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2019-02-17

February 17, 2019: Tax Tips for Writers

The last of the Peacekeeper series now stands at 25,490 words. It's been slow going over the past few weeks but at least I'm making some progress.

Every year around this time, I put out a short list of tax tips for writers. For the sake of tradition, I'll do so again:

  • Compare the number that appears on your Amazon 1099 with the total of all the amounts that have been deposited into your account. You will notice there's a small discrepancy. The difference is caused by the foreign currency conversion fee that you have been charged for overseas sales. This is a business expense and should be reported as such on your return.
  • If you have a profit, make sure you fill out the 1040 SE form. You will be required to pay your fair share of social security and Medicare taxes. Make sure you deduct these from your business income. I believe you can deduct up to 40%. The reason I don't know is because I had a slight loss this year.
  • Travel expenses (half of your meals, parking, taxi, air travel, lodging, etc.) are all valid business expenses and should be claimed.
  • Keep meticulous records! I can't stress this enough. If you are ever audited, the IRS will want to see receipts and a mileage log if you claim mileage. These days, such records can be scanned and securely stored in the cloud.
  • Review your tax return with a critical eye. This is especially important if someone else does your taxes. I found a mistake on my return several years ago and had to file a corrected return. Don't just assume that the person who prepared your taxes knows what they are doing. You know your business better than anyone else. You should know what you're sending the IRS as well.
My schedule is going to be pretty busy over the next month or so. I am attending a convention from March 1st through the 3rd. Even though it is only an hour's drive from here, I plan on spending the nights there. This will give me more time to write as well as hang out in the author showroom until closing. I don't plan on making enough to cover my room expense, but I'm going to get a lot of writing done and I hope to meet some interesting people as well.

The very next weekend, I start working 12-hour days. The nuclear plant I work at will be shutting down to refuel and that means 12-hour days. My job during the outage will be to keep the reporting systems running smoothly and to work on all the programs I maintain. The outage will last for 25 days. Don't expect me to be doing any writing during the outage, there's not going to be any time!

2019-02-03

February 3, 2019: Diversity

My current work in progress (the last of the Peacekeeper books) stands at 22,808 words putting me solidly at the approximate 25% point. If all goes well, the novel might be ready for publication by the end of this year.  We shall see.

One of the primary reasons I created a Twitter account was to stay informed on the activities of the people I've met at Launch Pad. It has also been an educational experience as writers like to share some of their important thoughts on the platform. The other day, I read a tweet from Katrina Jackson that one of the people I follow had replied to. The tweet basically asked why authors found it necessary to identify the race of their non-white characters yet did not identify the race of the white characters in their works? Her answer is simple and it points out one of the major issues with our society in general. Writers point out that a character (minor or not) is black, or Asian, or Native American because most readers automatically assume the characters in almost any novel are white.

Her point was well taken by many other writers, myself included. And, I've done the same in my books. I did it to point out the fact that the universe I write in is diverse and race, sexual orientation, and personal beliefs are no longer used to denigrate a person or categorize them into a marginalized group. A writer should not have to point out that a character's race unless that fact plays an important part in the book. I never thought about it, but pointing out a character's race is like a person describing a new employee to a significant other and specifying that person's race only if the person is not white. It means we see others who are not white as different when they are not. We are all human.

There are instances where a person's racial heritage should be identified. I have a Native American character in one of my books and the fact that he was Native American played an important part in the book. This would be the only case where pointing out a character's race should be done.

This discussion about racial identification can also apply to sexual orientation. If you want to write a diverse book and include people of all colors, customs, beliefs, and sexual orientation, you don't have to come out and point a finger at a character and say "she's lesbian" or "he's black" or "he was once a she". If it's important to the plot of the story, then work it into the prose in a manner that the reader can clearly see who the character is without having to resort to a pointed declaration. When someone walks into a room, they don't stop in the doorway and shout "Hi! I'm a black transgender person!". Pointing out a character's race or sexual orientation during the first description of that character is like doing the same thing.

We are all human. Who cares what the color of our skin is or who we love. We are all human.

2019-01-20

January 20, 2019 - Snow!

Last night, we had our first major snowstorm for this winter. The weather forecast had predicted 8 to 12 inches and people flocked to the store to buy milk, cereal, bread, and other supplies. Last night when I went to bed, we had received only about 2 inches. This morning, the story is different. I can look out my window and see a drift at least knee-deep. The plow has been up our street and the end of my driveway is blocked off by a wall of snow. Soon, when the sun begins to make an appearance, I will begin the process of clearing off the driveway. I also do our neighbors, especially because one is in her 80's and recently lost her husband.

I grew up in Minnesota and I can easily recall enjoying the winter. We would go outside in our snowsuits and build snow forts, tunnels in the snow, snowmen, and something we invented -- snow mazes. When I turned 14, I got my snowmobile license and then I could go snowmobiling. Those days are now gone as the amount of snowfall in recent decades has not even come close to what I remember as a child. Can people these days imagine snow deep enough to dig tunnels through! I don't know how much we actually got so far because of the drifting but even after last night's major snowstorm, it's not deep enough for even a child to build a tunnel.

This sudden shift in weather reminds me about a world-building tip that every author needs to be aware of. If you have a planet that can support life, then you most likely can't have a 'water planet' or a 'desert world' or a 'forest moon'. Planets (and moons large enough to retain an atmosphere) will always have a variable climate. Earth's climate is caused by its axial tilt. Tip it to far and you have a world of harsh extremes. Tip it closer to being upright and now you have a world with a more even climate but one that changes with latitude. The equator would be burning up and the poles would be a frozen wasteland.

The point is, if you need to set your story in a forest, chose a location on a planet that is close to an ocean and near the planet's equator. If you need to be in a frozen landscape, your choices are to chose winter in a location where the climate changes, the poles of a planet, or a world that is too far away from its sun to keep it warm. In the later case, only a thin band near the equator would be warm enough to support much life. If the equators are cold, imagine how cold the poles would be!

I've been doing some writing and the next Peacekeeper book is about 1/4 of the way done. I'm going to get some more written this morning until the sun starts to show itself and then I will be out in the snow playing with my snowblower and shoveling.

2019-01-13

January 13,2019 - Writing

I made pretty good progress on my next novel over the holiday vacation. As of right now, the new book has just under 18,000 words which puts me roughly 1/4 of the way done. Of course, that's just the first draft. I am, once again, wondering if spending my time writing is worth it. My weekend mornings are the only time I have to myself to do what I want and for years I've spent the vast majority of that time writing. It was worthwhile when sales were doing good. Recently, sales have been abysmal and I'm finding myself questioning my choice of what to do in the mornings.

Don't get me wrong--I love to write. But writing for a tiny audience with the prospect of not making enough royalty from the book to cover the cost of the artwork and the copyright fee does not make much business sense. I've always treated my writing as a business. I pulled out of Smashwords and went exclusively KDP based on an analysis of sales and a three-month long trial period. If a retail store does not make enough in sales to cover their expenses, the store closes. For a self-published author, if the sales don't make enough to cover expenses and don't provide enough financial compensation to warrant giving up the time to write, then the business should be closed. I'm close to pulling the plug.

I will finish the book I'm working on now. I'm not sure when that will happen because the incentive is not really there. But, this novel could very well be the last of the Peacekeeper series and it could be the last book I write for a long time.

Why are sales slumping? It's hard to say. I think it might be the explosion of self-published authors out there. I do think that if people would provide an honest review after reading a book authors would get more readers. Over the years, I've sold about 10,000 copies of Translight. I have 66 reviews. That's pathetic. I haven't checked, but I've heard many other authors complain about how many times they've found their books on a pirate site. One romance writer found her book on a pirate site before it was even published! So, part of the reason has to be the fact that people don't think they should pay for things. Authors spend a lot of time working on their books and they want to be paid for their effort. Most aren't expecting to get rich. But every author out there wants to be compensated for the time it takes to produce a novel.

It's Sunday. I sort of feel like writing, but I have some other things I want to do as well. I will be forced to decide how to spend my valuable time as soon as I post this. My decision will be based on how much I want to write, what I think I will gain from spending my time doing so, and how much I want to do the other things on my list. This morning, it's a tough choice and I'm still undecided.