Monday, January 24, 2011

Tax Tips for Writers

On January 13th, Sandra Fitzpatrick gave a presentation on Canadian income tax law for writers to Mystery Writers Ink. Sandra Fitzpatrick has been doing taxes professionally since 2006; she shared with us some important tips about organizing your tax information and tracking your income and expenses.


Sandra recommends that writers keep track of their income on a monthly basis. An Excel spreadsheet is one of the best methods to track income. Keep a record of the date that you received income, the source of the income, the total amount and the amount of GST collected. Writers should issue a receipt for income and record the receipt number in the spreadsheet.


Keep track of your expenses on a monthly basis as well. Set up another Excel spreadsheet to track expenses.

You need to be able to prove to the Canada Revenue Agency that you have a real business and that you are trying to show a profit, so for each expense that you claim; you should have a receipt to support it. On the receipt, write the reason for the expense, if it is not obvious.

A credit card statement is not a sufficient receipt. For example, if you pay for gas at a service station, then you need to be able to show that what you paid for was gas for your car, not a newspaper, coffee or snacks that tempt you as you pay for the gas.

Some expenses that writers can claim are:

  • Two writer's conventions per year (keep track of editor and agent appointments)
  • Research expenses, including travel
  • Meals – 50% of the bill including the tip and GST
  • Courses taken to further your business
  • Office supplies
  • Magazine subscriptions for research purposes
  • Guidebooks and maps for research purposes
  • Books on writing
  • Office equipment where you may have to claim Capital Cost Allowance (ask your accountant)

Car Expenses

The easiest way to claim your car expenses is to keep track of your mileage. CRA sets a rate per kilometre that you can claim as an expense. (About $.50 per kilometre) Check the CRA website as the rate changes from time to time.

Home Office Expenses

Home office expenses, unlike other expenses, can be deducted only against your writing income. If you have a home office, then keep track of your mortgage interest or rent, taxes and utilities. If your home office is 10% of the area of your home, then you can claim home office expenses of 10% of house expenses. If your home office expenses are more than your writing income, you can carry the unclaimed amount over to future years to be claimed in the year when you get that big advance.

If your business is successful, in April, you will have to pay your taxes. One method to make certain you have the cash on hand is to save 25% – 33% of every check you receive. At the end of the year, after you pay your income tax, you can either save or spend the rest.

Record Keeping

Find a filing system that works for you. If CRA ever knocks at your door, you will have to be able to produce your records to confirm your income and your expenses. You will have to be able to show that the there was a good business reason to pay the expenses that you claim in your income tax return.


If you make more than $30,000 per year, you need to collect and pay GST to CRA. You will need to apply for a GST number. It is easiest to pay GST annually. Every time you collect GST, transfer it to your savings account, so at year-end, you have the money to pay the tax. Otherwise, you may be paying penalties and interest.


Saturday, January 22, 2011



By Kate Thornton

Back when I first started writing, many years ago, I assumed because I thought I was a writer, I was a novelist. I just started writing, throwing in everything I could think of to tell my heartbreaking tales of timeless wonder, deathless prose and obvious genius. Heck, I didn't even really know what a short story was when I started writing.

I ended up with lots and lots of words, but still they were inadequate in conveying the grand ideas I thought I had.

Something was wrong. Well, plenty was wrong, but mostly I was trying to tell stories in too many words - way too many words. Fortunately, I discovered that I wasn't really trying to write novels, I was trying to write short stories. Once I realized that my ideas were better suited to a short form, I got better with practice. Maybe the things I learned about short stories can help you.

What is a short story?

All short stories share some similar basic characteristics. They all have a beginning, a middle and an ending. If your piece does not have all three, you may have a delightful slice-of-life or vignette, but without the basic form, you don't have a short story.

Your beginning is very important. You have only a few words in which to capture your reader and make him want to continue reading. You need a "grabber," an opening sentence that gets your reader's attention immediately.

There are lots of opening lines so memorable that we know them by heart. Go for an opening that won't let your reader stop, a specific event or idea that makes them want to find out what is going to happen.

The middle is where you expand on your idea, describe your setting or characters and get the reader to want to know more. It's where you tell the story. It's where the mystery or crime happens, where we get to know the good guys and bad guys. Ideally, a short story will have one central idea or plot line and no more than three main characters.

The end - especially in a mystery story - is where you hit your reader hard with what happened. It's the place where they either say, "Wow! I didn't see that coming!" or "Yes, that's exactly it!" Twist stories are designed to surprise the reader with an ending that is unexpected but satisfying.

Where do you get your ideas?

I get them from everywhere. I read, eavesdrop on conversations, skim the newspaper, mis-hear what people say on television and play the what-if game. What if that guy in line at the supermarket buried his wife in the basement. What if that person the cops are looking for is your husband. What if you heard someone planning a crime. You get the idea!

One thing that really helps me is my Idea File. Every time I think of an idea that might be of use, I stash it in my idea file. Then, when I'm staring at The Blank Screen of Death, I can rummage through my file until something starts to grow.

Getting the story written

I think there is nothing like the BIC method: Behind In Chair. Sit down and do it - get out that idea file and start writing. Don't worry about perfection, just tell the story to yourself and write it as you go. There will be plenty of time to edit once you have the basics down. And you can always write that killer opening line after you write the rest of the story.

What to do with a finished story

1. Revise. It's never really done, is it?

2. Get a sound critique.

3. Submit.

Revise. Write the story, then go back and rewrite it until it makes sense. Then rewrite it until it sounds good. Then go back and rewrite it until it sounds great. You might have to rewrite a dozen times to get it the way you know it can be.

Get a sound critique. Kiss your mom, but listen to your Sisters. As much as your mom loves your work, remember, it's probably you she loves and your work only by extension.

Sisters in Crime, however, is an example of a good writing group - there are many chapters worldwide and an internet-based chapter for those who do not have a local live chapter. The Short Mystery Fiction Society is an online group devoted to mystery short stories, and offers a wonderful list of markets, as does Absolute Write, a forum for writers of all genres.

These groups have writers who will let you have the benefit of their expertise. Take advantage of sound feedback and good advice.

Submit. Your story needs to find readers, so you must find venues for it and begin the submission process. You will discover paying and non-paying markets, anthologies, ezines, print magazines, even your church bulletin and garden club newsletter. And don't forget non-fiction venues - you may find one that will publish fiction.

Here are a couple of excellent market listings for mystery short fiction:

Remember to become familiar with places in which you wish to publish and read each venue's submission guidelines carefully - the guidelines will tell you exactly what that market will publish (subject matter, length, etc.) and the exact format they want, too. Also listed in the guidelines will be pay and rights information.

Rejection - we all get it. So send your story somewhere else. Then work on your next story while you're waiting to hear. Keep writing, revising and submitting. And let us know when you get published!

KATE THORNTON lives near Los Angeles and has over 100 short stories in print. She writes mostly mysteries and science fiction, teaches a short story workshop and has a new book of short fiction out, INHUMAN CONDITION Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

Bloody Words Progress Report #2

BLOODY WORDS 2011 June 3-5, 2011 Victoria, BC

Bloody Words, Canada's foremost mystery conference for readers and writers, comes to the West Coast for the first time! Join us in Victoria, BC, June 3-5, 2011.

Guests of Honour:

International Guest of Honour: Tess Gerritsen, medical doctor-turned-author of 3 series (romantic suspense, medical thrillers, and the police procedurals made into the TV series Rizzoli and Iles)

Canadian Guest of Honour: Michael Slade, acclaimed author of the Specialx series and other crime/horror novels. Enjoy a blood-chilling 1940s radio play at Michael Slade's Shock Theatre (open to all conference attendees) and his Ghost Walk to some of Victoria's haunted sites (pre-registration required; details to be announced).

Special Guest of Honour: William Deverell, author of award-winning legal thrillers and creator of Street Legal. Deverell will be presented with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of his contributions to Canadian crime writing.

Registration Deadline

Registrations for Bloody Words 2011 already exceed half of our available banquet space, if you haven't signed up yet, REGISTER NOW.

Agent Interviews: Available slots are filling up fast. Act now.

Bony Pete Short Story Contest: Monday Magazine, Victoria's alternative newspaper, will publish the winning entry online, with a lead-in from the print edition. Entries must be postmarked no later than March 1, 2011. complete guidelines.

Manuscript Evaluations: Submissions must be postmarked by April 15, 2011. See the website for details.

Notes to Published Authors:

1. Programming Deadline: Programming is already underway. To be guaranteed consideration, you must register byMarch 1.

2. Bios and pix: If you wish to be on the program, please send a bio of 50-100 words and a black and white head shot (300 dpi, jpg or tiff ) to NOW. Deadline is March 15.

3. Bumpf: Send 250 books, bookmarks, postcards, pens, other promotional items that will fit easily into goodie bags (no flat sheets) to Kay Stewart, #206-71 Gorge Road West, Victoria, BC V9A 1L9, postmarked no later than May 1. Material sent later may not make it into the bags.

4. Ads: Encourage your publisher to take out an ad in the program book or do it yourself byMarch 31. For information, email John Thornburn, Advertising Director, at

5. Books: Dead Write Books, our conference dealer, will bring in books of published authors who are on the program. Self-published authors can arrange for Dead Write to handle your books. For queries, email

Hotel Reservations: The conference block at Hotel Grand Pacific is already fully booked. However, the hotel will continue to accept BloodyWords bookings at the conference rate ($179 per night, single or double, plus tax) as long as non-harbourside rooms are available. Don't forget to mention BloodyWords when you make your reservation.

Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet June 2: the Hotel Grand Pacific. Come early and see the show. For information, consult the Crime Writers of Canada website: For banquet tickets, email beginning April 1.

Kay Stewart and Lou Allin, Co-Chairs