Wednesday, March 1, 2017
It's tax time here in the US and because I'm a true blue American, I have a good, healthy fear of the I.R.S. When filing my income taxes, I include my W-2s but I also include my Amazon 1099-MISC. That's fancy tax form talk for the form Amazon sends me (and sends the IRS!) that says how much money I made in royalties from my books, which is taxable income. I just LOVE LOVE LOVE the IRS, in case they're listening.
This is also the time of year indies will get a bunch of blurry advice about claiming writing expenses on their taxes. Well it's good you're reading this article because I'm about to save you a LOT of time.
You probably don't want to claim any of those itemized deductions. Any of them. Zilch. Zero. Unless your total deductions are going to be more than your standard deduction ($6200, for a single person like myself), you're just losing money. That's because it's an either/or situation. You can EITHER take itemized deductions OR the standard deduction. Not both.
Once I realized I could EITHER get a deduction of $600 OR $6200, the decision was fairly easy.
If you're a person who already has over six grand in deductions, then you probably do want to add as many items as legitimate business expenses as you can. Build that candy mountain, people.
But beware. Keep it accurate, have receipts to prove your word, and never for one moment stop fearing the IRS.
Different writers will have different expenses. Listed below are things you can safely claim as legitimate expenses:
Book cover art fees
Ads for your books
Ads for your book signings
Cost of all freebie items you gave away
Cost of renting area for book signings
Costs for any food/beverages you gave at these
Your transportation costs to signings and back
Writing classes or events you paid to attend
Transportation costs to get there and back
If you had hotel costs for above, claim them
Website yearly fee
Domain yearly fee
P.O. Box monthly fee if used just for your books
Fees to enter book contests
Cost to buy and ship your book to said contests
Office supplies (keep it honest & keep receipts)
Books you purchased to improve your writing
or how to market your product better
Books you purchased as research for your books
Yes, include cost you paid for shipping
Business lunches, if you had them.
There are other, blurrier items:
What about WiFi cost? You probably use this for your writing and promoting all the time. Be careful. Calculate the % of WiFi you actually use for book related stuff. I was going to claim 10%.
What about purchases like laptops, Chromebooks, etc? Figure out how many years the item will last. If it's three, then claim one third the amount you paid, and be sure to keep the receipts.
Technically, you can claim an amount for a Home Office. If you have an area you use only for writing, you can claim $5 per square foot, up to $1500. Technically. It's my opinion this is a fuzzy area and not one I'm willing to be cute on for the mere $80 it would give me.
Remember, the IRS hates cute.
There you have it! If you already have expenses greater than the standard deduction, definitely claim all your legit writing-related ones. If it's better for you to take the standard deduction, then you're just going to have to make your fortune by selling books.
And keeping your day job.
Amie Ryan is the author of essay collections GREEN SHOES MEAN I LOVE YOU, STARFISH ON THURSDAY, and the Marilyn Monroe biography MARILYN: LOVED BY YOU. Learn more at www.amieryan.com
Monday, January 30, 2017
My friend Jenny told me Steven was rich. Not just rich, but rich rich. This was a detail I hadn't noticed; we were in the ninth grade and he was my first real boyfriend. I disagreed with her. He couldn't be rich: he acted too normal.
"He is, " she insisted.
Jenny often noticed money more than other kids. Her mom was raising her alone and had to budget everything. When Jenny was told she could buy three new notebooks, it meant three, not four, and they had to be the brand that was on sale.
Most of the kids we went to school with came from families with money and we took a lot for granted. I never thought much of my parents' big house until I saw Jenny's apartment. I knew some really nice kids who didn't have money but rarely invited them home to spare them feeling bad and me not knowing how to make it better.
I was about to get a firsthand lesson about feeling bad.
After a week or two, Steven invited me to come to his house after school and then have dinner with his family. We exited the school bus and began walking up the driveway to his house and the driveway was half a block long. That was the first difference.
After a few scenic twists and turns, bordered on each side by landscaped shrubbery, his house rose up, three stories tall. It was a grand, expensive looking house the size of a small hotel. My eyes noted a spot of green to the right of us, and I looked to see a tennis court. We got to his front door and I was distracted again, this time by the sparkling blue water of a backyard swimming pool.
Once inside, I got the full tour, and it was impressive. Each room was so perfectly decorated it made me speak in a hushed tone, as if I might somehow offend the furniture or wallpaper if I spoke too loudly. I pretended I had to use the bathroom so I could call Jenny. In a whisper I told her "You were right, he's rich. I'm calling you from the PHONE in their bathroom. They have a phone in their bathroom!"
"I told you," she said.
I marveled that the ordinary seeming boy who took me to movies was secretly living a whole different life as a rich kid. He was like Clark Kent, in a way, and this gave me a new reason to like him. Other kids with this much money might be jerks, but not Steven.
Later we walked out the side French doors and onto a rich expanse of grass, dotted with apple and cherry trees. We walked down a slope toward the water and he showed me his family's dock. It was 75 feet or so and although docks were nothing new in my hometown, you usually found them at marinas or parks, not in someone's backyard.
"We have to share it with the family next door," Steven said kind of sadly.
At dinner I encountered the heavy feel of real silver. Steven's little sister sat across from me and laughed when I didn't know how to use the silver corn cob holders, objects I had never heard of before that day. Steven's mother sat to my left and eyed me like I was something her son had found at a garage sale.
I was out of my league. I hated the feeling and hated his mother for giving it to me.
When I got home my mother asked if I'd had a good time.
"No," I told her.
I didn't have the heart to tell her why. It would have required explaining the difference between new money and old money and just how much that difference still meant. She and my father worked hard so they could afford a big house in the suburbs and a boat to take on vacation. They could afford to go anywhere, but often had no idea how to act once they got there. It wasn't their fault they'd passed this awkwardness down to me.
I suddenly found my boyfriend less attractive. I didn't want to get used to the way his mother made me feel so I broke up with him a week later.
We stayed friends and got back together several times, but the older he got, the more the money affected him. He began to judge people based on the model of their cars and where they went on vacation and what their parents did for a living. He didn't seem like Clark Kent anymore.
When he was 22 he married a girl who had just finished dental school and whose parents had given her a private dental practice as a graduation gift. Steven's graduation gift from his parents was more modest: a check for ten thousand dollars.
He used it as a down payment on the house next to his parents. No more sharing the private dock. Steven's dad retired from his insurance firm and Steven took his place as partner, a plan which had been in place since his birth.
Today he has three children who are looked after by an au pair and Steven and his wife have dinner every Sunday night with his parents. His kids are still in high school. It'll be a few years yet before their money starts to show.
Amie Ryan is the author of essay collections GREEN SHOES MEAN I LOVE YOU and STARFISH ON THURSDAY and the Marilyn Monroe biography MARILYN: LOVED BY YOU. To learn more, please visit www.amieryan.com
Sunday, November 27, 2016
I was born in 1968. My earliest memories are from the early 1970s, when it seemed like half the grownups were hippies and the other half were sort of hippies. In kindergarten we sang songs by Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel and from the musical Hair.
Good morning starshine. The Earth says hello.
Back then my mother still had long hair and my dad wore sideburns. I remember one denim vest he often wore. It had funny pictures on it and on the back had the phrase "The eagle is a dirty bird." By the 1980s, their outlook had changed. They cared about money and cared about appearances. They had everything they needed and then bought all sorts of things they didn't need.
I left for college a week before my eighteenth birthday. I'd chosen a university 120 miles away, in the Pacific Northwest city of Bellingham. That was when I rediscovered hippies, or rather, a curious hybrid of suburban kid and hippie known as a Granola.
Granolas were university students also, but they shunned all the things we thought of as necessities: running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, washers and dryers, and clothes purchased in stores and not stitched by hand. The girls wore no makeup and usually had their hair in braids. They wore cotton blouses, long multicolored granny skirts, and workman type shoes. The guys had goatees and ponytails tied with hanks of twine. They wore cotton work shirts and pants held up with suspenders. On their feet were sandals known as Birkenstocks, which we, non-Granolas, called Jesus Shoes.
They seemed, at all times, starry eyed and earnest and underfed.
I had seen photos of Depression-era Hoovervilles but never expected to see anything like them in real life. The long road which led to our dorm went right past the plot of land the Granolas called home: they called it The Outback. There were a half dozen shacks made of salvaged materials. A smaller shack sat off to the side: it was an outhouse, complete with carved half moon on the door, just like in a cartoon.
The shacks were in the middle of an overgrown field where goats roamed and often got loose. The same half-assed carpentry used on the shacks had been used on a skinny fence that surrounded the place and the kids who lived there could often be seen laughing as they chased their goats back to where they belonged. We sat in our cars, amused and worried, and waited until the goats decided to get out of the road. We'd watch those kids and wonder how they got that way. We'd laugh at them and they'd see us laughing and would raise a hand in a friendly wave anyway. We'd wave back, confused.
I hadn't planned on dating one of them. In my defense, he was good looking. He enjoyed talking about their lifestyle: how they used only natural products, either purchased at the local co-op or made themselves. "Made themselves" was a strong theme: meals, clothes, any item they might need. They had gardens and ate what they grew with their own hands. They avoided anything with chemicals: deodorant, for instance. Why cover up a person's natural smell, he would ask, and I would force a smile on my face. It was hard work.
It got worse when he described the women. They used no feminine hygiene products at all. This confused me as I wondered how all the girls just stopped having their menstrual cycles but he clarified: they didn't "stop the flow," they let their menstrual blood flow right down their legs so it could "replenish Mother Earth." I fought the urge to vomit when he told me that.
The guys and girls lived in co-ed fashion, and practiced free love, just laying with whomever and changing partners around as they saw fit. There was no jealousy, he claimed, because possessiveness was bad, just like aerosol cans or preservatives in food. He invited me to visit their land and I told him I was too busy studying.
No hippie lifestyle for me, thanks. I stuck with what I knew and dated guys whose parents had picked out their majors for them. By my third year I lived off campus, sharing a house with nine other kids and I worked in a coffeeshop where I was the only nonhippie employee.
There are moments that stand out for me about that job. I remember one girl looked me up and down and told me I looked like the cover of Seventeen Magazine.
"Wow, thanks!" I told her.
"See, you think that's a good thing," she told me. Then she said something confusing. She said I was oppressed by men. When I assured her that I wasn't oppressed she said I was so oppressed I didn't know I was oppressed.
When these girls would comment about a war, I was confused.
"There's no war going on," I told them.
"There are wars going on every day, in countries all over the world," they told me.
And there were.
Soon I found myself reading food ingredients more carefully than before. I started buying products that had less packaging: reduce, reuse, recycle. Within six months I had become a vegetarian. A month after that I tried going home for a visit with my parents.
My mother made a face when she saw me. "My God, go put on some makeup, you look unwell!" she said. I told her I was wearing makeup, just not as much. She refused to let us leave for the grocery store until I agreed to put on lipstick.
At dinner, she ignored me when I said I didn't want any roast and my dinner plate had a piece of animal flesh with actual blood running into my potatoes. Or at least that was how it looked to me. When I tried to complain, my mother said "That isn't blood, it's the meat juice."
"If someone sliced off a piece of your skin, would it make juice or blood?" I asked her.
"That school, I knew it was a mistake. Too much thinking is bad for you," she told me.
"How much is too much?" I asked.
The only answer I got was an angry look. By the end of the weekend, we were all kind of relieved the visit was over.
It went on like that for a while. I wore only clothes made of natural fibers. I sometimes delighted with picking a wildflower and tucking it into my hair.
But it only lasted for a while.
Gradually, I started eating meat again. I bought whatever products I wanted and figured someone else could save the Earth and not me. Besides, I'd never gone full hippie. I'd kept on shaving my legs even when the coffeeshop girls teased me about it. It wasn't like I was a man and could have my body look like it was meant to look. I was female. I had to change it so it would look acceptable.
After all, it wasn't like I lived in a shack and chased goats. Not like those Granola women, the ones we laughed at, the ones who looked so happy.
Amie Ryan is the author of essay collections GREEN SHOES MEAN I LOVE YOU and STARFISH ON THURSDAY and the Marilyn Monroe biography MARILYN:LOVED BY YOU. To learn more about her books please visit www.amieryan.com
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
When someone hears I've written books, the first thing they ask is, "What are they about?"
You can tell they hope the answer is "zombies."
When I tell them they're essays and memoirs, they look confused. Zombies they could understand; memoirs could mean anything.
My stories are about moments from my childhood/teen years/early 20s that felt like art even as they were happening, if only because they would shape the person I would become.
I was a youngest daughter growing up in the suburbs of Seattle. I was an overly curious, sugar filled chatterbox.
What has changed is that now I'm older.
Some of my stories involve having a crazy mother. You may be wincing at my use of such a common term as "crazy," and I hear you. But once you've lived with someone who insists she has actual wings under her skin, honey, you get to use any word that gets you through the day.
Some of my stories feature a backdrop of a 1970s childhood. They feature elements you may recognize, with love, from your own life, wherever you're from, and no matter your age. That's because the stories are true, with real people who were flawed but often wonderful.
Those are the memoirs. The essays are reflections about ordinary life: sometimes serious and often amusing, because that's how life is.
My two collections are on Amazon and each one features a free story you can read, to find out if you like it. To sample Green Shoes Mean I Love You, go to http://myBook.to/greenshoes and to sample Starfish On Thursday, go to http://myBook.to/starfishonthursday
But wait, just to make things more confusing, I've also written a biography of screen goddess Marilyn Monroe. You can read a free sample of that one by clicking on http://myBook.to/marilyn
I hope my stories give you a smile and if you'd like to learn more, I hope you'll visit www.amieryan.com
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
As indies we're small and starry eyed by nature so a lot of businesses seek to profit from this by offering to do something called "contributed tweets." This means they post tweets for you. Sometimes these companies also follow and unfollow users in your name. Some writers will tell you this saves them time but honestly it drives me crazy.
I didn't follow them to read some marketing firm's tweets. I followed them to read their own tweets. The good, the boring, whatever: genuine they-wrote-it-themselves content. The whole point of Twitter is to connect and someone else shouldn't do your connecting.
One highly entertaining Twitter user is none other than Cher. You may have heard of her. Cher does all her own tweets. Sometimes with colorful language, often with all caps, usually filled with emojis. Hear me: Cher is a hugely busy person--"busy" probably does not begin to describe it--but she does her own tweets, and you could too. You are not busier than Cher.
If readers are following you, the least you can do is tweet your own stuff: the things you post and the tweets you're retweeting because you found them interesting. Maybe you haven't considered the fact that some of those "contributed" tweets may be offensive and people may unfollow you for them. Maybe those tweets someone else is posting for you--which you haven't even read yet--are going to offend the very people you're trying to win over.
So even though I hesitate to criticize other writers--we're all in the same boat, after all--having strangers post for you seems like cheating. It cheats your followers and it cheats you. If following you on Twitter is how your readers learn more about you, what message are you giving them by being too busy, too lazy, too disinterested to speak to them on your own?
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Monday, August 8, 2016
I was born with what I'd call an average nose; it didn't call attention to itself and I never thought twice about it unless I had to sneeze. My sister, on the other hand, was born with a pretty face that never got noticed because her nose was large, with a bump, and it commanded all the attention. People noticed her nose and then moved on without looking any further.
Some people can have an unusual nose or even a big one and they do just fine. For my sister, it was a misery. When she was seventeen my parents got her a nose job and she was thrilled with the results. She started having dates, smiled more in pictures, and my parents were convinced they'd done the right thing. In my sister's case, I think they did.
Then something weird happened. For some reason, my parents, neither of whom had a big nose, decided they wanted to be thrilled too and so they both went in and got nose jobs. They downplayed the black eyes and plaster casts and acted like the family had found a new togetherness activity.
Then they looked at me. They seemed to be looking at my nose, looking at it straight on, looking at it sideways, and muttering to each other. I knew I needed to worry.
They began trying to convince me I should get my nose fixed too.
"But I don't have a big nose," I told them.
"No, but it's a little crooked," they told me.
"I don't think it is," I said.
"Just a little," they said.
I was 12. I needed little convincing that looks were everything. That was how I ended up in the plastic surgeon's office. He disappointed my mother by saying I should wait until I was fifteen to have the procedure. I was relieved. It would give them three years to forget the idea.
They didn't. Right after my fifteenth birthday, my mom made the appointment. She assured me the recovery was nothing but I was worried: she'd had several years to forget what it was actually like.
The surgeon's staff wore fuschia colored scrubs. That's all I remember. The color of them had made my mom terrifically impressed, as if ordinary doctors wore the blue ones and really gifted ones chose daring colors.
My next clear memory is of sitting in bed, propped up with pillows so I wouldn't choke.
I had a plaster cast on my nose and both my eyes were ringed with purple bruises and were swollen nearly shut. From my bed I squinted out at the world and tried to remember this would make me pretty. Eating or drinking was very hard because I couldn't breathe through my nose: I had to hold my breath to swallow and was scared each time I did.
My mother got out the Polaroid and took several pictures so I'd know what I looked like. They made me gasp. The Me in the photos looked like the victim of a Mafia beating. I wondered why she had taken pictures we'd never be able to show anyone.
After a few days, I felt better and could get in and out of bed without help. That's when I started having the next phase of recovery which was suddenly needing to run to the bathroom and stand over the toilet as dual streams of blood violently rushed out of my nostrils. My mother called the doctor and he said it was normal so we all tried to pretend like it was.
Then weird long things the size of earthworms started coming out of my nose. The doctor said that was just the packing and my mother saved them in a Tupperware container. At my post-op appointment she asked him if he wanted to see them and he made a face and said No.
After a week the cast was off and the black and blue marks were almost gone. My friends Jean and Rosalyn came over to cheer me up and look at my new nose. They took one look at me, gasped, exchanged a look, and then looked back at me again.
"Jesus," Rosalyn said. She was never one to mince words. "What the hell did your parents have them DO to you?"
"It looks the same," Jean added. "It looks exactly the same."
"It does," Rosalyn agreed.
"Shut up," I told them.
But they had limited powers of shutting up. They began discussing my nose with each other, right in front of me as if I wasn't there. How it looked exactly the same. How they didn't understand why I'd go through all that for nothing. How they'd never get nose jobs. How even if they'd ever thought of getting nose jobs, this would convince them it was torture and no one should get one.
"Shut UP," I told them. "You're SUPPOSED to be cheering me up."
"Oh yeah," Rosalyn said.
Then they both fell silent, searching for anything else to talk about.
"School is really dumb, same as usual," Jean offered.
"Yeah," Rosalyn agreed.
Then they were both silent again as they stared at my nose.
After that, life went back to normal. My sister had her new nose and my parents and I all had refurbished noses that looked almost identical to the ones we began with.
About six months later Rosalyn and I were sitting at the kitchen table as my mom made dinner. Rosalyn mentioned plastic surgery and all the different things that could be altered.
I saw my mother pause in her cooking and I looked at my friend. I put my finger to my lips and silently told her SHH.
And for once, she actually did.
Amie Ryan is the author of Green Shoes Mean I Love You, Starfish On Thursday, and Marilyn: Loved By You, available at www.amieryan.com