Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Things Every Writer Should Know about Taxes--you might be doing this wrong!


I put this together for my writer friends from a presentation I did for the Authors Guild of Tennessee last week. I cleaned it up a bit, but it’s basically the speech I made, with the addition of links here for you. The last time I did a blog on taxes was January 2018, so I’m overdue!


[[It’s helpful to follow along with a 1040, a Schedule 1 and a Schedule C.

And this one, for home office deductions. ]]



I hope I can help you start off the new year right. We hope a lot of things are different this year! But taxes—we have to do those every year.


First of all, are you taking business deductions for your writing business?

Show of hands. (Only 3 in the room were filing taxes for their writing business!)


Let’s start by squashing the misconception, which is sometimes even believed by tax professionals, that writers can only report a loss and deduct expenses for 3 years, under the hobby law. Section 183 of the tax code lays out the “Hobby Loss” exemption. This says that you cannot deduct expenses for side activities, hobbies.


However, such people as visual artists, musicians, writers, and dancers are exempt IF they can prove to the IRS that they making serious attempts to earn a profit in the future, if they’re not making one now. Good records are a must. Keep track of all of your time and expenses. For us, it’s an indefinite period, as long as you’re trying and you can prove it. The IRS recognizes that it can take years to turn a profit doing these things.


This is not easy information to find! I have to look for it every year that I do a tax presentation or blog post.


Here’s what you must do, detailed in those links:

You must generally consider these factors in determining whether an activity is a business engaged in making a profit:


Whether you carry on the activity in a businesslike manner and maintain complete and accurate books and records.

Whether you have personal motives in carrying on the activity.

Whether the time and effort you put into the activity indicate you intend to make it profitable.

Whether you depend on income from the activity for your livelihood.

Whether your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the startup phase of your type of business).

Whether you or your advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business.

Whether you were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past.

Whether the activity makes a profit in some years and how much profit it makes.

Whether you can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity.

You may find more information on this topic in section 1.183-2(b) of the Federal Tax Regulations.



This year, you can file from January 24-April 18. Although you probably won’t have all of your income forms until later than that. 1099s don’t have to be out until Jan 31.


OK, we’ve established that you CAN take a loss and deduct it from you income for your taxes. Now, what do you use for filing taxes as a writer? It’s a form 1040, schedule C.


You’re trucking along doing your 1040, either by yourself, or with software, and you end up with line 15, your taxable income. Just above there, though, is line 8, which takes the figure from Sched 1, line 10. Sched 1, line 3, is the one we like. That’s the figure from Sched C.


Now that we’ve gotten that tacked down, let’s talk about that Sched C.


The Schedule C form can be found here:


Detailed instructions are at:


How many of you are familiar with this form? How many of you file it each year?


You can do taxes several ways. You can do it all by yourself, following the directions. You can use software such as Turbo Tax or H&R Block. And you can have someone prepare your taxes.

This is when you need to make sure the hobby rule isn’t used against you. Many tax professionals get this wrong.


If you’re not claiming expense for writing and if you want to, I’ll go over some of the line items. I’m using the lines that were from last year. They may change a bit this year.


At the top, the proprietor is you, and your SSN goes beside that.

A Principal business. This will involve entering a code.

I use “writer” ad my profession, “Arts, Entertainment, Recreation” as the business category and

B I use 711510 as the code.


C I use my pen name as my business name. My bank account is in that name as a DBA.

But if you don’t have a pen name, you can leave this blank. If you have a name for your self-publishing business, I would use that.

D is your EIN. If you’ve established a DBA, you’ll have gotten in EIN for the IRS.


F I use “cash” as my accounting method. It’s the easiest to use for a simple business.

G Always say YES you participated materially.

H This is where you tell them it’s a brand new business, or that you paid anyone with a 1099. I think that’s unlikely, unless you do have employees.


PART 1 is your income

#1 Add up everything you made and put that here.

I doubt you took returns, but if you did, that goes in this section.

You will probably have “cost of goods sold”. That’s what it cost you to make your books. That is calculated below, in Part III, and we’ll get to that.



Now we’re ready for the fun stuff, the expenses!

This is where you chop off the money you would owe without doing this.


Advertising is straight forward. Everything you spent on PR. Bookmarks, mailing out books to reviewers, online ads, etc. (Mailing can be here or under postage—doesn’t matter, just be consistent from year to year.)


At the beginning of the C instructions, they tell you what’s new for this year.

The first thing mentioned is almost always the mileage rate, since that changes every year. For 2021, it’s 56 cents a mile, a decrease from last year. To use this deduction, you have to know what your mileage is, of course. I hope you’ve all kept track of the miles you drive to this meeting, miles to buy paper and toner and supplies. Also miles to business meetings, lunches, and dinners—which aren’t very many for last year, I’ll bet.


There is a worksheet for line 9, car and truck expenses. If you didn’t keep track, it would be a good idea to estimate them. You have to know what your total mileage for the year was, to deduct car expenses. You can use the standard, or actual car expenses, but your amount will be a portion, depending on the total miles divided by the miles for business. If you don’t know your mileage on January 1st of 2020 and 2021, you can estimate it. You count mileage, parking fees, and tolls.


OK, that’s line 9, mileage and car stuff.


I put my dues paid to the organizations I belong to on line 10.


My only other expense for 2020 was office expense, line 18

I put paper, toner, pencils, that sort of thing here.


Where you put the expenses isn’t as important as being consistent from year to year. If you count postage as an office expense, always put it there. If you put it under advertising, then keep putting it there.


Line 24, travel and meals

A is travel, b is meals


A The best deductions, for me, are conferences. That money adds up! Hotel, plane, conference registration, sometimes promo material that I bring to give away. I lament that there haven’t been any of these for the last two years. I’m hoping that will change now.


B meals They have always been deducted at 50% of the actual figure. However, there’s a change this time. Restaurant business meals are 100%! I’ve never seen this before. That applies to “food and beverages provided by a restaurant and paid for or incurred after December 31, 2020, and before January 1, 2023. So all of last year.



Then we get to line 30, use of the home

I take the standard for this, doing it the simple way. You enter the square footage of your house and the square footage of the office, and there’s a standard deduction for normal utilities and house expense. There is a limit of 300 sq ft for the home office. Use form 8829 for this. You add up all of your items, mortgage interest, real estate taxes, insurance, rent, repairs and maintenance, utilities, etc. And deduct the percentage belonging to your office space. 


Once you use the simplified method, you are locked into it.


So, at the bottom of Sched C, on line 31, you get your profit or loss.

That goes on Line 3, of 1040 sched 1, contributing to line 10, which goes on line 8 of the 1040.



There are a few things mentioned here for 2022:



When you buy new equipment, electronics of office furniture, you can deduct those all at once or depreciate them with section 179. I never depreciate these things myself, just charge them in the year I purchase them.

Pub 946 has some details on this.

This says that, “For tax years beginning in 2021, the maximum section 179 expense deduction is $1,050,000.” There is also information on depreciating your race horses.



You can subscribe to tax tips:

 But be warned that you’ll get lots of them, every day!


I hope this helps my writer friends who are new to this. Good luck!



Other links that may be useful, or may not be