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Giving It The Business

After the last six months, I can make anything sound dirty!

But in this case, I’m talking about writing as a business.

Artsy types are at a decided disadvantage when it comes to making a go of professional writing. Too bad a writer is often by definition an artsy type. I have nothing but admiration for writers who bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and still declare allowable expenses and equipment depreciation, possibly while wearing kicky heels and an A-line skirt. I, sadly, am not one of those people.

The only way for a writer like me to cope with the business end of things is to write it all down. Here’s what I do.

I have a spreadsheet. Nothing fancy. The software packages you can buy to “aid your writing career” frighten and confuse me. I am a simple woman, really.

Tab One: Non-fiction. Tab Two: Fiction. Tab Three: Expenses.

The third one is where I write down every single thing on which I drop cash that relates to my writing career. Copy of Writer’s Market? Printer ink? Ink pens? Paper? Website hosting fees? Light bulbs for the lamp on the desk? All into the spreadsheet. I don’t quite have the nerve to put “vanilla bean frapuccino” or “diet iced tea” on that list, but this is going to be the year where I ask the accountant about it. (Receipts go into the shoebox in the closet. Rejections and offer letters go into the box as well, because they are proof of being a working writer, and you will need it all in the event of an audit. Especially the rejections and offers, because otherwise the IRS may suspect us of being mere hobbyists – and if we don’t submit our work, they’ve got a point.) Come January, I print out two copies of the spreadsheet, tape one to the shoebox, and hand the other to my accountant along with the heap of 1099 forms.

Side note: One of the costs of doing business is understanding rights, contracts, payments schedules, and all the jargon associated with that stuff. Don’t just buy any old book on the topic. Ask a literary lawyer for advice, or check books out of the library until you find one that you understand. Then buy a copy… and record the purchase/save the receipt.

But back to my spreadsheet. The first two tabs have the same categories. Title, Market, Date Submitted, Results, Payment Received, Notes.

When I write non-fiction, I identify five markets before I send anything to anyone. Then I put the finished piece in the mail, and I keep it in the mail until it’s sold. Having five markets identified means nothing sits in my inbox for more than a day after being rejected.

Incidentally, under “Results” I log the rejections with the name of the rejecting editor if I know it, and send thank you notes if there was any feedback. The way editors bounce around, it’s the only way to know to whom you’ve spoken and on what occasions.

It’s certainly interesting, comparing my NF and F spreadsheet tabs. My non-fiction has long since gotten to the point where I sell my work to the first market on the list. I don’t even send out much, since most of my work is solicited. But with fiction, I’m back in 1999.

Also, with fiction, I don’t know if my “identify five markets” trick is going to work. Call me when I sell something.

I will say that this spreadsheet helped me sell a lot of somethings when I started writing. If you don’t treat writing as your job, you aren’t ever going to get paid like it’s your job. I’m switching “careers,” but I can’t help but think that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. And while I can’t make sauce in kicky heels and a skirt, I’m doing okay in my slippers and jeans.

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