Saturday, May 16, 2015

Going to a Book Signing with no #Books to Sign! What's an #author to do?

I received an invitation Wednesday night to attend another author's book signing Thursday evening, along with an offer to sign my books, too. (Yes, the other author is a generous gal.) There's only one problem: I have no books to sign.

Head. Desk.

Bad Gae-Lynn. Very bad.

But I'm not one to surrender easily, and in this instance, PowerPoint and sugar are my friends. Here's what I pulled together Thursday morning:

  • Bowls of hard candy and chocolate. Everybody loves sugar. Right?

  • A PowerPoint slideshow promoting my new book, A CASE OF SOUR GRAPES, due out this month. I set the slideshow to cycle for 15 seconds on the first slide and 45 seconds on the second slide. I folded my keyboard back and set my computer up vertically, creating an automated poster from the slides. Small, but effective.

  • I used PowerPoint again to whip up some bookmarks...

  • ...and an email sign up sheet.

  • I packed up the two hard copy books I have (one of THE DEVIL OF LIGHT and one of AVENGERS OF BLOOD), a bottle of water, pens, and a pad of paper in my nifty Union Jack bag, and headed off.

The result? Thunderstorms and flood warnings aside, all in all, it was a great evening. I spent a few hours with my wonderful niece and toured the historic Rusk County Library in downtown Henderson, Texas; met local author Vivra Beene (an absolute hoot and a joy to talk to) and purchased a copy of her book (click on Vivra's name above to go to Amazon and check out her short story collection); met several new readers; gave away a few bookmarks and picked up new names for my email list; saw THE DEVIL OF LIGHT on its first library shelf; and took an order for ten more books for the Rusk County libraries.

Not a bad evening at all. The good news? (Once I order books,) I'm ready for the next book signing!

Now please, tell me I'm not the only one. Do you have any advice for the unprepared author?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Water, Water Everywhere, and all the (Potential) Crimes It Reveals #mystery

We've had a very wet winter and spring - that's something you won't hear people from Texas say with any sort of frequency. But this year it's true. (Every drop of rain is welcome after the drought of 2011. Even when they come in a torrent. Day after day. And drown your garden. We could do without the tornadoes, high winds, hail, and lightning strikes, but the rain is good.)

It's interesting to see how the land reacts to so much water. Our house and some of the best pasture are on high ground, which drops away steeply to hardwood covered bottom land, and then to a creek at our property boundary. This year the bottom land flooded, and looked like this:

The water was deep enough to cover the bottom strand of the electric fence and in places, the top strand. We needed a jet ski instead of a tractor. The good news is that since we couldn't get to the bottom land, neither could the cows, so there was little risk they'd make a break for it to graze along the roadside. (Honestly, the grass is greener...)

Because of our land's topography, we experience quite a bit of run-off. This year the rain has moved dead timber, washed away soil, and uncovered potential evidence of a crime.

We were checking the damage from a strong storm and peeking from the earth were bits of fabric: a baby blanket, baby clothes, women's clothes, a sheet, a single baby shoe, toy shoes, and a spoon. (You know where I'm headed. This can't just be somebody's trash. There has to be a murder involved. Or at least a disappearance.)

I would've been irritated with the neighbors if I'd found this stuff near the back fence, where trash occasionally gets dumped. And I might've figured the people who rented our house back in 2005 tossed out a bag of clothes because they couldn't be bothered to go to the county dump (they weren't the cleanest of people). But these clothes were in the middle of our property, nowhere near the house or any fences.

They've been here for a while. It's not like the clothes were just sitting on the ground. Some were close to the surface, while others were buried under several inches of soil. Some were rotting, and the styles could be from 1980s onward. It's hard to believe all of these clothes didn't get put here at the same time. So what are the possibilities?

A woman and her child were on the run from her abusive husband. She snuck onto our property and picked a sheltered location to spend the night, but had to flee when her husband found her, and she left a bag of clothes behind. Or maybe he killed her and buried the bodies.
A drug addicted woman got kicked out of her home. She packed clothes, her drugs and a spoon to cook them in, and she and her child ended up living on our property. The former property owner surprised her and she took the baby and ran, leaving the clothes and spoon behind. Or maybe he killed her and wild hogs ate the bodies.

A woman and child were on the run, but the person they were running from caught them, killed them, buried the bodies, but didn't worry about the clothes. (Our place is big enough that you could bury a body here and we might never find it. That's not an invitation, by the way.)

A woman steals a child and hides on our property. The police surprise her and she runs, leaving the clothes and spoon behind.

A family falls on hard times and is walking, looking for work, carrying their few belongings. They sleep in pastures at night, but this night the land owner surprised them and they fled, leaving the clothes and spoon behind. Or maybe he killed them all and...well, you know the rest.

The wife of one of the oilfield workers who come on and off our place on almost a daily basis gave him a bag of trash to toss and instead of taking it to the dump, he left it on our place.

Isn't it great? All of these scenarios (except the last one, unless the land owner sees the oilfield worker toss the trash, kills him, and buries the body) could find a home in one of the Cass Elliot novels. All thanks to the rain.

What about you? What weird things (and plot lines) has the weather uncovered for you?

(Were these clothes somehow linked to a real crime? Probably not. The guy we bought the land from left the gates unlocked and people came on and off to hunt, fish, and who knows what else. As my husband suggested, this is probably just a bag of trash someone dumped, but it's much more fun to think there's a crime behind the clothes.)

Monday, March 9, 2015

#Authors! Make Love to the #Tax Man - Get Your Paperwork in Order...

Yeah, I know. Nobody thinks "sex" when the tax man shows up. That was a cheap ploy to get you here because everybody hates tax time...

I'm a CPA and this time of year, I step out of the Cass Elliot Crime Series to work in a tax office. We see hundreds of clients every year, and most of them pay more for our services because they don't take the time to organize their paperwork. (We have one trainable client - he tossed all his paperwork in a boot box and brought it to us last year. It took a couple of hours to sort through it all, and when we gave the boot box back to him, everything was bundled together by source: farm income and expenses, royalty income, itemized deductions, etc. This year, he did the organizing himself, saving us two hours and himself some cold cash.)

I know, I know. Authors are creative types and all this tax nonsense brings us down. It's not that bad, really. If you haven't kept track of your writing expenses during 2014, it may take a little longer to pull everything together, but it's worth the effort because every legitimate business expense you identify lowers your total writing income, which lowers your tax bill.

You'll need to:

gather your 1099-MISC statements from Amazon, Apple, Smashwords, B&N, etc. Ensure your name is spelled correctly and your Social Security number is accurate.

summarize any fees you received for speaking or other engagements.

summarize the income you earned from selling books directly (at book signings, book fairs, or direct from your website). Remember to add up the cost of all those books including shipping, any postage related to shipping them to buyers, and do a count to see how many books you have left in inventory at the end of the year.

prepare a simple schedule summarizing all the expenses related to your writing business (we have four businesses, use an Excel spreadsheet for each, and update them regularly). Use the expense section from Schedule C as a guide. (Read this post if you're not sure about using Schedule C over Schedule E.)

remember to include the miles you drove related to your writing business. If you take a royalty check to the bank, take a writing related package to the post office, visit a book club, or pick up paper and toner, all of these miles are legitimate business expenses. The easiest way to track them is to keep a mileage log in your vehicle, and write down the date, purpose of your trip, and starting and ending miles each time you make a business related trip (the IRS wants you to use a log and keep it as documentation). Failing that, estimate distances and number of trips. This year, start logging.

remember to include the cost of hotels, plane tickets, cab fares, parking, and meals when you travel for writing related purposes. If you attend writing conferences, the fees to attend are deductible.

include the cost of memberships or dues paid to writing related organizations, and the cost of writing related subscriptions.

if you write at home, measure the square footage of the area you use exclusively for your writing and the storage of writing related materials. You might be entitled to take an 'office in the home' deduction. Ask your tax preparer.

calculate the cost of health, dental, and long term care insurance for yourself and your family. If your writing business is profitable, you may be able to deduct some or all of these costs.

And that's pretty much it, folks. Your tax preparer will love you, or, if they're the no-personality type, not hate you. If you self-prepare your taxes, it'll make the process much smoother.

Leave your questions in the comments and I'll do what I can to help.

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