by John Peragine
The world seems to have changed overnight. Coronavirus has swept over the world, and humans have been forced into the safety of their own homes.
For writers, it can seem like any other day. We often spend our days isolated in a room, typing, and asking others to give us space and time to do our craft. Sounds like a writers dream.
Except writers can be perverse.
If you are like me, you really don't want to do something until someone tells you that you can't. I can't go out. I can't hang with people. I can't even touch my face!
As the world waits to see what happens with the pandemic, many people who always thought about writing, but always made the excuse they did not have enough time, are picking up their pens. There are so many words coming into being right now: poetry, short fiction, novels.
Writing can be a very therapeutic way to pass the time.
While we sit and toil over our notebooks and keyboards, the world of books is changing. They way we publish, print, and distribute is having a major shift. For many writers, this is a very exciting time, but for others it is a little scary. The business is changing, and it my prediction that some of those shifts will last well beyond the pandemic.
What will change?
In the world of traditional publishing there are a number of changes. Some these changes began occurring prior to the pandemic such as the sale of Simon and Schuster. The big publishing houses are condensing, as Penguin and Random House have already merged.
Advances over the years have shrunk. Publishing deals now require that authors be more and more responsible for sales and marketing. Amazon has become the dominant force in book sales. All these items are related.
During the pandemic, publishing houses, big and small, have paused. Book deals have frozen, and book launches have been delayed. Scores of authors are unsure of what to do and how to proceed. (Don't worry there is more good news than bad).
Agents have become creative, and are shifting to editing, webinars and creating videos about book writing.
So is this a good time to pitch a book?
Some agents want to be ready when the ice thaws and business begins to ramp up again, and are taking this time to get book proposals ready. Others, who rely heavily on the sales of books to publishers, are going out of business.
If you are seeking an agent, check their website! A number of them post whether they are taking queries at this time.
There is talk that there will be a lot a babies born this coming December. This is also true of books. I would imagine the number of books about surviving a pandemic will be a like a tidal wave in the market.
Distribution and Printing
Many printers and distribution channels are drying up during the pandemic. Many authors with hybrid publishers are growing frustrated, as communication has dropped off and they are left adrift and unsure of their future.
Books are low on Amazon's shipping priority list, especially now. People are not getting books, and worse, many of the books have printing and binding issues. For authors trying to release their books, a shipping time of two or more weeks can be a nightmare.
Authors are adapting in surprising ways.
The mindset is shifting. Rather than work through distribution channels, like Amazon or a bookstore, authors are moving to a direct-to-consumer marketing approach. They are connecting with readers and selling directly, often through print-on-demand services and distributors like Ingram Spark. These avenues assure on-time, and allow authors to achieve more control of the process, rather than relying on someone else to do it for them.
Authors are utilizing new technology to connect with other writers, editors, readers, publishers and more. Writing conferences are on hold for the foreseeable future and so authors are trying new ways to connect.
For exaple, I have begun a Friday Night Cocktail party using Zoom. It allows me an outlet to speak to other writers, readers and industry professionals. People come and go, meet new people and chat. Not only is it fun and relaxing but it helps me build my network from home. It is not a total replacement for connecting to with people in person, but it does create an added way of networking.
An Exciting Time
There is a lot of loss and uncertainty in the world now, but it will eventually pass. But the publishing world will never be the same. I look forward to the inevitable shift. New technology, new marketing and selling strategies, new themes in books. We're all together in this new world of writing. Keep your heads up!
What changes do you expect to see? What changes have you noticed already? Have any of your important publishing dates changed?
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John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine Enthusiast, Grapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMakermagazine, and Writer's Digest.
John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, Max and the Spice Pirates, will be released in Summer 2020.
by Karen DeBonis
When I became serious about finishing my memoir, I also became serious about writing and submitting essays for publication as a means to build my credentials. My rational brain understood that competition was tough. My irrational heart did a poor job of managing its expectations. I received no after no, and each one stung.
I knew a rejection didn't always imply my writing was bad. Perhaps the piece was a poor fit for a publication or an editor, or the topic was redundant, or other submissions were incrementally more literary or moving or clear or relevant.
The Early Years
I submitted material that, at the time, felt worthy of The New Yorker. But when I reread my rejected pieces, they seemed better suited for the compost bin. Seriously? I thought that was good? Finally I did what a successful writer must do. I asked for (and paid for) feedback. I opened my mind to editorial critiques. I built my skills and thickened my skin to the sting of rejection.
Still, it’s one thing to have an essay rejected, and another thing entirely to have my memoir—my baby, my life’s work, my life story, all that drama—turned down. I needed to be prepared.
Readying for the Big Leagues
Last fall, after twenty years, my memoir was finally completed. It was time to query literary agents.
I took a pitch-writing class, read dozens of successful query letters, watched scores of YouTube videos, and paid for two rounds of edits on my letter. I’d compiled a short list of agents, culled from the acknowledgements pages of similar memoirs. Social media searches provided additional leads, as well as QueryTracker.net, PublishersMarketplace.com, and ManuscriptWishlist.com.
Reviewing the Stats
I rated my seventy targeted agents according to how well my project fit their interests. For example, an agent at the top of my list represented an author with a book forthcoming about shamans. So in my query letter, I referred to the freaky shamanic experience that happened to me the day my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
A second agent indicated she wasn’t interested in “me-moirs,” so I explained how my people-pleasing theme was neither “me-moir” nor “mom-oir.” Another agent wrote of her fondness for gaining new perspectives, so I described how my story would enlighten her, as well as readers, about the destructive nature of compulsive agreeableness.
You get the point.
Checking the Scoreboard
Following recommendations from experienced writers, I batched my queries and sent customized emails to five agents over three days in February. I promise I didn’t check my in-box more often than every five minutes for the first twenty-four hours.
Less than a day after my fifth query, I received my first rejection via generic email reply. I was neither surprised nor discouraged. But I realized I’d better prepare for the onslaught.
How can I reduce the sting? Some writers wallpaper a room with rejections, but I had no room or wall to sacrifice. And I wanted to take my rejection-management plan a step further: How could I make it fun?
Making My Own Trophies
Have you ever had an answer come to you before you’d barely finished asking the question? As soon as fun came to mind, so did origami. Indulging another side of my creative spirit seemed intoxicating. I hadn’t tried those intricate folds since I was a kid, and some people would describe the process as more frustrating than fun, but I wanted to give it a shot.
I found this video and immediately bought some brightly colored paper. (Note: It's very detailed, so I've summarized a bit below.)
Here’s my first rose:
I've since made my second rejection rose, and here are three tips:
- Square-off your 8.5 X 11 paper by folding the top edge and cutting off the excess.
- Start with your paper print-side down if you want the text to show on your finished rose (I didn't do this with my first one.)
- Follow the video steps exactly. When she flips the paper over, flip yours. When she turns it ninety degrees, turn yours. It matters!
I even made a video of the finished product for you. Front and back.
I thought I’d have a vaseful of roses by now, but three of the agents haven’t replied yet. Probably they’re just not that into me and my project. The din of crickets is rejection of another sort, and maybe when the noise gets deafening, I’ll find some kind of loves me, loves me not daisy origami.
Until then, I’ll grow my red bouquet. I just sent another batch of queries, so by the time you read this, my single bloom will hopefully have company. When life gives you thorns, make roses!
What about you? Do you have a creative way to handle rejection?
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Karen began writing twenty years ago after her eleven-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Those early pages are now a real-life medical mystery about a mother who must overcome her toxic agreeability if she's to save herself and her son. The manuscript is currently in submission for publication.
A happy empty-nester with her husband of thirty-seven years, Karen lives and writes in upstate New York. You can find out more about her journey at www.KarenDeBonis.com.
by Jenny Hansen
"You can't deduct a hobby." Many creatives hear these words from their accountants, especially if they don't keep the proper paperwork. You can trust me on this. First, because I am terrible at paperwork and secondly, because I work with dozens of CPAs. (They totally say this.)
If you do nothing else for yourself as a writer-preneur, find a partner-in-crime who keeps good paperwork or learn to do it better yourself. (I married my paperwork savant. He's amazeballs at paper.)
What about taxes?
Despite the horrors of this pandemic, there are positive notes on the tax front this year, and things are changing rapidly as laws like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act come out of Washington.
[Click here for a comprehensive summary of the CARES Act in English. I promise it's in English and not accounting-ese. I wrote the article.]
Why am I posting this in April, you ask? Because, while some writers have already filed their taxes (very few), most of you will wait until the final moments.
I almost hate to share this with the procrastinators...
Coronavirus has extended the tax deadline in the U.S.
- The IRS has extended deadlines for tax filing and tax payments by 90 days. The filing deadline for tax returns and tax payments is July 15, 2020.
- Quarterly estimated payments due on April 15 can be paid July 15 without penalty or interest.
- The second quarter estimated payment deadline was extended from June 15 to July 15.
- Alas, property tax payments are still due on their regular due dates.
Additionally, IRS tax payment dates have been deferred. This is great news for people who are reeling financially from the coronavirus fallout.
- Individuals can now defer tax payments for 90 days after the original due date, no minimum amount.
- Corporations can defer tax payments for 90 days after the original due date, no minimum amount.
If you are a California resident, the CARES Act article includes the FTB extensions. There is also a handy link to calculate the amount of the tax credit check (aka stimulus check) you'll be receiving from the government.
Here is an article breaking down the state-by-state financial and legal actions taken in response to the pandemic. There is an easy-to-use index to see what legislation your state has enacted, and what is pending.
p.s. If you're in California, be sure to ask them about AB5. (It's a new law that impedes creative freelancers, but in the wake of this pandemic strong enforcement isn't expected this tax season.)
Vital questions to ask yourself at tax time
Since the Tax Cuts Jobs Act (TCJA) was signed into law a few years back, it’s become more important than ever to establish that a money-losing activity (Ex: writing) is actually a for-profit business that has simply not yet become profitable.
I promise you can do this. Probably even without tears!
We're back to this pesky question...
Is Writing a Business or a Hobby?
Answering this question is one of the most important things you can decide for yourself as an author. If your writing is a business, you can write off your expenses; if it's a hobby you cannot.
Where do you start?
Do a quick "Safe Harbor" check.
The IRS's Safe-Harbor Rule is how they determine whether you can write off the expenses of your beloved hobby. The rule says to be a "for-profit business, you must produce a positive income for at least three out of every five years."
Don't despair if you don't pass this test. There are still options if you want to "be a business." And there's nothing at all wrong with having the IRS see your writing as a hobby if you can afford to absorb those costs yourself.
Best tactic: Diversify.
Don't put all your eggs in one writing basket. Teach a class, get a paying blog gig, or speak at a writers' meeting for pay. Set your writer self up as a business and add several income buckets to that business. Perhaps your website audits will offset your self-publishing costs. Perhaps it will be the classes you teach instead, or the manuscripts you edit. You know what your superpowers are.
There is zero reason that every writing dollar must be from your books. In fact, most authors say it takes them many years to make any net profit from their books. Income from those side gigs will help you continue to write off the expense of your writing until it makes money.
I couldn't afford to pay for my writing without putting my website, copywriting and training buckets under my Jenny Hansen umbrella. In a perfect world, the side gigs will improve your writing and vice-versa.
Other valid tactic: Show "intent" to make a profit.
It sounds so childlike, doesn't it? I was gonna clean my room, Mr. Tax Agent. But "intent" is a real thing with the tax people.
Even if you don't pass the safe-harbor rule, you might still be able to slide along as a for-profit business that can deduct those expenses. There are things that indicate you have an honest intent to make a profit.
7 Characteristics that show "intent to make a profit"
- You keep good records and search out ways to make a profit.
- You demonstrate writing expertise or hire advisers who do. (Editors!)
- You spend enough time to justify that the activity is a business and not just a hobby. ("Butt in chair" is a necessary concept to your status as a business. BIC HOK!)
- You can demonstrate an expectation that the value of your books (aka sales) will increase. (Ads, swag, website, marketing campaigns - all visible expectations of sales.)
- You can show success in other ventures. (This is why I asked about your superpower.)
- A history of profits and losses that show a long term "up and down" with your books actually helps the tax people believe you. It's okay with them if you have a best seller, then crickets, then some okay books because there is a history of a demonstrable profit.
- The poorer you are, the more the tax people will believe you are serious about this writing business. Their logic is that “rich” folks can afford ongoing losses (hobby) while ordinary folks need to make a living (business).
Finally, unless you keep good records and file a simple tax form with no deductions, I highly recommend you engage a qualified accountant. I am absolutely not an accountant. However, if you have big questions, I can ask my CPA pals.
Do you get nervous at tax time? Have you found a paperwork savant? Do you have a non-writing superpower? Tell us about it in the comments!
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By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
- Calculator (top): Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
- Piggy bank: Image by Brett Hondow from Pixabay
March was a hard month with coronavirus, quarantines, self-isolation and school closures. A lot of people are understandably stressed out. But people are starting to rally. Home-baked goods, family time, long-delayed projects and a renewed interest in goals are creep up in all the feeds. That means it's time to celebrate Spring with a little "Pimp and Promote!"
Warning: This means the height of our "to be read piles" is going to climb because we have to go find those shiny new stories and wallow in them.
Jenny Note: Thank God for e-readers and the ability to check books out online. Overdrive is my friend. Plus many used book stores are doing free and cheap shipping. (Score!) I can't wait to see what y'all recommend down in the comments.
How does Pimp & Promote work?
To quote the genie in Aladdin, “There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos…"
- Pimp out somebody else’s work – this can be a favorite author, blogger, post or book you’ve read, a wonderful teacher or just someone who had profound influence on you as a writer or a person. Please limit your comments to one work.
- Promote one of your projects that you’re excited about – a hobby, a blog, a book, or a new direction your writing is taking you. You decide. Just tell us about it in the comments! (Please restrain your enthusiasm to just one of your WIPs.) The rest of us will jump in and “ooooh and ahh” at you, and likely promote your project even further because we’re just so darn excited today.
We'll start things off by honoring (read "pimping") our pal, Julie Glover, who just stepped back from hosting this glorious blog. She'll be a contributor and a visitor, but will be focusing more on publishing her wonderful books.
If you loved Sharing Hunter as much as we did, her next YA novel is almost here! Daring Charlotte is available for pre-order and will be ready for you to read in June. WOO! Here's a quick description:
What dare would you take to fulfill a dream?
High school drama geek Charlotte Romero loves the stage, but not her stage fright. Instead, she works theater tech and dreams of one day seeing a show on Broadway.
When her teacher announces a drama class trip to New York, the price is way too high for her cash-poor family. But not for drama queen Deedra, a rich classmate offering $5,000 to the student who best completes her dozen dares.
Charlotte pushes past her performance anxiety and enters the contest. Soon, she’s got an unwanted spotlight, a crush on a competitor, and increasing panic that she can’t possibly win the prize.
From award-winning author, Julie Glover, another YA novel with a quirky premise, lighthearted humor, emotional depth, and memorable characters.
For my promote, I choose WITS (aka Writers In the Storm). For ten years, WITS has been giving back to writers. We've only gone through a few changes in all that time, and it's time for another one.
I'm working on a new site design as we speak: new colors, new photos, new logo and a bit more sunshine to our look. Sometime in the next month, you'll open a post and things will look different. I hope you'll like it.
The content will still be thought-provoking, and all of us who love this place will still be around. We hope you keep visiting with us, and sharing us with your friends, for ten more years!
Stay healthy, y'all...
Jenny and the WITS Crew
Today is the day I'm supposed to publish a "Farewell, y'all!" message, as I'm stepping away from the Writers in the Storm hosting team after March.
I started writing my So Long and Thanks for All the Fish post a while ago, and then COVID-19 swept across the planet. I kept working on the post, trying to revamp it to include some quarantine-worthy takeaways. But then, my grown son came down with a fever and a cough, and next thing I knew I was sitting here on tenterhooks waiting for his Coronavirus test results.
Spoiler alert: Test was negative.
While waiting, I had this low hum of anxiety (and ditched that draft post). Not that we were all that worried about a young, healthy twenty-something having this virus—statistics show he's not at high risk—but the idea that he could have passed it on to others was disconcerting.
Yep, it wasn't the idea of him having the virus as much as concern that it could spread.
Some things are contagious.
Many of us are stuck at home or working more hours to stop the spread of Coronavirus, a disease with a transmission rate of 2-3, meaning each carrier infects two to three persons. (For comparison, the flu's transmission rate is about 1.3.)
But when we look up the word contagious, disease is not its only meaning. Yes, that's the first one listed, but look at the second meaning.
And that's where I want to focus today. So many other things can be contagious: positive feelings, happiness, smiling, laughter, success.
What are you exposed to?
It matters what we expose ourselves to. Research has shown a number of problematic things are contagious: negative thinking, loneliness, itching, stress, and workplace rudeness, to name a few.
Among the positives are those named before—good feelings, happiness, smiling, laughter, and success—as well as weight loss, risk-taking, and a desire for new shoes. Yes, I'm counting that last one as a positive—do not challenge me!
Another contagious trait? Generosity.
Research has established that generosity can spread from one to another.
In a 2010 study, participants were given the opportunity to contribute money to others. Those who'd received money were more likely to later give than others who had not received generosity from others, by a magnitude of three times. A 2016 study showed that even watching others make generous donations encourages participants to donate more.
Perhaps my favorite is a study from 2008 in which a "a single person acting as a 'consistent contributor'—someone who chooses to be generous all the time, regardless of other people’s choices— causes other people in a group to be more generous and cooperative."
I've seen this happen again and again in the writer community. Someone begins, and a contagion of generosity erupts!
Writers in the Storm is a generous place.
One of the reasons I agreed to help host Writers in the Storm was the generosity displayed here. Laura Drake, Jenny Hansen, and Fae Rowen have been professionally and personally some of the most generous writers I know, and working with them was a pleasure.
In addition, authors from various backgrounds guest blog and provide free writing advice. That's generosity right there.
Do they make some book sales? We certainly hope so! But most of our bloggers don't do it for that reason; they do it because generosity is contagious. They benefited from the kindness of others, and they pay it forward.
Let's be generous with each other.
In the midst of self-isolation, quarantine, global pandemic, apocalypse—whatever you want to call this—we can take advantage of the generosity of writers. Many already had resources available for free or have offered books or courses at discounted prices or for free.
For example, this past week I binged quite a few of Becca Syme's free Quitcast videos.
This is a great time to back through Writers in the Storm posts, in which many, many writers have shared free writing advice.
And I noticed that Audible is offering over 200 stories for free, without a trial or subscription.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg! Writers are a generous bunch, cheering one another on and up in so many ways.
Today I invite you to share in the comments any free or discounted resources you know of that writers can take advantage of during this time. Let's spread our generosity far and wide!
Photo credit: Anemone123-2637160R
Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart® and is now on sale! When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.