by Bud Sparhawk
Oh crap, where did I put that check stub, or the acceptance letter saying how much I would be paid, or the receipts from Staples? What about the toll tickets for driving to the con, oh, and the parking lot receipts, that is if I remembered getting them. Maybe they’re still in the glove compartment? What do I do about the pile of comps on the bookshelf or ……
Filing the US federal tax forms is not only pure freaking misery but forces one to lapse into the reality of their disorganized life. Don’t they understand that all I want to do is write – not be a damned bookkeeper.
Even if you get all your paperwork together there are still problems. A publisher is only responsible for sending IRS Tax Form 1099 when the total amount paid to a writer in a single tax year is greater than $600. For the 99.9999% of us who write genre short stories, such huge payments from a single publisher are hardly ever the case – you have to sell a LOT of words to a single market at pennies per word to make more than $600.
In an ideal universe income records automagically flow to the writer from responsible corporations who always file Forms 1099. In this fantasy land the writer should have no problem listing every cent of their income. But over here, in the real world, this does not always happen – even when payments exceed the limit. Neither do the publisher/editors who slip payments through PayPal or other e-means provide the necessary forms. Yet, despite these, the IRS insists that a writer acknowledge ALL income received regardless of whether they received documentation or not. Even if a writer manages to sell a half dozen short stories in a single year they still have to list every one of those pitiful amounts.
Listing a writer’s pitiful income is not an arduous task, given a small number of sales, however it is really embarrassing to admit that you received only $10 for a fucking novella that took you six agonizing months to write, even if it was finally (Hooray!) a SALE!
At the absolute bottom of market, one step above fanzines, there are the non-payment “publications” that pay ONLY in complementary copies. Does a writer count those two or three copies as income and, if so, at what price? Is it considered barter when you exchange your hard-won words for printed magazines or ephemeral electrons on an obscure website? Maybe you could charitably consider those as tips except – wait a minute – tips are supposed to be reported as well!
This forces one into excessive contemplation of work that might be more financially rewarding, of books unread, of shows not seen, and of family neglected. Putting those aside, the writer grumbles, sharpens the computer keys and drearily enumerates their modest successes, cursing fate, penurious publishers, and citizenship.
Perhaps next year won’t be so difficult.
Bud Sparhawk is a short story writer who has sold numerous science fiction stories to Analog, Asimov’s, and other widely circulated magazine, appeared in several “Best of” anthologies, and has works in other print, audio, and on-line media both in the United States and overseas. He has been a three-time Nebula novella finalist. He has also written technical articles appearing in various forms.
He has two print collections (Sam Boone: Front to Back and Dancing with Dragons), one mass market paperback (VIXEN), and several collections and unpublished novels available as eBooks, mostly in Kindle format. Many of his earlier works are available at Fictionwise.
Bud is currently the Treasurer of SFWA, a member of SIGMA, and a full-time writer. He maintains a weekly blog on the writing life, where this post first appeared. A complete biblography of stories, articles, and other material can be found at his web site.