Winding Up 2020

Pexel photo by Karolina Grabowska

If you’re not an accountant and would much rather write or clean out your closets than tackle recordkeeping for your writing biz, I understand. Having been raised by a bookkeeper whose father was an accountant, and with three CPAs in my immediate family, numbers are definitely a thing in our household, though. Oddly, I’m the one who balances the checkbook in our house, but I don’t mind.

I keep records for my writing business without using any particular program, although I will if the business grows. Right now, income and expenses are few enough to simply record on an Excel spreadsheet. My family takes care of the tax filing and calculating the deductions I’m allowed from working out of my home office. My part is to simply enter expenses and income as they appear.

It isn’t always that straightforward, given that bookstores and some of Draft2Digital’s vendors have a lag time between making a sale and reporting it to the author, as do publishers. In the old days, I used to wrap my bookkeeping up on December 31st, but it now occurs the last week of January.

Crunching the numbers is the best way to take stock and compare net profit with the previous year’s income, and to make budgetary decisions for the year ahead. I wasn’t expecting much for 2020 because my usual craft fair events were cancelled. The book promotion sites, especially BookBub boosted ebook sales to the point where I sold more books than last year than ever before, although 90% of them were ebooks and therefore a fraction of the price of my print books. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that my net profit for 2020 was up a little bit compared to 2019. The reason is that my expenses were cut in half because I didn’t have to spend big bucks on craft fair fees and the insurance coverage that some fair organizers require.

Hopefully, the craft fairs will be back this year. I’ve already received one application from a fair planning to return in November. I can’t wait to see how this year unfolds. How about you? Was your 2020 better, worse, or the same as the previous year? Do you plan to try something new to sell books this year?

Where to Spend, or Not Spend, on Your Author Biz

Photo from Pexels

At this time of year, I always calculate how much money I’ll need to maintain and expand my writing business. Having grown up relatively poor, budgeting has been a way of life since childhood. The accountants in my family keep me on track, so financial accountability is part of normal life.

I record writing income and expenses on an Excel sheet pretty much once a week, but I don’t create a new spreadsheet of anticipated expenses for the upcoming year, though I probably should. When it comes to annual fees for professional memberships, websites, promotion services, etc. I simply refer to previous years to know what I’ll need.

They say you have to spend money to make money. When it comes to book production, this is quite true unless you’re traditionally published. So, it’s always a challenge to see if anticipated income will be enough to hire the editor and jacket designer I’ll need. As many of you know, production costs can add up, especially if you intend to sell print copies at various events. The question is, how likely will it be to make that money back in a relatively short timeframe, and what is a short timeframe anyway?

To boost sales income, I’ve tried half a dozen promotion (aka book deal) sites with mixed results. Last June was more profitable than the fall, although each event helped get the word out about my books. Still, I’ll be reflecting on how much to spend this coming year. I’ve also pondered Amazon, Facebook, BookBub ads, which can be highly profitable or extremely costly, depending on a number of factors. Based on what I’ve learned so far, you need to know what you’re doing.

A recent post from Writer Beware also got me thinking about money. The piece made it clear that the number of scammers is growing and they’re becoming more clever about targeting authors, both traditionally and self-published. I recommend reading their most recent blog and, as mentioned before, using their site as a resource when you’re approached by someone or a company you’re not sure about. You can find the blog HERE.

To me, financial health is as important as physical and mental health. This year, I’m excited to see if I can build my business while still spending prudently. It should be an interesting experiment.

Staying on Top of the Writing Biz

Author CaptionWriters 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.