The Tax Man Cometh…Or the Uncertain Future for Indies Under the Senate Tax Bill

Image purchased from Adobe Stock. My ability to write off my stock photography subscription would be eliminated under the current tax reform.

You guys, I am scared to death that the Senate tax reform is going to become law.

Before I go into why, a disclaimer: I am totally not a political person and I am not posting this to bring up anything about either party. In this article, I’m putting aside the ACA inclusion, the wins for big business, and other factors included in the proposal to focus solely on the concerns of small business owners, indie authors included.

At issue is the fact that small businesses – sole proprietors like myself, LLCs, S-corps and partnerships – are what is called “flow  through” or “pass through” businesses. This means that I don’t pay taxes as Lawson Gartner Publishing, even though that is my company. My business taxes pass through to me as an individual and I pay taxes on my business profits at a lower rate.

The way I understand it, the problem is that some corporations are managing to get away with being classified like us small business people and are therefore paying much lower tax rates than they should. Boo. (That’s as far as my understanding goes. Check out this article from Forbes or this one from The Washington Post for two experts’ takes.)

The biggest problem is that under the Senate’s tax reform, the itemized deductions we can currently take for professional memberships, conference travel, office expenses, marketing costs, etc. all go away. That is a death-blow to indie authors. Most of us have day jobs and can only afford to publish because we can write off these expenses. (This is in addition to many other deductions we would lose personally, like medical expenses, tax preparation costs, student loan interest, any mortgage interest above $10,000, etc.)

That means I am facing the possibility of going out of business if this law passes. Right now, I’m totally not managing my finances well – and I’m telling you that for the sake of transparency; we need more of that in the publishing world. I spend about 10x more than what I make. (Sad, but true. I’m working on that in 2018 since I now have two years of experience to help guide me.) When I get my tax refund each year, it’s about twice what I make and not quite a third of what I spend. That is not an insignificant amount and it’s what keeps me afloat (along with the income from my day job).

Besides lowering or eliminating my tax refund, what really sucks is I’d have to stop going to conferences, or at most only go to one a year because travel is expensive and many times the registration costs as much or more than your flight. Even though I don’t sell many books at those events, they are incredibly valuable for networking and learning. Plus, they give me a chance to expand my speaking career and attract new fans. While not doing this isn’t the end of the world, it’s a big blow to me professionally.

The silver lining is that even if the proposal passes, it doesn’t go into effect until at least 2022 (I’ve even heard as late as 2027). The way I see it, this means I have a few options for future business:

  1. Pray that I get a traditional publishing contract in the next four to 10 years and can stop relying on self-publishing. Ugh. I have four books in mind that I’m planning to try to traditionally publish once they are written, but I really don’t want to be beholden to the industry forevermore. I like being able to write what I want when I want, even if it isn’t “marketable.” I would really like to have the option to be a hybrid author in the future.
  2. Significantly scale back my self-publishing. Right now, I try to publish one or two books a year, which is all I have the time and money to do. (I’m still recovering financially from releasing four books in 2016.) My current pace is still considered slow, but it us adequate to keep my career going. According to conventional wisdom, if I slow down to a book year or every other year, I have very little chance of maintaining the momentum needed to make a decent showing as an indie author. But I will try it if I have to.
  3. Quit self-publishing all together, close my business and put all my eggs in the traditional publishing basket. See #1 above.

One thing is for certain: I won’t stop writing. I have stories that MUST be told or I will go crazy. Even if I have to stick them in a drawer for someone to publish after I’m dead, they will keep happening. But no one wants that to be the case, and I’m really uncertain of what the future will hold.

I very rarely contact my representatives, but I did for this. I highly doubt my voice will change the outcome, but I have to at least try when it is going to affect my livelihood, the thing that brings me more joy than anything else in the world. I have actually been praying about this. Those two things are all I can do.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a day job that pays well that I can fall back on to pay my existing debt and, if I save, finance future projects. I can’t imagine how scared those whose only livelihood is their small business must feel. For me, this is about making my dreams come true; for so many it is about subsistence. All of this so that politicians can get a “win.” It’s just not right.

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So, Does This Make Me a Bestseller?

This is kind of an off the wall way to promote a new book,  but no one ever said I was normal…

My first non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, was published earlier today, and within a few hours, it had some pretty awesome rankings on Amazon:

I was beyond floored to be in such esteemed company and thrilled to see those rankings. There was a major adrenaline rush, I won’t lie.

But I’m also a bit skeptical of  now calling myself a bestseller. I know some people would, but to me there’s a HUGE difference between making #1 in a niche category (which Arthurian Literary Criticism obviously is) and being on the overall bestseller list. I mean, 57,858 books were selling better than my book was at the time that screenshot was taken. If I was #1 in overall literary criticism, I’d at least consider it. But I’m not; I didn’t even get the orange bestseller flag (which I think is reserved for the bigger categories).

I don’t mean to demean this achievement, but I feel like a lot of authors are throwing around the term bestseller very loosely these days. I don’t want it to become meaningless. I mean, in one category you could (and people have done this with spoof books to prove the point) reach number 1 by selling like two books, whereas in another you have to sell tens of thousands. Where is the line? Is there one anymore? Does anyone care?

The last thing I want to do is be misrepresenting myself. I think readers have a pretty good nose for what is authentic achievement and what is PR. (I do PR as my day job, so I can say that.) As much as my over-inflated ego wants to add “bestselling” to “multi-award-winning author” in my bio, I think I’m going to wait for a more meaningful achievement.

Not that any of this is going to stop me from popping a glass of champagne tonight…and continuing to dream of making the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists in the future.

What do you think? Do I have the right to use the term bestseller? Where is the line between using it and not for you?

About The Once and Future Queen

Guinevere’s journey from literary sinner to feminist icon took over one thousand years…and it’s not over yet.

Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.

Nicole Evelina has spent more than 15 years studying Arthurian legend. She is also a feminist known for her fictional portrayals of strong historical and legendary women, including Guinevere. Now, she combines these two passions to examine the effect of changing times and attitudes on the character of Guinevere in a must-read book for Arthurian enthusiasts of every knowledge level.

In case you are inclined to buy:

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Mistakes of a New Writer

As some of you may know, I offer manuscript critique services to people who may not have found their writing circles and don’t have someone(s) to beta read their projects. Having written my fair share of books, been through the editing wringer  process many, many times, beta read for some amazing writers, I feel like I’m in a place where I can give good, objective advice on fiction projects.

Now, it doesn’t matter what genre, or what age a writer is, it seems like most new writers make a lot of the same mistakes. Yes, I know, in fiction there are no mistakes! But, really, there are still grammar rules and there are things you can do to break the magic a story can weave and take your reader out of the moment.

1- It’s okay for characters to just say things. I know repetition feels terrible, and it often is, if you have a tick (a word or phrase) you just love and you keep using it over and over, it stands out and bugs the hell out of readers. So, new writers will often think the same of dialogue tags. They’ll see the words says or said all over the book and panic. Suddenly the characters are “exclaiming” “declaring” or “crying/cried” rather than just “Jane said” or “John says.” Everything just becomes so melodramatic but not compelling.

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Writers, yes, you can vary your tags, if someone really is screaming and it’s appropriate for them to scream, or if there’s another good reason to switch it up, then by all means do. But don’t do it all the damn time. And if you end a sentence with a question mark, the correct tag is “asks/asked.”

2- Telling instead of showing. I know this one can be hard. You need to move things along, sometimes things aren’t important enough for details, you’ve already gone over this in detail but Character A  needs to tell Character B so, yeah, hurry up. So it’s hard to know when it’s okay to tell versus show.

The three things I just said are good examples of when to go ahead and tell, for example, “John wanted to know what happened yesterday, so I told him about the fight I had with Tom.” We’ve seen the fight with Tom, we don’t need a replay. When should you show? When the fight happened. If it’s important enough to bring up, let’s see it.

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Another bad tell versus show? “Jake was a scary man.” Now, okay, you can write that line, but then back it up. I’m not going to be scared of Jake just because the narrator says so. “Jake was a scary man. He was a man you didn’t cross. His heart was a black as the boots he wore when he crushed Mike’s head.” I mean, something. Build it, give it backstory, draw us into the fear of the other characters.

3- All your characters are the same person. If all your characters think the same, react in the same way, have the same motivations and backstories, that will be one boring book. Yes, we keep circles of friends who have things in common with us, maybe there are things that we would say/react in the same exact way, but not everything.

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Supporting characters need to be their own people. They need their own personalities, their own motivations. They can’t always agree with the other characters. If they’re in your book, they need to be interesting enough not to all be killed off in the first act.

4- Writing what you don’t know. So, the old adage is, “write what you know.” Now, obviously that could lead to some really boring books too and we’d probably miss out on some awesome Fantasy Fiction if everyone stuck to this rule. But for me, this rule means, if there’s something you want to write or add into your books, you need to know it inside and out and if you don’t, fix it. I know I have researched for hours for one line in a 300+ page book. I know every Scribe on here has done the exact same thing.

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It feels insane when you’re doing it, but if you want that line, if you want that character to sound like they know what they’re talking about, you need that research. What I live by: If I want readers to believe my fiction, then my non-fiction has to be correct. And if you’re not willing to become as close to an expert as possible on something, then why is it in your book?

5- Older writers want their stories to be set in the days of their youth, and yet it’s current day. Honestly, I get it, okay? When I watch Stranger Things my nostalgia is strong! I lived outside when I was that age, my bike was my world. I had to be in by dark. If my mom wanted me home earlier, she had a whistle she blew, if I was too far to hear it, I got in trouble. No, she wasn’t panicked, calling the cops, she was waiting at the door, foot tapping because her first thought was that I went too far of my own accord. And she was totally right.

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But kids these days don’t do any of this. If I set a book in 2017 with 10-13 year old kids, it would look nothing like my childhood. Kids have smart phones and their parents take them everywhere. If you want a book to be like it was in the good old days, then set the book in the good old days. Do not have anachronisms sprinkled throughout. So many things in books can be solved with cellphones these days, you want to fix that but keep it current? Smash the phone. Lose the signal. Or, even more realistic? Have the battery ticking down from 5%–oof, that’s some real tension there!

There are more things, but these are the most common that I see. Try to be aware of these things. Best thing to do is write your first draft, just get it on paper, don’t stress about any of these things or anything else. But! On your second pass, on the third? Look for this stuff. Correct it. Make it stronger. Then read it again, look for bigger things, like plot holes or dropped plot threads. But that’s for another post.

Have You Hugged Your Indexer Today?

This post is a day late because I was on a deadline to get final edits and the index of my non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, back to my formatter.

Yep, I compiled my own index. For me it was a matter of money, as in I didn’t have any more to spend on this book so I couldn’t pay someone to do it. But I learned a lot, so I thought I’d share in case anyone else has to do their own someday.

  1. I will never look at an index the same way again. Previously I’d never really given much thought to where they come from. I just had some vague thought that probably the publisher and some software were involved. (See point 7 below for more on the role of the publisher.) And yes, there is some software you can use, but there are some things the human mind will always be best for. (See point 3 below for more.) There are professional indexers out there (a job a cannot imagine voluntarily having) but it is possible to do your own with some time and planning.
  2. Indexing is just as tedious as you would expect. It is boring, yes, but part of what makes it hard is the mental gymnastics that go with it. You have put away your author hat and think like a researcher. (Having a background in research or a lot of experience using non-fiction books is really helpful. As a historical fiction author, I have that, plus part of my senior year of college was dedicated to learning how to research for my thesis, so I’m lucky in that regard.) You need to be able to think of what people might be looking for when they pick up your book. That means making sure you include in your index not only the concepts that you as an author think are important, but also those anyone using your book as a resource might need.
  3. There are really two parts to compiling an index. 
    1. Keywords – This is the way I compiled my first few drafts. As mentioned in point 2, I went through and listed every major concept and person in the book, as well as the people whose sources I used. I’m not sure if that last one is standard practice, but I thought “what if someone wants to see all the pages Katherine Bonner was quoted on?” So I gave her an entry. This being my first index, I’d rather have too much in it than it not be useful.Then I went back and tried to imagine all the ways my book might be used in research, which yielded the concepts or themes I will discuss more below. Your keywords are the easier (but more tedious) part of compiling. To get the page numbers that go with them, you can use the search function in your final PDF. When you do this, be sure to include variations and synonyms of words to get the most robust list. (i.e. for Christianity, I also searched Christian, Church, religion, God, and Catholic – and would have included Christ and Jesus, if there had been any references.)
    2. Concepts – This requires reading the book with your mind set on the themes present as you read. Because I only had two days, I proofread at the same time, but I recommend doing two separate readings if you can. Think about the themes you see and how they might be classified in the index to make sense to your researcher reader.For example, when I was reading a section on the rights of women in the Middle Ages, I was noting the page numbers on these keywords: Middle Ages, medieval, women (sub-entry “rights of;” sub-entry “in the Middle Ages”), subservience, Catholic church (because they influenced women’s rights a lot during that period), law, etc.
  4. There are two types of indexes. Because why would you want to make it easy?
    1. Run-in – These are the ones where the sub-entries are in the same line as the main heading. I personally find these really hard to read. An example would be:Guinevere, 2, 17, 150; personality of, benevolent, 152, 255, 260; self-centered, 2, 15, 24, 125, 230; weak, 56, 98, 254; rescue of, 45, 65, 125; treason, 14, 78, 53, 65

      This is the official choice of the Chicago Manual of Style.

    1. Hanging – This is when you indent your sub-entries and sub-sub-entries. Same example as above: (I have to use dashes to indicate indenting because WordPress strips them out)

      Guinevere, 2, 17, 150
      — personality of
      —– benevolent, 152, 255, 260
      —– self-centered, 2, 15, 24, 125, 230
      —– weak, 56, 98, 254
      — rescue of, 45, 65, 125
      — treason, 14, 78, 53, 65

      I think these are easier to use, so this what I went with.

  1. Pre-work is key. You can’t put the page numbers to the index until you have your final layout, but you can start compiling the list of terms in your index. I did this for about a week before I got my final layout, and it really saved me time, which was my goal since I knew I’d been in a time crunch. I’d also advise reading blog posts on indexing and pouring over your style manual’s rules on indexing beforehand.
  2. You will revise and revise and revise. You start out with one long list (from what I’ve read 10-14 pages is not uncommon), and then you whittle it down. I personally found I didn’t need nearly as many sub-entries as I originally expected. The only time I went three levels deep was in my entry for Guinevere, the main subject of the book. I also found myself adding new terms as I thought of them while I read and deleting those that didn’t end up having as much relevance as I expected. And of course, there are always the typos.
  3. There are a lot of little rules. Not all of which I followed, mainly due to time constraints. Examples:
    1. See and See also entries to cross reference entries have to be italicized but the entry itself does not. And they are preceded by a comma. (i.e. Morgaine, 78, 96, See also Morgan; Morganna)
    2. Only proper names are capitalized in the index. Which is weird because you usually capitalize all leading entries in a list, which is what an index is.
    3. You can list names multiple ways, (i.e. Arthur, King or King Arthur) and cross reference as in point A above, or you can list the page numbers in both entries.
    4. Sub-entries are usually only used if an entry has more than five or six page numbers behind it. This is where I ran out of time. There were a few entries like “Arthur, King” and “convent” that had a LOT of pages, but I didn’t have the time or wherewithall to break them out. Sorry, readers!
    5. Footnotes are indexed like this: 345n10 for page 345, footnote 10.
    6. There are two ways you can alphabetize. (Seriously!)
    7. They are different ways you can list page numbers. (Who knew?)
  4. The Chicago Manual of Style sells their indexing guidelines as a separate book. This is fabulous because it is the standard for most non-fiction books and the full manual is something like $75. I wouldn’t need the whole thing (unless I was becoming an editor) so this is a bargain.
  5. Indexes take a LONG time to produce. As I said, I had a deadline, but my index could easily have taken me two to three weeks to produce. Make sure you budget that time in your schedule. I didn’t because I didn’t know what to expect.
  6. Many publishers don’t include the index in the services they provide, so even if you are traditionally published, you might have to do your own or pay for someone to do it for you. At least that’s what my trad pubbed friends on Facebook said when I posted about never wanting to do this again.
  7. Some things are worth paying for. For books that are longer (this one is about 60,000 words) or more complex, there is no way I would ever consider doing it myself again. But at least I know I can if I have to.
  8. Part of me kind of enjoyed it. Some sick, Type A part of me revels in organization. That part of me took pride in making the index and knowing it is at least a good one, if not perfect, because no one knows the subject matter better than the author. I’m sure there are mistakes I made and things I still have to learn, but I’m happy with the outcome.

To me, taking care with an index isn’t so much a matter of doing it properly for the 0.0001% of the population who will notice, as it is a matter of making it as useful as possible to anyone who is using my book as research. I hope I did a good job!

Have you ever indexed a book? Would you consider doing it yourself?

NaNoWriMo: Do blog posts count?

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NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Equal parts marathon and sprint, an artificial construct designed to help authors of all levels write a book.

Or most of a book.

Or something.

The basic idea is that by committing to write 50,000 words in a month, all those people out there who think they would write a book, if only….. won’t have an excuse to put it off. They’ll have to take an idea and throw down an average of 1700 words a day for 30 days, and in the end  they’ll have a solid start on that novel of their dreams.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one. Let’s have a show of hands. Who’s doing NaNo this month?

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Awesome! Because even those of us who have already figured out how to get words on the page can use a little boost sometimes. Some authors figure “every month is NaNo for me”, but I know quite a few who are using this challenge to jump-start a flagging project, meet a tricky deadline, or otherwise get back on schedule.

This’ll be my first try at the November challenge. I’ve done the spring and summer “Camp NaNo” events, mainly because it’s fun to join a cabin – a group of people who cheer each other on – and it’s nice to get a boost to the word count. In past years, I’ve always had big editing projects going on in November, so didn’t have the bandwidth for the real deal.

Now, though, I’ve got the space in my schedule, I’ve got a premise, and I’ve even got a bit of an outline. I’ve also spent a month researching the time period and place (1920 Paris) – though as the start date got closer, I became increasingly worried that all I’d done was learn how much I don’t know.

Wait. That’s my inner critic talking.

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Shutting down that voice might actually might be the biggest benefit to NaNo, imho. By forcing myself to write 1700 words a day for 30 days, I won’t have time for second-guessing. The words will be on the page, safe in the knowledge I can edit them later. I’m curious to see what I come up with under those circumstances.

I also want to be able to say I did it.

I’m kinda laughing at myself, because when I initially considered what to put in this post, I thought I could discuss some of the resources I’m using. But… you know… word count. Gotta run.

If you’re participating in NaNo, happy words! And if you’re not, WHY NOT?! Everybody’s doing it…

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Included because it’s one of the coolest stories from last night’s World Series win. I’m a romance writer, so for me, this is what victory looks like. 🙂