Copyright Law (Part 2)

Most magazines are copyrighted, and their copyright doubly protects your personal copyright. Newspapers are seldom copyrighted, although syndicated columns are protected. Government publications are not copyrighted either. If you write a book, the publisher will register your copyright; but make sure they register it in your name, not the name of the publishing house.

An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: A completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee, and a nonreturnable copy or copies of work or works being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office. You can register as many of your articles, stories, and poems as you like under the same copyright, as long as all the material is sent to the Copyright Office at the same time. Also wait until you have your final editing done. If you rewrite your work at a later date, you must register it again as new document/s.

Here is the fastest and most cost-effective option for registering your copyright. Online Registration: through the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) is the preferred way to register literary works. The filing fee is $35 or $55 if you use a credit card.  See www.copyright.gov and select register a copyright. The telephone number is 888-407-9211. Beware of organizations offering to obtain a copyright for you. They will charge at least $95 for what you can do yourself.

More information will be given in next week’s blog.

Copyright Law (Part 1)

What is a copyright? A copyright is a way to protect something you create, whether writing, painting, or drawing. A copyright gives you four specific rights:

  1. Copy the work.
  2. Take excerpts to use elsewhere.
  3. Sell selected rights to the work and make money from it.
  4. Perform or display the work.

What can you copyright? Anything that is your original work: articles, poems, stories, pictures, songs, grocery lists. Anything you write down can be copyrighted except ideas, concepts, and titles. Anything regarding the expression of ideas can be copyrighted.

Since the laws were changed in 1978, you do not have to register your work with the copyright office to hold a copyright on it. Once your original material comes off your printer or pen, you own the copyright on it. If someone plagiarizes your work, however, and you want to sue him for copyright infringement, then you need to register your work with the copyright office in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

Tax Tips (Part 4)

Here is the final blog on tax tips.

If your writing expenses add up to more than your gross sales, you can claim a loss and deduct it from your declarable income—lowering your taxable income. Be careful! IRS rules state that you must show a profit after the third year. If you are audited and you failed to show a profit by the third year, the IRS can declare the whole thing a “hobby.” The hobby tax rules are different from the business ones, and you could find yourself owing taxes on back years for expenses claimed that are not allowed to be recognized because they exceed the income (i.e., no losses are allowed for a hobby). You need to be able to prove that you are running a business and attempting to make a profit. Check with your tax preparer.

If your net business income is $400 or more within one year, you must file the Form SE for your self-employment taxes. The IRS free publications on how to file these forms are excellent. The one I have found most helpful is Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Businesses. Call your IRS office at 800-829-3676 to obtain forms and pamphlets, or contact them on their website at www.irs.ustreas.gov/.

Remember!  If you are actively writing and seeking publication, you are a businessperson. Be sure to run your business accordingly with accurate records and receipts to back up your deducted expenses. Again, check with a tax preparer (enrolled agent, registered/licensed tax preparer, or CPA), the IRS, and/or your state tax agency if you have any questions.

Treating your writing as a business, taking expenses you are entitled to, and cutting down on your declarable income leaves more money to donate to church and mission organizations. Thus, one ministry can serve another.

Tax Tips (Part 3)

There are expenses related to having an office in your home that are also deductible, including a percentage of your utilities, maintenance and upkeep, and even depreciation. You must have a designated room as an office that is not used for anything else to take these deductions. You measure the size of the room and see what percentage of your entire house it is to determine what percentage of utilities you can deduct.

Deducting a portion of your home as depreciation can be tricky. A word of warning: Watch the laws concerning the sale of your home. Deducting an office can affect your capital gains. When you sell your home, any depreciation taken in prior years has to be claimed as income and can impact the tax line.

The deductions do add up. Personally, I have written off six computers, two college degrees, and an assortment of other expenses. The computers have all been used for my business, not for family computer games. Both of my degrees (a BA in Religious Studies and an MA in Communications) were considered job-related. When I go on vacation, I often incorporate business into my trip, so that I can write off part of the vacation. However, I only write off the percentage that directly relates to my freelance writing.

More tips will be given in next week’s blog.

Tax Tips (Part 2)

When a publishing house pays in excess of a certain dollar amount to an individual within a year’s time, currently $600, they are required to report it on a Form 1099 to you and the IRS. These forms reflect income you’ve earned during the year. Make sure you keep these with your tax records. Often a publishing house will send you a 1099, even when your payment is under $600. Be sure to report all 1099s on your income tax return.

Let me reemphasize that even if you did not make a profit, you can still fill out a Schedule C, claiming your expenses for the year. Save your rejection notices. They are excellent, documentary proof of your intent and effort to earn money as a writer.

Keep a ledger and save your receipts. Quicken and Excel are excellent computer programs for tracking your income and expenses. Some of the deductible expenses you need to keep track of are your stamps, business card expenses, stationery supplies, computer supplies, publications, books on writing, writing conferences, and dues to writing organizations. They add up quickly. You can also deduct travel costs for business purposes, as well as a percentage of your meals and entertainment, if they are directly related to your freelance writing.

More tips will be given in next week’s blog.

 

Tax Tips (Part 1)

Here are some tax tips I have learned through the years. However, I am not a tax expert, so please check with a tax preparer (enrolled agent, registered/licensed tax preparer, or CPA), the IRS, and/or your state tax agency if you have any questions. If you are actively writing and seeking publication, you are a professional freelance writer and have a business that entitles you to deduct expenses.

Many of you may think the work involved isn’t worth bothering with, especially if you didn’t realize any income—but it is! There is a certain period (usually three to five years) allowed for a beginning business to start showing taxable profits. You may think of your writing as a hobby or avocation, but if you are trying to market your product, then you are in business. Claim your expenses and lower your income tax!

So even if you did not make a profit, you can still fill out a Schedule C, claiming your expenses for the year. Save your rejection letters and emails. They are excellent, documentary proof of your intent and efforts to earn money as a writer.

More tips will be given in next week’s blog.

 

Writing Nonfiction with Fictional Techniques (Part 13)

Whether real or fictional, our characters must solve their own problems. They should get a just reward whether good or bad, but if you are writing for children, you must have a happy ending. Don’t leave the ending up to the readers. The readers should have a sense of completion and feel comfortable after finishing your article or book. Don’t leave any loose ends. A “problem solution story” is much more powerful than a “come to realize” ending.

 

Let’s help our readers to identify with our characters to solve their problems. We can’t tell them though, we must show them. Then they will read and see for themselves. Please keep this in mind. It is so easy to preach at them, and then you’ve lost them. Include lots of dialogue, using words that are simple and relevant today. And action helps to move the story along.

People live in the anecdotal. You can meet their real needs by meeting their felt needs. They want escape and adventure, but they need help with their problems. You can achieve both with the vehicle of fictional techniques.

This concludes the 13-part series on Writing Nonfiction with Fictional Techniques.

Writing Nonfiction with Fictional Techniques (Part 12)

When you write true stories or vignettes within nonfiction articles and books, write what you know. That means writing from your own experiences. Who are you writing about? Yourself? If you are writing your own experiences, whether as an adult or from your childhood, make sure that others will benefit from your experiences. Your story has to answer the question, “So what?” It needs to have a point that will have take-away value for the reader. Nonfiction allows you to use your own experiences, but you can couch them in fiction and change the details. We don’t have to undergo exactly what was experienced in what we want to write about, but it is vital that we feel passionately about our subject.  Often you can use other people’s true stories in your nonfiction articles and books. Having several people experience similar circumstances adds depth to your writing.

Don’t let your characters take over—real or fictional. You must know what they are going to do. That is why you write the ending right after the beginning, or at least a brief summary of what will happen. Don’t manipulate the characters either. They must be believable, even if the unbelievable is true, or you will lose your credibility with your reader.

Next week we will finish this series.

Writing Nonfiction with Fictional Techniques (Part 11)

Here is an example of a devotional that is almost entirely dialogue, taken from my book, Rest Stops for Single Moms.

The Fire

“Mom, I had to abandon my car!” My son’s voice sounded breathless on the other end of the telephone line. “Flames were jumping across the highway. Burning branches fell into the back of my convertible.”

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Oh, Mom, I’m fine, but I’m worried about my car.”

“Tell me what happened. Maybe I can help,” I offered.

“I was on my way home from class, and I could see the fire burning out of control in the Santa Barbara hills, but it seemed far away. The freeway was blocked, so I took the old highway towards town. About halfway there, people on either side of the road had been told to evacuate their homes. Everyone was trying to leave. There was a huge traffic jam. Suddenly, flames jumped across the highway, and that’s when it happened.”

Richard was talking so fast that I didn’t understand everything. “That’s when what happened?” I asked.

“My clutch cable snapped, and I couldn’t shift gears. I pulled over to the side as far as I could and had to abandon my car.”

“What did you do then?”

“I called my girlfriend to come and get me. Mom, I can’t afford to lose my car. I don’t have comprehensive insurance on it, and I’ll have to drop out for a semester if I can’t get to school.”

I knew Richard was right. Richard’s finances for his college education were extremely tight. Without his car, he’d have to leave school and obtain a full time job to earn money for a new one. I saw no alternative.

“Let’s pray about it, Richard. God knows the situation.”

I rarely pray for material possessions, and I’ve never prayed for a car before, but this time I did. “Lord, You know Richard needs that beat-up Volvo convertible to get to his college classes. Please spare it in this fire. We pray that the fire will soon be contained.”

Three days later, I received another call from Richard. “Mom, they finally let me check on my car. I caught a ride back to where I left it. The fire burned to within a hundred feet, and it’s full of ashes, but it runs. It’s in the shop now getting a new clutch cable.”

God has taught us to pray specifically. In this case, He knew how important that car was to Richard’s education. He spared the car, and I learned an important lesson. When things look bleak, when money is tight, God is there, showing His presence in the smallest details of our lives.

Writing Nonfiction with Fictional Techniques (Part 10)

We will continue discussing dialogue:

Once you have a detailed character sketch of your main character, you will know how he will react in certain instances. You will be aware of his feelings, ideas, and beliefs. His personality will come out in his speech. He will help you write the dialogue, because if you know him, you will know what he will say. As your readers gets to know your main character, they will know what the character will say, too. If your main person acts out of character, your readers will know and will feel something is wrong. Also, be careful not to contrive your character’s speech or have him preach. The readers don’t want to be talked down to—either by you or the main character. We teach our readers lessons by what the main character learns, not by lecturing them.

 

These suggestions also apply to the minor characters to a lesser degree. When you write a novel, the minor characters are more developed, and these points become more relevant to them. In a short story, whether true or fictional, you don’t have much room to develop more than one or two characters with any depth. Usually the readers will identify with the main character, so he becomes your vehicle for getting your message across. The most powerful way to accomplish this is through his actual spoken words.