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Five Freelance Writing Tax Deductions

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     It’s now the month of May, which means you should push April’s tax troubles out of your mind for another 11 months, right? Not if you want to be a financially savvy freelancer. Start keeping track of your deductions now for a fiscally fruitful year. 

     Here are the top five categories of tax deductions related to freelance writing in the US. If you have insight on another country’s laws, email admin[at] popularsoda [dot]com. Check with your tax professional to make sure you’re claiming all appropriate deductions (and avoiding problematic ones).

1. Office Supplies

     What writer doesn’t keep a pen and notebook handy at all times? These expenses are generally tax-deductible. 

Collection of Notebooks

To keep everything kosher, consider buying “work” notebooks separate from “fun” notebooks, then use work notebooks only for writing directly related to work. Outlining plots, planning blog posts, and writing short stories are tasks related to the business of writing. Making grocery lists and keeping track of doctor appointments are not.


2. Tools of the Trade

     Remember when Duotrope went paid and everyone freaked out? Well, it turns out that a Duotrope subscription is actually tax-deductible. Do you use Scrivener to outline your books? That’s deductible, too. You may also be able to deduct your subscriptions to writing and publishing magazines like Writer’s Digest: magazines, journals, and newspapers used solely for business purposes are tax-deductible.

 

3. Professional Memberships

     Memberships to professionals organizations (like the Editorial Freelancers Association or American Copy Editors Society) can be expensive for independent freelancers. However, the cost of these memberships is tax-deductible.
     
     Pick one to three organizations to join. Fewer organizations means you can be more active in your chosen groups, leading to a stronger professional presence and a better return on your (tax-deductible!) investment.

 

4. Classes, Conferences, and Conventions

     These are actually two separate categories, but they often overlap. Expenses related to education that “maintains or improves skills needed in your present work” are deductible. If you’re a traditionally published author looking to take a class on digital publishing, that’s deductible. Similarly, if you’re a writer who wants to take a class on editing, that class should be tax-deductible because it improves your writing work even though editing might technically be a different field.

Conference photo

Breakout session at ACES 2013.

If you join a professional organization and want to go to a writing-related conference, you can deduct some of your expenses. Conference registration fees are almost certainly deductible. Check with your tax professional about travel expenses like hotels and plane tickets. Meal expenses are generally deductible if you are going out with a business associate; meals for yourself are usually not. One quick tip: take pictures of receipts with your phone so you don’t have to worry about holding onto those tiny bits of paper.

5. Self-Publishing Expenses

     If you’re like most self-publishing authors, you pay for your own editing and book covers. If you’re smarter than most self-pubbers, you deduct these expenses from your taxes. Fees associated with maintaining your professional website may also be tax-deductible. Tax deductions shouldn’t be used to justify expensive services out of your price range, but deductions might ease your mind about the cost of (completely necessary) editing and design fees.

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     Keep in mind that the IRS stipulates that these expenses must go toward a legitimate business venture that has a realistic chance of making money. That is, if you pay for the noteboks and conferences and covers but you never actually publish a book, you can’t deduct writing-related business expenses. Just one more reason to stop dreaming and start publishing.

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Do you have insight on another country’s freelancer tax structures? Got another question about freelancer finances? Send us a tweet @popular_soda.

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8 Tips to Get the Absolute Best From Your Cover Designer (Guest Post)

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     (Hello again, ebook lovers! Due to personal and family issues in March, Lila has been on hiatus. Luckily, Westin Lee stepped up to the plate with this wonderful guest post on working with a cover designer. Look for the link to his site at the end of the post.)

    Graphic design is a medium that might be totally alien to you. However, it is a necessary part of creating a polished ebook. Don’t panic! There are tons of graphic designers and cover artists willing to work with self-publishing ebook authors. With the right approach, it can be a positive, exciting experience. And more importantly, the resulting cover will look great.

 1. Finish your book.

     If you’ve ever undertaken a massive project before, you know that siren call that comes to you way ahead of the finish lineThe voice says, “Let’s get the cover made!” even though there’s not a finished work to put inside that cover. It seems innocent enough, right?

     Don’t do it! That’s putting the cart before the horse. And besides what you may think about carts and horses and their relative position to each other, there’s another really good reason you should wait:

  •  You may not REALLY know what the book is about, and that might be the idea you want on the cover.

     I have a manuscript undergoing revision right now for a book, and I have done a bad job listening to my own advice – I have a couple dozen sketches of cover designs already. But sure enough, last week I had a revelation about a theme in the book that I had never thought about. And it’s so prevalent, I think it has to be on the cover somehow.

 Back to square one! 

2. Make sure your designer has the right information.

      A good designer will always sit down with you (electronically or otherwise) and ask you questions about your book. We will ask about important scenes or characters in your book, what the story is, and what the themes are. We might ask if you have a cover in mind, and if there are any covers that inspire you.

     Regardless if we ask, make sure we have the answer to the following question:

  •  What story do you want the cover to tell to a potential reader?

     The answer to the above is your mission statement. Whatever you know (or don’t know) about cover design won’t matter if you know what message your cover needs to convey. It’s easy to get lost in the details of a cover (no, that’s all wrong, her hair is shoulder length!!), but with this question answered at the very beginning of the process, you and your designer will be on the same page. Try answering these next two questions to flesh out your ideas:

  •  What do you want the reader to feel when they look at your cover?
  •  What questions do you want the reader to have when they look at your cover?

 

3. Be responsive!

     The normal process of working with a designer goes something like this:

  • Designer gets information.
  • Designer sends a proof design over to you.
  • You tell the designer what you think.
  • Repeat as needed. 

     The faster we hear back from you when we send a proof, the more quickly we can work for you. Cover work can drag on sometimes, especially as we’re refining the design, and we know you’re going to be busy. If at all possible, try to respond in one business day to any proofs or questions. If I can’t send an updated proof in that timeframe, then I get in touch and let you know when you’ll see the changes or revised proofs. 

4. Be specific!

    When you provide feedback, do your best to not only say whether you like or dislike something, but also why you like or dislike it.

     We know the visual language and the written language are different beasts. We’d never expect a client to start naming fonts or mentioning that they want an analogic color scheme. But it helps to know what you like and don’t like!

     On a recent design, my first round of feedback was ‘The back is fine, but I don’t like the cover.’ Um…Can…can you clarify that? Even saying, ‘I don’t like it but I’m not sure why,’ is helpful. A good designer will be able to listen and ask questions and figure out what’s not working.

     And a final note – it seems less necessary to point out why you like something in a design, but if you know why, please tell us! That information could help down the line. Maybe we know you’re not happy with a design overall, but we know that you liked the pattern and one specific element of it. That might be all we need to make your perfect cover!

 5. Collaborate.

     Let’s be honest – I’m a person that knows what I want most of the time. If I go into a project where I’m working with a freelancer, I can get very specific about what I want. Perhaps you do the same thing? ‘Okay, I want this.’ ‘Do this.’ ‘Move this here.’ That’s great! See tip #4.

    Regardless of your approach, think of the relationship as collaborative. That’s going to get you the most for your money and time. The best, most surprising results have been from work where a client has encouraged suggestions and improvisation.

     Whenever possible, ask your designer what they think, and more importantly, ask them to try things. I can build a specific cover if that’s what you want, but if I have the right information and the space to think, I might come up with something awesome that you’d never have thought of.

      And if you don’t like it, cool! We’ll try something else.

 6. Be a jerk.

      Okay,please don’t be an actual jerk. What I mean is, this is your money and your project, and even though I just said to think about it as collaboration, the designer is ultimately working for you.

     Speak your mind. Say if you don’t like something. Say if you do like something, even if it’s not feasible for your cover. If you’re feeling any doubts, say so!

     Maybe this is easy for you. Maybe you are a loud writer who hits tables a lot to make a point and told your friend just now that their hat is stupid. If so, this tip is not for you. My tip for you is, ‘Please do not yell at us.’

     This is a tip for those of you who might let something go by that you don’t actually like, because the conversation might be uncomfortable:

     We want you to tell the truth. We want happy clients. What we don’t want is to spend hours and days hammering out a design, and you secretly never really liked that butterfly image in the first place.

     Don’t let that happen! Be a jerk! We demand it! 

 7. Ask for fewer options.

     If a designer offers ‘unlimited’ revisions as part of his services, take advantage of that by limiting the number of proofs you get at one time.

     The idea of getting twelve proof covers at once may sound appealing, but there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that too many choices make your job harder. Looking at two or three designs at a time is going to let you really give your attention to each one.

      Here’s the other important part of this tip: By asking for just a few proofs at a time, you are asking us to cull the herd and take responsibility for the work we send. If we know we can only send one design, we’ll be extra focused on making it as good as we possibly can.

 8. Have faith!

     A good design takes time. And that’s if a book is about something relatively simple, like a man going on space adventures. Or a woman who is working for a terrible boss

   I’ve seen book descriptions that blew my mind. I read what the book was about and instead of that initial flood of colors and images and ideas, it’s like my mind opened its wallet and a fly buzzed out. Some book ideas are very, very hard to get across well in a cover design.

     But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We have the tools; we just need to work through the process. If you see something that you don’t like, make sure you use tips #3 and #4. If you have fears that this is all going south, politely be a jerk and use tip #6. Talk to your designer and keep working at it. Like a problem passage in a book, eventually you’ll get it right.

 

Westin Lee is a cover designer and author. Have any questions about cover design or design services? Head to westinbookcovers.com.

The Four Fundamentals of Ebook Cover Design

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Designing an ebook cover is a daunting prospect. But underneath the font choices, stock photos, and editing tricks, there are four fundamental and interconnected rules for ebook cover design.

We’ll examine the four fundamental guidelines through ebook covers which break the rules. Our intent is not to embarrass the creators of these ebooks. Rather, we acknowledge their shared status as ebook pioneers and use these examples to assist other first-time or self-published authors.

Rule 1: Fit the allotted space.

Case 001a

Cases 001a & 001b: Too Big (or Small) For Their Britches

These two covers make the same basic mistake: they do not fit the required image dimensions of the selling website.

In Case 001a, the cover is nearly a perfect square. This would be fine for a printed book. Hard-copy books come in varying shapes and sizes.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule in the tangible world. However, in the online sphere, major ebook retailers do not make allowances for nonstandard image sizes. The automatic resizing from the Kindle site resulted in odd cropping with additional white space around the cover in our first example.

Case 001b

In Case 001b, the cover is far too tiny. It seems like the author wanted to use multiple pictures for the cover. But as a result of incorrect image size, none of the pictures are visible.

You have limited space. Make sure your cover uses every pixel possible. You’re going to need those extra dots!

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