Monday, January 11, 2010

Two Questions

Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with two questions.

When my friend, poet Phebus Etienne, died a few years ago, she passed away without a will. I believe most of her possessions went to her family, but she did not specify what she wanted to happen with her writings. Phebus had a completed manuscript. I know there are publishers willing to release her collection posthumously, but the family is reluctant.

So here’s Question 1: In the event of your untimely death, have you specified what happens to your unpublished work? Is your spouse, partner, children, or close relatives the best people to decide what gets released? Do you trust their literary judgment? Completed manuscripts are one thing, but what about works in progress, letters, and journal entries—those fits and starts you think are junk could be the subject of a tell-all book.


I hope to resolve this in my own life in 2010.


****
Question 2: Writers, how do you handle your finances? I’m thinking about keeping my poetry-related expenses separate for tracking purposes, but I’m not sure what that will look like for me.

Do you have a separate account for your earnings and expenses? Do you use a tracking software or Excel spreadsheet? What do you consider a write-off? Any recommendations are helpful.

11 comments:

Bernadette Geyer said...

Regarding finances, I treat my poetry work the same way I treat my freelance writing/editing work. They are combined together and I report income/expenses using Schedule C for income tax purposes. I file as an "independent artist/writer/performer", which is listed as a business category.

I use Quicken to track everything. I deduct postage, office supplies, membership fees, contest entry fees, and the cost of attending writer's conferences (when I do attend). You could even deduct the cost of traveling to give readings.

Feel free to email me if you want to discuss further. I've been handling my poetry/writing income/expenses this way for about 6 years now.

Sandy Longhorn said...

I follow the same path as Bernadette, using a Schedule C for tax day. (I use TurboTax, which seems to ask helpful questions as I fill out the forms, reminding of what qualifies in what area of expense.) I try to keep everything in Quicken, but I also go old school with two file folders: one for writing expenses (all those B. listed) and one for income (honorarium, payment for poems, contest awards, etc.). Between the two methods, I think I catch just about everything. Plus, you need to keep hard receipts of everything you are claiming (I think for 5 years...but I'm not sure on that one).

As for the rights to my unpublished work...thanks for the reminder that I need to get that figured out ASAP!

Kells said...

1) No I don't have the specified. And I'm not sure who I'd give things too. I'd have to find an MFA student who needed a special project as my family would have no idea what to do with my work and what was good, what wasn't, etc. I'd be horrified to think what they'd send out into the world. ;-)

2) I keep my finances for poetry separate, but also do this very easily. Here are the key steps, all you need is 2 folders...

a) Keep a folder somewhere we you other documents (bills, poems, etc.) marked Writing Receipts 2010

b) Money Received 2010 - Writing Folder- This is where you put notes or receipts from all the money you have earned (in book sales, honorariums, etc.) over the year

c) Inside that folder have a piece of paper that says "Mileage" with dates/where/what etc. to keep track of all reading/writing events.

d) After 12/31, take both folders are add up your mileage, how much you made, how much you spent. That is what you use on your taxes.

One thing I've always paid for (even when I was at my poorest!) was an accountant to do my taxes.

I remember going to Sears and using H&R Block as they were really cheap there way way back. I swear, it's the best money spent this time of year. It's their job to know things and help you. I love that I get to ask questions each year about poetry and taxes.

Hope that helps... and oh, I also agree with Bernadette, keep track of everything! I do that as well.

January said...

Great advice. Thanks for your answers. I may follow up with you later about specifics.

January said...

And yes, dying without a literary executor or some sort of will specifying your wishes is a scary thing. The people closest to you may not be the most objective when it comes to your literary legacy.

bostonerin said...

I'm answering question #1 on my blog, and I retweeted this. It's really important to think about.

As for finances, I have a separate checking account through which I try to do the vast majority of my writing-related expenses. I've also signed up for mint.com to help me manage things better.

And I keep a small plastic expandable file which I stuff with receipts to help come tax time!

Writer Bug said...

Hmm, interesting question. I don't have a plan and at the moment I doubt any publisher will come knocking on my husband's door if I died, but it's something to think about. Part of me would want my journals to be burned (esp since they deal with personal things as well as writing-related things). But part of me is sad to think about them just going up in smoke... As for stories or novels I have in progress, I would trust my husband to either know what to do, or know enough to find some of my writer friends and figure that out with them.

As for taxes, I, like Bernadette, treat creative writing like I do freelance writing and write off many expenses. I write off: all books (as I understand it, they count as research materials), writing conference attendance/travel expenses, postage, computers and software, and printing expenses.

Like Kells, I just have a folder that I throw receipts into throughout the year, and then I tally it up in January and February.

I have an accountant who actually does my taxes. I'm slightly embarrassed about that since I know I *could* do it myself, but it's worth the money to me to not have to think about it!

Catherine said...

I know of several people who have appointed a literary executor to deal with their writing after their death. Not much personal experience of that, though.

One of my two day jobs is as a tax accountant. OK, not strictly as a tax accountant as I am not officially qualified, however I do most of the work and my boss signs it off. I do think it is a good idea to get an accountant to do your tax if you are not sure. Find one who deals in small businesses, they are way cheaper than the big accounting firms. To get the best from your accountant, keeping your records tidy will save him/her time and you money. A separate bank account for business is a good idea, as otherwise the accountant will need extra time to separate business from non business expenses. Rather than stuffing all the receipts in a big envelope, filing them in date order can be helpful. You can record the details of expenses on a spreadsheet like Excel, or in a paper cash book, or write alongside each item on the bank statement - however you do it, just make sure the item is well described so your accountant can decide whether it qualifies.

For instance in New Zealand if you give say a gift to your agent of flowers it is 100% deductible but wine or chocolates (food and beverage) is only 50% deductible, so just writing "gift to agent" doesn't make it clear! You can always meet with your accountant as soon as you find one and discuss exactly what records they need, so you can keep things in order from the start.

Find out about mileage, in New Zealand the Inland Revenue Department have standard rates for mileage if you travel in your own vehicle for business purposes, but you do have to keep a log book.

There are also things like depreciation on your fixed assets which I am guessing would mainly be your computer. Cost of your internet access, home phone, office space - find out what the rules are in the US, in New Zealand you can claim 50% of your phone rental if you are working from home (plus the total cost of work related toll calls) and for use of a home office, if you have a separate room that you use for writing, you can claim a percent of power, mortgage interest or rent, insurance, etc based on the floor area of your home office space (but working on the dining room table doesn't qualify!)
I don't know what the rules are in the US but you can see why an accountant can be helpful if you are not sure - get an accommodating accountant and they will show you to help you keep the costs down by supplying them with well prepared information.

Jessie Carty said...

I should have made the literary will a resolution this year. Correlated with that is finding someone to be in charge of your online presence. I have done neither of these things but I would like to designate someone with my passwords and words.

I've never made more than $500 so i've never filed. I thought if I ever received a w9 or if I made over 1000 I'd file. Is there an amount that requires you to file?

I keep a spreadsheet :)

Jennifer said...

everyone posting is amazing me--i've only ever thought "why bother with keeping financial records regarding my piddly writing stuffs?" i'm bringing my head out of the clouds to ask this--and to ask (insert "duh" here) whether i should do it because it's the law? whether i should do it because it somehow benefits me? i'm starting to hold freelance poetry workshops & poetry manuscript consulting--though a bit "duh-mb" i know i should (eventually?) report this income...any HELP out there about these matters...???

January said...

I did take some write-offs last year, but this year I will do so with more detail.

Jennifer, It's up to you whether you want to take the deductions, but they're out there for you and could save you a little money every year. Think about the out-of-pocket money spent producing a chapbook, expenses related to running a literary series, or postage. All of that adds up.

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