Tag Archives: Marie Bilodeau

The Tax Man for Canadians, Part One

Today and tomorrow’s posts are in recognition that not all of the Fictorians are American, and neither are all of our readers.  These blog posts, written in conjunction with Marie Bilodeau, are from the point of view of two Canadians.  Marie’s been claiming her writing income on her taxes for 5 years, and I’ll be doing the same this year, for the first time.   If you’re not Canadian or American, we strongly recommend you look into tax laws in your country to determine whether it is worthwhile for you to claim your writing as a small business, how to go about doing so, what types of expenditures qualify as “business expenses”, and how to claim income from your writing career.

If you’re a writer selling your fiction, then congratulations – you’re a small business.  Operating as a small business entitles you to certain exemptions at tax time that might help you to save money.   However, the law also requires you to pay taxes on your income – something which may not be deducted automatically, particularly not if your publisher is in a different country than you.

If you’ve not yet made your first sale, or if your first sale is small, it’s too early to claim writing expenses on your tax forms.  You may view your writing as a business—in fact, it’s wise if you think about yourself that way and conduct yourself professionally—but until you begin making money, the government will class your writing as a “hobby” and you will not be considered eligible for tax credits.  However, you may still be able to claim certain writing or business related courses as adult learning, or skills upgrading, depending on a variety of living factors.  An accountant will be able to advise you whether your courses are claimable.

Saving money on taxes by claiming writing expenses is great!  Where’s the downside?  The downside is that you must report all the income you earn from writing and, if necessary, pay taxes on that income.  If you receive a paper cheque, save the income slip that comes with it.  If you’re paid via paypal, print out the email that indicates you’ve received a payment.  Make certain to report ALL the money you’ve made from selling your writing to publishers.  It’s better to report too much, than not enough.  Unlike with most jobs, where tax money is taken off before you ever receive your pay cheque, in these cases, you will receive the bulk amount and be expected to save enough of it to pay for the taxes come tax time.  Keep savings in reserve for April, and then, if your tax bill comes to less than you expected, you can spend or save the remainder.

As a rough guideline, don’t expect your savings to exceed your earnings.  That means, if you make $600 of writing income in a calendar year, but your receipts entitle you to $900, you’ll only qualify for $600.  It may still be worth claiming all the receipts, though, as you’ll be able to carry your losses forward.

However, if your business loses money (you spend more than you make) continually, red flags may be raised.  Businesses are expected, eventually, to make profit; an activity that always takes money might be better classified as a hobby.  If you don’t get a big contract right away, and are spending a few years selling a short story here and a novella there, Marie and a fellow writer recommend that every 3-5 years you consider reporting a profit to prove you are a viable business—if you’re a voracious book-buyer like me, that may simply mean not claiming the vast quantities of books you buy that year as “research materials.”

Come back tomorrow for Part 2:  Receipts , Working With an Accountant and Useful Links.

Love Your Cannon Fodder

Marie Bilodeau

A guest post by Marie Bilodeau.

We live in a world of great literary traditions, including one of my time-tested favourites: cannon fodder. Ah, cannon fodder. Those secondary characters with a sole purpose, no matter whether they’re given one scene or ten, which is to show how dangerous the situation is and to up the tension.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Homer’s Iliad lately, in preparation for an oral storytelling show in June, and it struck me how Homer understood the importance of making that cannon fodder matter. And, in The Iliad, there is a lot of cannon fodder. But no one is killed without giving us an idea of who they are. Of who they leave behind, of which parent will never greet them back home again. This shows us the unrelenting and absurd horror of war, and how no one really wins. It’s effective because he makes us care about every body thudding on that battlefield in one or multiple pieces (seriously gory stuff).

So, whether you’re writing a mystery, an adventure story or even a romance, keep in mind a few tricks to make readers care about those secondary characters before they kick the graveyard dust.

  • We love those who are loved. Let us see those characters through the eyes of a character we love. In Destiny’s War, the third book in my latest series, I kill off a new character early on in the story. But he was loved by a character who had been in all three books and readers felt the loss through her (I know – I got several angry e-mails about it. Happy Angry Mail, I call it. Or HAM, because it makes me hungry and happy all at once.)
  • Never underestimate sympathy. There are many ways to relate to a character and pity is a strong emotion that can’t be underestimated. Don’t lay it on so thick that we can’t breathe through the melodrama, but imagine this:

    • Scenario 1: Joe breaks up with his beloved Kate and he’s trying really hard to get his life back together. Just as he works up the courage to ask Natasha out (she said yes!), he gets killed.
    • Scenario 2: Joe is super happy. Everything is great and he has a new kitten! He dies.
    • Scenario 3: Kate left Joe to avoid his downward spiral from his drug addiction. He checks into rehab and writes to her every day, even if she doesn’t write back. He promises he’ll do right by her, even if that means leaving her alone forever. If she doesn’t come to pick him up when he’s leaving rehab, he’ll never bother her again, even though he’ll always love her. The day before being released, still having heard no word, he’s killed.

Which scenario elicits the most sympathy from you and why? Notice how the second example is really going from a good situation to dead. The first and third showcase trying to get back out of a dark pit, which we can all relate to and it can even make us root for that character. Rooting is good – it’s shattering when people don’t get the chance to succeed at their goals after working so hard. And the third scenario is the longest, most detailed account, with all its ups and downs. But is it too high and too low for cannon fodder? Be aware of how each one affects you – they all show tools you can use in your own writing.

  • Make their quirkiness our own. Or vice versa. Agent Coulson on The Avengers was sympathetic in part because he was the fan boy, and not another blank-faced agent. He got the job done and he also had his stack of collectible cards. If Hilary Hill had died, we wouldn’t have cared as much. She was great, of course, but not quirky, and quirky is a very human trait.
  • Make us feel their loss. By giving them something we want sooooo bad, we’ll feel that loss. This goes back to the sympathy point. Ted just received his first publishing contract. It’s six figures (wow!), a great publisher, and is getting him out of a tight financial situation. Before he gets to hold that book in print, he gets hit by a drunk driver. How many of you are seeking publication? Did that resonate? Pick a backstory that will work with the people who will be reading your novel. It doesn’t have to be usual or predictable, but it has to resonate in some way with your main story, characters and readership. Ground the cannon fodder deeply in the rest of your story for maximum impact.
  • We root for the downtrodden. We like seeing the little guy win. We root for the underdog. Pick one of a gazillion Hollywood movie about sports for an example of that.

Those are just a few ideas to make those characters stand out, so that they’ll matter to your readers by the time they’re murdered in the Great Cause of Story. Even villains deserve some care with this – put shades of gray in your story to make their deaths really pop. And because you love your cannon fodder, you want their deaths to mean something to the reader.

Guest Writer Bio:
Marie Bilodeau recently launched the third book in her award-winning space opera Destiny series (Destiny’s Blood, Destiny’s Fall and Destiny’s War). She is also the author of the Heirs of a Broken Land, a fantasy trilogy described as “fresh and exciting” by Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo award-winning author of WAKE. Her short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies and have also been nominated twice for the Aurora Awards. Marie is also a professional storyteller, telling adaptations of fairy tales and myths, as well as original stories of her own creation. She’s a passionate advocate for paper airplane contests, peach desserts and caffeine consumption.

Planning a Book Launch Party

A guest post by Marie Bilodeau.

Your new book is about to be released – yay! Give yourself a pat on the back, drink your celebratory drink of choice, eat some chocolate and then start thinking about next steps: promotion. Part of that promotional package includes a book launch, and planning could make all the difference. Here are a few things to think about (I like lists):

What else is coming out or happening in your launch city? For example, Karen Dudley, who writes funny as all get out historical fantasy set in Greece is planning her next launch in Ottawa during the same week as a full retelling of The Iliad at the National Arts Centre. Weather can play havoc with a launch, too. Not much you can control on that end, but something to keep in mind for outdoor and/or winter launches.

What you want attendees to say: My, that was a lovely, perfectly timed book release at which I purchased ten copies in celebration of the perfect timing.
What you DON’T want attendees to say: I don’t know why they released their Book of Love during the Annual Ninjas Attack Day. Dude, is that a throwing star sticking out of your head?

A restaurant, bar or coffee shop can be great venues so people can get their own drinks and food (keep your budget in mind!). All the better if you can get a private room or area – reading in an active spot can be tough. Independent bookstores also make great venues. I usually go for a bar, but my books lend themselves well to that atmosphere. Don’t get a venue that’s much bigger than your lowest anticipated turnout, or it’ll feel empty.

What you want attendees to say: Wow, that author is really popular. That venue was full/bursting at the seams/Godzilla-destroyed worthy (avoid that last one when at all possible).
What you DON’T want attendees to say: I heard crickets and joined their song of despair.

If you do get a venue where you can buy/bring food, try to bring something appropriately themed. Mystery author Peggy Blair invited friends to bring a Cuban-inspired dish to go with her latest release of her Cuban-inspired mystery, The Poisoned Pawn. It definitely added flair to the event.

What you want attendees to say: That was a perfect seasoned drumstick to go with the release of When Good Chickens Attack.
What you DON’T want attendees to say: That cyanide wasn’t real, right? (Tempting for mystery authors, I know. This is why I put this example in.)

Promotional Items
At my first book launch, a friend made me these awesome coasters since it took place in a bar, and attendees loved them. Make sure to at least have bookmarks. Bookmarks are cheap and easy to share, and hopefully generate more book sales.

What you want attendees to say: Ninja stars are a wonderful accompaniment to my Book of Ninja Love.
What you DON’T want attendees to say (to their therapists): It was a book on the history of arachnophobia, and they handed us live tarantulas. TARANTULAS!! WHY!!!!

Spread the word!
Facebook Events are popular. Post the event in relevant, interested groups, as well (with permission from the moderator). Don’t forget to blog about it if you blog, and update your website (if you don’t have a website, read this post by Alice Black right now). Posters in the venue sometimes generate extra sales, and send out a well-crafted press release to local media.

What you want attendees to say: I believe I’ll attend this book launch.
What you DON’T want everyone else to say: Book launch?

You’ve found the perfect venue, timed your event, invited everyone. Now, turn toward the flow of the event. Usually there’s a reading. Get a microphone if you need one. Select a great portion of your story – you don’t have to read the first chapter. Pick a scene you love to read and that works as a hook. Practice reading before the launch. Remember to speak up, to pace yourself and to look up at your audience once in a while.

What you want attendees to say: I’m moved. I shall purchase every copy of this book, for I must share it with the world.
What you DON’T want attendees to say: WTF? Was that the end?

Get help
The worse thing that can happen at a book launch is not the lack of food or drink, it’s not the imperfect venue, nor the accidentally double-booked room. Rather, it’s a frazzled author. People can forgive things going wrong (to a certain extent). But if you’re a crappy host, they won’t forget that. Remember, these people are there to support you. So get the help you need with the details in order to ensure you can focus on what’s most important: your readers.

What you want attendees to say: The author was so charming I shall name my first child after him/her.
What you DON’T want attendees to say: I shall never again speak their name, no matter that my child is named the same. From now on, you shall be known as Child-of-Mine.

I kept the most important for last. Keep your expectations realistic. How many people do you think you can get out in your hometown? Think of the max, and then halve that number. Keep your expectations low and be surprised if numbers surpass them. Launches in other towns are tough. How well known are you? How well do your books sell there? Can a bookstore or a group of friends help with promotion? If you’re not sure, don’t overstretch. A good hometown launch will go a long way and save you monies, especially if your publisher can’t afford to send you around the country. Keep it real and adapt for the next book, since you’ll have many in your fine career.

What you want to say: I had fun. This was great. I’d do it again.
What you DON’T want attendees to say: I’m never writing another word ever again because nobody cares or eats my cheese balls.

Marie2Guest Writer Bio:
Marie Bilodeau’s space opera series, Destiny, was a two-time finalist in the Aurora Awards and won the Bronze Medal for Science-Fiction in the Foreword Book Awards. She is also the author of the Heirs of a Broken Land, a fantasy trilogy described as “fresh and exciting” by Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo award-winning author of WAKE. Her short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies and have also been nominated twice for the Aurora Awards. Marie is also a professional storyteller, telling adaptations of fairy tales and myths, as well as original stories of her own creation. She’s a passionate advocate for paper airplane contests, peach desserts and caffeine consumption.