Yellow Brick Road

Budgeting Time and Money

By Nancy Gideon

Chapter 2
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Brilliant Deduction, Mr. Holmes!

It’s all about the deductions when you make writing your career. Every trip to the post office, every ink cartridge, every ream of 20 lb copy paper can potentially chisel away at your tax burden. The trick is to document carefully and to be able to prove its relevance to your business of writing. The big, obvious deductions are easy to keep track of: Office supplies, conference fees, ads in trade publications, but a lot of the little things slip your notice, and those are the things that add up.

Here are some of the hidden or easily overlooked expenses I’ve come across in my twenty plus years of Schedule Cs:

1) Books and magazine. Part of your job as a writer is to keep up on trends, study the technique of those who are successful, and research the market. Let’s check your shopping cart at Barnes & Noble to see what you could be deductible:

  • Stack of steampunk novels – YES, if you are currently or potentially selling in that market.
  • Celebrity magazines – YES, if you are looking for inspiration for a new hero or heroine, if you are placing your characters in that type of setting, if you’re researching entertainment glam life, scandal, infidelity, etc. as plot points, or even if your heroine is looking for that spectacular gown to wear to a gala event.
  • Book lights – YES, if you are studying those books from a new genre in bed at night.
  • Hobby, home plan, sports, movie, pet magazine – YES, again, if they contain information you’ll use to create or enhance your WIP.
  • Fancy book mark – NO, unless the only books you read are work related.
  • Music CDs – YES, if they create a background ambiance for what you’re writing either for setting, environment or character development, NO if you just want to listen to the latest Eminem while you write.
  • Dexter, the Fifth Season on DVD – YES, if you write crime, suspense, psychological thrillers, NO, if your write inspirationals or How-To articles (unless they relate to How-To dispose of a body!)
  • X-large Caramel Frappuccino – NO, not even if you need to stay awake to enjoy the above.
  • Mileage to B&N – YES, if your sole purpose of the trip was to purchase the above or to check placement of your latest release, but NO, if just to browse or pick up books for your kids (unless you WRITE kid books)
2) Conference incidentals. You’re in New York City for the purpose of a writing conference. Of course, your hotel and registration fee are covered as well as your meals. What else might you be missing?
  • Transportation expenses: shuttle to and from the airport, baggage fees, cab, subway, public transport costs to events outside the hotel – YES. To go shopping, meet with other writers to go to a museum or play – NO, unless either event is directly related to your writing for research purposes. That goes for your theatre tickets and museum passes, too. Write off for Pirate Queen because you’re writing a pirate book - YES. Write off for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying because you love Daniel Radcliffe – NO (That goes for the Discovery Harry Potter exhibit, too, unless you’re writing YA fantasy).
  • Little black dress for publisher’s party – NO, sorry, nor is your hair appointment, manicure or massage. Hair and makeup prior to publicity photos – YES, that will probably fly, but your new cashmere jacket – NO. Clothing is rarely deductible unless it’s a specific uniform that’s required.
  • Drinks for you and your agent or editor – YES, if you are discussing business, Drinks for the house – NO (IRS frowns on excess) unless you can prove it’s directly related to a writing event i.e. toast to NY Times placement or new sale (and then, they’ll still frown)
  • Souvenirs – YES, if they are non-extravagant gifts for agent, editor or business contacts or if you’re going to use them for future giveaways. For your critique partners or office friends – NO.
  • Flowers – for your room, NO, For a chapter member who is up for an award – YES.
  • Promotional items – YES. Anything you set out or hand out to promote yourself as a writer or your product is deductible right down to design, mailing, the clear plastic sleeves you put them in and the candies you attach for an enticement to pick them up. And don’t forget the container you hold them in and any fee for the table you display them on. Even if you don’t attend the conference and just send promotional materials for inclusion in goodies bags, YES, the items, the cost of their production, assembly and mailing is deductible.
  • Shipping – YES, if you’re sending home your promotional items, giveaway samples you’ve picked up and books you’ve purchased for research of the craft or genre. NO – if it’s your shoes.
3) Events you attend whether in person or virtually i.e. library engagements, local women’s shows, speaking on your craft at a meeting, participating in a blog event, don’t forget to submit these costs:
  • Fees for admittance, booths, tables, table drapes, book stands and set up.
  • Cost of producing any hand-outs or flyers.
  • Cost of promotional items distributed or left behind for distribution.
  • Giveaways for blog prizes and the postage to deliver them to the winner.
  • Cost of hosting, designing, maintaining the event if online i.e long distance or connection charge if doing a radio interview
  • Bottled water at your table if you buy it and receipt for meals if you go out with invitees before or after.
  • The meals and entry fees for family or friend traveling with you – NO. The only exception might be if their presence is solely to assist you ie taking money for sales, doing set up or tear down, driving you if you are unable.
Some fun things I’ve deducted in the name of research: 1) voodoo doll and Mardi Gras masks from New Orleans, packets of Mardi Gras beads, 2) Kindle for a blog grand opening giveaway, 3) beads, werewolf charms, twine, mini-business cards for custom bracelet and bookmark giveaways, 4) mini compass, plastic vampire teeth and bat erasers to attach to business cards, 5) rail pass in Las Vegas and magic shows to research paranormal project, 6) Louisiana plantation, cemetery, bayou and ghost tours, 7) Les Miz ticket (check out cover of Midnight Temptation for direct inspiration!), 8) pictures taken in Ixtapa Mexico for background scenes in Warrior Without Rules, 9) cab and carriage rides through Central Park, 10) rainforest tour in Puerto Rico, 11) carpet, paint and wallpaper border after pipe broke in office, 12) notepaper, #2 pencils, and binders for my first six handwritten novels (!).

Remember, it’s all relative! How each deduction relates exclusively to your business of writing, is documented and provable is the test. When in doubt on any grey area, check with a tax professional or the IRS before you claim the expense. And be prepared to back it up.

Disclaimer: I am NOT nor do I pretend to be a tax professional. The above are merely suggestions for you to investigate as possible deductions. Everyone’s situation is different and should be evaluated by someone well-versed in tax matters. I don’t do math and I don’t do taxes (other than my own) so don’t rely upon the above as gospel when preparing your returns.

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Could YOU Survive a Zombie  Career Apocalypse?
When you least expect it. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the keyboard. It’s just a normal day, a day like any other, and then it hits, taking you by complete surprise. You find yourself in the middle of a Zombie Career Apocalypse. Are you prepared to fight for survival?

In honor of my October release date, let me present to you the following horrific scenarios. WHAT WOULD YOU DO? Pick the answer closest to your own situation to see if your career would survive a Zombie Career Apocalypse . . .

1) A publisher is excited about your proposal. It’s Monday afternoon and your prospective editor needs your marketing plan to present to the PTB in the morning. WHAT DO YOU DO?

a) Ask what a marketing plan is.

b) Tell her you don’t think you’ll need one. They take care of the marketing after all.

c) Panic and spend all evening scrambling to pull one together.

d) E-mail it to her.
2) Your spouse/significant other is the bread winner and you are a stay-at-home writer. His department gets cut at his company and he’s out of a job. (If you’re single, it’s you who’s gotten the pink slip) WHAT DO YOU DO?

a) Start looking for a bankruptcy attorney.

b) Book that cruise over spring break confident it will all work out.

c) Print up YOUR resume along with his and start listing things on Ebay.

d) Go out to dinner. You’ve got a six month nest egg in the bank.
3) You’re on a killer deadline and your project has to be out on Monday. Your computer goes blue screen on Saturday morning. WHAT DO YOU DO?
a) Stare at it, turn it off and on, continue to stare, hoping a miracle will occur.

b) Wait until Monday so you can call your editor and ask for an extension.

c) Pull out the newspaper ads and look for a new computer.

d) Your computer guru has Saturday a.m. hours. Call him.
4) Family member breaks a hip and needs help getting to physical therapy and someone to run their errands, time that will cut deeply into your writing for the next few months. WHAT DO YOU DO?
a) Put your project on hold. You can’t possibly do both things.

b) You’d love to help out when you can. Friends, neighbors and insurance will take care of what needs to be done.

c) Bustle around to set up schedule for people fill in every time you can’t, which ends up taking up more time than doing it all yourself.

d) Adjust your writing time by getting up an hour or so earlier every day and take your laptop so you can work during the PT appointments. Run the errands when you’re out doing your own. A minor inconvenience.
5) An unexpected speaking opportunity comes up at a conference across the country. WHAT DO YOU DO?
a) Pass. You may not have enough speaking experience to teach attendees anything new.

b) Be flattered. Accept and worry about cost and details later.

c) Think about it. Do you know anyone that’s going? Anyone who has gone that you can ask about it? It’s a long way to travel. Can you afford the trip and the time away from writing?

d) Find out if the speaker is comped in any way, if you’re reaching out to a new audience, weigh benefits against cost, check your budget and frequent flier miles, and plan to take your laptop to work during the flight.
6) Your writing schedule is already full when you get a new offer from a publisher you really want to work for. WHAT DO YOU DO?
a) Turn it down. You’ve already got enough on your plate.

b) Say yes! Who knows when the chance may come again?

c) See if you can get extensions for your contracted projects in order to squeeze the new one in.

d) Honestly assess your time frames so none of the projects get short changed. Find extra pockets of time to work on each project then ask for a deadline for the new project that will allow you to finish your contracted work first.
7) You’re surprised when the Soulless Undead Internal Revenue Service announces an audit. WHAT DO YOU DO

a) You were supposed to pay taxes on your writing income?

b) Don’t worry. They know you’re not a professional business and will cut you some slack.

c) Start digging out that shoebox full of miscellaneous receipts and try to match up the amounts to the deductions claimed.

d) All you documents are in order and receipts dated with notations of relevance to your career. Bring it on!
8) The line you’ve been writing for since the start of your career goes under and there’s no other market for what you write. WHAT DO YOU DO?

a) It was a good run while it lasted. Time to get out your 9-to-5 resume and put your dreams away.

b) Wait it out. Your type of writing while come back in style again, just like bell bottoms!

c) Keep tweaking your work and pitching to find a new fit someplace.

d) Focus on another genre you’ve already researched and are familiar with. Dust off an earlier project you were passionate about but shelved to concentrate on your contracted books.

How did you do? Where do most of your answers fall, in category A-B-C or D? Time to see if you’d survive an attack upon your writing career:

Mostly A: First to fall. You’re easy prey because you never saw it coming and are totally unprepared. You never stood a chance. Survival odds: 5% Survival tip: If you’re going to survive in this business, you need to learn basic self-preservation skills. Read and re-read Budgeting Time and Money and get your plan together.

Mostly B: Blind Faith. You’re basically clueless, and are getting by only because you’re only slightly more aware of the situation than the ones who are the first victims. You’re next. Your plan is to have someone else save you. Survival odds: 25% Survival Tip: Get your own realistic plan together and learn to fight for yourself.

Mostly C: If not for the last minute… You have the knowledge you need but not the necessary skills of preparedness. It’s an uphill battle for you that depends heavily on timing and luck. Survival odds: 50% Survival Tip: Stock up for emergencies ahead of time so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Mostly D: You’re a Survivor! You have a plan and you aren’t afraid to use it. You’ve taken the time to anticipate a career attack on every front. Survival odds: 95-100% Survival Tip: Don’t relax your guard. Keep alert and your skills honed in case they’re needed unexpectedly.

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