TAXES (for and by writers) (You can do it!)

Two years ago I started my own publishing house because several writers I knew had done it and praised doing it. What they didn’t talk about was, well, lots of the pitfalls of owning your own business, but mostly no one spoke of…TAXES. (Da-da-daaaaah!)

Until last year, I’d never filed income tax in my life. Let me amend that:

Until I graduated from college, my daddy filed my income taxes; when I was single and teaching, I dumped all my tax info to a tax person who figured it all out for me; and when I got married, my husband filed our joint taxes. So it wasn’t until I was in my 60’s (!) that I filed taxes, by myself, for the first time ever, for my new writing business.

I have to admit that I dreaded the thought of doing taxes. I was terrified of it. What if I did something wrong? Would the government swoop down upon me and fine me for an error I missed or for something I forgot or for something didn’t understand? I mean, taxes on my earnings have been filed my entire life. It wasn’t like I was avoiding them (like some people nominated to political offices; oh, let’s not go there). I was just nervous about making a mistake. Yes, that’s true, but I was even more concerned that I was too stupid to figure out this government form which every American citizen needs to file, every year.

Guess what? I’m smart!

Even with all the record keeping necessary with running a business (buying and selling books, advertizing, traveling, etc.), filing taxes is more about time consumption than doing it wrong. With everything available on-line, tax time is good. Well, do-able. Just make sure you remember from year to year tiny details, like you want a Schedule C form for a small LLC business, not a Section C form for deporting aliens. It’s the tiny details which can confuse.

My tax filing suggestions for writers:

1) Keep accurate and records. I keep a monthly hand-written log of expenses and income and giveaways. I also have a zip-lock bag I keep for the year’s receipts — upon which I write what the purchase was for on the top of the slip before putting it into the bag.

2) Download the right tax form. 🙂

3) Don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath and focus on your task.

4) Read the line-by-line instructions, one section at a time.

Simple Writing Rules

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Rule #1: Writing is not simple.

Rule #2: Write; Finish what you write; Revise; Have it critiqued; Revise a few more times; Let it sit.

Rule #3: Read. Read. Read — read EVERYTHING you can get your hands on: books in your field/genre; NF research; books for pleasure; books so out of whack from your own writing genre that it would make your fellow writers blink to see you reading them; etc., etc..

Rule #4: Take another look at your story; Revise again.

Rule #5: Research agents and/or editors; submit it.

Rule #6:  Start writing another story.

Rule #7: Go out and play. (More grown-up authors might rephrase that to “Go out and live.”)

Well?

Darcy Pattison’s Random Acts of Publicity, Part I

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This week (7th-10th) is Darcy Pattison’s Random Acts of Publicity, a week she invites authors and illustrators to publicize others.

However, is it really a random act if I plan it, which I have done. But renaming it to Sandy’s Planned Acts of Publicity might be a short cry to the plagiarism police. To me, random would be to go blindly into a library or bookstore or to one of my own bookshelves, and without knocking too many others down or otherwise insulting them, reach out and pick a random book to review.

So, what’s this all about? For four days, September 7-10, 2010, Darcy has sent the word out for us writers to be intentional about giving book reviews on Amazon and/or blogging about them. Brilliant idea, Darcy.

So, readers of this blog, consider this the prologue blog for Sandy’s Planned Acts– I mean, Darcy’s Random Acts of Publicity — which starts tomorrow.

(Oh, whom to randomly choose? Whom to randomly choose? So many fantastic books and awesome authors and illustrators. Just for four days? Focus, Sandy!)

Where I Get Story Ideas

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I find bits of story ideas from history, from news, from something I did or heard or saw, and from nightmares or by daydreaming.

I wrote my first historic novel from a fascinating bit of news I heard which happened in 1873. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and what it must have been like to have gone through that event and in that setting. So I researched and wrote about it.

I’ve had nightmares and scary visions of the end times lately — of man destroying this world not by nuking it, but by greed, causing gushing oil to ruin the water world we live on. YIKES. Some things are too close to reality for me to write about! I’m very thankful that after 86 days BP finally found a solution which seems to have stopped the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. What the effect of all that oil damage is yet to be seen. (Even more daydreaming fodder.)

Yesterday, my husband and I drove through what we later found out was a thunderstorm watch. But I wasn’t watching. Mostly, I had my eyes closed! Instead of going 75 on the interstate, people who hadn’t pulled over (like my husband and a truck driver or two) were driving 40 mph in the sideways pelting rain, gripping onto the steering wheel which the wind threatened to take control of. Lots of interesting story ideas could come from that experience alone. However, I’ll share here on my writing blog a really fascinating thing I saw for the first time in my life. That is, to me it was fascinating, and therefore writing fodder.

We were heading west. As we came out from under the storm, although it was still raining, we hit sunlight and blue skies. My husband commented, “There’s got to be a rainbow somewhere.” I knew that in order to see a rainbow, you needed two things: sun and rain, and that the sun had to be at your back. Because of our van roof, my vision was very limited. I looked out my side rearview mirror and found my rainbow. It was following us. The rainbow was made in the spray shooting up from our tires turning on the wet road.

There are ideas all around each of us. Storytellers can’t help thinking, reflecting, weaving. It’s half of the fun of being a writer.

Rejection Before Even Submitting

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     A member of my critique group sent me a message two weeks ago about a small press which seemed perfect for one of my completed MG novels. I checked out their website, and agreed. They would indeed be perfect, IF I cut some words. So.. I’ve been snatching moments of company time — company which can be very distracting to a writer — to revise and cut 2,500 words in order to fit within their press specifications.
     Since this small press only does quarterly reviews, I decided to call to find out when their next review was, so I wouldn’t be waiting two and 3/4 months before they even take a look at it. The result: The guy said they are no longer accepting manuscripts because of the economy.
     The down side of this? I’ve got a story without a home  — yet.
     Double down side? A rejection is a rejection, even when I didn’t submit it. I.e., For a few days I’m sinking into W.R.F. — Writer’s Rejection Funk — until I can poof-up some writer’s courage back into me. (And, yes, I made up that acronym, too. Although, it sounds an awfully lot like a wrestling acronym, which may also be appropriate in this business.)
     BUT… The up side of this adventure? It’s actually a stronger story.

To Brand or Not to Brand

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I just read a post on QueryTracker (“Branding: Not Just For Livestock Anymore”) by Sheralyn Pratt, PR Manager at Cedar Fort Publishing and author of the Rhea Jensen series.

Twice I’ve participated in Round Up and Branding Days — one on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with Lakota Sioux, and one on a ranch with descendants of western settlers. Both were quite different in method of round up, in method of branding, and in atmosphere of the day. I remain awed and honored to have participated in both experiences. Oh, and both were with living, breathing livestock in a part of the country where cattle rustling is alive and healthy. So, I’m somewhat familiar with livestock branding.

I’m also familiar with literary branding. For instance, when you think of H.G.Wells, you don’t think “picture book writer.” When you hear the name Stephenie Meyer, you don’t think “algebra textbook author.” When you read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you aren’t settling down for a nice romance. Most authors are, or get, branded. Doyle tried to quit Sherlock, but his fans wouldn’t let him. They demanded more. He complied. Sheralyn’s point in her post was that authors (especially new authors) need to brand themselves — know who their audience is, know which authors will sit next to them on the book shelves in stores, etc.. I understand all this, and I do “get” the reasoning, especially from the business end…

But…

What about C.S. Lewis, Carl Sandburg, or Jane Yolen, to name a few? You may think “children’s fantasy, poems, and children again,” but each author has written so much more in many other areas. I think it would be unfair to brand them.

So…

Why do I resist getting branded?  It is because my author-heros write in varied areas? Is it that I have multiple passions, and therefore don’t want to limit myself?  Or is my resistance to branding simply the rebel in me unfurling my wings? (Note: Of course, I’d write additional stories in a heartbeat, if fans or editor requested… for a while.)

On the other hand, I suppose I would need at least three same-genre books published traditionally in order to qualify for a brand. 

Now quit reading blogs and get back to your own branding… I mean writing!

School Visits and the JOB of being a writer

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A writer friend of mine — Ruth McNally Barshaw — was in my town last week, doing five school visits. Of COURSE, I had to both meet up with her and sit in on one of her school talks. I was not disappointed. I never expected I would be.

Ruth’s story is interesting. She sketched in journals all her life, but it wasn’t until she went to the SCBWI NY conference (sketching the whole way on the train and back), did an agent approach her and tell her about the new genre called graphic novels. Ruth found both her nitch and her dream job, and she’s good at it, too.

My former career was as an elementary teacher. I’ve sat through hundreds of school assemblies or special events. Some were awesome; some were utter flops.  I know what works and what doesn’t. I know how to be flexible and change things mid-stream (although there is always THE PLAN to rely back upon). After seeing Ruth in action last week, I made a startling discovery: I want to have that job. I want to write stories for kids, then travel around from school to school encouraging children to write (and read).

Oh. Wait. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for a while now. Ah. It’s all about the confirmation. Someday…

Fat v.s. Overweight and Obese Characters

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Being a writer out of my home leaves both eating and exercising at both the top and the bottom of my list of things to do when I’m not writing. HOWEVER, good news: I’ve lost 5 pounds in the past 2 weeks, and hope to continue on this downhill trend. For the first time in my life, I’m counting calories and am disciplined with my exercise. Yeah, me.

Times are changing.

This week I heard some disturbing news. It has to do with the amusement park ride, “It’s a Small World” in California. Seems the ride kept breaking down. They finally discovered the reason: the average weight of the visitors has… er… grown over the years since it was first built. This general increase in weight by the riders has caused the bottom of the boats to scrape against the machinery moving it along, causing the ride to malfunction. What a sad, sad, sad state of American affairs we live in these days.

I’ve also noticed a change in vocabulary. Doctors aren’t allowed to say “fat” any more, or they can get sued. We are either “healthy, overweight, or obese.”

This week I watched a show from the 1970’s about a military school, and each of the young men looked about the weight of a fifth grader of today.

So what does all this mean? Can we or should we write about children or adults who are… um… abundant in figure? If we don’t write about children or adults who have “more” to them, then are we writing about the real world today? Or should we remain in our fictional dream of thin? Now-a-days, actors and actresses who want to maintain a “healthy” look must go to the gym for 2-4 hours a day. Whatever did we do back then, when we were thin and didn’t go to the gym all those hours?

I hate worrying and wondering about this. But what about the characters in my stories?

Hmmm…

Speaking of Manuscript Rejections…

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Yesterday I received a form rejection letter from an editor. I’d like to say that’s never happened before, but if I tried to actually say that aloud, you couldn’t be able to make out my words through my laughter. Yes, I received a form letter, even down to the signature, which was typed out. Surprise! (Not really.)
 
I realize that editors are extremely busy folk. I know they receive thousands of queries each year, along with dozens of requested manuscripts. I know their time is valuable and their work is never, ever done, and that picking and choosing what to read and what and how to respond to each letter personally is difficult and time-consuming. I understand, because from this writer end, I certainly feel a similar time-crunch.
 
Lately, I’ve gotten to the point that when “Dear Author” letters come, I don’t keep them. I do usually glance over them before tossing them into the trash. Yesterday, after the toss, there was a line in the letter which kept coming back to me. The more I thought about it, the more I chuckled, so I dug it out. After the greeting of “Dear Author,” and thanking me for sending my manuscript — it was actually a query letter — came the line: “I’m sure there was something that appealed to me about your manuscript — perhaps it was a good idea, a strong character, or some lovely prose. However,…” and then came the reject with encouragement to try my story elsewhere. I’m wondering 1) if the query was even read (I know one conference editor admitted that during busy times, she’d tell her assistant to simply open the mail without reading the contents, and put in form reject letters); 2) if there was some good, strong or lovely part to my story (or query) which truly appealed to her, what was stopping her from pursuing working with me to make it better and stronger and lovelier?
 
(I must admit here, mostly I send things to editors or agents I’ve met at conferences, therefore, most of the reject letters I get are indeed personal. Thank you, kind editors and agents.)
 
I suppose honesty is a bad thing at times. I suppose one couldn’t have a form letter reading, “Dear Author, Man, has my life and work been crazy lately. Sorry. Can’t wade through the slush pile. Good luck in finding someone in a better position.  From, An Editor.” Or how about,  “Dear Author, I couldn’t get to your manuscript/ query/ proposal/ questions. Have you ever considered self-publishing?”
 
I’ve thought of composing a “Dear Editor” letter in response to form rejects, but by doing so, I’m afraid I’d be cutting off my arms at the elbows.
 
Enough procrastination by thinking and writing about this. Time to get back to my real writing, and turn my good ideas into great ones, my strong characters into memorable ones, and my lovely prose into… er… gooder stuff.

A Famous Writer

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I was outside watering a few dry plants this evening when a kid rode up onto our lawn heading straight at me, with two runners in tow.

“Ain’t you that famous writer?” the bike rider said.

I laughed lightly. I remembered the 6th grade boy. He was selling candy a couple of months ago to help defray the costs from when his house burned down. I got to talking (back then) to his friend and him about a story I wrote a story about a 6th grade boy whose house burnt down.  Ironic, I thought. Since I wasn’t sure they believed me, I ran back into the house and brought out the manuscript. (Writers sure can get desperate sometimes.) We read together the first paragraph, and their eyes got wide. See? I was telling the truth! My writerly spirit encouraged, I bought some candy bars from him, wondering deep down  if it was really a hoax, but always liking to have friendly contact with neighborhood kids for several reasons. When that incident happened, I didn’t think I’d ever see the kid again. And here he was, riding on my lawn, showing off to his friends the famous writer he knew.

“I’m not famous,” I admitted. “But I do write. And at the moment, the story you just mentioned is out with an editor.” I wasn’t sure if they even knew what an editor did, but didn’t want to confuse them, or sound like a teacher.

“I want to read it,” said the Candy Bar Boy. The other two nodded.

“It takes time,” I told them. “Once the editor accepts the final copy of the story, it normally takes two or three years before it gets published into a book you can read.” This would be going through a traditional publishing house, of course, but again, I didn’t want to flood them with too much information, nor the fact that it could very well be rejected by several editors first.

“I’ll be in 10th grade by then,” said the older boy, counting on his fingers.

Again, I didn’t want to add other publishing housing rejections to the mix, but thinking about rejection slips, my pessimism escaped. “Yeah,” I said. “By then you probably won’t even remember me.”

“Oh, yes, we will,” they all three assured me. Maybe they knew what long waits and being sad was all about.

“We sure are thirsty,” hinted the one runner.

“I’ll get you some water,” I offered my potential future readers.

They quickly chugged down the glasses of water and were off to play basketball while it was still light. As they rode away, I heard the Candy Bar Boy say to his friends, “See? I told you I knew a famous writer!”