Monday, November 16, 2015

Are handcuffs and wine a tax write-off?

An interesting side-effect of a writing career that finally takes off after a decade of so-so earnings is that you find yourself needing professional help.

I’m not talking about a sex therapist (though that does sound fun). I mean folks like a publicity agent and a tax accountant.

The former is a bit ironic, considering I’ve worked in marketing and PR for 15+ years, but there comes a time when an author realizes her time is better spent actually writing the books, as opposed to telling folks about them.

Then there’s the tax guy. Last year was the first time since I started writing fiction in 2002 that I actually showed a small profit on this author gig, and since 2015 is shaping up to be a bit heftier, I knew we needed a tax pro who’d worked with authors before.

The one we chose came well-referred by a creative colleague, and I knew we’d found the right guy when he walked in looking like a spitting image of Neil Young, and led us to an office that had walls adorned by Tibetan prayer flags and a Jimi Hendrix banner.

Did I mention he’s right next door to a marijuana dispensary? (Legal in Oregon, lest you feel the need to phone authorities).

At any rate, he cautioned us up front that he wouldn’t support any creative accounting in which we attempted to write off a personal Lear Jet. That said, he encouraged us to think outside the box in terms of what constitutes “research” and “inspiration” for my writing career.

I thought about it a moment. “I’m known for writing a lot of shower sex scenes,” I told him. “Could we write off our recent remodel project where we installed a two-headed tile shower?”

“No,” he said. “But I like how you think.”

So I thought some more. Not about tax write-offs, necessarily, but about the odd things that count as “research” when you’re a romantic comedy author. Sunday morning I did a guided tour of a local cave, an expense I could easily defend to an auditor because I have proof that a cave scene will appear in my June 2016 release with Entangled Publishing (tentatively titled The Hang Up, and though that one’s not for sale yet, you can pre-order the first book in the series, The Fix Up, which comes out December 14).

Other forms of “research” are a bit harder to categorize. In August my husband and I went out for a nice dinner to celebrate my 41st birthday, and we spent half the meal eavesdropping on a large family group. At the center of the discussion were two middle-aged brothers who engaged in such competitive conversation that I expected them to whip out their meat wands and rest them on the table to be measured. The bizarre dynamic between them inspired a key piece of the story for my third rom-com with Montlake that’s scheduled for release September 2016 (also not for sale yet, but you can pre-order my second book with them, Let it Breathe, which comes out March 2016).

And speaking of Let it Breathe, that book is set at a fictional Oregon winery that’s based around a number of real-life wineries I visited while researching the story. While I probably won’t be permitted to write off every bottle of wine I’ve ever consumed, I’m guessing I’ll be allowed to write off at least a few of the expenses I incurred (i.e. drank) while crafting that story.

Then there’s The Fix Up. It’s the first book in a new series called First Impressions, and all the books will be based around a PR and branding agency. Since my day job career has spanned 15+ years in that industry, it’s not tough to figure out I’ll be drawing from my own experiences in writing some of the scenes (though if my boss is reading, I swear the sexy scene in the conference room is just a figment of my imagination).

Does that mean my entire day job career counts as “research?” When you’re a writer, doesn’t everything that happens around you technically become fodder for your stories?

In the end, I’ll trust Neil Young  the new tax guy to tell us what’s permitted as a write-off and what’s not.

I still think the shower should count, though.


Deborah Blake said...

I think my accountant might have allowed it...

I love being able to deduct all the books I buy as research...

Laurie Evans said...

I love it!