Writers who are as serious about selling their books as they are about writing them know all too well that one’s writing life quickly becomes a business. Aside from arranging events, blog tours, social media shout-outs, and so on, there’s the actually selling of books and record keeping that accompanies it, or at least it should.
If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will track your sales, but if you’re self-published, well, that’s on you. Keeping track of income and expenses is an important part of the writing biz. Here in Canada, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to know about every dollar you earn from writing and every dollar you declare as an expense.
Since I’m not an accountant and therefore unqualified to give technical advice, I’m offering only two general tips that come from twenty-five years of selling my books through gift shops, bookstores, craft fairs, and writers’ events.
The first is stay on top of your bookkeeping. If you’re self-publishing multiple titles and selling at numerous events, then it’s important to know which title sold where and for how much. Bookkeeping tasks can mount up fast, especially during the Christmas season, so I find it best to record my sales on a spreadsheet right after every event.
It’s also important to note any expenses you wish to declare for each event. There are a number of online accounting packages like QuickBooks to help you out, but if you only have a couple of titles and know how to use Excel then that will at least keep you from frantically rummaging through shoeboxes of mangled receipts every April.
Here’s where my second piece of advice comes in, and this is probably stating the obvious, but if you’re selling books through your own website and accepting different forms of payment from different countries with different taxation requirements, then consider hiring an accountant. The same advice applies even if you’re not, but are having trouble figuring out what is a legitimate expense and what isn’t.
I’m lucky to have three accountants in my family, but if I didn’t I’d definitely hire one. It might seem pricey, but a professional can help you set up an efficient recordkeeping system and possibly save you thousands of dollars over the long haul.
Even if you have only one book out, it’s still a good idea to keep track of how many copies you sold, when, where, and for how much. These stats alone will help you figure out which events are viable, and if your books are appealing to the right demographic. Trust me, demographics vary from community to community.
When it comes to the business of selling books, there’s a lot to think. Do you need a GST number? Should you form an incorporated business? If those questions make your head spin, I totally get it. If you’re procrastinating with overflowing shoeboxes on a shelf somewhere, you know who to call.