Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, being a writer involves much more than writing. And I’m not even talking about the dreaded marketing! I’m talking about thinking of yourself as a business—and keeping that business organized.
If you’re in the querying stage, you’re probably already keeping records of that process. If you’re not keeping track yet, I recommend you start now! Many people create a simple Excel spreadsheet in which they track each query, when it’s sent, who it’s sent to, and the response. Record every single bit of activity, including whenever you send a follow-up, leaving nothing to memory. You can also join an online community like QueryTracker that helps you keep track of your querying activities.
Once you’re published, it’s smart to keep track of your income. If you’re using QuickBooks or another money management software, you’ll be keeping track of your income this way. Or you could create an Excel file in which you track each payment you receive. You’ll want to verify that everything is correct at tax time—for example, that your records match the 1099 your publisher sends you.
It’s a good idea to read your royalty reports and keep track of your book sales, too. Create a file in your computer and whenever you receive a royalty statement, enter your book sales for that royalty period, and your total sales to-date. Keep this document updated; you never know when someone’s going to need to know how many copies of a certain book you’ve sold. You don’t want to be guessing. This will come in handy when trying to sell future books to a publisher, because the first thing editors are going to ask is “What were the sales on the previous books?”
Not to neglect our favorite topic! If you’re running various promotions for your books, or if you’re using a social media strategy, then it’s important to keep a calendar of these activities.
It may not be fun being business-oriented and it can be tedious keeping accurate records, but it’s one of the best ways to keep chaos from taking over your life. Keep track of everything!
And while I’m thinking of it, let me ask you: Do you have a good backup system for your entire hard drive? If you don’t, get one TODAY.
How do you keep track of your queries, income, and sales? And do you regularly back up the entire contents of your computer?
Great post, Rachelle, on a subject about which I prefer not to think.
* One thing to remember is that you’ll have to make estimated quarterly tax payments after your first year, and file a Schedule C and Schedule SE if you have more than $400 income. They’re not onerous forms, and the -EZ versions that many writers can use are really simple.
* Make sure you have cash on hand for the quarterly payments. Put it in a do-not-touch fund. The IRS will grant extensions on a 1040, but not on these.
* You can deduct writing-related supplies, travel and driving, but make it a point to save receipts…and be conservative. It’s easy to get red-flagged if your numbers look padded, and audits are every bit as fun as legend makes them out to be. (Home-office space is also deductible, but again, be both conservative and realistic.)
* You may also need to register as a business; check your local laws.
* If you’re an indie and sell locally (within your state and/or municipality), collecting, reporting, and turning over sales tax is also up to you. You may be responsible for state, county, and city sales taxes, and you need to keep them straight.
* Never assume that you’re not making enough to be noticed. Never EVER do that.
* Why yes, I do happen to be married to an accountant. How could you tell?
I do happen to have an IRS story. back in the day, I had saved up the princely sum of $10,000 and was convinced, against the better judgement that would have had me en route to Las Vegas, to purchase a Certificate of Deposit.
* When you buy a CD, you give a bank the face value, the principal (upon which taxes have been paid already), and they invest it and give you back a portion of the income they earn by investing it, as interest. At the end of the term, you get the principal back.
* The IRS, alas, did not see it this way. Long after the term had expired and the principal was returned, I received a letter politely requesting that I send the government a bit over $5000 in taxes, penalties, and interest, as I has had a net gain of $10,000 that I had neglected to report when the principal was returned.
* It took several baffling phone calls, in the course of which I was told that a CD was a VERY ADVANCED financial dealing (and thus suspect) until I was able to speak with a supervisor, who apologised profusely and graciously.
* The IRS does have a heart, and courtesy extended does result in courtesy received.
To clarify and amplify – if you’re an indie selling your books directly (rather than only through Amazon or some other source) you WILL need to be registered as a business, because you are engaged in retail trade. Doing a Richard paul Evans and selling books out of the trunk of your car at local swap meets can be lucrative, but sales tax will always be your companion.
* If you don’t sell directly, you probably don’t need one…unless the place where you ive requires it.
* BTW, if you do sell a swap meets, here’s a thought…have a brief flier printed up with the first couple of pages, and give them out for folks to peruse as they browse the venue. It’s a good way to get them to come back and buy.
Boy, Andrew! This is all great advice. Must be nice to have an accountant spouse to take care of you!
The CD story is amazing. Did they try to tell you at the same time that you needed to file special because you lived outside the US, being a New Mexico resident like you are?
Carol, thanks. The CD Adventure happened in another state, so I didn’t get the out-of-country hassle. But it was sure an experience.
Ha ha, Andrew, I prefer not to think about it too!
I use QuickBooks to track income and expenses, Rachelle. I’m not sure that it’s the easiest tool out there, but I’m familiar with it so it’s best for me. When I was submitting query letters I used an Excel Spreadsheet to track them. Again, maybe not the easiest, but familiar. During heavy marketing, I actually use the archaic, but efficient and simple, white board. I can track reviews from book tours, stay on top of blog posts, and get, in a glance, an overall glimpse of my book rollout, which helps me maintain my momentum.
**I do have one comment on Andrew’s accurate statement about writing off the home office. When you eventually sell your home, you will pay taxes on the amount of the home-office deduction that you have written off. This expense blindsides a lot of people, so forewarned is forearmed.
Damon J. Gray
Ugh!! I intensely dislike the U.S. tax monstrosity!!
Andrew M Budek-Schmeisser
Lynn, thanks for filling that in! It’s one more reason to run a very accurate and conservative budget. Or to be married to an accountant.
Damon J. Gray
On the question of the backups, yes, I do have a nightly backup of critical files. In the past, I used a third-party tool to do this backup, but have abandoned that for my own home-grown backup scripts. I know that is not an option for most people, so one of any number of freebie tools can be an excellent alternative. Rather than purchase a cloud-based with an ongoing fee, I recommend a one-time investment in an enormahuge network or USB storage drive. BestBuy online has drives from 2 to 8 TerraBytes for less than $200. The 2TB model is $79.99. For most of us that is more than enough storage space, and anything over 3TB would store every document, movie, and mp3 your entire family owns. The network versions of these backup drives often comes with its own backup software, so you’ll be able to easily set up a scheduled backup routine. I work in IT for my day job, so I’d be glad to assist people getting set up if they want to email about it. You can contact me through my personal web site.
BestBuy backup drives:
Here is a link to a site with more than 30 backup tools.
What great suggestions! Yes, I’ve thought of keeping track of business-related things like queries and proposals. Not being published yet, I hadn’t thought about tracking royalty statements and book sales. And what’s working marketing-wise. It all makes sense though.
*I can see the value of tracking when books are selling, as well as which marketing efforts are (or aren’t) working effectively. Is it a general practice for agents to direct their clients in doing this?
I’m a newbie, so this advice is great, Rachelle. Thank you!
My husband rolls his eyes at the way I keep track of writing expenses. I’ll spare you the details, but thanks for these suggestions!
Rachelle, thanks so much for the information, and Andrew your advice was helpful as well as other commenters. Oh, Andrew, you are indeed blessed to be married to an accountant. I on the other hand am not, BUT he is great with auto repairs, healthy eating, nutrition and fitness as well as being in Minneapolis street repair, where he has learned to make the roads safe in the heat of summer and snow and bitter cold of winter. We decided early on I would be the bill payer, insurance reviewer, and all important papers and forms handler. This is definitely not a passion of mine, but a delegated and agreed upon household and family responsibility. SO, always the girl scout at heart, I pledged on my honor to do my best, and I have done so these 24 years. Now, understand my main personality type is the extrovert people. People, people, people. Give me people, really just about any kind and I can be fine, as long as there is no weapons involved and they’re civil. I would rather be out with people or helping someone, than in the midst of bills and paperwork, BUT, I am a very responsible sort of person, so I do it, and I organize and streamline it as much as I can BECAUSE once I’m done, I can go be with my beloved people. Smile…Did I tell you I love marketing? I was a Mary Kay consultant at one time, but left because I wanted to put things in their mind and hearts instead of on their faces. No insult to anyone who is a consultant. I learned so much, but it wasn’t for me even though I was red jackets within a short time.
So, I have to just know this is the part that is my least favorite, but knowing I can do it. I know if I had to figure out all the intravenous fluids and medication calculations before the pharmacist did it for the nurses, I can do this.
And yes, just thinking about it makes me think shoot God could you please make my hubby an accountant. Just during tax season and quarterly reports?
Thanks everyone, knowing others do it, also helps!
Elizabeth, given your love of marketing, I think a lot of us here would be grateful if you’d share your thoughts and methods. I’m terrible at marketing! I would love to learn how to love the process.
Andrew, if I think about it, it really comes down to a level of comfort with people and believing in what you are offering them. The comfort of being with others, especially those we don’t know or are different from us, can differ based on our personality types. There are definitely the introverts and extroverts, and yet as writers we need to be able to connect with others, show we value them by a warm handshake, and genuine questions that show we are more concerned with them than about ourselves. This not only helps to keep their need for our book or words in the forefront of our mind, and keeps worries about how people perceive us at bay. It is necessary to believe thoroughly in the importance of our writing for the benifit of others, or you will not have a deep passion and drive to get your books or whathaveyou in the hands of others. Truly, it is a self conscious worry of how we’ll do, or what others will think of us, or how they might judge our writing that makes us weak in the knees at the thought of marketing. If a person, can place all that care in God’s hands, and love those in front of you who could potentially benefit from your writing you will learn to lose yourself in the process of gaining others to come, know you, know your writing, and in the end develop not just a one time book buyer but a faithful supporter, and beneficiary of the words you have written.
I have not yet been published, other than internally in hospitals and other healthcare settings for projects specific to their needs so I have not yet had the challenge and pleasure of marketing a published book yet. Buy in my mind, I’m pretty game for anything, and will go up to just about anyone, and knock on doors and network. I’ve had to do this in the past as a Mary Kay consultant, and I was also Miss Wisconsin National Teenager in 1975, and in the top ten in the national competition, which was a long time ago. So my advice and tips are not really from the book end. Someone more experienced in it could probably give you much more information.
All, I know is I am unafraid when it comes to being on radio, being filmed, or knocking on congress doors. I’ve had to do all those before, but life’s and adventure, and I have the Best Guide.
One more thing about marketing. I believe success in marketing anything comes down to where the value is placed and where motivation comes from. By this I mean, if you look at your item, or book as the most valuable part of the equation, and not the potential buyer your marketing will reflect that and people sense this. It comes through in many ways. But if the most valued part of the marketing is the people, then we will not ever want to ask or encourage them to buy anything that is not of benefit to them. Our core beliefs come out in our behaviours. So if we truly value people, and believe the product is superior in quality and will benefit them it will be reflected in our choices of how we market and what we do, including how we relate to our future readers. Now, add to that the ability to purchase or acquire the item, that is successful marketing. Add great customer service and connection post purchase, another well-written book that meets a need, and you are growing your book launch audience and fan club, NOT to be more important than the satisfaction that you truly kept priorities straight, amd were part of God’s plan to change lives, teach, bring the gift of laughter, or display the beauty of God’s creation.
Yes, marketing is all in what motivates us, and were we place the value on –product or people.
Just my thoughts and how I see it.
Please all, forgive my typos, my laptop is not available right now, and I am doing this on my Smart phone which unfortunately doesn’t mean you don’t get dumb errors. It’s my eyes and size of the keypad. My apologies, and abundant mortification, Have a great evening all.
Oh, just so you know, I have a separate checking account and credit card for business purposes, and for both home and business, I have a separate folders for files that are separated into the main categories, such as mileage, education (seminars, and such), membership fees for my writing groups I’m in, office supplies, etc. All receipts are kept and put in the appropriate file, with a note on the receipt to further clarify what it is for. I have a very helpful physical way of handling receipts for my husband and I. I have a plastic no. 10 envelope size holder in my car in which I put my receipts. From there they are marked if needed and placed in the appropriate file or in a no. 10 paper envelope for the current month, that is in a small basket with lid that holds prior months receipts. All receipts go into the envelopes, a keep 90 days worth so if milk goes bad before it’s experiration date, or a piece of clothing needs to be returned, or the like I or my husband can find the paper receipt. At the end of the month when I put the new month’s envelope in, I go through the oldest one that was now over 90 days out and thin out the receipts only keeping those I need for tax purposes, or to accompany an item, like a computer, or electronic that I need for warranty purposes. This has saved us time, frustration, and money. I love being organized, because well…it makes more time for PEOPLE! I have more points on managing paperwork and bills for Sanguines, but that’s all for now, for here…okay, I’m done now. I’m going to find my husband and tell him I just signed him up for, “Household Management, “and, “Hacks for Helping Your Wife With Her Business,” put on by our local community education services.
Mary Kay Moody
Another item to add to my to-do list. 🙁 On the other hand, I do back up my computer. (Good. Needed that affirmation tonight.)
Really, Rachelle, thanks for the tips, encouragement, and hints to make it simpler.
Thx for all!
A good post, Rachelle, on a really important topic that many people don’t want to work on. It is a properly, that organized business will bring the greatest effect per unit of time. I want to add that it is very convenient to immediately use complex software for your niche. https://fieldworkhq.com/ for pest control or lawn care. If you have another business, then find software for it. But in any case, the choice is yours. All the best!
Fieldworkhq.com is nice one! I would also recommend https://fluix.io/safety-management as security issues are very important today. According to various sources, the majority of successful attacks are by exploiting application-level vulnerabilities, indicating that enterprise IT must remain extra vigilant and secure applications. The problem is compounded by the continuous growth in the number and complexity of applications. A decade ago, the main focus of software security professionals was protecting PC applications and static websites, which was relatively simple and safe. Now the software delivery process has become much more complex: it includes outsourced development, combining a number of legacy applications with in-house development and third-party tools, open source code and commercial off-the-shelf software components.