The Business of Writing

We did our taxes a week or so ago and for the first time I presented my envelop of receipts with not a small amount of pride. Even though I didn't sign my contract until a week ago and will have to wait a couple of weeks for the check to show up, I consider myself a legitimate author as of the year 2005 when my book deal was announced in Publishers Marketplace.

The tax guy, a very nice man named Arthur, went through the legal stuff; I could go back an write off five years of expenses if I had been working in the same field before those five years and I could only write off office space if I had earned an income, etc. All said, my write off was decent considering it came from books, paper, postage, printer ink and such. And my husband was glad I tagged along, even though I pulled out a book midway through because, if you don’t know, doing your taxes is really quite boring. But it has to be done and I’m sure next year’s filing will be a bit more entertaining as my income situation muddies up the waters for both of us and Arthur.

My next manuscript has been turned into my editor Sulay at Kensington. It’s the story of a very focused caterer who finds herself at a loss when her boyfriend up and leaves her with no warning. It follows her journey as she tries to figure out what she wants out of life and how she can make her family understand that she’s not a sad spinster who just cooks for other people. I call it Starting from Scratch, but I’ve learned not to get attached to the title, and it happens to be the first book I wrote. [1] The main character is a little more likable but more frustrating than Jacqs and I look forward to the tweaks and tightening that come with the editing process to turn it into a good, enjoyable story. I like the story, I like the main character and all her flaws and I like how I got to explore family, love, sex, food and religion. Plus, I got to visit San Francisco in my mind all over again.

So this is all well and good, but two books do not a publishing career make and so I’m getting ready to think about my third novel. Since I’ve reached a level with Kensington where they seem to trust me, I don’t have to write the entire thing and can pitch them a novel based on a detailed synopsis and a few sample chapters. And then it’s up to me to keep coming up with ideas and writing forever or at least until I run out of ideas and win the lotto. Since I don’t play the lotto, I guess I’ll have to keep writing. Running out of ideas is not really an option, but I will have to learn to pace myself and really focus on not getting distracted by other ideas when I should concentrate at most on two projects at a time.

I’m not sure how most writers do it, but when I was in journalism school my teachers said to keep a file full of potential story ideas. (My concentration was magazine journalism because I preferred writing features to breaking news or just straight news in general.) And so over the years I’ve written down a few ideas that are just waiting to be fleshed out into complete novels in various genres.

Which brings me to my next point—pen names. I’m all for them and as I expand into other genres, I will employ them to their best advantage. Some people don’t understand why I don’t use one name for all my work. Isn’t the whole point in publishing a book for the cool kids who ignored you in high school to see it at Borders or Target and suddenly feel really crappy about themselves? Well, yes and no.

Yes, there is a slight tinge of “look at me now, sucker” but its tempered with the reality that revenge writing will only produce so much of a career. (Think of the various revenge-lit books out there by ex-nannies, editorial assistants at glamorous magazines and mommy-and-daddy-screwed-me-up adults. You can’t write the same book more than twice and by then most readers have caught on to you.) This is why I work strictly in the realm of fiction and fictionalize anything which may have come from real life, but don’t write anything based on my life. So if I publish my young adult series under my middle name and the name of my grade school and no one who went to grade school with me knows its me (if they remember me at all), that’s OK.

I know and the people important to me know what I’ve accomplished and we all share the love as I pick up the bill for dinner and then write it off as a business expense.

[1] Technically I wrote a submission for a first time young adult author contest in 1998 while I was in between jobs. Clocking in at about 25,000 words, I was pretty happy to have completed it and have since gone on to develop it as a series which my agent is getting ready to pitch in the near future.

(originally posted 03-18-06 on

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