Be a “Professional” Writer — All Year Long


By Gary A. Hensley, MBA, EA

If you are new to the writing life, or even a veteran, you are in the business of writing if your intent is to write long-term and make a living (or at least a profit) from your work. You are self-employed (you work for yourself) and that means you are a sole proprietor for tax purposes. You will need to file a Schedule C with your federal Form 1040 to report your writing income and expenses.picture004

If you visit www.irs.gov and type Schedule C in the search box, you will see some of the expenses allowed. Part of your business responsibility includes keeping accurate business records, during the calendar year (not after), to track your income and expenses. You will be on the “cash basis” of accounting, i.e. you report your writing income when it has actually been received and your expenses when they have been paid.

Most of you hire someone to “prepare” your annual tax return. Many of you keep your participation to an absolute minimum. This is akin to turning in a partially-completed manuscript, replete with grammatical errors, to an editor, and then expecting him or her to return a bestseller to you.

You need to accurately summarize your income and expense records before you meet with your preparer (or do the return yourself). One example: make sure you have added up all your business miles for 2014 and multiplied them by 56 cents per mile. The law requires that you maintain a “contemporaneous” record of your business mileage during the year. Get a $5 day-planner at Walmart and put it in your glove compartment. Use it each time you head out on business. Jotting down the beginning and ending odometer readings, and the business purpose, makes you bullet-proof if you are audited. You will be amazed at the total amount of business miles (and very happy with the large expense deduction). Proper recordkeeping in other areas will yield the same results.

In addition to proper recordkeeping, you need to take additional steps to document (or support) your professional (business) status as a writer. A diary of your various business activities will be very helpful. A manuscript submission/rejection/resubmission record will show continuous activity. Attendance at a writer’s club and writing seminars will indicate you are trying to improve your skills. A separate bank account/debit card for the business is critical.

It’s not unusual for any new business to sustain losses during the early years; however, to have those losses allowed, you must be able to demonstrate that you are “active” in the business.

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This article originally appeared in the January 2014 newsletter The Write Life.

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