Note to IRS: Writing is NOT a hobby to me.
We had our taxes done this past week, and, once again, I got hit with the standard spiel about “Hobby/Loss” rules. About my pitiful pittance of so-called “profit.”
Because I’d spent a couple thou on releasing two novels of mine last year (not counting my normal writing expenses) and hadn’t made a profit. Though I was physically and mentally exhausted at this tax meeting, and was, admittedly, a bit angry with the same (insert favorite expletive) admonishment I’ve been receiving since about 1987, I don’t really hold it against the man reading me the riot act. He’s just part of the process and covering his ass. Making sure I understand the position of my ass. I get that. But I was tired. Even a little annoyed at myself for how much I’d spent and at the small return—especially once I saw how many e-books were downloaded and no associated reviews or whatever (even bad ones) with all those downloads. Free downloads. Sure, Mark Coker (whom I’ve met and talked with—and a super, super GREAT guy) and the rest say that’s that M.O. for Indie publishing—giveaways. They will earn themselves out sometime…near or far future…but still…I was miffed. I gave away hundreds of books, and figured they were all languishing in the dark, dank corners of hundreds of harddrives, ignored and never to be read. Bit fillers.
Okay, I’m projecting and generalizing, there, because I was tired, but that was what was going through my mind. I can’t assume to know everyone’s mindset when they acquired my work, but I was happy that so many had acquired them. At that point, I just wasn’t happy with the lack of the almighty frigging important profits…and I was unhappy with the mere thought of profits!
You see, folks, taxes bring out the weak links in businesses. The whole idea behind businesses, we are taught, is to make money. Not that we make the world a better place by the businesses we bring into existence, not that we’re out to help others. Not any other thing—
Yes, that severely chafes me. Because every year I have to put my Business Hat on and talk money.
Artists don’t like talking money.
We don’t do what we do for the money. But…if we want to live…we have to make some sort of remuneration. Many of us have other jobs that do make money…but all of us, well nearly all of us—I don’t presume to know everyone’s motives—would love to be able to do the one thing that keeps us going…that feeds our souls…and make a living at that.
But this conflicts with IRS rules and regulations, if you’re making any money. Cause, if you make money, you must pay the piper. I don’t mind paying the piper. The piper is fine. We live in a great country, and somehow, we have to pay for things in this great country, and taxes are our mechanism. Live with it. Get over it. Taxes are how we get to reap the benefits of living where we live…whether or not they are properly managed is a whole ‘nother, exhausting argument.
I don’t want to bore with all the intricacies of the IRS Code, because I don’t know it and would have to research it, and, frankly, I’d rather force-vomit-up repeatedly the entire day than have to read that stuff, but here are some case studies on the matter of writers and taxes. The basic takeaways are:
- Treat writing like a business.
- Must prove the intent of making a profit in the business of writing.
- If no profit is made, show that it was due to circumstances beyond one’s control, like customary business risks, casualty losses, or depressed market conditions.
Now, I’m oversimplifying, and there are many and various methods to those steps, and I’m not gonna get into them, because I’m not legal counsel and the tax law is far more complex than it needs to be, but check out that link for interesting case studies and consult your tax folk. It’s interesting that there are cases where the IRS deemed a writer as not a writer-for-profit, the case then taken to court, and the court decreed that the writer was a writer-for-profit. So, all is not lost. One of the other things in those cases, was that the writer had to prove that their not making a profit was due to the third item above. In any event, nothing’s easy, nothing’s a given. You have to make every effort to treat your writing like the business it is, if you want to claim anything on your taxes and not use hobby/loss rules. There’s always a chance you could get audited, but, if you do, you can still “win,” as long as all your ducks are in a row.
Okay, so in the interests of showing how business-like I am, here is what I’m doing, plus/minus:
- I get up every damn day (twice on Sundays…okay, also Mondays-Saturdays, since I appear to have RLS), whether or not I feel like doing it, and write something. Promote.
- I log all my time on the computer for all my writing time.
- I log my submissions and important events in a logbook.
- I spreadsheet all expenses, income, and mileage.
- I spreadsheet inventory.
- I blog.
- I interact on social media (WordPress, Twitter, Pinterest, FB, AboutMe, LinkedIn the occasional online forum, like, currently, an Amazon forum).
- I push the Indie Publishing agenda.
- I interview on traditional and Internet radio.
- I try to get any gig where I can to advance the Indie Agenda, and get my work out there.
- I annoy and guilt others into buying my book, when severely hopped up on caffeine—which, I’m finding, I seem to need more of as I get older. Iced Tea doesn’t seem to be cutting it any longer (see RLS, above). I do same, to get readers to review my work. Note: why do I do this? I do it so others will see how much other readers have liked the book, so they, too, might like it and buy. If this was just for a frigging hobby, I could give a shit if someone liked it or not (as in I’d be doing it for my benefit and relaxation and it doesn’t matter if you like or don’t like that…) and wouldn’t keep embarrassing myself into asking readers for reviews—even short ones. My ego does not need stroking (some might say it strokes itself…). But, again, I’d really like to make a living off this stuff, so….
- I try to get writer conference sessions.
- I’ve submitted my work for official reviews, like The Midwest Book Review and BookReview.com (whose link, curiously, seems to be down, since I sent my work to them…).
- Am constantly prowling (yes, prowling) for any opportunity to further advance the cause of my work (note, I didn’t say me…my work…). I’ve even got my dad trying to sell my books in upstate New York. Any of you can also help out by trying to get me in anywhere you’d think I’d fit (note, I’m not 165 lbs…am currently about 200, so keep that in mind). Get me a radio phoner interview (where I’d call in, versus showing up in-studio), invite me to your library or writer/reader groups, if in driving distance (or “they” pay for my airfare and hotel… :-] ), send links to my work all over the planet, talk my books up whenever you can, interview me for your blog. I’m a fun guy. Witty sometimes. See, I am prowling, even trolling (note double entendre, which, originally, was “double entente,” c. 1670s)…
Thing is, I’m no longer 23 and can’t do 20-hour days anymore. I do do (go on, laugh, it’s allowed) 18-hour days, though. I have a day job that’s frequently been more than just a day job and do get quite exhausted by day’s end, so that curtails evening events (frequent ones, anyway) at the moment. I also workout after work. That takes a couple hours. Staying fit is important on many levels, but to Mr. and Mrs. IRS that should mean it makes me a lean-mean-profit-making-machine. Or tries to, anyway, but, given the glutted publishing market and “customary business risks, casualty losses, or depressed market conditions,” it’s hard to break into and make a profit in the publishing world. But I’m still in there swinging. Because I lift weights. Cardio give me longevity.
Now, yes, some of this all might sound decidedly mercenary (in actuality, reviews are not just about the promotion to me, I’m truly curious about how people interpret and feel about the stories; I’ve written them to touch and impact in some way, even inform…), take some of the romanticism out of us writers, but, sigh, we’re just trying to make a living. We’re not egotistical—most of us don’t even like the limelight—but we have a driving need to write. To convey stories we hope others might find fun or interesting. What do each of you do to stay employed? How do each of you sell yourselves? It’s a true pity so much focus is put on profitability, but you have to also look at it from the IRS’s point of view: people cheat. Once you understand that, everything else falls into place.
Don’t hate the writer. We just wanna write…and without us, you don’t have anything to read.
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