Writers: Read this before you do your taxes!
This just in. Like, for real.
Hello, and congratulations. We made it to Thursday.
For a while, I’ve been planning to do a well thought out and polished post on all things money, but the “polished” part of that post is going to have to wait because I got information this week that is going to blow your mind.
In case you don’t know that they exist, or don’t participate in any, there are private little groups all over the Internet for writers who 1) write specific things and/or 2) worry about specific things. I’m in the number two kind of group, and our worry is “money.” Do you know what came to my attention this week? Writers can write off agent commissions as a business expense on their taxes.
Did you hear me?
Writers can write off agent commissions as a business expense on their taxes.
And not just their literary agent commissions.
Film agent commissions.
Speaking agent commissions.
Anyone taking a cut of what you make.
I am the squeaky wheel in this particular writer group: most of the members are bigger names and bigger earners than I am. I have been bothering these people with outraged posts this whole week, like, how am I (someone who wrote a freaking GUIDEBOOK to the industry) the last person on earth to know this? Why was everyone keeping this a secret from me? Why was my agent keeping this a secret? Why were my friends?
But outside of this forum, as I’ve been spreading the word around, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in not knowing this. My own agent didn't know this. My closest writer and editor friends didn’t either.
But I’ve researched and researched, and this information appears to be legit. So legit, I have a line for you as to where you put said agent commissions (if you’re reading this, person who gave me this specific information, thank you!):
Schedule C, Part II, Line 10 (Commissions and Fees)
Many of the people in my writer group have accountants who specialize in publishing. One person said they thought that writing off agent commissions was “intuitive.” But it isn’t. Most people I’ve talked to outside of that forum are now scrambling to re-file—I’m scrambling to re-file for the past three years, which is the maximum amount of time that I can go backwards and try to course correct. (It’s also the three years where I’ve earned the least. Go figure!)
Listen. Friends. One of the reasons I wrote BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is because—once I started publishing—I realized there are hundreds of things gatekeepers assume us writers know, but we don’t know them, because nobody ever told us these things, and financial knowledge about the publishing industry doesn’t download into us once we get a book deal. I’m angry and ashamed that I spent years interviewing hundreds of people for my guidebook—many of them about money—and this thing about agent commission write-offs never, ever came up. I’m upset that it isn’t in the “money” section of my book. I’m upset at all the money I could have saved that I badly needed this past decade+, and I’m upset for those of you who will find yourselves in the same boat.
If you’re an agent or editor reading this: for goodness sake, can you please be more transparent about what us authors should be doing with our finances? I’m not saying you need to take night courses in accounting on the side of your day job, but at the very least, give us authors a little Finance 101 PowerPoint after we sign contracts. Give us recommendations of accountants, organizations, anyone who can steer us in the right direction as we start earning money from our art, so that we don’t learn what we needed to know upfront by making big mistakes.
Disclaimer: I am not an accountant. I am bad with numbers. You should not take my word alone on all of this as scripture—you should take this information and bring it to an accountant if you have agent commissions in your life.
What you should take, though, is the encouragement to speak to your fellow artists candidly about money: what you know to be true, what you think is true, what you have earned and what you’ve lost. Just think about the ripples that the #publishingpaidme hashtag had on advances after that trend pushed people to be more forthcoming about who earned what for what. Writers started understanding, for the first time, if they were underpaid or over. And things (slowly, slowly!) started to change.
Please feel free to share this post widely, with the disclaimer, again, that I am not an accountant. I’m just a writer who wants more financial transparency about this industry for myself and for my peers out there in the world.
Hi, Courtney! After searching this site, I'm not sure where else to pose this question, so thanks for any grace of me doing so here. I attended your recent (wonderful!) query writing class with WLT, but had to do so via the recording. In it, you mention that attendees could post pitches and queries to your substack for possible review. Can you share more about how I might do that? Thank you so much!
If only my agent had actually sold my book... 🤦♀️ 😢 I’m pissed in general that the IRS says my writing is just a hobby because I don’t make enough money to declare it work... like how dare they belittle my efforts that way. Lol but not lol.