Hill’s Nosferatu, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and Stephanie Myers Twilight series.

Horror even spilled over into tales for children. The stories written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen have been sanitized for today’s market, but children gathered around their mother’s knee or tucked into their cozy beds in the early 1830’s were familiar with very different versions of these beloved tales. The Little Mermaid suffered excruciating pain with each step, her feet bleeding, till she flung herself into the sea after her prince married another woman. The Evil Stepsisters cut off pieces of their feet to make the glass slipper fit, only to have their eyes pecked out by birds at Cinderella’s wedding. The Wicked Queen is forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance till she dies at Snow White’s wedding.

Click to tweet: Horror writers attempt to make some sort of sense of the senseless, bring order to the chaos, and scare the daylights out of you! Find out more about the genre known as “horror.” #horror #amreading

Not exactly the Disney versions, are they? Where are the grouchy lobsters or birds who help clean house? These stories often served as cautionary tales for children, much like modern day warnings of the Boogey Man.

The next part of my article tomorrow will focus on the 20th century. Stay tuned!

Writing Prompt – It was a dark and stormy night.