Brown River Queen cover art

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tax Tips for Writers, 156th Edition, With Illustrations Throughout

Certain eldritch signs portend various significant turnings of the year. Birds fly south. Or maybe north. Frankly I don't spend much time outdoors with a compass charting the movements of waterfowl.

But even a dedicated indoorsman such as myself can observe the anguished faces on the street, and hear the plaintive cries of agony borne on the night wind (and no, I don't know from which direction the bloody wind is blowing, let's leave that to the meteorologists, shall we?).

Even I can see the chalk outlines left by those poor unfortunates who at last cried 'No more, enough!' before shuffling off their mortal coils by way of extreme over-tanning or a full-on single-sitting read of Snooki's 'A Shore Thing.'

And even I know what these grim signs portend -- tax time.

That's right, gentle readers, if you are a citizen of the US, it's that time of year when Uncle Sam takes you fondly by your ankles and shakes you until every last cent you've seen in the last year falls out of your pockets, because let's face it, war ain't cheap.

Now, if you've made any money off your writing in the last year, I'm here to help. Because if there's anything the US government holds dear, it's the idea that every American is free to earn a profit by the sweat of his brow and the set of his jaw. Equally sacred to the American governing psyche is the ideal that they get a slice of that sweet free enterprise pie.

The first thing writers need to know about filing their writing income is this -- FILE IT. That story you sold to Ominous Bathroom Squeaks and Eldritch Attic Squeals Monthly for 15 bucks? That pair of flash-fiction entries you pawned off on Public Transit Funnies, a Bus Station Free Magazine for three bucks and a coupon for $2.00 off any foot-long club at Subway?

Maybe you're thinking 'Hey, why bother reporting that, nobody knows about those!'

And how wrong you are, Grasshopper.

They know. Maybe it's the Carnivore communication surveillance system. Maybe the CIA has an Obscure Small Press Reporting Division. Maybe that mean-eyed old lady down the street is on the phone with the IRS every day, after she goes through your mail and steams open all the envelopes -- it doesn't matter how, but believe me, they know.

So, the first thing?

Report it.

Now if you've made any serious coin you've been sent a 1099-MISC from the publisher(s). You should keep up with these things. I used to put them in a folder and them lose the folder and then move to Mississippi and assume a new identity as Frank Tuttle when I realized I'd lost them all, but then I got married and she keeps important papers in a brilliant thing called a drawer. I'll bet you have some of these drawers  in your place too. Open them up and put stuff in them, it's an amazing time-saver compared to identity theft.

At the end of the year, you take all these 1099 forms, wipe the tears from your face, and enter them in the boxes according to the helpful prompts on the TurboTax software. When the crying diminishes to a bearable level, proceed.

Next, let's consider deductions. The word deductions comes from the Latin dede, which means 'not for,' and uction, which means 'you.' In tax parlance, deductions are money amounts which everyone but you can subtract from the taxes they owe.

For instance, I write on a PC. I built this PC myself, from components I purchased separately, for the sole purpose of writing.  Now, if I were anyone else, I could deduct the total cost of the machine from my taxes owed, since it's a business expense -- but since I am demonstrably me, this deduction does not apply, and, notes TurboTax, 'ha ha ha.'

See how that works? It truly simplifies filing.

Let's look at some other deductions which you, as a writer, cannot claim:
  •  Home Office Deductions. Oh, you have an office, in which you write? Well, let's have a look. It can't be attached to your house. It can't house a TV or other casual entertainment device. It can't possibly, under any circumstances, be even remotely suited for any purpose other than writing, and it can't be very good at that. So you have a detached office which contains nothing but a chair, a desk, and a PC running nothing but Word? But it has a roof?  'Ha ha ha,' intones TurboTax. 'Trying to pull a fast one, are you? DENIED.'
  • Office Expense Deductions.  You're a writer, and even the IRS grudgingly concedes that the act of writing might in some way involves putting down words on some medium, be it electronic or paper. Okay, this looks promising. You bought a printer to print out manuscripts. You pay for internet service because 1950 was 73 years ago. These seem to be legitimate deductions, so let's investigate further BUZZ HA HA HA NOT SO FAST, TAXPAYER! Those deductions are only valid in years  where acceptable total solar eclipses occur in northern Peru (see Schedule 117863-E, 'Solar Interruptions, South American Totality Table 167-75E, lines 46 through 78), and guess what pal, this ain't it.
  • Other Deductions. Mitt Romney has a 376 page embossed-leather-bound acid-free paper book with gold-gilt edges filled with 'Other Deductions.' Are you Mitt Romney? Didn't think so. Move along.
Sadly, that about covers it. You've toiled over every word, you've poured over ever sentence, you've labored long into that good night trying to illuminate a single tiny facet of the flawed jewel that is the human condition.

Or, in other words, you've earned slightly more than minimum wage. 

Bon appetite, my friends!

And for the love of all that is holy, don't miss the filing deadline. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mangled Monday Horoscopes

Curious as to what the stars have in store for you next week?

Me neither. Given the obvious ill-will the stars display towards all things Tuttle, I'd just as soon be kept in the dark until the last possible moment, i.e., until I see the muzzle flash. But if you are of a metaphysical bent, and if you do have excellent life insurance, read on.

Me, I'll be down in the bunker, adjusting my Kevlar vest and tightening my flak helmet.

ARIES (March 21-April 20)
Okay, so you don't manage to land the plane successfully. But, on the bright side, next Tuesday's fiery crash into the oil refinery will result in more stringent fire-suppression codes for future petrochemical facilities.

TAURUS (April 21 - May 20)
Seriously, no one has been killed by a falling piano since 1929. Until you step outside next Thursday.

CANCER (June 21 - July 22)
Yeah, you'd think X-ray machines had fuses, or some way to prevent accidental massive output surges. Maybe they will, after your estate gets done suing General Electric (Medical Division). 

LEO (July 23 - August 22)
All things considered, your brief outburst on Wednesday isn't the worst set of last words ever spoken, despite what the 52% of the commenters on YouTube say.

VIRGO (August 23 - September 23)
On the bright side, they'll never figure out how your frozen body wound up in the Atlanta Aquarium wearing nothing but Abraham Lincoln's famous stovepipe hat.

LIBRA (September 24 - October 23)
Before Monday, there will be no recorded instances of fatal parrot attacks on humans. Even the stars are curious about this one -- just what do you say to that bird, to make it so angry?

SCORPIO (October 24 - November 21)
See, what happens Friday at the petting zoo is why you should never tempt grumpy Fate by asking the (usually) rhetorical question 'At least it can't get any worse, right?' 

SAGITTARIUS (November 22 - December 21)
If it's any consolation, hardly anyone could improvise a working emergency breathing apparatus out of an ice machine and an office supply closet. At least you go down fighting.

CAPRICORN (December 22 - January 19)
Turns out they aren't kidding about that pufferfish eat-at-your-own-risk warning. 

AQUARIUS (January 20 - February 19)
Even the coroner will be aghast -- all that blood on the ceiling, from an exercise bike accident?

PISCES (February 20 - March 20)
Look at it this way -- how many people can claim it took two Hearses six hours to convey their remains to the cemetery? At least the radiation levels allowed mourners to watch the burial from a safe distance.