September 2013 Archives

Writing Business Expenses

picture courtesy of Jane M Sawyer on
Every year I plan to do better at keeping track of my expenses than the year before. The area I struggle is recording all those trips to the post office or writing events. Often, I remember to record the event or trip, but forget to enter the actual mileage. So then I have to dig for the mileage I wrote down on a piece of paper or the map showing my route.

In 2012, I did pretty well at keeping it up-to-date.

Until I discovered I'd left off something else . . . a conference fee. And the taxes were already filed. Hmm, unclaimed expense from previous year? I think there's a spot for that--must check it out when preparing 2013 taxes.

Several of my writer friends are just starting out with keeping track of writing business expenses. When I shared my personal info, one was shocked to see how many miles I deducted for 2012. I did a lot of travel by car, but the majority of it wasn't big trips, just a lot of small trips adding up. For example, last year I joined a critique group that usually meets weekly. Let's do the math. If roundtrip mileage averages 20 miles per week and the group meets only 42 weeks out of the year, then that is 840 miles in 2013. The IRS mileage deduction tax rate for 2013 is 56.5 cents per mile. That would allow a deduction of $474.60. for a legitimate business expense. (Read IRS publications for full details. Start with Publications 334 and 583.)

Conference fees, travel, hotel and meals add up really fast, too. Not all are fully deductible, but if you don't know what you paid, how can you know how much to deduct? Accurate record keeping is necessary.

So how do I keep track of my expenses? With a spreadsheet. I have columns that I created long ago using a Schedule C as my model. My column headings are:

  • date

  • expense item (e.g. roundtrip mileage to event, address; postage to submit manuscript)

  • publisher/magazine (or those extra details, if needed, such as to whom and what I'm submitting)

  • miles (you also must keep track of the car mileage at the beginning and end of the year)

  • other car expenses (tolls or parking fees)

  • advertising (e.g. website)

  • office supplies (those things you need to run a home office: paper, postage, etc.)

  • taxes (e.g. sales tax on any books you sell yourself)

  • travel (airfare, taxis, hotel)

  • meals (while traveling--only a portion is deductible)

  • misc (where I put conference fees)

Someone else might need different columns. I am by no means a tax consultant!

I find if I don't immediately enter trips to the post office in my spreadsheet, I forget when I did them. That means I lose out on those miles that I actually took. So what's a writer to do? One writer says she puts her trips on a calendar--at tax time she can go back and garner the information from that. I thought I might try something new and that's a mileage tracker app. There are a number of free ones. Looks pretty easy to enter appropriate information. But again, it'll only work if I actually do it.

Right now I have some receipts I haven't entered. I'd better go do that. And photocopy the receipts for my records as receipts fade. Besides it's easier to have standard size sheets with several receipts than those small strips of paper.

Hope this has been helpful.

One should write to

One should write to be read.
Ken Macrorie


heart.jpgYou've started reading a book and just couldn't get into it, right? It could even be a well-recommended award-winning book, but it didn't grab you. Sometimes you try the book later and this time you're hooked. Other books, later comes and they still don't do it for you. That's subjective reading.

So why then are we surprised when an editor or agent isn't hooked by our writing? Yes, our query got their attention but responses vary from "I didn't love it enough" to "This isn't right for me (I just personally don't like...)" to "I simply did not connect with the voice here enough" to the "we only respond if we're interested" no response. If we pin our hopes to much on one person's opinion, it's too easy to be heartbroken.

I experienced the subjectivity effect on the other side of the desk recently. I teach a correspondence course for writing for children's magazines. Student lessons either come by email or regular mail. One response to a student got lost and I had to re-edit the lesson. The first time, I looked at the lesson and basically said "not in the right format, please redo." The second time, yes, I still noticed it was not in the right format, but I also noticed a paragraph that would make a good opening. I spent more time the second time on the positives and less on the negative. Why is that? It's that subjective thing again. Perhaps the first time I'd had a number of students not following directions and so was pre-set to be irritated. The second time it was the first lesson of the day, so I was more open minded. The student got a better response...on the same material.

So, back to editors and agents and their subjectivity...

  • Their responses can be influenced by what has happened that day. Agent Jenny Bent shared how agents can feel like losers on a March 2010 blog post. Here's the link.

  • They can be influenced by personal taste. Agent Suzie Townsend said on her blog, "Here's the thing. Reading is subjective and it's a matter of personal tastes. I don't read business books. I don't really find them interesting and I wouldn't pick one up off a shelf in a store, which means I wouldn't request one from my slush pile either."

  • The responses can be hindered by what else they've said "yes" to.

That means we can't take one "no" too much to heart. We need more responses.

And then we need to look at those responses not subjectively (oh, poor me, another no), but objectively. We need to see the big picture. What are they saying? Are there any common threads in these responses? Perhaps a number mentioning character or voice? Or maybe several say it's an overdone topic? Whatever it is we can learn from a consensus in feedback. It points out a problem with our writing that we can address. Here's a blog post on Good Rejections--Deciphering Notes from Editors and Literary Agents by another writer Althyia Brown--you might find it helpful too.

We can also take heart from any positive comments and use them to help us move on to rewriting, making our book better, so that one day, someone subjectively says, "yes."

Thanks to godidwlr on for the above picture.

One ought only to

One ought only to write when one leaves a piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot, each time one dips one's pen.
Leo Tolstoy

My morale is starting

My morale is starting to improve, as it always does when writing happens, and I remember that I actually *can* do it after all.
Neil Gaiman

The Hero's Journey for Magazine Writers

Jan Fields.jpgGuest Post by Jan Fields

Increasingly editors are interested in two things in fiction (1) adventure and (2) something a boy might read. But many writers are stuck when it comes to thinking about adventure. What makes up an adventure and can you do it well in 2000 words or less (sometimes a lot less). Sure you can. After all, Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is a perfect adventure story in 336 words.

The adventure story is the basis for so many classic myths and legends - so much so that "The Hero's Journey" has become almost a guidebook for adventure. So how could the circular structure of the basic "Hero's Journey" help us craft a magazine adventure story? Let's begin by looking at a simplified version of the Hero's Journey structure, keeping in mind that for magazine fiction, the story must will focus on the main character (MC):

Ordinary World - Stories begin just before the thing that ultimately changes the MC.
Call to Adventure - A need arises, the MC has a challenge.
Refusal/Commitment - the MC resists the challenge, doesn't want to undertake the task but ultimately accepts that the challenge cannot be avoided.
Approaching the First Ordeal - The MC begins to understand the size of the challenge and the stakes are raised.
Ordeal - MC faces a serious challenge and overcomes.
Reward - a time of rest for the MC, sometimes a false sense of completion.
The Road/Resurrection - more complications, when things look much worse than expected and the biggest challenge met.
Mastery - The adventure resolves, often a sense of coming full circle. The MC has changed.

Okay, how might that play out in a magazine story? Let's look at how it could play out in a short story synopsis:

genstore.jpgOrdinary World - A boy heads home from a day at the pool and stops in a store for a cold drink.

Call to Adventure - Unexpectedly, the beloved store owner isn't there and in his place is a hostile woman whose attention constantly shifts to the backroom door.

Refusal/Commitment - The boy hurries through his purchase to get away from the unpleasant woman. Once outside, he sits down to sip his drink and notices a lot people coming and going through the back door of the building - something he's never seen before. He begins to wonder what's going on.

Approaching the First Ordeal - The boy watches the store, even creeping close enough to the back door to hear what sounds like a scuffle. Could the woman be doing something illegal and holding the real store owner prisoner. The boy runs to alert a trusted adult.

Reward - The boy returns to the story with the trusted adult, expecting to save the story owner. But the woman tells the trusted adult a believable story and even opens the door to the backroom, where everything is quiet. The boy has now lost the support of his trusted adult.

The Road/Resurrection - The MC sits outside, determined to find out what is really happening. At first everything is quiet, then someone comes out of the backroom door, sees the boy and chases him away. The boy sneaks back, finding a better vantage point to watch the shop. He's caught and this time the bad guy decides to hold onto the boy until their goal is met. The boy is locked into the shop bathroom with the beloved store owner (now slightly injured).

Mastery - Because of his small size, the boy can escape through the cramped bathroom window, though not without some minor injury. He runs to his trusted adult, this time with "proof" - the real store owners ubiquitous cap - now with bloodstains. The trusted adult calls the police and the store owner is saved!

In real life, the trusted adult might have stormed over to the store and given the woman some real conflict, not giving up easily. But then the story would have shifted from being the main character's adventure/challenge to being the story of the actions of a side adult character. To work as a story, the main character has to commit to the challenge and overcome the obstacle on his own.

Author's Brief Bio

Since my first magazine publication in the 1980s, I have been steadily writing for money in some form. Today I have over twenty books in print and still more in the pipeline - books for children and adults. I've also written for magazines, educational publishers and even a toy company! Writing is the only thing I've ever done really well that didn't eventually become more like work than fun.

Read more about Jan at

Photo courtesy of wallyir on

Most writers are writers

Most writers are writers because they have an inner fire that will burn them up if they don't write.
James N. Frey