Thursday, February 28, 2013

WANACon: The Worldwide Writing Conference

Last weekend I attended the first-ever WANACon - an interactive global conference for writers based solely online. Yup, you heard me right. The conference was fully online with a virtual classroom complete with audio, video, and chat capabilities - all that were used to maximum capacity. There was even a lobby where attendees could hang out in between seminars and chat.

WANA founder Kristen Lamb, her team at WANA International, and TechSurgeons (the genius behind all the technology) led the charge in this new and innovative approach at writing conference where you could simply log in from the comfort of your home and listen to top-notch presenters such as New York Times Bestselling author Allison Brennan, bestselling author Candace Havens, and the social media Jedi herself, Kristen Lamb.

You could even pitch to an agent while dressed in your pajamas, wearing a leopard-print slippers, and listening to "Eye of the Tiger" at your desk (and yes that's exactly what I did, music and all).

There were no plane tickets to purchase, no convention centers to drive to, no hotel room costs. No downfalls whatsoever, and the only cost involved was the conference fee itself, which, let me just say was completely affordable and was well worth spending on the first day alone - much less the next day and half's worth of seminars. :)

I ended up getting very sick on the 2nd night thanks to the dinner we ordered (for the record, food poisoning sucks!), but it was okay because I was still able to listen via conference phone. If that had happened at any other conference, I would've a) been totally embarrassed if the illness had happened in front of the attendees vs. the privacy of my own office, and b) wouldn't have even been able to stick around and listen to the last presenter of the night <-- Which was publishing attorney Susan Spann, and she was incredible!

Still though, as sick as I was I couldn't really take notes. So what did the fantastic moderator, Jami Gold, do? She put the word out to the other attendees requesting they share their notes from the presentation I missed - along with any other notes they'd like to share from the entire conference. How kind and thoughtful is that?

I haven't been as involved in the WANA Tribe/Community as I'd like to be lately, and that's mostly due to the revision hole I've dug myself into lately. But this conference, all of the amazing attendees, Kristen Lamb, the act of kindness by Jami and the attendees willingness to help another writer out when she was ill - all of it served as a reminder as to why I love the writing community as much as I do, why I love, love, love being on Twitter to connect with fellow artists, and why I absolutely should take the time out to continue to put myself out into the digital world more

WANACon is innovative, informative, exciting, fun, one-of-a-kind, and something I'd gladly do again and again. :)

But don't just take my word for it. Check out the Storify stories Jami Gold put together that captures what WANACon attendees and WANACon presenters thought of the conference. And here's another with quotes about WANACon from the blogosphere. If you're up for it, go to the WANA Int'l site and register to receive updates on the next conference. Kristen's looking at scheduling another soon - possibly in June - due to the ever-changing publishing industry and the need to keep writers informed and educated.

Your Turn: Would you attend an entirely digital writer's conference? Does the thought of attending a writer's conference in your pajamas interest you? What about the idea of learning from bestselling authors and industry professionals from the comfort of your own home? Do you think you may be interested in attended WANACon in the future?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

5 Tax Tips for Authors

Last week I talked about how meeting with my new CPA made me feel like a *real* author. So this week, I wanted to share some quick and dirty tips on how to be better prepared when the time comes to prep your taxes. Most of you may read these tips and think, "Duh, Melinda!" However, truth be told, I wanted to say the same thing to my CPA even though I was going to have go home and do a mad dash of gathering all the needed data, receipts, and values.

But first let me preface this post by saying ...

I am not a CPA. I am not a Professional Tax Preparer. And I am not an Expert on the subject.

I am simply an author who is navigating the tax laws for the first time in her career, and I want to share a bit of what I've learned this year. :)

Tip #1: Keep your receipts for anything you've purchased in relation to your writing career.

This is uber important - because the last thing you need is to claim some costs that you cannot show proof of purchase for. Especially when it comes to Uncle Sam. ;) 

Ideas for items you want to keep receipts for:
  • Pens, highlighters, paperclips, etc.
    • Any basic office materials that you use on a daily basis to get your work done with
  • 3-ring binders, notebooks, etc.
    • What do you use to store your printed MSS in?
  • USB flash/jump drives
  • Books
    • It's a good rule of thumb to keep the receipts for every book you purchase. Regardless if it's a book in your genre for market research or a craft book to hone your craft.
  • Associate and Membership fees
    • My personal examples are my RWA membership and my local chapter memberships
  • Conference and Travel Fees
    • That trip to Colorado that I took last year for Immersion Master Class? Yup, I'm expensing the cost of the class, the flight, and the hotel charges. :)
    • I plan doing an Immersion Class again this August, but this time it'll be in OH, so I'm going to make the drive from NC. And those miles are expansible for me also.
  • Computer equipment
    • Example: I bought a new laptop last month, therefore I will end up claiming part of this on my taxes for this year. :)
  • Anything that goes in your writing space/office space. This can be as simple as lightbulbs for your desk lamp to your desk, chair, a new bookshelf, etc.
*Keep in mind that all of these are simple ideas and examples. I'm not saying that you'll be able to claim all of them, but it's a good of thumb to keep track of all of these items. Your CPA or Tax Preparer will be the one to tell you what you can and should expense, and what you can't.

Tip #2: Become a good record keeper.

For authors, this should be the easiest task of all. We've already trained ourselves to be good record keepers when to characters - and their backstory - and our storylines - along with all the subplots. However, as easy as this may seem, it's hard to get in the habit of logging your records frequently ... because, ya know, if you don't do it at least once a week, the next thing you know you're gonna end up with two months' worth of receipts to record. :)

Tip #3: Create a system that works for you.

This is another incredibly important point. You'll want to find a system that will be easy for you to use, and one that you won't mind doing as often as once a week. For me that system was logging/tracking everything into an MS Excel spreadsheet. I have individual tabs set up within my spreadsheet. One for travel expenses, another for membership and conference fees, one for education fees (craft books & classes), one for books in my genre that I read for market research, one for office supply purchases, and so on, and so on, and so on. Then I have a nifty main tab that automatically adds up all those totals and summarizes the entire spreadsheet for my CPA. (Have I mentioned recently how much I love, love, love Excel??)

So find a system that'll work for you. Be it by hand, by spreadsheet, or by Word doc. Find something that'll keep you on track throughout the year.

Tip #4: Do your research on local CPAs.

When Writer-Husband and I chose our CPA, our first quest was to get a referral from the intelligent gentleman that we did our mortgage through. Our second course was to speak with any of our friends who own their own businesses and gain a referral from them, such as Writer-Husband's sister. So when it came down to making the choice, we checked out their websites, About pages and Bios, and then we had short conversations with the CPA to obtain their knowledge of tax laws as they pertain to authors. Through that process we discovered that the first one we called was incredibly knowledgeable, incredibly nice,  and overall, the woman knew her stuff.

Hmmm ... then again she could've told us there are rainbows in hell and we might've believed her. ;) Just kidding! (Not really ...)

So do your homework. Find someone who's been in the business for at least 8-10 years. And check your local state's registered CPA database as well as your local Better Business Bureau. Oh, and you might also want to make sure that they do prepare taxes. I learned that not every CPA is willing to dive into Uncle Sam's pool.

Tip #5: For goodness sakes, do your own research as well.

So earlier when I said that our CPA could've told us there are rainbows in hell? Yeah, well I was seriously joking. I had done research. Then I did more research. And more research. That's what I had to do to even make sure that we were picking the right CPA.

Take being a writer as an example. You've done your homework, you've learned the craft and you live it every day. So what if you're talking to another individual who calls themselves a writer, but yet you've noticed that you ask them for a critique, it's like they can barely put two sentences together? What does that tell you? Exactly ... they're new to the craft and they've got some learning to do. It's the same concept with CPAs. So you gotta do your own research in order to help you weed out the inexperienced in tax laws for authors.

I suggest going straight to Google. When I Google "tax tips for writers & authors", the following are the first 5 sites that pop up:

So there you have it. The tips I have to offer as an author navigating business tax filing for the first time. Again, I am not a CPA, nor a Tax Preparer, nor a professional in the tax industry. So please do not take my words to the bank. :)

What about you? What other tips do you have to offer authors regarding taxes? Anything I missed? Do you have a personal experience of your own that you've learned from and would like to share?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Tax Time Makes Me Feel Like a *Real* Author

Last night, the hubs and I met with a CPA for the first time. Ever. And I have to say, this CPA made me feel more like an author than I ever had before. :)

At first we had gotten the referral to my CPA because we bought a house in December. But then I thought about my writing expenses for 2012. I took 4 online Lawson's Writing Academy courses, traveled to Colorado for an Immersion Master Class, bought tons of craft writing, books, and on, and on, and on we go. Still though, we thought, and thought, and thought about whether or not to start filing those expenses.

Questions start going through mind like, "Is it worth going ahead and claiming those expenses? Will the IRS tie me a particular timeline? As in, if I don't get a publishing contract within the next few years, will they throw me in jail for these expenses?" *bites nails and shudders*

The answers are: Yes, it is worth claiming those expenses from this journey to publication! And no, the IRS isn't going to throw me in jail if I don't start showing a profit within the next few years! WOO HOO! Can't tell you how much better I feel now that I know that. Whew!

So this post is my plea to all writers out there: No matter where you are in your writing journey, if you're serious about writing - as in you will be published, and nobody's gonna hold you down from your publishing dreams - then do your homework and meet with a CPA in your area!

I never imagined that there would be a CPA in my area who would know the tax laws for authors inside and out. And why in the world would I've even though that? I mean, I know my insurance/healthcare/analytic stuff for my dayjob, and I take severe pride in it, so why wouldn't anyone else, right? Duh! So yeah, I was a bit naïve in thinking that this lady may not know everything, so I was wary going into the appointment, and had ensured that I'd done my homework so that I wouldn't look like a total idiot. :)

But when I left, I held my shoulders back, my chest high, and it was like a chorus of angels were singing "Hallelujah!" in the background.

For the last year I've been calling myself an author. I've spent time, money, blood, sweat and tears on this dream. So yeah, I'm an author. And I don't have to published to call myself that either. Because it's the attitude and the hard work that define me. But never, I'm telling you never, have I ever felt more like an author as when I walked out of that office. Okay, I digress...I always feel like an awesome writer when I get kudos within the comments from my Beta Readers. :)

This lady told me straight up (and I'm paraphrasing here): "Are you spending money on this serious, professional venture? Are you educating yourself to become a better, stronger, more competitive writer, and spending the money to do so? Then yes, you're an author, you fall under that category (vs. claiming writing as a 'hobby'), and you should begin filing now."

So, again, whether you're just starting on this journey to publication, or if you've been on it for a while, seriously consider taking the time and spending the money on a CPA. Navigating the tax laws of our country is never any fun. And come on, can you honestly say that you've been able to read all those laws, rules and regulations and fully understand them? Can you stake a possible audit on it?

Me neither. Which is I went for help, and I was pleasantly surprised and delighted with the guidance, advice, and results of the consultation.

Your turn: Do you have a CPA or Accountant prepare your tax return? If so, what made you take that route? If not, why? Are you not ready to take that leap? Or are you not where you feel you need to be to start telling the IRS that you're an author? Please share! Times like these are when the advice is needed and welcomed from our writing community. :)

Stay tuned because next week I'm going to post a list of items that my CPA advised as tax-deductible for an author.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Love, Music, and John Lennon

Today I’m over at Yelena Casale’s blog talking about the music that inspires the muse. The post even comes with mini playlists for high emotional scenes, and YouTube links to each song so you can listen before purchasing the tunes. Please head over, visit with me and Yelena, and share some of your favorite muse-inspiring music. :) 

When Yelena asked me to do a guest post on her blog, I honestly wasn’t sure what I’d talk about. The craft? Yes, I could’ve written about that. But when I really sat and thought about what I really, really would rather share with others, what's in my heart and what's been there since the day I was born, I got my answer in a ring tone on my phone when my hubby called: Everything by Lifehouse.
The hubs and I didn't go with any traditional wedding songs. Our family was seated to What a Wonderful World by Louie Armstrong, the entire wedding party - and me - walked into Everything by Lifehouse, and after we sealed our marriage with a kiss, we walked away from the alter to Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve.
So ... there was my answer! So simple. So perfect. So very ... me! :)
Since I was writing about music over on Yelena's blog, I decided to also write a small post about music over here, more or less to explain that choice and to share a part of my background and history and love of it.
And that brought me around to John Lennon. Because he and the rest of The Beatles are the reason why I have such a profound love of music.
I wasn’t around at the time of John Lennon’s death, but based on the articles I’ve read and the documentaries I’ve seen, John Lennon’s death represented more than the loss of a beloved man who was known around the world. More than the loss of a man who didn’t see color.
His death represented a HUGE loss to the art of musical expression. In the days following his death, thousands of people appeared outside his residence and both mourned his death, and celebrated his life, his music, and his fearlessness.
John Lennon taught the world the power of music. The power of standing up for what’s right, saying what needs to be said - no matter the consequences. The power of word choice, and how we can and should stand up for what needs to change. 
For me, personally, he taught me how to use music to tap into my subconscious and write my truth. He taught me how to love – unconditionally.
Granted, he wasn’t a perfect man. And he never claimed to be. That’s what I find so incredible about John Lennon. All he wanted was peace and love, which is part of the reason why the following moments make me think of him and his music and its influence in my life: Valentine’s Day (because it's all about l'amour), December 8th (his date of death), and whenever I hear a song with so much truth, so much emotion and heart.
So while we're enjoying Valentine's Day by sharing some one-on-one time with the ones we love, let's try to remember that that's what life's all about: loving one another.
I'd love to see you over on Yelena's blog! Remember to stop by and leave a comment if you can.
Happy Writing!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Day Dos and Don'ts - A Guide for Writers & The Ones Who Love Them

With Valentine's Day arriving this week - where the hell did the month go? - I started thinking on what would be the *perfect* Valentine's Day gift for a writer. This was both good and bad. Good because I discovered there were many items that I think would make a great gift. Bad because there are a few reminders I had to strategically place throughout the house to ensure Thursday went off without a hitch in this house. :)

So I threw all of these little notes and yes-that'd-be-perfect items and figured I'd share ... you know, just in case anyone wanted to maybe print the lists out and strategically place them in front of our spouses. ;)

Valentine's Day Dos (for the author's significant other):
  • Do buy flowers. They freshen up our writing space and urge the muse into creativity.
    • Word of caution: If your significant other's like me and has a bad habit of knack for forgetting to water the flowers, you may want to opt for some lovely, bright, fake flowers instead.
  • Do Snag Us an Awesome Candle. Like flowers, a spicy and/or exotic scent in our writing space can also do wonders for our muses. Chocolate scented candles anyone? ;)
    • For tips on the best scents to purchase for an artist, check this out.
  • Do Get Us a Gift Card. Gift cards to Barnes & Noble and Amazon are ALWAYS welcome! ALWAYS needed!
    • What? You didn't know many authors spend oodles of money at the bookstore? :) 
  • Do Get Creative with Homemade Coupons for Peaceful Writing Time.
    • I don't have kids - yet - but I know many, many authors/writers who do. So why not have the kids make a coupon book for their writerly parent?
      • Tip: Be sure to include at least 3 coupons for at least 4 hours of quiet writing time. Translation: Be prepared to take the kids for lunch and a movie for a few Saturdays. :)
Valentine's Day Don'ts (for authors):
  • Don't Plan to Write on Valentine's Night. Unless you're up against a deadline, don't make any plans to write, be on Twitter, blog, edit, or any of that other writerly stuff. Simply enjoy the night with your loved one!
  • Don't Even LOOK at a Book Until Your Date's Up. Even if it's a pleasure-reading novel, don't look at it, don't pick it up, don't start reading it until after your Valentine's night is through. If you're anything like me, then the rest of the night will be filled with you saying, "Just one more chapter, honey." :)
  • Don't Forget to Leave Your Work Worries at Work. Whether you'll be writing all day and didn't make your daily wordcount, or you'll be at the office having a stressful day because this and this and that and that went haywire, don't bring it on your Valentine's night with you. Leave it at home if you're going out, or leave it at the door if you're eating in. Find something else to talk about over dinner besides work if you can.

And that pretty much sums it up! Now I'm going to print this out and lay a few copies around the house in hopes that I'll be writing beside beautiful flowers, smelling chocolate chip cookies via candle flame, buying the next book in Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld series, and doing all of that in perfect peace while the kitties are locked up with the hubs for a few hours on Saturday.

Yup ... for authors it's dream big or go home! ;)

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
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