Recently in Business Side of Writing Category

How Excel Can Help Creatives

notebook-1850613_1920.jpgI've talked several times about writing expenses and income, and often share my spreadsheet templates via email. (See posts here and here.) But this time I decided I should share them for free downloading.

The first is an expense template--this will work for writers or illustrators. Feel free to customize how it best works for you. I initially set this up based off of Schedule C, and still find it helpful when using TurboTax. It is set up to do automatic calculations for each month, and then monthly totals are transferred to the year-end sheet. It also has two extra sheets where I keep track of use of cars and equipment depreciation, and cost of goods sold.

Expense Template.xlsx

I also have an income template: Income Template.xlsx

But is that it? Is Excel only for numbers? I don't find it so.

Some of the useful spreadsheets I have are a writing day log and a critique group log. These show dates, where we met, and who I met with. These are backups for my expense sheets and make for easy comparisons versus searching all my emails for when and where we agreed to meet. Here are those templates:
Critique Meeting Log Template.xlsx
Writing Day Log Template.xlsx

I also have two excel spreadsheets related to agents. One has agent information I've collected from sites and newsletters. (These are agents I think I might want to submit to.) Each agent gets their own tab (sheet) and I add more information and updates as I find it. I could use a Word Table as well for this, but entries get pretty lengthy.

The other spreadsheet is for agents who have rejected me. It includes name, agency, date, and form or personal rejection. I'm querying on a specific manuscript right now, but that could be info for another column. A Word Table would probably work as well.

Some people use spreadsheets for submission info. That could be for all submissions or for a specific manuscript.

If you don't have Excel, consider Google Sheets--a great alternative. Though I mostly use Sheets for collating info from a Google Form I've created. Google Sheets are handy when you need to share a spreadsheet with someone else so you can both work on the same sheet. As soon as one makes a change, the info is updated.

More on Writing Expenses plus Income

bookkeeping-615384_1280.jpgI decided it was time to add to what I've learned about keeping track of writing business expenses. You can see my initial post here.

First, I have a checking account dedicated to my writing business. This makes it easy to use my writing account debit card for business expenses. My expenses still go into a spreadsheet, but I have easy backup and confirmation with those debits on my banking statement.

Same goes for income. Writing income gets deposited into that account (or it's related savings account). I've also got an income spreadsheet which shows what I earned. It includes when, where and/or what, and I have them classified by categories such as my teaching income for the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL), book royalties or flat fees, magazine and online articles/stories, critiquing, and speaking. Having a column for an entity such as ICL makes it really easy to compare the total to my 1099 after year end.

But the last few years I started some additional spreadsheets to help me keep track of mileage expenses. One is a writing day/morning spreadsheet. It shows date, where we met, and who I met with. The second is a critique group spreadsheet. Besides the previous information, it also shows what manuscript I brought for critique, or if none, it says NA. This adds validation to my expense spreadsheet and gives me a double-check. If I start looking at either of these sheets and see blank spaces where there shouldn't be, I check my email since most of our arrangements for these meetings are confirmed via email. And I throw those emails into a "Finances" folder. Again, backup if I ever get audited.

And speaking of mileage, each year at the beginning of the year I note the mileage on my car in a spreadsheet. For example, in 2017 the total mileage for my little car was 4704. (As a family we drive the other car most of the time.) 1274 miles were writing related! The total mileage and business-related mileage are questions the IRS wants answers to. It's good to be prepared before you go to fill out the tax form.

Back to my debit card. Someone once asked me about the validity of using my writing account for beverages at a coffee shop when I'm having a writing day. Or a meal for another type of writing event. If I stayed home, I would not have those expenses. The IRS only allows 40% of those expenses deducted. But 40% helps. For example, in 2017 I had almost $500 in meal expenses. The majority were for out-of-town trips. 40% of $500 is $200 deducted.

Something unavailable to us in 2013 when I wrote my original post was email receipts. Many restaurants and businesses will now email you your receipt or at least offer that option. I've found a number of coffee shops use Square which automatically emails the receipt based on my debit card number. I just have to update the info when I get a new card.

I also have a separate PayPal account for writing related income and expenses. This is very helpful when I'm collecting from individuals for paid critiques or editing. It shows the payment from my client and the fee for receiving payment via PayPal. But then I don't have to worry about a stranger's check bouncing after I do the work. (Although I do collect 50% in advance when I haven't worked with someone before.)

It's work to keep track of all this information, but I've definitely found if I keep up on it, it's not very time-consuming. And since spreadsheets can be set up to do automatic calculations, it sure makes tax time easier.

If you have any tips to share, I'd love to hear them. Just enter them in the comments.

Electronic Submissions

dog-laptop.jpgThe first step in submitting electronically is to KNOW WHAT THE AGENT or EDITOR WANTS.

Read each specific editor or agent's guidelines to see whether to send a query only, query with sample pages, query with synopsis and sample pages, and for the latter two, how many pages. Usually, you'll be pasting into an email or form versus using attachments.

Verify the email address the information should be sent to or whether they use querytracker.net, querymanager.com, or a form on their own website.

Next, PREPARE for PASTING the REQUESTED INFORMATION into the body of an email or into a form. A form will have separate boxes for different info. In email, it will all go into the body of an email. You can easily separate your query letter from synopsis and synopsis from manuscript by using returns (enters) and ten or more dashes.

  • Write your query letter in Word and save it.
  • Ditto with your synopsis, if required. Some agents or editors will specify how many pages of a synopsis they want. Others won't. It's good to have several versions, such as one page and three pages.
  • Go to your manuscript and copy the number of pages requested and paste into a new document. Make sure you end your last page on a full line. It's better to be short than have a partial line. (Of course, you are using standard manuscript format.) I like saving different length page samples with the number of pages in the title-it makes for future ease of use.

Third, open your email or the form. As appropriate, copy your letter, manuscript pages, and synopsis one at a time and paste into the form or email. Remember, for email dashes and a blank line are good separators.

Don't stress if your pasted in manuscript loses centering for title and chapters. It won't look perfect. However, I've found both yahoo and gmail work fairly well. If in doubt as to how your email will look when sent, you can always send a sample to a friend as a test although it still may not match exactly what the agency or publishing house receives unless your friend uses the same mail service.

In email, type an appropriate subject. E.g. Query - Red River, Query SCBWI Oregon Conference, etc. Use whatever the agent or editor has requested. If they don't specify, putting the word Query and type of submission is helpful. It doesn't hurt to put your manuscript title.

Lastly, double-check that all your information, including the subject line looks all right. Or for a form that you have filled in all the boxes.

When you are ready to go, enter in the TO: email address for email and send. For forms, choose "submit." (Multiple page forms might have "continue" before you can submit.

SUBMITTING a QUERY with an ATTACHMENT
In the rare case, you may be able to send an attachment. Usually a Word document is requested. Your most recent or your current version of Word is fine. MAC users, never send a Pages document unless it is requested.

If someone requests a PDF, but you can't print to PDF or don't have a PDF maker, download PrimoPDF. It's free and easy to use.

If you have questions, feel free to put them in the comments.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Nathan Bransford, former agent, author says in How to Format an Email Query: "Note that I did not begin with the recipient's address or my address or the date, as that is not customary for an e-mail."

How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents - Seven Tips says: "...so start your subject line with the word 'Query.' . . . After the word query, list your book title and genre or category."

Let's Get Help

chicken-1647390_1280.pngMost writers don't start out thinking they're going to need technical skills beyond maybe a word processor and email, but in this world of social media and digital submissions, writers either need to learn technical skills or get help.

I'm of a technical mindset and have more technical skills than many writers of my generation, but still I get help. My husband and my daughter have both helped me with website and computer issues. A writer friend taught me how to use twitter and tweetdeck. Please don't be too chicken to ask for help yourself.

Here's some things I've found many writers don't know:

How to keep computer files organized. I've seen many writers with every file saved on the desktop or in the first level of documents and they have trouble finding what they are looking for. I've showed them folders and how you can put folders within folders. Normally each of my projects has its own folder. Here's how I helped another writer with this issue in this post. It includes some tips on naming documents, too.

How to back up files. When their computer hard drive dies, writers have lost all of their work. Even when you have a crash, you can lose hours of work on your wip. Don't let this be you. Find out how to preserve copies successfully. The latter portion of this blog post mentions some methods.

How to do an electronic submission, especially when pasting in material. When I was sharing on the topic with a group, one person said that the best tip she got was "don't enter the to person's email until you are sure you are ready to send." This means you can't accidentally send an unfinished submission. I'll write up some more details for a future blog post.

How to resize a picture. A writer (or illustrator) needs to submit an illustration, a cover, a headshot and have a large file, but has been requested for something smaller. I wrote this post to specifically help with this problem. I find people often don't know how to rename the picture with something meaningful either--it's okay to name it what it is.

How to keep email organized. Some writers keep everything all in the inbox, which makes for an overwhelming number of emails. Folders to save important emails by topic or event or date can be helpful. Or you can have a folder for critiques or projects. Many email programs allow you to set up filters to sort incoming email automatically into folders as well. You might want to do that for newsletters you like to read. As hard as it may be to believe, one gal didn't realize she could just delete emails she'd read and didn't need.

New writers often don't know about standard manuscript format. This is the way editors and agents will want to see manuscript submissions. Follow this link for details.

New to computer users don't know about Word's tables or Excel's spreadsheets. Either can be helpful in keeping track of submissions, agents, chapter summaries, finances, etc. (Although I prefer the latter for finances.)

Sometimes we aren't even aware we need help. We don't know there's a better or easier way. Many years ago I complained about how awkward something was in Word. My husband showed me tables. Wow, it made what I was doing so easy. Since, I've used it for forms many times.

So if something isn't working well for you, ask others, "Is there a better way?" Or search online for "How do I ________?"--there are tutorials, youtube videos, etc. that explain so much. For example, I've learned more about html that way.

What have you gotten help with? What do you wish you could get help with?

Comments are welcome.


Rejections

no-1532838_1920.jpegRejections are subjective. I know that. I only have to think about books I loved that a friend didn't like or one they loved that I didn't like. We all have our own tastes and even moods. But when our manuscript is rejected it often doesn't feel subjective. We often feel as if we've failed.

When those feelings strike me, I have to remember how many published books I read where the story didn't grab me. Or something turned me off. And these books were loved by an editor willing to spend a lot of time with the manuscript. They've been supported by a publishing company as a whole. So if published books can fail an individual, why I am I surprised when my own unpublished manuscript does?

At first page and roundtable critique sessions, I've seen how editors and agents just haven't connected with the writing of a specific piece. One person might "get it" and the others not. Or the panel is split on whether they'd read on.

Ever had rejections that said, "I just didn't love it enough."? I have. Some agents/editors have told me things to work on; others haven't. They are a reminder that I need to keep trying. If you're getting personal rejections, keep on.

But what if you aren't getting any personal rejections? That means it's time to step back and look at your writing.

Many years ago at the SCBWI LA Conference--2009 to be exact--Editor Wendy Loggia shared "seven 7 reasons why your manuscript is declined." They included:


  • nice writing, but no story

  • too similar to something else she'd edited or in the market place

  • unclear who the audience would be

  • can't connect to the voice

  • book submitted too early before it was ready

  • project would not stand out on the house list

  • the author is difficult to deal with (Yes, many editors and agents check your social media.)


What she concluded with was "If I can't give a book my heart and soul, I won't acquire it." But note how many of the reasons above are something we have control over: a good story, a clear audience, a professional manuscript, a good attitude.

Here are some tips garnered from a variety of agents and editors that deal with what we control:


  • put your best foot forward - fix those typos and grammar errors

  • have a good hook

  • show, don't tell

  • Editor Nick Thomas says, "Don't make the first chapter too long."

  • have an intimacy with your characters

  • remember cliffhangers make good chapter endings

  • don't write to trends

  • be passionate about your project

  • got voice? "Always it's the voice that gets me... The way it makes me feel," says Editor Christy Ottaviano.

  • make sure your plot is solid

  • share big truths

  • provide opportunity for emotional engagement

And for the querying itself:


  • research the agent(s) you are querying

  • follow submission instructions

  • get the agent or editor's name right

  • write a good query/cover letter

  • provide good comp titles - this is one of my weaknesses

  • keep your letter to one page

Also, don't forget that you aren't alone in getting rejections.

"At times the rejections did get to me, but the will to write always triumphed over the disappointment of rejection." - Karen Hesse

Shannon Hale said, "I've published 20+ books, the last 10 or so of which have all been best sellers, and I still get rejections. All the time."

"Rejection isn't a sign of failure. Rejection is a reminder that there's always room for improvement." - Ana Hart

Kathryn Stockett said, "I can't tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected."

Let's not be ashamed. Let's press on.


How Excel Can Help Creatives

More on Writing Expenses plus Income

Electronic Submissions

Let's Get Help

Rejections

Save Me!

Successful Cover Letters

Do It Myself!

Poor Man's Copyright, a Myth

Considering Self-Publishing?

When Educational Publishers Ask for Your Résumé

BACK UP!

Are Listserves a Service or a Waste of Time?

How To Start Querying an Agent

Going Back to School

Dragged to the Podium

Double Identity - Pen Names

Before You Sign: Contract Resources

How'd You Get That Gig?