The question came up in comments under the steps for opening a small business post: why do all this work? Why not just run it on the side like a hobby, commingling all your funds, skip the business licenses and all the other hurdles?

Why, in fact, are we encouraging you to do all that? What about all the folks who never got started along the way because of the hurdles of running a business, or who spent all their energy on opening the business, and never got any further – why are we discouraging them?

The key is: mindset. This is a collection of writers who do this for a living, not a collection of people who published a book once, and maybe will get around to that again.

In fact, I’m the odd writer out on this blog, because I don’t ever intend on my writing to pay the mortgage… That’s what my husband’s writing does, and I’m honestly here more because I was dragooned into explaining the marketing end I do for him, and the business end we do together, and for some reason nobody’s said “Right, you’ve said your piece, get out!”

So, mindset.

It’s a lot easier to achieve something if you aim at it. If you’re not aiming for it, you’re pretty much blindly hoping random chance will happen, and bestow it on you. And the universe… generally fails to cooperate. Sometimes, it does cooperate, but if you’re not prepared, you can’t take advantage of it. In this case, if you want to make a living from writing, the first thing to do is set a goal. State, firmly, that you want to make a living from writing.

Once you’ve firmly stated that, then the immediate question that follows is “How?” And that’s what Mad Genius Club is about, in general. But in specific, the reason you do the work to prepare the ground for success is because it helps focus you on your goal, make it more real, more concrete, more achievable, and easier to accomplish and maintain.

Doing the groundwork to prepare for being a successful author – opening the separate banking account, coming up with a press name, creating a business plan, learning about DBA vs. LLC vs C corp – means that you understand what these things are, and you can say in your mind “When I reach this income level, it will be advantageous to switch from this to that”, instead of an underpants-gnomes style business plan of  “write a book, a bunch of unknown stuff I don’t understand, be JK Rowling!”

But what if it doesn’t work out? What if you did all that work and the book only sells 20 copies?

All is not lost. First off, unlike a brick and mortar business such as a restaurant, you don’t have to make a certain amount of sales to stay in business. In fact, the IRS expects most new businesses to run at a loss for the first few years. If you don’t sell enough to pay your mortgage with your first book in your first month… that’s normal. So keep writing, and keep releasing. As you do, you’ll start getting better at writing, better at editing, better at covers, better at marketing, and your income will keep rising. This, too, is normal, and your income will rise over time.

Nobody is going to come along with a clipboard and say “Right, that’s over; you have to stop making up stories and writing them down, and can only do the kind of job for a living where you wear a tie and sit in a cubicle all day.” Unlike, say, restaurants (about 60% of them don’t last past their first year), you don’t have a start-up loan with a bank to pay off, nor do you have suppliers of perishable goods who are invoicing and must be paid every 30 days or the lights shut off and the food stops coming.

Second, what if it does work out? What if you do all that work and your book sells 5,000 copies?

Then you’ll already have everything set up nicely. You won’t have to worry about how much to set aside for state and federal taxes – you already know that. You won’t have to scramble to find expenses to deduct against the earnings on your surprising (yet inevitable) tax bill, because you’ve already been tracking them. You got this! Keep writing!

Third, what if you capture lightning in a bottle and sell 10,000,000 copies, and audio studios are calling, and movie people want to option rights, and publishers are offering to buy the book?

Then you’ve already go the business side set up so you can handle that stress, and it’s well past time to go hit up friends who are authors and say “What do I do about this?” – and congratulations, by the way! (And once the furour dies down and you’ve got a handle on everything? Keep writing!)

And what if life happens, and I want to drop all this for a few months or years and not deal with marketing or publishing, or possibly even writing, while I’m going to med school / moving to Katmandu / having surprise triplets instead of a single baby / going through chemo?

Well, if it’s only a few months, you just might do your preparation ahead of time, get everything set up as needed, and then ignore the business entirely. This kind of business doesn’t need daily attention to sales, unlike retail. We have an accountant, and one of the valuable things Evan-the-accountant does is call and say “Have you sent your quarterly taxes? I don’t see them.” If we’re in the middle of prep for surgery, or surgical recovery? Extremely valuable. Or, Evan-the-accountant has said, “I went ahead and filed for an extension, because I haven’t gotten this from you yet, and it always takes longer to get that together than people think. So you now have until this date, but kindly get the papers as fast as you can.”

Speaking of, first quarter due date for IRS payment is: Monday, April 15.

If it’s a few years? Then you might formally close the business, and re-open it later. Or you might just leave it running on near-autopilot; indie pub for already-out books is a pretty low-key business, all told. If you’re not putting out any new books, and not promoting your current books, then expect the sales to drop to near-zero. (Though depending on how many you have out, it may surprise you!) Or you might close the LLC and open a DBA, for lower paperwork… depends on what’s best in your situation, but you have lots of options!

When life isn’t overwhelming, you won’t be starting from scratch. You have the books you’ve already written, you have the knowledge on running a business you’ve already gained, and can pick up and start again. We say a business “fails”, but that’s attaching a value judgement to an action. Businesses close for reasons other than failure – like Cedar’s Stonycroft publishing technically “failed” when she closed it to open Sanderly Studios, and Fynbos Press “failed” when we closed it and opened Sedgefield Press. But did they really fail?

Even in the restaurant business, no one ever says “You had a restaurant that failed, you can’t run another one.” In fact, it’s rather the opposite – the act of opening a restaurant, running one, and then closing it contains a lot of vitally important lessons that are incredibly difficult to learn except by doing, and mean that the next restaurant is much more likely to make it, because the owner is that much wiser about running this kind of small business in this city in this market with this employee pool, and these suppliers… how to be a team leader, a manager, a business owner, a negotiator with suppliers, a bookkeeper, a marketer… Most highly successful restaurants are owned by someone who has run at least one (more usually 3-5) prior ventures.

So if you have to close it, you’re preparing for a better, more successful press further down the road!

Today, I’d like to draw your attention to an older book that may have passed you by, as well as three brand new ones!

First, a bit of humour to brighten your day, or, a children’s fairy tale as retold by adults… in this case, by cats.

Cat’s Paw by Robert A Hoyt

Somewhere out there, a bird as old as the universe (and as disgruntled as only a bird named Happy can be) is making its final thousand-year journey to destroy the last of the mountain that anchors reality…

Meanwhile, on the mean streets of Broxton, a young Siamese wanders lost and pregnant with the last of the royal line of kittens, looking for a palace in the far-away mountains. She finds Tom, a drunken street cat, instead – and he finds that his motives and morals are urging him to help the pretty young thing survive a long trip, far away from his home alleys. Along with a library cat who knows the way, they will brave hordes of maddened squirrels, their prairie dog allies, landslides, blizzards, and assassins of the Cult of the Bird.

Together, they represent the last hope of reality. What was reality thinking?

Second, Alma Boykin has a real-medieval-meets-magic fantasy: this one around mining!

Miners and Empire by Alma Boykin

Aedelbert Starken, a master stone-cutter, will tell you shapes stone, not magic, but the gods have different plans…

Aedelbert came to the free city of Garmouth with his partner in order to build three new smelters for the ore – a complicated task, but one they’re masters at. Before they can complete the job, a noble with a grudge threatens the mines and the city. Now they’re caught up in a race between the men of Garmouth and the mines, the noble, and the forces of ice and water.

Aedelbert wants nothing to do with any of it. The Scavenger, however, has other ideas. And what He gives, He can also reclaim…

Third, Old NFO is back in the Rimworld series with an AI who learned subtle trickery and smartassery all too well from its creator!

Jace, by J L Curtis

Roberto de Perez engineered his escape from the soul-killing drudgery of corporate leadership, to a remote research lab under an assumed name to play with research projects, like the creation of AIs more powerful than any protocol envisioned.

Freedom isn’t perfect: As a mid-level lab manager developing a brand new self-aware AI that’s actually better suited for combat shuttle control, Roberto unwittingly crosses a line with an external agency he didn’t know cared, and his own internal bureaucracy isn’t happy, either. What he doesn’t know is that there are people determined to keep him from succeeding at any cost.

What he doesn’t realize is his new AI has learned to manipulate the system all too well from watching Roberto, and everyone underestimated what it will do when its existence is threatened…

And last but not least, Margaret Ball has a regency romance meets… selkies? As delightfully off-kilter from the norm as you’d expect from the author of MatheMagics!

Salt Magic, by Margaret Ball

Bookish and shy, Sabira has a perfect marriage of convenience to the elderly Lord Steinnland and his library, marred only by her family’s urging to trick her husband into releasing his claim to their island fastness. But time and tide bring the irritating, if handsome, Viscount Iveroth, and on his heels, scheming visitors who kill her elderly Lord and release a plague of sea monsters.

Now Sabira must travel to the city of Din Eidyn and fight to save her home and her people, with Iveroth as her only ally. But as they battle black magicians and drawing room politics, the hardest fight of all is hiding her growing feelings for the Viscount… and the fact that she’s not human…

(Full disclosure: I wrote/helped write the blurb on JL Curtis’s book & Margaret Ball’s books, though it wasn’t for compensation. Unless you count the food OldNFO feeds me, as the carrot (cake) to the stick of the arched-eyebrow look of “have you gotten that written yet?” I just think they’re awesome, and want to share great stories with you.)

18 thoughts on “Mindset

  1. well also, if for some reason one of your books is a sudden indie success, if your funds are commingled you’re going to be scrambling to un-mingle them and get it as a separate business…

    1. Most especially if you didn’t realize you even needed to. The worst fate for a successful indie author is to file their taxes “like normal” only to find out too late that the IRS wanted them to have been paying quarterly, and they owe fines and interest on late payments… taxed at rates that they weren’t expecting. Especially if the money already went to a new roof after the tree took it out!

      Establishing a business after the fact to take deductions against income is… not something you can really do, once the IRS is already demanding its pound of flesh. Much better to not get into that position in the first place!

  2. A good topic might be LLC vs DBA, aka “What these acronyms mean to you, or the Three-Letter Secret Society.”

    1. Point! On the other hand, the options are so wide it’d be a novella just to start explaining all you need to consider for where you’re at… and that’s just the 50 states. As our Canadian & Aussie & other readers can remind us, it’s completely different from country to country.

      And then the tax code will go and change on us, and it’ll all be outdated again… *cries*

      But here’s a good start!

  3. It turns out that in Canada it is very expensive to create a limited liability company. No surprise that there are a myriad of legal/government regulatory hoops you must pay a lawyer to jump through, or else become a lawyer yourself in the process of applying.

    What most people do for little painting companies and such is start a “sole proprietorship” which is not an LLC and provides no liability protection. That way fees don’t suck all the life out of it every year.

  4. It’s also good to find out if you have the skills and temperament to run a business. Not everyone does–there are excellent chefs who go broke when they open their own restaurant, not because of anything in the kitchen or dining room, but because of the business end.

    I think I can honestly say that I am a good writer, but I am not publisher material. I have tried enough to know that I hate the business end and if I am going to do something I hate in order to support my writing, I might as well keep my current day job, which at least I’m good at.

    I will sell my work, when I can, to other publishers to handle the promotion and sales and paperwork.

  5. “Fail” and “close” are not the same. Contemplate the Five-Star Michelin Chefs Who have run a restaurant for years, and decide it is time to move on to a new cuisine and a new location. If David Weber chose to give us a hew Horatio Hornblower series instead of more SF series, his SF writing would have closed, but it would not have failed. (Mr. Weber, that was not meant as a suggestion, as I do not wish to live the short remainder of my life wondering which stfnal assassin group will succeed, or how much of my neighborhood will pass with me to the next plane of existence.)

  6. I would note that the industry is rife with stories of budding authors who “got lucky” and experienced totally unanticipated sales numbers. Invariably they far too soon find themselves caught in the crack of an IRS audit and watch while fees and penalties syphon off much of their earnings.

    1. Now, you got me wondering about Dave Freer and Chris Nuttall.

      They live & work outside the US but have plenty of American fans. 😉

      1. Can’t speak for either, but I know that Dave is currently in his own reality show, 40 acres and a mule, with the acres being Findler Island scrub and Dave playing the part of the mule.
        When Baen bothers to send Dave his pittance I’m fairly sure they do it in a USD bank transfer which Dave’s Australian bank is more than willing to convert at the official exchange rate.
        With indie on Amazon as I recall the Zon lets you specify what currency they send your monthly transfers in.

        1. Chuckle Chuckle

          I’m thinking more about “tax issues”.

          IE Does Dave have to pay both US and Australian taxes on his earnings?

          1. Short answer: It depends on the tax treaty the USA has (or doesn’t have) with that country.

            Long answer is very, very long. And depends on where you’re a citizen of, as well as what country you are in at the time, and what country you’re making your money in…

            1. This.

              DH is a tax lawyer. MIL is an accountant and tax preparer. And choosing between DBA (sole proprietorship), LLC, and S Corp was still enough to make my head spin.

              1. I’m just a buyer, but from what I read, some of the hurdles I have suffered trying to buy US books from Spain (EU in general), is due to laws changing some years ago, so the seller has to pay taxes to the buyer’s country… Which is just a nightmare and I suppose any author selling independently from their own web with a limited success intermediately gave up on their indepent ebook-store and outsourced the thing to someone able to calculate each tax for each country of their buyers.
                Now I’ve begun to see some authors selling their books directly on their websites using Gumroad and another service I can’t remember now. I don’t know how much they take comparing to Amazon and the normal bookstores, but I suppose that’s the logical thing to do, instead of dealing yourself with all that tax nighmare

  7. Back when I started this gig, I opened a separate bank account and had all my book-sales money (all two dollars of it, back then) directed straight into that account. If I ever opted to set up a formal DBA or LLC or S-corp (sole owner single proprietor limited liability [TX law]), I was already used to the money going somewhere other than my primary bank account.

    Now that business might be reaching the “no longer a hobby per the IRS”, (perhaps, maybe,) it will be much easier to make certain that my incomes and expenses don’t mingle. I can roll that account into the DBA or whatever more easily than trying to “un-pay” my royalties from my main account.

  8. I have a regular accountant who does my income taxes – I’ve been his client for years, and he is very good about working in my business expenses from the writing, and the Tiny Publishing Bidness: In fact, I believe he hopes that I will someday hit the ‘bigs’ – and of course he will be my principal financial adviser when that happy day occurs. Until then – he does his best to see that I break even!

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