The tax man cometh

The day that strikes fear in the hearts of men and women everywhere, April 15 - also known as pay up or die day - is quickly approaching. What follows is a common sense approach to the business aspect of being a writer. If you need specific, targeted legal advice regarding income tax and the writer, go to the IRS web site because I am not now nor ever will be a lawyer or an IRS agent. The web site has everything you need to know regarding Schedule C, the form writers normally use as well as printable forms and booklets. So that's the disclaimer.

Let's discuss your writing business. That's right, I said business because if you write with the intent of selling your writing you are in business. You are a company; you are doing business as an author. If you conduct yourself as a professional, then it makes sense to extend that professionalism to operating your business in keeping with sound business practices.

Your writing business can be divided into two areas: the business and the creative. Let's look at the business part of your company first. This part is composed of clerical, accounting, and marketing functions and increasingly of publicity functions too.

There are two very good reasons for getting organized and keeping accurate records: it makes running your business easy which leaves more time for creative pursuits, and it eliminates that nagging fear of the big bad wolf, otherwise known as the Internal Revenue Service.

What do you need to take care of the necessary evils of business life? You need a file cabinet or a cardboard box in which you place: your receipts each month, bank statements (I highly recommend you have your own checking account devoted solely to your writing expenses and income), and manilla folders. These folders can be labeled with the project name and hold correspondence (submission letters, acceptance letters, rejection letters, etc.). Also use folders for anything else related to business. A ledger, or a simple looseleaf binder, in which you list monthly expenses categorized by type and monthly income (dream a little!) also. A folder to hold unpaid bills. Another folder in which to file information about publishing guidelines or needs, agent info, etc.

It goes without saying that you need an office or a "space" that is yours where you can have paper, pens, your computer, a phone, a Rolodex or card file, and all the other accouterments of office life. My first office was carved out of my over-sized laundry room. Now, I’m lucky enough to have a separate room with a view of trees and flowers and the street. Sometimes views though are more an intrusion than an asset, but, in any case, stake your claim on a bit of your real estate for your business.

The creative part of your company covers the development of ideas into salable books or articles and involves research materials, publisher guidelines, your personal idea book or files, written manuscripts, critiques, diskette storage, etc.

To aid the creative end of your company, label some of your folders so you have a place to stick that fascinating article you ripped out of the newspaper this morning or printed off the Net. Some topics you might need folders for are architecture, furniture, clothes, setting, psychology, medical, historical, popular culture, or writing techniques. Whatever pushes your imagination button. Then when you want to know what '90's slang for money is you look in your pop culture file and discover that the phrase you’re looking for was dead presidents. What's the use of having all that valuable info, if you can't locate it when you need it?

Some other aids to the creative half of the business: an unabridged dictionary or a good recent abridged version, Roget's Thesaurus or a similar book, Elements of Style by Strunk and White, a good manuscript format book if you are uncertain of how to prepare a manuscript for submission, and a good grammar book if you need it. Now, you don't actually need hard copies of these things because all that can be found on the Net. However, I find too many people stop the flow of words to do a little surfing to look up something and end up using Net research as a procrastination tool. If you have hard copies, beyond the tactile enjoyment of using books, you can keep the words going and in those odd bits of time, do the bits of research needed and plug in the info later.

Don't procrastinate in your either side of your business. You own the company so run it as if it were a Fortune 500 company, and, maybe, one day it will be the literary equivalent of Berkshire Hathaway.

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