Author Archives: David Carrico

About David Carrico

David is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. He has been writing since 1977, but made his first sale in 2004. Most of his work has been written in Eric Flint's Ring of Fire universe, and has either appeared in The Grantville Gazette electronic magazine (http://grantvillegazette.com) or in the anthologies Grantville Gazette III, Grantville Gazette IV, Ring of Fire II, Grantville Gazette V, and the forthcoming Grantville Gazette VI and Ring of Fire III.

Manage Your Business

The Fictorians and our guest bloggers have spent the month of March covering a number of legal topics and issues with which we feel every writer should have some familiarity. If we didn’t cover a topic you’re interested in, drop us a line and we’ll see if we can squeeze it in in the upcoming months.

All of these posts, however, rest upon a common premise; that is, as writers we should also be business people. Writing a work is only the beginning of the story—getting that work published and in the hands of readers is the rest of it, and that takes some understanding of a lot of different aspects of the business. And perhaps even more of the story is revealed when you consider how you’re going to keep that work in front of and available to readers after the initial blush has worn off. That’s all part of the business world in which we writers—now more than ever—have to operate.

We have to be business people, and we have to be focused on our own business—the marketing and dissemination of our creative work. Emphasize the ‘we’. Underline it, put it in bold italic 24 point Gothic font with flashing red lights. If we don’t manage our own business, if we don’t take responsibility for managing our own affairs, we can’t expect anyone else to do it for us. We have to know enough to take care of the day to day work and decisions. We have to know enough to know when we need to consult with or hire a professional to address a problem. And we have to know enough to be able to tell if that professional is getting the job done.

I wish that Robert Asprin was still with us. More than any other writer I know, he could have given a testimonial about this.

Robert was a pretty successful mid-list fantasy and science fiction author in the 1980s-1990s, who unfortunately ran afoul of the Internal Revenue System after one of his books actually made it to the New York Times bestseller list. I don’t know all the details of the story, but I do know that he ended up having to make monthly payments to the IRS for over a decade. He died in 2008, literally just a few weeks after making the final payment to pay off his tax bill.

So, yes, paying attention to detail and keeping track of the information and getting the forms right and turning everything in on time is important. Robert would bear witness to that. Just like reading the contracts and taking the time to learn what each of those paragraphs of legalese really means is important if we want to continue to own and manage our works.

The problem is that most creative people really really really don’t like the boring humdrum routine of doing what the commercial world calls the back office routines. I certainly don’t. But if we don’t stay on top of our correspondence, if we don’t gather all the material together for tax preparation and payments, if we don’t read those contracts before we sign them, etc., then we’ll deserve the problems that come of them.

The goal of every Fictorian is to not only be a successful writer, but to be a professional writer. Hmm, actually, that may be two different ways of saying the same thing; because every successful writer that I know is also very professional about taking care of business.

That’s the consistent message of the Superstars of Writing seminars: that to a great extent, a writer’s success is founded on not just his skill at the craft of writing, but also how well he manages the business side of his career.

So in pursuit of that goal, we’ve spent this month talking about various aspects of the writing business. Our hope is that you’ve found knowledge or confirmation among the various topics. Keep in mind that none of what has been presented represents legal or financial advice. Always consult an attorney or an accountant if you have issues arise. Pay the money. You’ll be better off, and the fees are tax deductible.

I want to thank all the Fictorians and guest posters for their many and excellent contributions, most especially M. Scott Boone who gave us not one, not two, but three guest posts this month.

Stay tuned—we’ll resume our themes about the writing side of the writer’s life tomorrow.

Record Keeping, Part Two: . . . But Necessary

Okay, now for a couple of specific issues:

Tax Records (U.S. version)

It is a commonly held belief that the IRS requires you to keep your tax records for seven years. Actually, according to the records manager of a company I used to work for, that’s not quite the case. According to her, the IRS regulations require you to keep your records for three years. However, if they do decide to audit you, they can go back seven years. And since no one would want to depend on an adversary for records concerning his or her own interests, everyone just automatically keeps seven years’ worth of records. And just so we’re clear, that means not only your tax filings, forms, and schedules, but also all of the supporting documentation: receipts, 1099 forms, spreadsheets, QuickBooks reports, e-mails that pertain to the taxes, and anything that would be necessary to defend deductions or interpretations, most especially any communications from the IRS. In this area, it’s better to err on the side of caution; if you’re not certain you need to keep it, you should probably keep it in the file.

Contracts (U.S. version)

Every state in the U S has regulations that define certain types of records which businesses must keep, even self-employed businesses like writers. As long as you as a writer are a one-person shop, most of them won’t be an issue. If you get to the point, however, where you are paying people to perform business functions for you (accountant, secretary, researcher, etc.) then you need to educate yourself on what your state requires.

There is one type of business record retention about which even the one-person writer shop needs to know, and that is your contracts and agreements. Almost every publishing contract between an author and a publisher or a publishing platform will contain a clause that says that in the event of disagreement between the parties, the contract is to be interpreted under the laws of a certain state. Most of the traditional publishing contracts indicate they will be interpreted under the laws of New York.

Obviously you want to keep the contract or agreement as long as it is active; in other words, as long as there are obligations between you and the other party which must be observed or performed.

But at such point in time as the contract has basically terminated—all parties no longer owe anything to anyone under its provisions—what do you do with it then?

Hint: don’t throw it away.

Every state has statutes or regulations that stipulate how long such a terminated contract must be retained by the parties subject to it. Here’s the summary: if you or your publisher reside or work in Louisiana, or if the contract says it will be interpreted by the laws of Louisiana, the rule is to hold it fifteen years past termination. All the other states have settled on a term of five years.

In states other than Louisiana, the only caveat I would raise would be if the contract had provisions that dealt with finances, you should probably keep it until the last year it operated has passed its seventh year tax retention.

And finally, the contract file should contain anything that would have a bearing on the intent of the parties in drafting the agreement, as well as anything that might bear on how it should be interpreted. So yes, you may need to keep some letters or e-mails to support that contract.

In summary: be organized, back everything up to protect yourself, and manage your records.

Record Keeping, Part One: Not Sexy . . .

Contrary to popular belief, you as a writer don’t have to keep every single piece of paper or e-mail or e-documentation that comes your way. And you especially don’t have to keep it forever. However, just like any business owner out there, you need to have a good idea as to what kind of records you need to keep, and you need to have some idea as to how long they should be kept.

This gets down to the nitty-gritty, detailed, organized, obsessive, and—dare I say it—boooooriiiiing part of being a writer. Keeping your records updated, filed, and organized is a necessity; particularly in a profession that undergoes regular and sometimes heightened scrutiny from the taxing authorities, and also has to deal with contracts.

Get Organized

Yes, you absolutely need an organized filing system. No, it doesn’t need to be very complicated, as long as it’s logical. It can be totally paper based, or totally electronic, or both. But it has to exist, and you have to maintain it, or the risk of you getting into trouble really escalates.

You can go totally electronic: scan all your documents into digital memory, even your signed contracts. There is case law now that has established that a scan of a signed contract is just as valid a record of the agreement as the signed paper original which was scanned. And there are businesses out there that destroy their originals as soon as they are scanned. No drawers full of paper, no clouds of paper dust. But there are also disadvantages: you have to stay on top of the scanning and not let it pile up, or you never get it done; you have to keep your electronic files just as organized as you would the equivalent paper files; and you have to remember to back up all the files regularly. Daily, if you work frequently. Definitely every time you add, change, or delete data. More about that later.

You can go with all paper, but in the internet age, a hybrid combination of paper and electronic is more practical: keep your most important documents in paper, but go with electronic copies of correspondence, work notes, etc. But you still have to have an organization method, and you have to stay on top of the filing, both electronic and paper. And make sure the electronic records are backed up.

The big thing is to have a method, to be organized in a manner that works for you and is efficient. But make sure somebody else knows how you do things, because there are always those odd moments where you’re not at home and something needs to be found.

This is especially important when it comes to your financial records, since they will be the foundation of your tax filings. You can use an application such as QuickBooks, or you can just build all the revenue and expense records into a (relatively) simple spreadsheet. But you have to do it. And while you’re at it, whatever method you use, make sure it’s backed up frequently.

Myself, I organize everything by the writing project. Work notes, drafts, contracts, payments, mail (both e- and paper), everything except tax documentation gets put under the header of a project. I find it a simple yet convenient structure, because 99% of the time if I need to look something up, it’s the project name I’m going to be searching under. My tax forms and supporting documentation I organize by tax year.

Back It Up

And again I say, back everything up. If your house or office floods, or burns, or is robbed/vandalized, or is in hurricane country or tornado alley, and you’re in the middle of an IRS audit or a litigation about contract compliance when the disaster happens, just how valuable would that back-up file be to you?

Even if you like the paper records, there is good reason to scan all the important ones, such as your contracts, your tax returns, and all your current income and expense records. This will allow you to back them up in a cloud service such as Carbonite. If you don’t want to trust a cloud service, then at least copy the files to flash drives or an external hard drive and store them someplace else. That doesn’t mean in your bedroom closet, either. I mean someplace miles away from your location. If you or your spouse has a day job, take them there and bring the older ones back home.

In the words of the old platitude, don’t put your eggs all in one basket. Do something to mitigate the risk.

(Be sure to come back tomorrow for the conclusion!)

Post 500: Back to Basics

This is the 500th blog post on Fictorians. That’s a pretty amazing statistic, in some ways. I mean, the fact that a sizable group of disparate and diverse people scattered around the globe has hung together for years and remained focused on and dedicated to blogging about the craft and art and business of writing for this long says good things about the vision, commitment, and perseverance of the Fictorians. Kudos to my fellow Fictorians.

So, since I volunteered for this slot, I guess I’d best be about it. As it is a special post, I’m stepping outside the October theme.

What is the one indispensable trait of a writer? What one characteristic does every good writer possess?

He or she writes.

That is, after all, the first of Heinlein’s Rules for Writing:

Rule One: You Must Write.

I can hear the “Duh!” comments as you read that last statement. Yes, it’s kind of self-obvious that you can’t be a writer if you don’t write. And there have been multiple discussions that touched on that thought in the Fictorians pages over the last few years. But tonight I want to take that thought in a slightly different direction.

You may or may not have heard of a book entitled Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. You have probably heard of the premise of the book, though: it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.

Now I know that there are those who question that statement. For myself, the more I think about it, and the more I encounter other masters of various crafts and arts, the more I think it’s generally valid. But for the purposes of this post, let’s assume it’s a valid statement.

Ten thousand hours to mastery. 10,000 hours.

Have you ever applied that thought to writing—that it might take 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery over your craft?

Just how long is 10,000 hours? Well, let’s try to quantify it. If you write one hour a day, 10,000 hours would be reached in 27.397 years. Not months—years. (I was so surprised at that answer I did the calculation three times on two different calculators just to verify it. Believe it.)

Staggering, isn’t it?

And who wants to spend twenty-seven years learning how to do something? (Not me.)

So how do you shorten the time frame? Obviously, write more every day. So if you write two hours a day, you drop the required time down to not quite fourteen years. And if you write four hours a day, you’re now down inside seven years. And seven years, my friends, is a manageable number, an attainable goal.

“But that’s so long!” I hear someone mutter.

Is it? To attain your goal of being a professional writer, to reach out and grasp your life’s dream, is it really too long?

Ask Joshua Bell how many hours of practice he had before he became a famous violinist. Ask Emmanuel Ax how many hours of practice he put in before he became a world-famous pianist. Ask Paul McCartney how many hours of performing, how many concerts the Beatles played in their early years in Hamburg’s oblivion before they became an overnight success.

I can’t find a cite for this story, so it may be apocryphal, but knowing what I know about musicians, I believe that something like it happened. As I heard it, after a very well-known pianist gave a concert one evening, a girl walked up to him and said, “That was wonderful. The music was beautiful. I wish I could play like you do.” To which the pianist, after looking at her for a moment, replied with, “No, what you wish is that you could play like I do, without having to practice like I do.”

There is no substitute for practice. There is no substitute for learning the craft, for drilling it into your head and your hands until it evolves into mastery.

Rule One: You Must Write.

Everything else comes after that.