A Word on Recordkeeping for Writers
No discussion of writing and money is complete without talking about recordkeeping. Careful recordkeeping for writers helps cut down on time when it comes to filing taxes, and helps you make better use of your time by knowing what is working and what is not.
For many, one of the best ways to keep track of income and expenses is to have a separate checking account that you use to pay for any writing-related expense (conferences, classes, office supplies, postage) and where you deposit money you make writing. This will help you avoid confusion and let you avoid missing important writing expenditures (that you may need to know when invoicing or when paying your taxes). I’ll admit, I don’t do this, but I do have someone who takes care of my taxes. He is much better at numbers than I am and he keeps track of every cent I spend on writing-related expenses and every cent I take in for my writing (and I married him, so that should keep him on the job).
However you handle keeping track, you really must do so. For one, as your writing begins to bring in steady money, the government becomes very interested in how much you make, and if you are ever audited, having good records will save you stress and money.
Invoices and Billing
Some publishers send you money due without ever needing an invoice. Others require invoicing before all payments. It’s very important to keep track of what your publisher wants at the end of the process. But you may want to create an invoice even if you don’t need to send it. Making an invoice for all writing payments and keeping all the invoices in a separate file will help you keep track of your income and details of payment. Once an invoice is paid, you should always note that on your copy of the invoice and include the date the money arrived. This will help you in the future when you’re considering working with the publisher again. Whether the publisher paid quickly or required a lot of nudging definitely makes a difference in your choices for the future. No one enjoys nagging for money.
Building an Invoice
Recordkeeping for writers will sometimes mean sending an invoice. Some publishers have a specific style of invoice they want you to use. Others expect you to create an invoice on your own. Neither way is difficult, but you will need to make yourself a note if you’re going to need to use the proprietary invoice rather than your own. Many word processing and spreadsheet programs have templates for invoices to make things a little easier. When creating an invoice of your own, there are certain things that should always be part:
PUBLISHER NAME (this helps you keep track of who the invoice is billing)
BILLING CONTACT (you can’t always do this, but sometimes you’re told who handles billing)
INVOICE CODE (For some reason, publishers often ask for this. If there is a project code, I’ll use that, but otherwise, I simply come up with something short)
YOUR ADDRESS (I put this even if I am being paid via direct deposit)
YOUR EMAIL/YOUR PHONE (I’ll admit, I don’t usually add a phone number, since I hate the phone, but I’ll always include an email address.)
ITEM TITLE (With this, I include the title, genre, sometimes the series name or the name of the imprint, just any information that might help make the thing being sold very clear. I will also note the date the item was received/accepted by the publisher)
[This can be done in several ways. If I’m invoicing for several things at once, I’ll put the cost of each thing next to the ITEM TITLE and then add them up for AMOUNT DUE. If I have ADDITIONAL FEES (like research fees or consultant fees or travel feels), I’ll add in a line for that after the ITEM TITLE and I’ll make it very clear what I’m billing for. If I’m invoicing for only one thing, I’ll simply put an amount due.]
If I feel I need to add more information about the project or add other remarks (such as a note that this is the third invoice for the same item or remind them that they are 60 days past the 90-day payment promised in the contract) I’ll add one more line with the heading:
ADDITIONAL REMARKS/COMMENTS. [I generally don’t need to add any remarks, but sometimes it happens.]
Every time you generate an invoice, you need to keep a copy. I keep a copy in a file, and I also add the date to the calendar on the corkboard next to my desk so I can quickly find when I sent the last invoice.
Basically, keeping invoices for all money owed to you, and a method of tracking all money you spend on your writing (such as keeping a separate bank account for it) is the basics needed for financial recordkeeping for writers. You also need to keep up with receipts, contracts, tax forms (some publishers require writers fill out W-9 form), and other money bits and bobs. Having a solid filing system (either hard copy or virtual) goes a long way toward helping you stay on top of your finances which becomes more and more important as you become more successful. Don’t wait until you make “real” money. Build good recordkeeping habits early and they’ll serve you well throughout your writing career.
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.