Author Topic: So you want to write a book  (Read 880 times)

Marti Talbott

So you want to write a book
« on: January 02, 2019, 04:17:25 AM »
I can't tell you how to make it a bestseller, but I can tell you what not to do.

First, a little about me:

At this writing, I am 73. I retired at 65 and thought I could spend my best years reading all the books I never had time to read before. That lasted a couple of months before I decided I wasnít going to find that many books that I truly enjoyed. The answer Ė why not write what I wanted to read? Iíd played around with writing while working my day job and had a few manuscripts completed. Thatís when I heard about a website that let authors upload their books for free! I love free. They promised reviews and a rankings according to how many people bought the book.

Hereís the thing Ė I couldnít spell and didnít care. Grammar? Whatís that?

Rule #1 Ė invest in a good proofreader.

Bad reviews kill sales and are hard to overcome.
I uploaded the book and the first person to take a look said my blurb, that little thing on the back of paperbacks that tempt people to buy, was one of the worst heíd ever seen. I was crushed, went outside, screamed, pulled my hair out, andÖit occurred to me he might be right. He was right and I am eternally grateful for his blunt honesty.
I fixed the blurb as best I could and that book, spelling and grammar problems and all, made it to the top ten bestseller list. I was in my glory days!
Suddenly, the whole site just disappeared.
My glory days crashed!

Rule #2 Ė see how write a blurb later in this book.

I consider myself more of an optimist than a pessimist, and even with bad reviews, I was encouraged. I thought I could write a book other people might actually read. I pause here to say that practically everyone wants to write a book, everyone has a story to tell, but actually sitting down and writing it is something else again. Most of them never will. They spend approximately one hour staring at a blank word document on their PC, and then get up and walk away. Thatís a good thing Ė it eliminates a lot of my competition.

Anyway, I got hooked on reading historical romances and thought why not? So I wrote a little short story called Anna and posted it on my free website. I love free. Around the same time, I found another website that would let me post my short story on it with a link to my website. I wrote another short story, and another, andÖwell, I got a lot of good reviews and a lot of bad ones. I still couldnít spell and still didnít care much. Writers are not supposed to be bothered with such unimportant details. No one was more surprised than me when I started getting 10,000 hits on my stories a month. Not only that, they wanted more, more, more. By the time I stopped posting them on my website for everyone to read free, Iíd written 20 short stories covering several generations of the MacGreagor Scottish clan.
I was a big hit! I thought all was well.
It wasnít!

Rule #3. Choose your genre carefully.

If your book takes off and you are fortunate enough to attract some fans, they will expect more of the same. Iím still writing historical romance ten long years after that first little story, although Iíve also written a few mysteries. Building a following for my mysteries has been an ongoing struggle. My fans only want historical and finding a new set of fans is not easy.

By then, I discovered a couple of online booksellers were offering to let authors, any authors, all authors, upload their books and sell them through their sites Ė and they were paying too, some paying authors 65% and some as much as 70% of the list price.
I could not wait to try that out! I turned my little stories into five volumes and went for it.
Can you believe it? Readers started complaining about the books. They said I couldnít spell and my grammar was a disaster. I was crushed. I went outside, screamed, pulled my hair out andÖknew they were right.

To date, those first five books have been edited and reedited countless times with the last one just this year (2018). Hopefully, they are completely without error now. Whatís interesting is that some people were bold enough to let me know about certain errors through the ďcontact MartiĒ page on my website.

Iíve only used one actual editor. They tend to want to change your sentences around. For example, I wrote: ďShe should not have done that, she knew.Ē The editor changed it to ďShe knew she should not have done that.Ē I still donít understand the difference except that the first is my style and the second is hers.

A good proofreader is worth his or her weight in gold. They can find missing words, wrong words that sound the same but are spelled differently, and point out grammar and punctuation problems. I donít want someone rewriting my books, but maybe thatís just me. Hey, maybe that why Iím not a bestselling author. I hadnít thought of that.

Rule #4:  Never get mad at someone who is trying to help you.

Set aside your personal feelings and consider what the next reader will think if you donít fix your book. Be aware that the reading public fears letting us know about errors because too many authors rip them a new one when they try to help. This applies to online reviews as well. NEVER respond to an online review. It just makes you look petty and ungrateful.
Reviews Ė hate Ďem or love Ďem. Anything below four stars can spell disaster. Five stars indicates that the book is good, but maybe not a classic. Five stars doesnít mean itís a classic, just that the reader liked and maybe even loved it. Reviews are promotion in their own right and can sink or make a book into a bestseller. I am now the proud author of over fifty books. Even so, I have never made it to the bestseller lists. Oh well.
My favorite review came from a lady who read Seattle Quake 92. She said, ďIt was the best book sheíd ever read on the Chicago fire.Ē

Still thinking of writing a book? Okay, Iíll tell you how I do it?
Nonfiction is easier because you have a predetermined timeline to work with. In fiction, you have to make one up. There are two methods Ė write an outline first, or just let it rip. Iím a let it rip author. I create two characters, give them a problem I donít know how to solve, and let them talk it out. I create the who, what, where, when and most of all why, throw in a few descriptions of the people, add sight, sound, smell, etc., and pop in a few more characters to either help or hinder the main characters. Then I add a sub-plot and have the two plots un-expectantly come together in the end.
Sounds easy, doesnít it?

Rule #5: Formatting.

Even after youíve written the book and had it proofread, youíre still not done. Now you have to format. I learned to do this early on and never regretted it. After all, Iím the queen of error repair. These days I format the book before I even begin writing. Itís easy. I started out using a word.doc and since all the booksellers accept a .doc and .docx when uploading, I never saw a reason to pay for one of those fancy book-writing programs. I already had Word on my computer, so I could format my book for free. Under Paragraph, choose align left, Indent 3, Line space Ė 1 Ĺ and check that little box that says ďdonít add space between paragraphs.

If you pay someone to do it, youíll be dependent on them for all your books and it can get expensive.

Rule #6: If youíre going to write, learn to read.

This is probably the best advice I can give you. The internet is filled with outdated, useless information, some of which is written by people who have never had a bestseller. They might even claim they are bestselling authors under a pseudonym, but they wonít tell you the name so you canít check it out. The best thing to do is to join a writerís message board and read, read, read. You can waste a lot of time and money on bad advice.

Rule #7: Pay your taxes.

Think you donít have to pay taxes on that little novel you just published? Wrong!
Naturally, it depends on the country, but in the US after you make a certain amount, youíre supposed to pay quarterly estimated taxes. You might need a business license. You might need an accountant, but donít be surprised if an accountant doesnít have a clue as to how to file your taxes. This business is less than ten years old.
Nevertheless, this is a business.

Rule #8: Read! Find out what the tax laws are.
 
In your state and what you might owe to the Federal government.
Thinking of incorporating? Oh boy, youíre not going to find very much real information about how to do that even on the internet. How do you decide between an LLC and an S-corp? I struggled with this question for six months. My accountant, the one I fired, said not to incorporate until after I made $100,000.00. Iím a literal person, so when I hit the mark, I set up an S-Corp. Wrong. I set it up in the middle of the year. Talk about a tax headache. I had to find as sole-proprietor for part of the year and as an S-Corp for the other part.  I could fill a book with what I didnít know about setting up a business. I read, I just didnít read enough.

Oh yeah, I hired a certified public accountant who cost me a small fortune, and ended up owing $600.00 back taxes plus a penalty because the accountant did it wrong. I fired that one too. I couldnít do any worse than they did, so I thought Iíd just do the taxes myself.
Itís never a good idea to let the Feds know you exist. Unfortunately, they already had a line on me from the first screwed up return. That got my Federal taxes in subsequent years red-flagged, or so I believe. Doing a return on my business should have been easy. All I had to do was pay Social Security on my one employee Ė me. However, it helps if you send the right form to the right department. It took a full year to get that $3,000.00 mess straightened out.

An S-corp is a pass-through entity, which means I could pass some of the income to my shareholders and not pay taxes on that amount myself. The reason I chose and S-corp, was also because Iím, well, old. An S-Corp can be passed down to my daughters after Iím gone instead of making them divide my books between the two of them. I still think that was the right thing to do.

However, the state I live in does not consider an S-Corp to be a pass-through entity. It doesnít have a state income tax, but it has a small business tax. Not only that, they expected me to collect sales taxes from my customers. What customers? I just wrote a book and uploaded it. I donít know who the customers are and I sure couldnít collect the sales taxes from them if I had no contact with them. You see, thatís not the state tax manís problem. Iím still responsible for paying sales taxes on all sales in my state. Oh glory! (To be continued...)

 
Author of over 50 books available everywhere, even Walmart.
 
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Marti Talbott

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2019, 04:27:03 AM »
Part 2
It turned out to be easier to prove who I didnít sell books to than who I did. Thankfully, the reports generated from the sites that sell books on my behalf, show me which country they sold in. One bookseller actually tells me what state, but thatís just one out of five booksellers. Three of the five have something in their terms and conditions that confirms they collect sales tax and in which state. My state was one of them. That left just one bookseller. That particular booksellerís report only tells me which country, so unless my state uses a formula such as 50 states = 2% for one state, Iíll have to pay on all the US income. Iím waiting to hear the verdict now.

Rule #9: Read, well before itís time to pay.

Find out what the requirements are concerning federal, state, city and local taxes. Download their actual tax form, and find out exactly what is required so you can plan in advance. Or, take your chances with an accountant.

The state might not have noticed me, but I filed under the wrong classification. Oops, maybe doing my own taxes wasnít a smart idea after all. What classification should I have filed under? Retail. What? Iím the retailer and the booksellers are the retailer too? But then, who am I to argue? After all, I might qualify for a small refund. I can only hope.
I moved to a pass-through state.

Rule #10: Watch out for marketing.

As if the above isnít bad enough, here comes the hard part. Writing a book is not enough Ė you have to market it. Most marketing methods cost money, sometimes as much as $1,000.00 for only the one day your ad will appear. When I first started out, there were lots of places I could promote my books. Now, itís called spam and is extremely forbidden. Authors turned from message boards to social media about the same time everyone else did. Lately, social media no longer lets you promote for free Ė theyíll sell you an ad, however, a very expensive ad.

Rule #11: If you havenít learned to read yet.

Youíre about to find out how easily it is to become a victim. Ads on social media and other places that sell per click, are tricky. If youíre not careful, you could spend as much as $100.00 a day before you realize it.

There are other ways to advertise. There are sites that offer to promote books through newsletters and social media for a fee. Some are cheap, but do not produce the desired results Ė which of course is selling books. Some are reasonable and do a better job, and some are pricy but return outstanding results. The thing is, the expensive sites can and are very selective about which books they accept. I know authors who have tried for a year and still havenít been accepted.

Rule #12: Your cover art may not be good enough.

I canít tell you how many times Iíve paid for or created new cover art for my 50+ books. Literally, I canít tell you. If you do a search on my first book which begins with Anna, youíll easily find half a dozen different covers. Sadly, I think the first one was the best, but I listened to people who said they knew what to do, and changed it. I miss that cover with the black horse and the blue/black background.

There are a lot of great cover artists out there, but they donít know your book. That makes it next to impossible to find one that helps depict your particular story. Sometimes you have to settle for ďalmost.Ē Occasionally, I buy the cover before I write the book so I can make it fit.
Some authors will tell you the cover needs to express the genre, and for the most part they are right. If you write a western, your cover art should tell the reader at first glance to expect a western. Covered wagons are good. The trend for romance Ė hot and otherwise has been half naked men, but those are experience overload in my opinion. Even so, a man and a woman in an embrace on the cover says romance, a man dressed in black holding a knife says thriller, and a cute duck works for childrenís books. Itís a difficult trend to ignore.

There are plenty of less expensive cover art options out there, you just have to do a search. The price for a pre-made cover ranges from $10.00 to over $400.00 US and beyond. If you want a back cover too, thatíll sometimes cost extra.

Why is the cover art so important? Because it is the first thing a reader sees on your product sales page. The second thing is the blurb. I already told you about my blurb disaster and I wish I could stay that was the only one. Unfortunately, Iíve written blurbs with misspelled words (shocking), missing words, incomplete sentences, and all other possible mistakes. Fortunately, in this real world industry, itís easy to fix mistakes.

Rule #13: How not to write a blurb.

ďIf you like books by Steven King, youíll loveÖĒ
No they wonít! They wonít even buy your book. It has no reviews and the author has the audacity to tell me, the reader, what Iíll love. Worst of all, readers will kill the book with bad reviews if it doesnít live up to the hype. Itís the reviewers job to tell other readers that they loved the book and that those who like Steven King will love that one too.

If Iíve heard it once, Iíve heard it a million times Ė JUST WRITE A GOOD BOOK. Duh, I have yet to meet an author who didnít think theyíve written a good book and maybe a bestseller. Like I said, writing it is the easy part Ė selling it is when the real work begins. To sell it, you need not just a good one, but a great blurb.

A blurb is a mini-mystery, no matter the genre. Itís the hook. Itís the means by which you hope to entice people to read the sample and then buy the book. When the blurb fails to get their attention, then theyíll simply go on to the next book.

When an author needs four long paragraphs to tell the reader what the book is about, it means the author doesnít really know. A blurb is not a summary nor a book report.

Rule # 14: Keep your eye on the reader.

Itís really easy to fall into the author trap Ė thinking of everything from the authors point of view and not the readers. What makes you buy a book? First the picture on the cover tempts you, then you flip the book over, and read the blurb. All you want to know is the gist of the story and a reason to find out what happens. I can do that it in one sentence:
He loved her, he left her and then he killed her Ė or did he?

I donít recommend a one sentence blurb, although Iíve been tempted to try one. Instead, I use a simple formula: Choose a character, describe his or her problem, and add a hook. Your first chapter should describe what the initial problem is and who the main character is, so you can practically ignore the rest of the book when youíre writing the blurb. The hook is a little harder to write.
ďWill she survive?Ē

Oh please, of course she will survive. This is a romance and all romance books have happy endings. Hereís the thing. All questions are not hooks but all hooks are questions. You just have to make certain the reader cannot guess the answer. By the way, you only have a few seconds to grab the readerís attention. Lately, authors are using at tag line. Iím not fond of them, which is probably why they sell more books than I do. Take a look at a bestseller list and see which you prefer.

It took months to come up with this blurb and it works. Itís an example of my formula Ė Character, Problem, Hook.
ANNA -- In love with a woman he had only seen once and could not find, the Highlander, Kevin MacGreagor was growing older and needed a wife to give him sons. No other woman pleased him, not even the daughters of other lairds, so he finally settled for Anna sight unseen. But when his men went to meet her guard, she was all alone and badly beaten. Who could have done such a thing and why?
I suggest you write your first long-winded blurb and then start eliminate everything that is not really relevant. After that, add a few power words. Hereís another example:
In 1912 Kentucky, Sam Smooth, a Locksmith who was pushing 35 years old wanted a wife.  Mary Fields would do if she weren't so tall, Clare Woods might even be pretty if she had all her teeth and Sarah Clink needed more broadcloth to cover her figure than any woman heíd ever seen. Yet finding a wife wasn't his only problem. Old man Sheppard got himself murdered and the nosey Sheriff kept coming around asking questions. Maybe Sam had thought about killing that callous old man, but who hadn't? And now that he was dead, who was that beautiful woman moving into the Sheppard mansion?
Nosey and Callous are power words. Other power words are scandalous, rude, calculating, brashÖyou get the picture.

Rule # 15: Choosing the wrong author name.

It shouldnít be a problem, but it is. If a name it too common, it will easily blend in with ten other author names. If itís too uncommon, readers probably wonít remember it.
I chose to use my own name, but there are other Talbotts that have a business, and Iím related to most of them. They complain that when they search for Talbott, they get several pages of my books. Oops. On the other hand, I chose to use my real name because I thought that even if readers couldnít remember my titles, they might remember ďMarti.Ē It works, I think. Just not for my relatives.

Still think you want to write a book?
Okay, here are some things you need to know. Your book is copyrighted the moment you upload/publish it via eBook or paperback. Itís pretty hard for someone to later prove that itís their book and not yours once it hits the market. If you plan to write a lot of books, consider if you want to buy your own ISBN numbers. Keep in mind that you need one for your paperback and a different one for your eBook.

Did I do that? Seriously? Of course not and now that Iím still adding to my 50+ book catalog, the cost of buying my own ISBN number is astronomical. Fortunately for me, the booksellers provide free Ė I love free Ė ISBN numbers. Unfortunately, having a bunch of different ISBN numbers can be a real nightmare and does limit your ability to get books into bookstores. Want your books in libraries? There are several booksellers that will do that for you.

Book titles are not copyrighted or trademarked except in extreme cases. Thereís been a huge blowup lately over copyrighting certain words that show up in many book titles. As far as I have heard, the copyrights were not issued. Whew! However, you really wouldnít want your title to be the same as a dozen other books. Do a search to make sure your title is original.

Rule #16: The front matter counts and so does the back.

It took me about three years to get this part right, but thatís because this industry is constantly changing. What was right last week may not be considered right next week. Thatís why you have to constantly keep up-to-date on the changes.

Front matter is what goes on the first few pages of your book. Title Ė page 1, authorís name, © copyright mark Ė page 2, blurb and/or authorís note Ė page 3, Table of contents (required by most booksellers) Ė page 4, Chapter 1 Ė page 5. Donít add blank pages. Itís irritating.
Why put the blurb in the front matter? Because readers are sometimes binge buyers and weeks later wonít remember why they bought the book. Sticking the blurb up front refreshes their memory. If they donít read the book and delete it instead, youíve still made a sale, but you wonít get a review. Reviews, sadly, are needed to get the book promoters interested in accepting your book.

If anyone could screw up the back matter, it would be me.
In the eBooks, you can add links to your other books in the back. You canít put links to other stores, however, just links to your book at that specific store. I sell through five different stores, so you can imagine what it was like changing/adding links to the previous books each time I released a new one. Thatís five changes to each book and uploading a new version to five different places.
A couple of years ago, I got a little smarter, not much, but a little. Instead, I wrote a paragraph inviting them to find my other books on my website. That idea worked and also let me see how many readers were visiting my website, and which books they seemed interested in. My new back matter is just a simple paragraph with links to my website.

All of the booksellers let me use it in the back of my books. It saves me a ton of work and time.

Rule # 17: The trouble with free books.

Deciding whether to give a book away free is one of those questions that has no real conclusive answer. I have four books that I give away free. They are the first in each of four series and they are a marketing tool. If they like the free book, theyíll usually buy all the rest.
The problem is two-fold Ė some readers think free equals low quality. Okay, so mine were in the beginning, but they arenít now. Other readers will only buy free books and never buy the rest of the series, so Iíve lost money. On the other hand, they probably wouldnít have bought them even priced as low as $.99. If one-third of those who download a free book goes on to buy the next, I count giving the first one away a success.
Do I make or lose money? I have no idea. Iím mathematically challenged.

I certainly donít regret giving free books to people such as senior citizens who canít afford them. Call it my little contribution to the elderly, especially since I am one.
That brings me to pricing.

Rule #34: How low could I go? 34?

Early in my career, along came this blog writer guy who told authors that $2.99 was the sweet spot, so everyone and their uncle priced their books at $2.99. In my opinion, he started the crack in a fault line that was sure to break sooner or later. Readers came to expect good books for only $2.99. I remember screaming, outside of course, ďRAISE YOUR PRICES!Ē No one was listening, or so I thought. Funny thing is, he must have heard me because he raised his prices to $3.99. The problem was, that old post about the sweet spot is still there and authors are still falling for it.

There is no sweet spot. There is only try and see.
I sold a lot of books at $4.99 until I took a long hard look at the bestselling list in historical romance. Sure, the traditional publisher were way over-priced, but the Independent authors were making a killing at $3.99 and mine stopped selling at the higher price. So, I lowered mine. Not sure that was smart, but there is no real way of knowing for certain. Some readers wonít pay nearly $5 for a book that is under 300 pages and when Iím done with a story, Iím done.
 
I had fun writing this. Hope you enjoyed reading it. All opinions are mine and not meant to always be taken literally.
 
 

Author of over 50 books available everywhere, even Walmart.
 

fleurina

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Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2019, 09:53:55 PM »
Yes, Marti - I very much enjoyed reading it - thanks for taking the time.   :goodpost:

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spin52

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2019, 08:46:42 PM »
I'd add one thing -- if you're writing something set in a time or place other than your own, do your research. Historical fiction is full of pitfalls for the unwary, from use of language to attitudes to inaccurate settings. And if you get something wrong, be assured your readers will find it.


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Doglover

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Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2019, 05:57:03 PM »
I'd add one thing -- if you're writing something set in a time or place other than your own, do your research. Historical fiction is full of pitfalls for the unwary, from use of language to attitudes to inaccurate settings. And if you get something wrong, be assured your readers will find it.
Not only the points you mention, but attitudes. I find that too many writers of English historical fiction have no clue about our traditions nor the very important different classes, remnants of which still exist today. An eighteenth century English duke would never allow his brother to marry an American shop girl and even if such an unlikely thing happened, the monarch would never allow it. Even today, no one in the line of succession is allowed to marry without the permission of the reigning monarch as well as parliament. That's just an example; there are hundreds of others.

Even after youíve written the book and had it proofread, youíre still not done. Now you have to format. Not true. If you know what you are doing, you set the formatting before you have typed a single letter.
 

Marti Talbott

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2019, 01:51:21 AM »
UK history is interesting, that's for sure. I've found that no matter how much research I do, someone will know something different. That's Okay, it doesn't bother me. I stay well away from writing about actual historical events - too tedious. There is a great deal of conflict over early American history too and writing about American Indians is normally forbidden unless you are one. Plenty of insults to go around if you write historical anything. On the other hand, it's called fiction for a reason. I doubt anyone can get it right all the time.
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Doglover

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Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2019, 02:59:31 PM »
UK history is interesting, that's for sure. I've found that no matter how much research I do, someone will know something different. That's Okay, it doesn't bother me. I stay well away from writing about actual historical events - too tedious. There is a great deal of conflict over early American history too and writing about American Indians is normally forbidden unless you are one. Plenty of insults to go around if you write historical anything. On the other hand, it's called fiction for a reason. I doubt anyone can get it right all the time.
Readers of historical fiction are also readers of historical non=fiction and most know who was king when and what one had to do to get something. You can't expect to avoid historical facts and get away with it; otherwise, what makes it historical?

If you are going to write a story set in the 1340s, it has to have a backdrop of the black death. If you are going to write a story set during the reign of Bloody Mary, you cannot ignore the religious turbulence that queen was causing. She was the reason we still have a law precluding any Catholic from the line of succession. I know James II was the last Catholic king, but he did little except declare his faith which set alarm bells ringing so they turfed him out and his daughter made that law.

You have to know all these things and if you find them tedious, why are you writing historical romance? Why not contemporary romance?

For historical fiction, research is everything, but you don't need to make it read like a text book, just have the facts right. Women didn't wear knickers until the late 18th century or possibly even later. They hadn't been invented and were not considered necessary. So if you have a story set in the sixteenth century where the female is putting on her knickers, it's poorly researched. That's the sort of thing that can let a writer down. I read one once where the earl had a realm, a kingdom and a throne. Shame, because it was an engaging, though unlikely, tale and very well written. Why spoil it with poor research?

I wouldn't dream of writing about American history because I know nothing about it and I'm not interested enough to learn. I wish more writers felt the same about English history.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2019, 03:02:47 PM by Doglover »
 
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okey dokey

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2019, 10:06:10 PM »
Amen, Doglover
 

bardsandsages

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2019, 05:44:52 AM »
Quote
You might need an accountant, but donít be surprised if an accountant doesnít have a clue as to how to file your taxes. This business is less than ten years old.

A. Self-publishing is far older than ten years old. I started self publishing in 2004, and at that point I already knew a lot of people (mostly non-fiction) who had self published.

B. Any accountant should be able to handle self-employment income. Doesn't matter if it is from self-publishing or lawn mowing or dog walking. If I go to someone with my 1099s and expense records and they DON'T know what to do, I go elsewhere.

It really is not that hard. People make it hard because they think it must be complicated. It is a matter of keeping track of how much revenue comes in versus how much your expenses are going out. Just like every other business. It gets complicated usually because people try to get cute or "get over" on their taxes.

"Oh, I am writing a book set in Hawaii, so I will take a Hawaiian vacation and write it off as a business expense!"

Well, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT! Because unless you have several years of showing a profit through your business AND you can demonstrate that you were actively trying to make a profit, the IRS is probably going to deny your deduction.

"I wrote a fantasy novel. So now I can write off ALL of my fantasy novel purchases as research!"

Um, again. It ain't that easy. Because, again, the point of a business is to make a profit. You need to actually MAKE A PROFIT in order to make sure your business is treated as a business and not hobby income.

But the point is, there is nothing unique per se about publishing income. It is still either A. self-employment income (if you are a sole proprietor) or B. Business income (if you are an LCC or some other structured company).
Writer. Editor. Publisher. Game Designer. Resident Sith.
 

OfficialEthanJ

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2019, 11:47:44 PM »
Um, again. It ain't that easy. Because, again, the point of a business is to make a profit. You need to actually MAKE A PROFIT in order to make sure your business is treated as a business and not hobby income.

Things may have changed since I filed an LLC (circa 2006 for an unrelated and unrealized venture) but my understanding from that time was you could "write things off" if you didn't turn a profit, but you also had to demonstrate you were making your best effort at being profitable.

After all, how many years was Amazon not profitable? I assume they got to write things off on their taxes and not considered a "hobby".  :nerd:
 

munboy

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2019, 12:22:44 AM »
I wouldn't dream of writing about American history because I know nothing about it and I'm not interested enough to learn.

As an American, I can sum up our history for you.

Part 1
"Hey, that looks cool. It's mine now."
ctrl+c, ctrl+v
ctrl+c, ctrl+v
ctrl+c, ctrl+v
ctrl+c, ctrl+v
ctrl+c, ctrl+v

Part 2
Oops, racism.

Part 3
USA: "Hey bro, you need help?"
Other countries: "No, we're good. We just need to-"
USA: *Blows sh*t up*
ctrl+c, ctrl+v
ctrl+c, ctrl+v
ctrl+c, ctrl+v
ctrl+c, ctrl+v
ctrl+c, ctrl+v

Part 4 (in progress)
Oops, racism again.

 
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LilyBLily

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2019, 02:46:24 AM »
I've been reporting sole proprietor income for close to half a century. Never been audited. The first rule is to declare all income. It does help to have some, but making a profit is not necessary in the eyes of the IRS. From time to time, the IRS has sued various people who consistently have failed to make a profit. The courts have ruled against the IRS, as long as the person has demonstrated a sincere and consistent effort to make a profit. This means treating the endeavor as a business. This is not to say that certain IRS agents haven't made life miserable for certain artists. Isolated cases still do occur that frankly read like the old, evil IRS in action. But the trend of court decisions at the highest level is in favor of the artists.

Although the IRS cannot force you to run a successful business, it does ask that you run your business in a businesslike manner. This means taking the time to read the IRS publications about allowable deductions. Creating a business ledger. A spreadsheet, in other words. What could be simpler? Then taking the trouble to categorize your business expenses. Put the ad costs under ad costs and put the research under research. Learn what depreciation is. Keep a mileage log. Simple stuff, really, but many authors can't be bothered during the year, and then they try to reconstruct stuff when tax time rolls around. That's the wrong way to do it.

I credit my mother, who found an issue of Writer's Digest many years ago and went to the trouble of going to the public library and xeroxing each page of an article that laid out a writer's categories of expenses. Before computers, I kept a two-page spreadsheet of my own making, listing all those categories. Back then, I seldom had any ad costs, but I listed that as a category regardless. Today my spreadsheet is electronic and interactive, but it's based on the same categories the IRS laid out many years ago to which my mother alerted me and from which the Schedule C has never deviated. In all this time, the Schedule C has remained the same, which is interesting in and of itself, don't you think? Stands to reason then that when reviewing Schedule Cs, the IRS has a lot of experience with the proportions of dollars spent in one category versus the next based on one's business code.

Yes, you can write off that trip to Hawaii--or the part of it directly related to your writing--but it would be really smart to publish your book set in Hawaii in the same tax year. Or at least write the first draft. Or submit it to a publisher, if that's your thing. The IRS can't disallow a deduction just because it could be considered stupidly expensive. If you waste money on fancy office equipment or overpriced stationery, they're still deductible. Stupid expenses, maybe, but deductible.

As far as deducting books goes, I see no problem with that, but collectible first editions and the like might be pushing it. Then again, you might be writing a story in which someone collects rare, valuable books, and so a first edition--or even the process of purchasing it--becomes a legitimate research expense.
   
 

bardsandsages

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2019, 12:09:46 AM »
The IRS can't disallow a deduction just because it could be considered stupidly expensive. If you waste money on fancy office equipment or overpriced stationery, they're still deductible. Stupid expenses, maybe, but deductible.

Yes, they can. It is under the "normal and customary" terms of deductions. In general, a business expense must be normal and customary in relation to the actual potential revenue it generates. To be clear, I am not an accountant, but I do deal with expense reports and what is and isn't allowable in the course of my day job. We've have tons of training on this so we can identify potential problems (both to make sure our company doesn't get audited and to flag potential fraud.)

This is the scenario I always use:

I create audiobooks. I meet a narrator named John Doe at a convention who I think would be good for my audiobook. John isn't famous or anything, but he has a great voice. I decide I want to impress John Doe and take him to a five star restaurant for a $500 lunch meeting. But my audiobooks have never even made more than $50 a year in revenue, and John Doe isn't going to change that. If the IRS challenges that $500 lunch meeting, I don't really have a leg to stand on. There was no "normal and customary" reason for the expense.

Now let's say I'm at a convention and meet Tom Hiddleston. And for reasons that only need to make sense for purposes of this example, he expresses interest in narrating one of my books. I decide I want to impress Tom and take him to a him to a five star restaurant for a $500 lunch meeting. Tom agrees to narrate the book, and his name recognition alone is going to sell thousands of copies. That $500 lunch meeting turns into $100,000 in revenue from audiobook sales. In relation to the revenue generated, the expense is "normal and customary."

The chance of a person getting audited is low, because the IRS is incredibly understaffed and will generally put its resources into "big fish." But it does happen, and I know people who have been burned by trying to take excessive deductions in relation to their actual revenue. This is particularly true if you are publishing in relation to a pre-existing hobby. I know game designers who have been burned because they deducted all their gaming stuff and then had the IRS declare them a hobbyist instead of a business.

Quote
Then again, you might be writing a story in which someone collects rare, valuable books, and so a first edition--or even the process of purchasing it--becomes a legitimate research expense.

I don't need to physically shoot someone to understand the process of shooting a person! I write books about vampires, I don't need to drink blood to do that. This is a stretch to justify an expense that isn't needed. And, again, I'm not saying there is NEVER a scenario where the expense is valid. I'm saying the expense needs to be "normal and customary" in relation to the expected gain. That is the ultimate evidence that you are trying to run your business for profit.
Writer. Editor. Publisher. Game Designer. Resident Sith.
 
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LilyBLily

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2019, 05:29:35 AM »
I don't want to get into one of those "Someone is wrong on the Internet" debates, but the fact is that people make stupid mistakes all the time in relation to businesses they're trying to build, and making those mistakes doesn't automatically turn them into hobbyists even in the IRS's eyes. They rent office or shop space that is too expensive for the amount of business they bring in. They buy furniture for the office, or racks for the shop, or tools, and so on. The stationery thing is actually a con some people get suckered into. And most new businesses fail, as we all know. That doesn't automatically turn those businesses into hobbies.

To bring it home to self-publishing authors, some people hire book packaging companies or developmental editors or "have their manuscripts accepted" by vanity publishers whose services cost them thousands of dollars that the revenue generated does not specifically or even eventually justify. These people can't be defined as hobbyists merely because their costs are more than their income. They're doing this to make a profit. Maybe they're naive, or inept, or simply victims. Even the example of the person who spends too much on lunch with the potential narrator is one of an honest business mistake--bad thinking, but not hobbyist thinking. Magical thinking, perhaps, but entrepreneurs all tend to be magical thinkers.

The IRS has gone after some of these people in the past, and may go after some in the future, but in general the IRS prefers to go after people who have a significant amount of money involved. People who own racehorses, for instance, or someone who forgot to take capital gains over 30 years and now owes $20,000 in back taxes. The IRS doesn't currently have the manpower to routinely do the terrifying, punitive audits of small fry for which it has long been notorious. On the other hand, none of us wants to be the modern exception.

I totally agree that if a person makes a habit of luxury spending on a so-called business that is habitually losing money, the IRS may come after them and the person may not be able to justify the expenses. I've done the tax returns of people who do things like network marketing or flea market selling as a hobby, and there are telltale aspects to their returns that define hobbies rather than failing businesses. I've also done the tax returns of numerous people who are in business to make a profit and simply do not realize that they aren't--until I have to talk to them about self-employment taxes. There are all kinds of small and home businesses that fall into this category, including pizza delivery guys who can't do the math regarding their car costs versus their tips. And that new category--Uber and Lyft drivers. Yikes.

Bottom line, it all has to be done with the expectation of making a profit, and that expectation should be reasonable. But beginners often do not know what is reasonable or what is normal and customary or even what is likely. They just don't. They should err on the side of caution, but the fact is that they don't always do so. In the internet age, it's hard to justify the entire trip to Hawaii, but certainly some part of it could be deductible. Same thing with the purchase of the collector's edition book. Buy the book, write about it, and then sell the book on eBay and declare the sales income. Better yet, interview someone whose hobby is buying such books and someone else who publishes those books, and there's no research cost except a cheap lunch or two, if that.

I personally would fight the IRS if it attempted to define what is normal and customary for my business. When I started self-publishing my novels, an established indie author told me to my face that I wouldn't succeed with my books unless I spent at least $500 per cover design. So where does the IRS get off telling me I'm a hobbyist if I spend $2,000 on a Damonza cover and that I'm running a business if I spend only $50 on a pre-made? Interesting question. Today, knowing where to get information, I am aware that there are many excellent cover designs available for less than $500. But I didn't know that in 2014, and not knowing everything doesn't make me a hobbyist. 

The IRS can try anything it wants. I remember how some romance writers decades ago literally had to bring in their published books to prove they weren't just housewives with a hobby. The IRS didn't win those audits, and the courts have not sustained the IRS's efforts to prove that all home business are hobbies. The IRS would dearly love to, though, and terror works very well to keep us in line.     
 

bardsandsages

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2019, 11:38:46 PM »
I don't want to get into one of those "Someone is wrong on the Internet" debates, but the fact is that people make stupid mistakes all the time in relation to businesses they're trying to build, and making those mistakes doesn't automatically turn them into hobbyists even in the IRS's eyes. They rent office or shop space that is too expensive for the amount of business they bring in. They buy furniture for the office, or racks for the shop, or tools, and so on. The stationery thing is actually a con some people get suckered into. And most new businesses fail, as we all know. That doesn't automatically turn those businesses into hobbies.

I think we are talking across each other. I'm not arguing about people making stupid decisions. I'm talking about the notion that "I CAN DEDUCT EVERYTHING NOW I AM A PUBLISHER." I often come across people who try to justify personal purchases as "I can deduct this now as a business expense." That behavior specifically is what I am talking about. If you spend $3000 on a alienware computer for your business instead of $700 on a generic HP, I'm not saying the IRS is going to object to the more expensive computer purchase if you are using the computer for business use.

But the IRS COULD say, "How much time do you actually use the computer for WORK instead of PERSONAL? Well, that is the percentage of the computer you can deduct. (Section 179 of the tax code).

If you get a cell phone just for business use, you can deduct it for business. But if you buy an expensive personal phone under the pretense that you are just going to write it off, the IRS can limit you to only the percentage of the time you use the phone for work related stuff.

I'm not even disagreeing about being able to deduct some of the expenses for the Hawaii trip. But you can't deduct anything involving your spouse or kids, for example. 

My only point was that it is important to think about deductions insofar as "how does this purchase help my business?" versus "How can I justify using this purchase I was gonna make anyway as a business deduction?
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Bill Hiatt

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Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #15 on: February 20, 2019, 02:55:55 AM »
A. Self-publishing is far older than ten years old. I started self publishing in 2004, and at that point I already knew a lot of people (mostly non-fiction) who had self published.
I'm not trying to be nitpicky--much--but I think it might be more reasonable to date the start of self-publishing from the point at which it became a major phenomenon rather than the work of a few (in the great scheme of things) pioneering outliers.

From that standpoint, I'd date it at the start of KDP in 2007. True, some people (like you!) were enterprising enough to figure out that a person could open a publisher account with Amazon before that time or found some other way to self-publish, but it wasn't until KDP that it became a mass movement. It isn't hard to find examples from far earlier than 2004 of individual self publishing, though in some cases conditions were so different that trying to divide works into traditionally published and self-published may not really make sense. Indeed, Poets & Writers argues that "Writers have been self-publishing since the beginning of written words." https://www.pw.org/content/notable_moments_in_selfpublishing_history_a_timeline (Ironically, their timeline doesn't even mention KDP as a milestone.) It is true that poets were often self-publishing their chapbooks a century or more ago (and one of my poet friends tells me they still do). One could find other exceptional cases. But it's hard to argue that self-publishing got going as a mass phenomenon prior to KDP.

By the way, although I am nitpicking the history a little, I'm not disagreeing with the points you're making about taxes. You're definitely right on all those points. The comparative recency of the movement doesn't mean that people shouldn't be able to figure out how to do the taxes correctly.


Tickling the imagination one book at a time
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DrewMcGunn

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #16 on: February 20, 2019, 02:59:06 AM »

I think we are talking across each other. I'm not arguing about people making stupid decisions. I'm talking about the notion that "I CAN DEDUCT EVERYTHING NOW I AM A PUBLISHER." I often come across people who try to justify personal purchases as "I can deduct this now as a business expense." That behavior specifically is what I am talking about. If you spend $3000 on a alienware computer for your business instead of $700 on a generic HP, I'm not saying the IRS is going to object to the more expensive computer purchase if you are using the computer for business use.

But the IRS COULD say, "How much time do you actually use the computer for WORK instead of PERSONAL? Well, that is the percentage of the computer you can deduct. (Section 179 of the tax code).

Julie, none of this is directed at you, just piggybacking off your comment.

This was my understanding when I bought a laptop for writing early last year. Apart from the whole lack of money, I wanted to get a fast computer with an awesome graphics card. I ended up buying a low-end machine that is a great word-processor. Graphics card is low end and no bells or whistles. But you know what, that machine is for business and in the very unlikely event I get audited, I can defend the full purchase price.

I've traveled for business once since I started writing. I set up a visit with the curator of the Alamo (an old acquaintance) where we talked about craft (he's published) and history. I deducted most of the trip. My wife was with me, and we treated all of her costs as personal, deducting none of it.

I typically spend around an hour a month reconciling transations for the business and my rule of thumb is this, "Do I think this is a legitimate business expense and can I reasonably explain it to an auditor."  If I can, I include it (or a portion of it). For example, I use Netflix and Hulu for research. My wife uses it for entertainment. Guess which of us watch the most... I deduct a small fraction of the expense as research and eat the rest of it as personal.

The more clever one is with your taxes, the more likely an auditor will decide you're not clever enough by half. They've likely seen it all and know where they'll draw the line.

I'd probably use this standard whether I treated writing as a hobby or as a business. To my way of thinking, the distinction in the tax code is that as a business I can, from time to time, take a loss on my taxes, while as a hobbyist, I can't.



Drew McGunn
 

LilyBLily

Re: So you want to write a book
« Reply #17 on: February 21, 2019, 05:39:25 AM »
We do need to pull some people down from their clouds. Ideally, our contributions to this thread have made some indies think twice about how they define the reasonable parameters of this business.

I urge all indies to read the IRS rules regarding business expenses. A major piece of business entertainment is no longer deductible. Details are available at IRS.gov, and here's a link, too: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p535.pdf