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Self-Publishing Tax Preparation

I am almost half-way done with my editing pass through Peacekeeper Pathogen. If I continue this pace, I will be able to hand the manuscript over to my wife for her grammar check toward the end of February.

Tax Preparation
Tax time is approaching and it's time for me to begin gathering up the documentation and paperwork needed to file. You might think that doing taxes when you have a small business (which is what writing is) is difficult and time-consuming. Actually, it's not.

I used to do it all by hand but now there are several very low-cost tax preparation software programs available. Still, a person needs to be organized and prepared before sitting down to do your taxes. Each year, I like to post what I do to prepare for tax-time in the hope of helping other authors avoid problems. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • The miles you put on your car for writing purposes are tax deductible. But, if you are audited, you must have detailed records showing starting mileage, ending mileage, date, vehicle, and the purpose of the trip. You will also need to know the mileage on your vehicle at the beginning of the year and the end of the year.
  • Business-related expenses. You would think that this is a no-brainer, but many authors fail to realize all their benefits. By using a program such as Quicken, you can track all of your expenses and automatically categorize them in a format acceptable to the IRS. Did you discuss writing with another author over dinner? The trip and the dinner are a valid business expense. So are advertising, office supplies, parking expenses, travel expenses, book purchases, etc. Other valid expenses include writer magazines, professional organization membership fees, and anything related to your business.

  • Writing income is something you must report, but how many people compare what appears on the 1099 to what was actually deposited in their accounts? If you have Amazon 1099s, you should do this comparison because there's an interesting glitch in how Amazon reports things to you. Did you know that Amazon extracts a small (about 3%) fee from your earnings as part of the cost of converting foreign currency into your local currency? If you have foreign sales, make sure you add up all of your Amazon 1099s and then compare this against what was actually deposited in your bank. You will find that your deposits are slightly smaller than what appears on the 1099. The difference is the conversion fee and this is a reportable business expense.
  • Do you have savings accounts? Make sure you get the interest you earned on all of them. Do you pay bank fees such as account maintenance fees? These are tax deductible as well. Just make you have the paperwork to back it up.
  • Do you use a part of your home exclusively for writing? This can be a small area in one room but it must be exclusively used for the business. If so, deduct it! 
Keeping track of all your business expenses, incomes, and activities in a detailed manner throughout the year makes filling out your taxes easy. The hardest part is making sure you have all your paperwork together so you can start the filing process. Being organized is the only way to properly run a business.


How Long Does it Take to Publish a Book?

Lee Dilkie (my content editor) has finished reading Peacekeeper Pathogen (AKA PK3) and has provided a plethora of useful feedback. Now that I've been away from the novel for several weeks, I can begin editing with a fresh mind. I started that process yesterday and have gotten up to chapter 5. If all goes well, I hope to have the book edited and ready for proofing in a couple of months. My wife does the proofing and she usually takes a couple months to work her way through the book. She is not a fan of science fiction. She also doesn't really "read" the story. She looks more at the sentence level looking for grammatical errors and sentence structure. I have a content editor precisely because my wife is not a fan of science fiction and because she is so focused on the structure of the individual sentences. After I input all of her changes, I send the manuscript off to Germany (email delivery time of about 17.9 milliseconds) and let Ekkehard Flessa (a German engineer) have a look at it for additional proofing suggestions.

If the timetable works out as predicted, I should have a new book up on Amazon in about 5 months. FIVE MONTHS!???? Let's talk about this time-frame for just a moment because it's important.

Five months is actually quite aggressive. Years ago, back when I didn't know all that much about publishing, I wondered why it took a year or more for a major publishing house to get a book published. Now that I have a small team to help me in my own publishing process, I understand why. If you're an author, you will want your book to be in the best shape possible when it is released to the world. It should have a good cover because a book is still sold by its cover to anyone who is not searching for your book by name. The manuscript should not have any grammatical mistakes (okay, a couple are fine because even major publishing houses miss a few). The sentences should flow and sound natural and entertaining. The interior of a printed book should be properly formatted following industry standards. If your book is an ebook, the interior should follow the standards set forth by the distributor.

All of this takes time. None of it will matter though if your story is not one that people will want to read. Put it all together and you have a book that will bring you an income for many years. If you try to rush any part of this, you will end up with a product that does not sell and all your effort will have been wasted.

I am exceptionally lucky to have the team I have. Lee Dilkie and Ekkehard Flessa are people who've read my books and were vocal in pointing out flaws in the content as well as the grammar. As a self-published author, I believe it is my duty to listen to what my readers are saying and I read every review. If someone emails me direct, I will reply. Lee's and Ekkehard's comments were always right on the mark so I asked if they would like to become beta readers. I am very grateful they've accepted and my books are better because of their feedback.

Another member of the team is Heather Zak. She is the wife of my best friend from high school and is my preferred cover artist. She reads the first draft of the manuscript and starts working on a cover early in the process. Her covers reflect what happens in the story and are beautiful works of art.

Publishing a book is a team effort. If you are looking to self-publish, look around at the people you know and assess their talents. If you can find a cover artist, content editor, and at least one proofing editor, then you have your team. If not, you might want to look into having your book looked at by a reputable editor. It will not be cheap and you must do your research before signing an agreement, but you will not regret doing so. If you think you can do this all on your own, you're wrong. Even editors use other editors to check their own work.

You spent months or perhaps years working on your book. Now that it's finished, take the time to put the polish on it. If you don't, if you try to rush to the finish line and get your work published, the only thing the world will see is a book full of errors, bad sentences, and poor design. How do you want the world to see you? As a professional author who's written a wonderful story that's a pleasure to read or as someone who slapped a story together and blasted it out to the public without any thought as to what it looks like?

Finally, readers of this blog should know that I'm a huge supporter of Launch Pad. I've started a GoFundMe campaign to help support this year's workshop. Please consider donating. Even a small amount helps. I would also like to ask if you would take a moment to help promote this workshop by putting out a shout for the GoFundMe campaign on your own social media accounts. The link is:

Thank you!


Tax Thoughts

While waiting for Peacekeeper Pathogen to be reviewed by Lee Dilkie (reader turned content editor), I've been catching up on my reading and television shows. The writing itch however, got the best of me yesterday and I pulled out a short story I'd started a very long time ago but never finished. Yesterday, I finished it. It's not very long and it's not really science fiction. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it now that it's done. I also began work on my next novel -- a sequel to Off Course which I haven't named yet. I only added a few hundred words, but I can officially say it's been started.

Yesterday, we were supposed to have our monthly writer's meeting at Barnes and Noble. My wife dropped me off and took off shopping for sewing material. I didn't see anyone from the group but it was still a bit early. When the meeting time arrived, nobody was there. I haven't been to a meeting since October either because I was at an event selling books or the weather was too bad. But yesterday it was nice out and everyone should have been there. I emailed and texted everyone I had contact information for. Only one person responded and she had no idea what was going on. She was actually at another meeting. I hope to hear back from someone soon. In the meantime, I asked to be put back on the mailing list for another group I've been to before.

On the way into work last Friday, I had a deer run out of the woods and slam into my car. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw it get up and run away. The impact did a little bit of damage to the edge of the cowling just forward of the front tire. When you live around here, being hit by or hitting a deer is to be expected at least once in your driving career.

Tax Thoughts
Tax time is approaching and it's time for writers who treat their writing as a business to begin thinking about gathering up everything they will need. I have a reminder in my Google calendar to record the mileage on my cars on January 1st of every year. The reminder triggers two days, one day, and then 12 hours from the start of the year. That way, I have the mileage recorded for tax time. I also have a checklist of things that I will need prior to sitting down in front of the computer to begin working on my taxes. This list will be printed out soon and hanging next to my computer. As paperwork comes in or each item on the checklist is completed, it all goes into a file folder or an electronic folder on the computer so everything is together.

Running a business requires a lot of documentation and a well-organized method of keeping this documentation for at least 7 years. If you don't have a system now, you should give some serious thought about setting one up. Tax time might only come once a year, but the documentation needed to file your taxes will arrive at unscheduled times all year round. Being organized will make tax time easy and it can also make surviving an audit much easier. I normally put out a short series of tax-related posts just before it's time to begin filing your taxes. I plan on doing the same again this year.


Quick Update

Not much to report this week. Waiting on a report from Lee Dilkie on Peacekeeper Pathogen. In the meantime, I've started thinking about and doing some research for my next book which will be a sequel to Off Course. My biggest problem with this book is I can't seem to answer the question: "How do you stop an unstoppable warship?" When I have the answer, I can begin work on the novel.

I've also been catching up on television and scifi shows I've had on standby while writing. Even though I've not been writing for only a couple of weeks, the itch to write is beginning to appear. Soon, the itch will be unstoppable and I will have to start writing something.

There was a news story the other day concerning one of the nuclear power plants owned by the same company that owns the one I work for. According to the analyst, there is a 50% chance the plant could be closed down resulting in the loss of a little over 10 million dollars in tax revenue for the surrounding community as well as the State of Ohio. It will also result in the loss of several hundred jobs which will impact families and communities far more than the loss of tax revenue.

My own plant is officially up for sale. The possibility of someone buying it is much greater because we are a much larger facility and we make a ton of money when the plant is running. But, there is no guarantee that I will have my current job after the new owner takes control. I'm not incredibly worried, but the possibility is there. I've always been a long-range planner and the prospect of being unemployed (especially with our nation's current health care insurance problems) does not sit well with me. So, I am heavily weighing the possibility of cutting back on my writing so I can learn a new programming language. I am very well versed in Microsoft Access and I'm pretty good at SQL. I used to be very good at VB6 (no longer used much) and even longer ago I was good at C (back when DOS was king). Today, Java seems to be the language to learn and so I might embark on that particular path.

If I do decide to learn a new language (about 90% sure at this point), it will impact my writing and will result in a delay of the next book. But, that's life.


2016 Review

2016 is now history. It was a year I hope to forget but I know I can't because of all that happened. Humanity lost many people that were a part of our past -- people that will live on in our memories and in the media for many years into the future. We saw Brexit and soon we will see just how it will affect the UK. There were terror attacks, wars, police shootings and shootings of police, the standoff at the Dakota access pipeline, the tainted presidential election that has split this country and will continue to do so, and many more events I would rather forget. Based on what has happened in 2016 and the path this country is taking, I don't see 2017 being much better.

Being depressed about all the bad news has made 2016 a year to be remembered as well as one to be forgotten. I'm lucky. I live in a small community where most people seem to get along with each other very well. I work at a company that promotes equal opportunity and where everyone is treated with respect. I don't see the things that many other people see and I don't have to deal with the things that many people have to deal with every day. That does not mean that such things don't concern me, because they do. For me, 2016 has changed how I see people. I am more distrustful and far more opinionated than when the year first began. Our future looks pretty bleak and I hope things will change.

I accomplished a lot in 2016. Here is a short list:

  • Finished and released Dragonverse Origins.
  • Started and finished writing Peacekeeper Pathogen.
  • Attended Launch Pad.
  • Raised enough funds for Launch Pad to pay for the cost of one of the vans as well as provide a generous donation to help Mike Brotherton continue the workshop.
  • Revised the interiors of all my existing books to conform to today's professional publishing standards.
  • Revised the covers of all of my existing books to provide a consistent look and feel.
  • I was promoted at my day job.
  • Completed several Microsoft Access projects at my day job.
  • Completed a full revision of a complex Microsoft Access database application that had been giving inconsistent results.
  • Designed and wrote a near bullet-proof watchdog program that monitors the other programs used to keep my database system updated and generate hundreds of daily automatic reports. This watchdog program has allowed me to take vacations without worry.
  • Started work on a major rewrite of an application I wrote in 2003 (SCMS - Simulator Configuration Management System) that no longer runs under Windows 7. Original was written in Visual Basic 6. The new version will use Microsoft Access per owner's request.
  • Provided financial assistance to several family members when they were in need.
  • Updated my website.
  • I learned about Amazon advertising and successfully applied it to boost sales.
Looking ahead:
  • I will finish and publish Peacekeeper Pathogen.
  • I plan to start and hopefully finish a sequel to Off Course that firmly ties that book to Dragonverse.
  • Raise funds to support Launch Pad.
  • Attend the 10-year anniversary of Launch Pad.
  • Finish moving SCMS to a full Microsoft Access platform.
  • If possible, begin the final book in the Dragonverse series - Children of 2 Universes.
  • Learn a new programming skill - I have not yet decided if this will be learning about web technology or a new language such as Java or C++, or a combination of these.
  • I will be at my dad's in South Carolina during the total solar eclipse. This is something I've been planning on doing for the last 7 years.
  • I hope to make sure my brother and sister are both in South Carolina with me. If this can be arranged, it will be the first time all three of us have been together since the passing of my mother and it will mark the first time they've visited my dad in his South Carolina home.
Let's work together to make 2017 a better year.