For Writers | Articles on Writing | Writing Life

 

How do writers stay motivated to keep writing, especially when rejection is the most common response to a submission? That's a good question, and if you have a sure fire method to stay motivated, please let me know!

Meanwhile, here a few articles I've written on this and other aspects of the writing life:

Being Your Own Boss

Incorporating the Business of Writing

The Key to Writing Success

Ten Tips for a Great Writing Conference

Being Your Own Boss

That’s the dream many of us have, right? The ability to chuck our "day job" to write full time.

Ahh, just imagine it. Choosing our own hours. Working in sweats and bunny slippers. No time-wasting meetings. No surly customers. Best of all, no supervisors breathing down our necks.

Well, folks, I’ve got news for you. Whether you work at a "day job" or not, when it comes to your writing, you already are your own boss. And for many of us, that creates a problem.

Because, sometimes, we aren’t very good bosses.

Think about it. Imagine a boss who routinely shrugs off work left undone. A boss who does not complain about projects left uncompleted. A boss who accepts excuses about family commitments or work needed for another job when a lack of progress is revealed. A boss who never says a word when an employee doesn’t even show up for work at the appointed time. How long would a boss like this stay a boss? Sooner or later, management would fire this sorry excuse for a supervisor and get a boss with some backbone, because otherwise, the business is going nowhere.

My dears, in your writing career, you are management. And you need a boss with backbone.

What’s that? Wait a minute, you say. It’s not that you are a spineless boss. You really do have other commitments. You work full time and your family needs that income. And/or you have kids and carpools and dance lessons and meals to cook and houses to clean. And that’s why you couldn’t write those five chapters this week like you said.

Well, okay, those sound like very good explanations. But you still have a lousy boss.

Not because your boss didn’t ream you a new one for failing to meet your quota. No, you have a lousy boss because your boss had unrealistic expectations you could not possibly meet. If you have fulltime commitments elsewhere, then your boss should not hire you for fulltime devotion to your writing.

Of course, fulltime commitments elsewhere do not mean you can’t sign on for this writing gig at all. People moonlight; you can, too. But instead of your promising and your writing boss expecting you to work from 9 to 5, 40 hours per week, every week, you and your boss need to work out a new employment agreement. You need a reasonable schedule you can meet while also meeting your other obligations.

How much of yourself CAN you devote to your writing career? Take a good hard look at your schedule and decide what will work for you. Decide whether your production will be measured in pages, chapters, or hours spent writing. One hour per day? Ten pages per week? Maybe a block of time on the weekends. A chapter per month? A half hour every other day? Consider what your past production has been like, and make your commitment accordingly. DO NOT worry about the times other writers work or the quantity other writers produce – you need to negotiate a deal with YOUR boss, not with anyone else’s.

But once you make that deal based on realistic expectations, you need to look at this job like you would any other. You need to show your boss the respect you would show a "day job" boss. Meet that boss’s expectations.

Now, when you are tempted to slack off from the writing -- take a mental health day, or the kids to the doctor, or watch TV , or work on stuff for your other job -- ask yourself whether you would abandon your responsibilities in your "day job" in the same way for the same reason? If so, OK. But if not, do the work you promised to do.

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Incorporating the Business of Writing

Some of my favorite writers are legal fictions.

No, really, it’s true. What’s more, chances are, some of your favorite writers are legal fictions, too. If you don’t believe me, check the copyright pages. Chances are, you’ll find something like the copyright holder I found on one of mine: “Jo Beverley Publications, Inc.”

Now, I personally gave Jo Beverley a ride to the airport last year following a conference, so I do know she is a real live breathing person. But like many authors and artists, Jo incorporated.

What is a Corporation?

What does it mean to incorporate? Well, basically, a corporation is, as I said, a legal fiction. It is an entity that exists only in the eyes of the law. A corporation conducts business, and may have employees, but must do what the person or people who own the stock tell it to do.

In most states, creation of a corporation requires little more than to 1) choose a name for the corporation, making sure that name is available (one reason why many choose to include their own name as part of the corporate name), 2) prepare whatever documents, such as articles of incorporation and bylaws, are required by the state or country, and 3) deliver those documents with the necessary fees to the agency. Laws and requirements vary from state to state, and country to country. One need not incorporate in the sate of residence, and the Internet abounds with commercial websites offering to do the necessary paperwork to create a corporation.

In the U.S., there are several different ways to incorporate, but most writers will choose either the “C” or “S” forms. An ordinary, or “Chapter C,” corporation is created by shareholders, who initially make some sort of capital contribution and in return receive stock (either money, assets, or sweat equity). Those creating the corporation will determine who will manage it by electing a board of directors from among the shareholders, and then choosing officers. All of the corporations expenses, include salaries, fringe benefits, and any costs to produce its product, are tax deductible. At the end of the fiscal year, the corporation’s profits will be taxed at the corporate rate, which is lower than the highest individual tax rates. Those profits may be reinvested in the corporation (relatively unusual in a writer corporation) or they may distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends. If the latter, then the shareholders will need to report those dividends on their individual taxes, so there is a double tax.

A more likely choice for a writer corporation is the “Chapter S” corporation. There are a number of restrictions on this type of corporation; for example, there cannot not be more than 35 shareholders, and all shareholders must be U.S. citizens. But in terms of operation, the major difference between “S” and “C” corporation is that the yearly profits from an “S” corporation are not reported on a corporate income tax form. Instead, the profits are distributed among the shareholders, who report them as income on their individual tax returns, and will be taxed at the individual’s rate. An “S” corporation thus avoids the double taxation of the “C” corporation, but does not permit a pretax reinvestment of those profits to build the corporation.

In countries outside the U.S., forms of corporations vary, but most offer some sort of tax advantages.

Another reason corporations are an attractive form of doing business is that a corporate structure usually protects the shareholders from personal liability for any injuries caused by the corporation, or for debts incurred by the corporation. However, while corporate status is often an effective shield for large corporations with multiple shareholders, in many states the shield is often “pierced” – or not held not to apply – when the corporation has only a single shareholder.

How Does A Writer’s Corporation Work?

In terms of the writing itself, using a corporate structure to handle the business of writing will probably make no difference to the writer in terms of writing. However, the business of writing will work differently.

Imagine that after consulting with her accountant and attorney, Suzy Bestseller decides to form a corporation. Here’s what happen next.

She decides to name her new corporation Suzy Bestseller, Inc. A check with a state agency, often the Secretary of State’s office, assures her that this name is available. Unlike some states, Suzy’s allows a corporation to have a single shareholder, so she is the only one. (If her state hadn’t allowed this, she might have asked a family member to be a shareholder.) But since Suzy is sole shareholder, she elects herself, and no one else, to the board of directors, and also the officers. Most states do require both a President and a Secretary, but if single shareholders are allowed, then the same person can usually hold both offices.

Suzy is the only person entitled to make decisions for the corporation. She opens a bank account in the corporation’s name, and is the only person authorized to sign for the account. She sets a salary for herself as an employee, and determines what fringe benefits she will receive. Suzy may decide to set up a generous pension plan for the corporation’s employee - herself. She may, if she chooses, even formally set this out in a written contract, although written employment contracts are generally not required.

From this point on, Suzy does not work for herself. She is an employee of the corporation. The corporations will pay her salary, and also all employment taxes that employers pay. The corporation will pay for the fringe benefits, including the pension plan, health insurance – whatever benefits Suzy has decided. (Suzy should consider only the sorts of benefits customarily offered. IRS eyebrows are likely to be raised if European travels becomes one of these fringe benefits.)

Because Suzy does not work for herself, any books she writes belong to the corporation. The corporation holds the copyright. Any publishing contracts will be between the publisher and Suzy Bestseller. If Suzy’s work is represented by an agent, the agent’s client will actually be the corporation. The sale of any other rights Suzy’s books might lead to will also be negotiated by the corporation (or by an agent on behalf of the corporation), and payment will be made to it.

The corporation will used the advances, royalties and any other income realized from Susy’s work to pay her salary and benefits, as well as any of the expenses the corporation incurs. Aside from the accounting and banking fees, this could include any expenses Suzy incurs in writing her books – from the cost of computer, printer and paper to her research or writing education expenses. All funds left over after these payments are the corporation’s profits. How those profits are taxed will depend upon the type of corporation Suzy has set up.

In terms of function, most of these differences are paper differences. Suzy Bestseller, Inc. will appear on contract names and the copyright page instead of Suzy Bestseller. But Suzy will still write her books, still talk with agents and editors personally, still attend book signings, and still sign her own name on the fly leaf. It is the way in which her business affairs are handled that differs.

Why Do Writers Incorporate?

Writing is a business, so it is no surprise that many writers are looking for best way to conduct their business.

Most writers run their business as a “sole proprietorship,” usually without any formal or conscious effort to establish a business entity. They receive advance and royalty income in their own names, and in the U.S., the publishers report that income on form 1099. The author fills out Schedule C on their taxes, deducting their expenses. The amount left over is taxed as income. Unlike employees, who pay a percentage of the Social Security tax while the employer picks up the rest, the writer must pay the full amount of the Social Security tax on the income earned.

But if the writer instead receives a salary from the corporation, the tax savings can be substantial, especially if Suzy’s writing income is significant. The corporation’s payment of employment taxes and fringe benefits will be with pretax dollars.

Jo Beverley, a Canadian citizen, incorporated because of this type of tax advantage. She notes, "the corporate tax up here for small businesses is about 25% as opposed to a top marginal rate for individuals of about 55%." She pays herself as "writer of the novels, and thus can feed through exactly as much income as is most efficient at the time." The income she does not need for her family's living expenses stays in the corporation, growing through investments, but taxed at the lower corporate rate. She could also take advantage of the corporation by hiring family members and thereby providing income to family members at a lower tax rate. Canadian law also allows her to include a family trust as a shareholder, which offers advantages for the payment of education and other expenses.

Indeed, tax savings are generally the number one reason given for incorporating. But not every writer will find the savings worthwhile. Corporations require more frequent tax returns, and that translates to higher accountancy costs. And the amount of employment taxes paid will likely be higher, because the corporation will need to pay unemployment and workers compensation insurance. Depending upon the place of incorporation, there may also be state and local taxes to be filed. Thus, while a writer may save on federal income tax, that savings may be eaten up by other costs.

Indeed, a major factor in deciding whether to incorporate or not is the level of current income. Few accountants would recommend incorporation for writers with incomes of less than U.S. $100,000.00, and many would argue that only income of double or more than that level warrants the added burdens that corporate status imposes.

Best selling author Mary Jo Putney waited until her accountant, also a trusted friend, told her the time was right before setting up as a corporation. She advises authors considering incorporation to take a good hard look at two factors. First, will incorporation save you money on your taxes? She adds, “Remember that it costs money to hire a lawyer to handle the incorporation, plus increased accountancy fees to handle extra paperwork.” Second, will it save enough money to be worth the hassle factor? Mary Jo admits “having a corporation does increase the hassle, even with a simple S corporation like mine. I growl whenever corporate paperwork comes my way--but I don't growl too loudly, because the corporation is saving me significant money, as well as having some other financial advantages. Luckily, my accountant is very patient with my growling.”

But savings on taxes may not be the only reason to consider incorporation. Historical romance author Stephanie Laurens, an Australian citizen, sees advantages to incorporation beyond taxes savings, and advises those considering the “to inc. or not to inc.” question to consider the pros and cons of both sides, including the disadvantages of not incorporating. She believes “being a company forces you to view being an author as a "business," not something you do on the side. It forces you to keep accounts and all that straight, forces you to clearly see and face how you are performing as a business, and all in all to take that business truly seriously. More than anything else, it's a perspective thing - a change in the perspective from which you see your works (books).” She adds “being a company allows you to split the "business" of being a author, ... from the person who is the author and the work they do (the writing itself).” She has found that this “makes a lot of ‘business’ decisions easier to take ... because you're focused on what's good for the business first, and not fogged by contradicting input from your personal life - it makes it easier to see what truly matters to the business and to making that grow.”

Why Don’t Writers Incorporate?

Incorporation is not the best choice for everyone. Maintaining a corporation involves a lot of paperwork, and that mean less time to write romance. Governments requires periodic filings from corporations, and meticulously detailed records should be kept.

What’s more, a corporation can actually increase expenses. Aside from professional fees for the paperwork requirements, there can be hidden costs. For example, while an individual can easily shop around for the free checking accounts advertised on television, banks don’t usually offer those free services to corporations. These small amounts can add up and eat away from those tax savings.

Thus, despite the potential tax advantages, many best selling romance authors have chosen not to incorporate. Jo Ann Ross says, “I chose against incorporation” because “whatever savings I may have achieved by incorporation would have been eaten up by accounting costs and interruption in writing.” Jo Ann took her own personality into account in making her decision, noting that while she keeps detailed records, she does not use methods that accountants or the IRS might approve. “Think back to that Mary Tyler Moore show where Mary got audited and pulled a fudgesicle stick from a shoebox for a receipt and you've pretty much got my method of record keeping.”

Savvy writer and business consultant Debra Dixon, who also decided against incorporation as a writer, says, “when looking at all the options and benefits to several ways of doing business, I find that I'm well-served with my current situation as a filer of a Schedule C. That may change and I continue to review my revenue streams, cash flow, expense load, liability, personal financial situation, etc.” However, as Dixon, the author of GMC, Goal, Motivation and Conflict, points out, “Having made the decision once, doesn't mean a writer might not need to reconsider that decision should something in his/her life change.”

It is not too late to change one’s mind, even if a corporation was formed. What has been created, can be dissolved. Again, precise laws will vary in different states or countries, but generally, as long as all the corporate debts are paid, the corporate assets, including copyrights, can be reassigned to the writer.

What Is The Best Choice For You?

Incorporation is not a one size fits all solution. Ultimately, any decision to incorporate will be very personal, and depend very much on individual circumstances: writing income, total household income, household expenses, state/country of residence, retirement goals, and much more. And despite the many websites offering assistance in creating a corporation, no one should undertake such a step without seeking out a professional business advisor who can review the individual circumstance and lay out options in an understandable fashion – advice that these websites can’t and don’t offer.

If you do decide to incorporate, make sure your advisors are well-versed in their field – qualification levels do vary. Dixon advises that “authors should not be afraid... how much experience your expert has with our very specialized industry. If your expert has no previous clients, you could well pay for their "learning curve" as they research the answers.”

Writing is a business, but there are many ways to do business in the 21st century. Make choices based on your individual circumstances and comfort levels, and with the help of qualified advisors. In the end, however, only you can decide how the copyright page for your book should read.

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The Key to Writing Success

Do you know me? I am one of those people who always wanted to be a writer. The ones who announce that desire, but year after year, never set word to paper?

Ever since I was a kid, I’d thought about how great it would be a writer. I started my first novel in 1975, at the age of fifteen. I pounded out two pages (single spaced!) on my electric Smith-Corona typewriter, purchased with my Christmas money. A much better investment than the television I purchased the year before, I was sure, because, after all, I was going to be a writer.

For the first six years of the twelve I owned that typewriter, those two pages were the only fiction produced on that typewriter. When I was twenty, I took a writing class offered by a local magazine writer, and produced almost an entire short story. Of course, I never finished it, never sent it for publication. I didn’t even keep it! It was the last bit of fiction produced on that typewriter.

Years passed. I finished college, finished law school. But every now and then, as I wrote briefs and legal opinions, I’d think about how great my life was going to be when I was a writer.

By the time I hit 30, I was thinking about writing a novel a little bit more often. I took a class at the Free University about romance writing, and then another on screenwriting. I actually spent a few hours plotting a book out, but never started on chapter one. In 1994, I got temporarily serious. I went to a few meetings of a romance writing group. I went to a retreat, and had a marvelous time. I won a free dinner at a restaurant when I came in second place in a newspaper contest asking participants to finish a romance scene. I started a novel, and kept at for the three or four times my critique group met. I wrote and rewrote that first scene.

Never really finished a chapter, but now instead of thinking about writing a novel, I was thinking about finishing a novel!

Notice a pattern here? Yeah, me too. In 1997, it finally occurred to me that if I really wanted to be a writer, then by golly, I’d have to write. So I wrote a short story for the newsletter of Denver Mensa, a social club to which I belong. It was published in the newsletter– (pretty much all submissions to that newsletter are published!). But that story also went on to win the 1997 Individual Achievement in Fiction Award from American Mensa, Ltd. That same year, I started work on yet another romance novel.

But I kept working on this one.

Having a short attention span, I also wrote short stories. And in March of 1998, I sent my very first submission, a 1000 word mystery, to a real paying publication – Women’s World. I received $500 for it. So yes, I am one of those infuriating people who sold the very first time I tried. (But don’t hate me -- Women’s World declined each of my subsequent submissions). Since that first sale, I have sold two more mystery and twenty romantic short stories to paying publications (alas, all paying less than WW). Nine have been in trade paper anthologies, as will another eight more. So far!

I finished that first novel at the end of 1998. Last year, after a few rewrites, it, and my second completed novel, Cruising for Love, were finalists in the Golden Heart Contest. The second book took the prize. It is sitting at Harlequin Mills and Boons, having been requested by an editor. [Alas, it was rejected after this article was written – but I sent it out again!]

The title of this article is the key to writing success. And yes, I do have it – or at least the key to the most formidable of the locks crowding that door. The biggest barrier to writing success is failing to write. Being a writer is a terrific fantasy. But it is an even better reality.

But the reality must begin with you.

Last year, [2000] at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference, I heard Kevin J. Anderson, a prolific science fiction author (and excellent speaker, too!), talk about the popcorn theory of writing success. He urged writers to stop trying to pop one kernel of corn at a time, and to instead dump the whole package of popcorn into the hot oil. Openness to opportunity and new ideas led to his well-deserved success.

I am a firm believer in that theory. For years, I had been imagining how great that popcorn would taste, while never taking the stuff out of the cabinet. But once I actually started popping my corn, the stuff has been spilling all over the place.

I have had many opportunities come my way, and when opportunity knocks, I answer the door. I am finding success in fiction writing, but I do not confine myself to that arena. I write nonfiction as well as fiction, and the nonfiction work opened new vistas for me – I have been invited to speak at writing conferences. And while at those conferences, I not only take advantage of the workshops to learn more about my craft, but I talk to the people I meet. Not just editors – also other writers and other presenters. I have learned about terrific opportunities – other conferences, other types of writing.

I don’t turn up my nose at chances. How many of you responded [your newsletter editor’s] requests for articles? I have a good 30 or so nonfiction clips, but I am always happy to have another.

My goal is a simple one – I want to stop being a lawyer, and write full time. I am not yet close to replacing my legal income with writing income – but I am miles from where I was when I was not writing at all. I am getting there.

So stop thinking about it, and do something about it. Write. Anything. Submit your writing. Keep writing. That’s the key to writing success.

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Ten Tips for a Great Writing Conference

There are plenty of writing conferences out there, whether concentrated in a single genre, or offering workshops in all kinds of writing. Once you decide to take the plunge and sign up, what then? Planning ahead will help you make the most of the conference. Here are some tips for making any conference a boost to your career.

Before the Conference

1) Know why you are going. Sounds simple, but it’s not. If you are going to a conference with no plan in mind, then you might have a good time, but may have missed an opportunity to advance your career. So before you pack your bags, take a few moments, and ask yourself what you hope to achieve. Do you hope to learn more about craft? Increase your motivation? Meet your favorite authors and pick up autographed copies of their books? Network with other writers? Meet more editors than you can count? Learns the latest about the industry? Conferences offer opportunities for all of these, but knowing which are most important to you will help you decide your agenda each day. If increasing your skill is your primary reason for coming, than taking advantage of workshops will do more to achieve your goal than sitting and chatting at the hotel bar.

2) Plan your wardrobe. First off, comfortable, well-fitting shoes are a must! Business casual will carry most people through the days of a conference, and to a large extent, at most of the evening events, too. But wardrobes are personal – dress in a way that enables you to be both physically and mentally at ease. If jeans and sneakers make you feel on top of your game even if everyone else is in suits and ties or pantyhose and heels, then that is what you should wear. But if you’ll feel more discomfort from dressing more casually than others than you will from struggling into pantyhose, by all means opt for the power suit – especially if that is what makes you feel confident. A structured jacket will "professionalize" jeans or dresses, and is handy for other reasons – temperatures will fluctuate from room to room, and the pockets will hold pens and business cards.

Do keep in mind that many workshops are so popular that your choice may be to sit on the floor or not at all. So, ladies, remember, a short skirt may eliminate an option for you. And items that can do double duty, such as a silk blouse with pants for day, and with a skirt for evening, can help avoid over packing syndrome. Keep in mind ease of care and wrinkles when choosing what to bring. Irons are usually available, but how much time will you want to spend using one?

3) Plan your agenda. This doesn’t mean you must map out a schedule for each and every hour – you won’t succeed, because something always comes up. Instead, review the conference schedule ahead of time, and consider any other events to which you are invited (will local groups or internet pals have parties, for example), and note all the events - particular workshops, author chats, book signings, parties, etc., that you don’t want to miss. But don’t choose more than two or three for each day. Keeping these special events in mind will insure that you do keep to your goals. Allowing for flexibility will enable you to take advantage of any unexpected opportunities that do come up.

4) Prepare any pitches you intend to make. Whether or not you are meeting with an editor or agent, know how to describe your book(s) in a few sentences. If your eyes glaze over when the editor sitting next to you at lunch asks what you are writing, you’ll never forgive yourself. Have questions in mind for the workshops and chats you attend. And have a few questions, in additional to typical icebreaker fare, prepared to ask others during general conversation. For example, plan to ask new acquaintances about the trends they see coming in your genre. Writers, editors and agents will all have opinions on a question like this – and you might spot some trends of your own while leaving a nice polished of your professionalism. Think of questions of particular import to you.

5) Buy or make business cards. Even if networking is not your primary goal, bring cards. You might become fast friends with another writer who has plenty to teach, and you’ll want to make it easy to keep in touch. While expressing your personality may be fine, business cards need –and perhaps should - have no more than your name and contact information (address, phone, email) on them. Cards can be obtained for less than $20 at most office supply stores, or produced on your home computer. Do not worry about impressing anyone WITH your card. The purpose of the card is to provide your contact information. Let your personality do the impressing!

At the Conference

6) Try something new. If you write inspirationals, check out the workshop on sensual writing (erotica writers, check out inspirationals!). Tag along to a late night party if you’re usually early to bed. Have a seat in the bar for a while, even if you don’t drink. Trust me, you’ll learn things applicable to your career – and maybe discover new markets you hadn’t considered.

7) Be friendly. Smile and welcome others when a chair next to you is vacant. Don’t be afraid to ask if an empty seat is taken. Sometimes the chair is spoken for – don’t worry, it’s not personal, and you’ve no cause for embarrassment. But usually, an empty chair is free, and a whole new group of acquaintances will open to you. Offer your cards, and ask for the cards of others. DO NOT always seek out your acquaintances at meals. Not only are people hard to find in a crowd, but also you less motivated to make new friends when surrounded by comfortable familiar acquaintances.

8) Be Flexible. If a workshop doesn’t offer what you expected, don’t sit and suffer – simply leave in as unobtrusive manner as possible. Whisper something about an editor appointment to your fellow attendees if you feel conspicuous. If you discover you like the author chats more than craft workshops – or vice versa - change your plans and go with what is working for you. Don’t waste time with regrets – just revamp your plans and go from there.

9) Take care of yourself. The days will be long, and jam-packed with activities. The food offered may differ from your normal diet - get the nutrition you need, even if it means a room service meal or two. Rest when you feel tired. Try to stick to any exercise routine you have, if at all possible, making use of the recreation facilities at the hotel. You’ll feel better, and chances are, you’ll meet others from the conference doing the same, so this time will definitely not be wasted.

10) Have fun. Yes, this is a working trip. But if you aren’t enjoying it, take a good look at why, and make the changes – right then –necessary so you will have fun. And try to fit an excursion to a local landmark or museum into your plans. The time away from the conference will help you rejuvenate, and your memories should include more than the hotel walls.

A conference is a major investment in your career – in both time and money. Plan to get the most out of it for your efforts.

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