By Tex Thompson
All right, bright-eyed fictioneers . I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, I GOT this.” Got your manuscript file open, nestled neatly in the Deathless Prose folder on your desktop. Got your word-count-o-meter primed to update in the other browser tab. Got your outline, your coffee, and/or your amphetamines ready to hand. But riddle me this, precocious students of the human condition: do you have an enormous money vault set aside to house your future riches?
No, don’t laugh. I know what you’ve been told, and most of it is true: that writing takes longer to pay off than Weimar Republic war bonds – that you can’t count on this for any kind of reliable income – that you have to go into it for passion, with no guarantees about profit.
But you know what? Good writing starts with a blank page. Good health starts when you’re a couch potato. And good money management starts when you don’t have a penny to your pen name. So if you’re still trying to train that lone moth to fly back *into* your wallet – or just procrastinating on that next thousand words – today is your lucky day! Here are five things you can do right now to get your financial house in order.
- Start keeping track of your writing-related expenses
Even and especially if you don’t have any yet! Back in the day, it was probably easy enough to just keep a paper folder with all your receipts, and that’s still not a bad idea – but if you’re anything like me, a spreadsheet will make it infinitely easier to keep track of your buying, especially the stuff that doesn’t come in a plastic bag.
And what counts as a writing-related expense? For tax purposes, ask yourself this: “would I be buying this if I weren’t a professional author in the making?” For your sweet new $2,000 computer with all the latest gigabytes and pixels, maybe not. But for that copy of Scrivener, that subscription to Writers Digest, that professionally-shot author photo? How do YOU spell “tax-deductible”?
- Consider getting a DBA, if you’re publishing under a pen name
DBA stands for “Doing Business As”, and (in the US, at least), it’s a simple form that lets you register a business name – in this case, your pen name. This not only helps show the taxman that you’re serious about your enterprise, but if you file that DBA with your bank, you won’t have to worry if someone makes a check out to the name on your books instead of the one on your driver’s license – you can deposit it regardless. And speaking of bank accounts…
- Set up a separate account for writing income
You think Bobby Flay shops for his steakhouse while he’s filling his beer fridge? Of course not! So why should you mix your author earnings with your regular income? Not only does that confuse the accounting, but it also makes it easier for your sweet new money to get sucked down the monthly budget-drain, rather than being reinvested in your writing career. When it comes to accounting, take a page from the Ghostbusters: don’t cross the revenue streams.
(And when you start reinvesting on the regular, consider getting a new, low-limit credit card to facilitate those purchases – to be paid off monthly by your writing account. You’ll thank yourself at tax time.)
- Set aside money for taxes.
…to the tune of about 30%, here in the U S of A. Yeah. Ouch. This is another good reason to keep your ducats separate from your doubloons – because a good chunk of that money isn’t actually yours to spend.
- Plan for your future spending.
Because paper and ink costs money, but planning is free! Don’t wait for that luscious first check to land in your hands before you decide what to do with it – that’s an instant recipe for impulse buying. Next time you catch yourself daydreaming about outselling Twilight, Harry Potter, and the Bible, make it productive: think about what the next step of your career will look like, and what investments you need to make to get there.
Yes, it’s a lot to think about, especially when you’re just starting out – but planning this out now is a great way to start treating yourself as a true professional. Because at the end of the day, good money management is your career’s Wonderbra: invisibly lifting, supporting, and separating your assets as you dress for success!
Arianne “Tex” Thompson is a native and lifelong resident of Texas. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history from UT Dallas and a master’s degree in literature from the University of Dallas, she went on to become a community college professor, teaching the fundamentals of English to adults writing below the eighth-grade level. Now a master teacher for academic tutoring and test prep services, as well as the managing editor for the DFW Writers Conference, Tex is a regular feature at high schools, writing conferences, and genre conventions alike.
She is the author of the ‘rural fantasy’ novels One Night in Sixes and Medicine for the Dead. Find her online at http://www.thetexfiles.com and on Twitter as @tex_maam.