Being an aspiring and even a published author is not nearly as lucrative as you had hoped. It takes time and investment, mostly yours, to build a fan base and promote your name and your work. While you are busy planning, promoting and writing, you may have overlooked one very important money making opportunity. Every year, people throw millions away because they just don’t know any better. And who are they paying? Uncle Sam. That’s right, knowing the tax rules and how to take advantage them can save you a bundle of money. And that is money that you can re-invest to jump start that writing career of yours! What should you be doing to save everything possible each year related to your writing activities? I’m glad you asked.
Business or hobby
Is your writing a business or a hobby? That is the first question that you need to answer. If you are like many people who are aspiring to write for a living, you have a full-time or part-time job that must be maintained until the money begins to roll in from writing. Your writing activities produce little income, but the expense side of the ledger is often full of entries. The result is that your writing activities are costing you money, sometimes lots of money. Is there any way to make that red ink work for you? There certainly is, and here’s the key: If you are actively pursuing your writing as a business and expect (eventually) to make a profit, then the net of all that red ink can be used to reduce the money that you earn from your day job. For example, if you earn $40,000 from your “regular” job and you spend a net of $3,000 promoting and pursuing your writing activities, then you would be able to net the two amounts and pay taxes on only $37,000. In effect, you can fund your writing activities with before-tax dollars, reducing your overall tax bill to Uncle Sam. You don’t need to itemize your deductions to take advantage of this opportunity. This reduces your income before you get to your itemized deductions. The key is that you are engaging in a business with the intent to make a profit. Actually making a profit is not required.
If you are writing on a more casual basis, for enjoyment and fulfillment, and you do not expect to earn a profit, the IRS will view your writing activities as a hobby. In that case the losses that you suffer from your writing activities (the net red ink) can not be deducted against other items on your tax return.
Business expenses are deductible against other income you make, hobby costs are deductible only to the extent of the income you make from the activity.
So, you know that you are pursuing your writing dream with every intention that one day you will be a successful and money-making author. How do you show the IRS?
My next article will focus on ways to distinguish between carrying on a business and pursuing a hobby.