Monday, July 06, 2009

Accounting & Bookkeeping for Writers & Authors!

Special guest today - Brigitte A. Thompson, President of Datamaster Accounting Service, LLC!

And she has some valuable tips for writers in the area of bookkeeping...

Writers work in all different genres and write for a variety of media outlets. Some of us are business writers, others create romance novels and many write articles for magazines or copy for web sites. Putting words into print is our profession, but dealing with the financial aspects of our writing business can be challenging.

As an accountant, author and freelance writer, I can help. My newest title, Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers, addresses issues writers face daily such as how to deduct travel expenses, differentiate between personal and business property and claim home office deductions.

Bookkeeping is an essential part of the business of writing, especially identifying and tracking expenses. Business expenses are considered an operating cost. The more legitimate business expenses that we can document, the lower our tax payments will be.

Understanding Expenses

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that our writing expenses be ordinary and necessary in order for them to be acceptable. An ordinary expense is defined as common and accepted in our profession. A necessary expense means we need to spend this money in order to operate the business. The expenses must not be considered extravagant. They must be an essential part of doing business as a writer. It is important to differentiate between personal expenses and business expenses.

Writers are able to realize some unique deductions which may be considered personal for most other taxpayers. For example, a book on the history of California used for researching my fiction manuscript based in that state could be deductible as a writer. Other potentially deductible expenses include tickets to a ballet used to build the character of a ballerina I am writing about and an instructional DVD used to improve my public speaking skills. Most writers will call these expenses research or professional development. We need to be able to justify each expense if audited, so be sure it is legitimate and has the supporting documents to back up the claim.

Recordkeeping Options

To justify expenses, it is important to establish a system of recordkeeping that works for you. Some things need to be recorded daily, while others can be done weekly or monthly. It is imperative that you get into the habit of saving and recording everything related to your writing business. All invoices, receipts, credit card slips and bank statements are essential documentation that should be kept.

Some people find it helpful to create a system for their financial transactions using envelopes and lined paper. Transactions can be recorded on sheets of 8 ½” by 11” paper attached to the front of a large clasp envelope with supporting documentation stored inside. Click here for an example This system works well for many writers because it is simple to set up and only requires the purchase of paper and envelopes. However, one disadvantage of this system is that it’s hard to see at a glance how much you have spent on supplies during the year or how much you have paid for your business phone line.

If you prefer computerized bookkeeping, these transactions could be recorded on a spreadsheet and receipts could still be kept in a clasp envelope. Microsoft Excel® Click here for an example provides an easy-to-use program which can help organize your records. One benefit of tracking this information with a computer spreadsheet is its ability to compute. Once you learn the program, you will be able to format columns to add a range of numbers. This eliminates the chance of addition errors haunting you during an audit. Unfortunately, spreadsheets do not offer much room for detail and are not able to generate financial statements.

If you would like to go a step further, QuickBooks® is a user-friendly accounting program Click here for an example which generates financial statements and budgets using the data you input. Again, entering the data allows for error free calculations and, as a bonus, custom reports compile the information so you can easily determine how much was spent on shipping manuscripts during the year, for example. Trial versions of accounting software can be found online, but the cost to purchase and the time spent learning it could be a disadvantage to some writers. Receipts would still have to be kept to document your deduction.

The choice is yours. Any system that works for you is acceptable to the IRS, as long as the pertinent information is retained. Learning what to record as writing expenses as well as how to properly document each transaction is important to the success of your writing business.

Brigitte A. Thompson is the founder and President of Datamaster Accounting Services, LLC in Vermont. She has been active in the field of accounting since 1986 and is a member of the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers and the Vermont Tax Practitioners Association.
She is the author of several recordkeeping books for business owners, contributing author and freelance writer whose articles have appeared nationally in print and online publications.
The book is available on if you would like to link to that for affiliate sales. Here's the link:
It is also available through my publisher:
Crystal Press
My blog for writers is
Writers in Business


Marvin D Wilson said...

Great stuff to know, thanks for this. As a life long unemployable entrepreneur with a wide variety of careers I've learned many of the ropes about deductions and accounting, but each industry has its specific tricks so now as a writer this is helpful. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

This is very helpful, thanks. I'm trying to do a better job with my record-keeping this year and these tips will help.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

This is a weak area for me. I've been to the bookstore several times looking for a bookkeeping book for suthors and now I can order one from home - great!


joe doaks-Author said...

Timely post. It's not April, why would I call this timely? Well, now is the time to prepare for April. Actually, for most of us, it's getting late in the year. December is the end of our accounting period.

I use Quicken for my personal finances. and have thought about using it for professional as well. But, I think looking at the Exel option, I like that better. It's pretty straight forward and will capture all the information you needed more simply.

Thanks for the tips and reminders.

Imagineering Fiction Blog

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thanks for joining us today, Brigitte!

Brigitte Thompson said...

Thank you for the comments. This book is a much needed resource for writers. I'm very thankful Diane was able to include me on her site. It was a pleasure to join all of you here :)

Creative Chronicler said...

Brigitte, thanks for the wonderful information. Diane, thanks for another great post! You find the best people!

Chris Carter

Allyn Evans said...

Great info. Thanks for sharing with us.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Oh, my gosh! Can writers use this! Don't know where I'd be if I hadn't owned retail stores in one of my past lives. (Plenty of accounting for that!) Thanks!
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Blogging at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick

Karen Harrington said...

Great information! This is my first time to your great blog. Think I'll skate around a spell. :)