Monday, March 26, 2007

A Taxing Time Was Had By All

Once upon a time, the King's men would ride up to your house, take anything of value, and voila... your taxes where done. Oh, for the good old days, eh? :0)

Anyone who knows me has heard me moan about taxes. I actually don't mind doing them, and I even don't mind paying them, but oh, the time out of my life? That I mind. Some years it has taken me 3 weeks to do my taxes (for my business and home). That's a lot of time out of my life that I could be doing something else. Fortunately, I'm becoming more of an expert at taxes, and more importantly, a better record-keeper. Keeping everything organized really, really helps.

One problem though, for many of us, is understanding those darn tax forms. My business can be rather complicated, so each year I always find something new to figure out, and each year I find that I'm on my own. Oh, I've asked other Cartoonists, but mentioning taxes to a Cartoonist is like uttering a very bad word! Apparently, many don't worry about their taxes, and so don't want anyone asking about them. Others have their Brothers-in-law do them, so they honeslty don't know anything.

First of all, why is it always a Brother-in-law, and second, why don't people do their own taxes? I can't imagine being dishonest, and not doing them, or not doing them right. I simply don't have time for an audit, so I go over everything 3 times, and keep carfeul receipts. As for the others, I can't imagine paying somebody to do my taxes if I didn't understand them enough. That's like handing somebody a blank check!

Anyways, I didn't come here to lecture. You do what you want. I , however, want to point out the benefits of understanding Schedule C for you Sole proprietors and Self-employeds out there.

Admit it.... some of you have thought about doing your own taxes, looked at the forms, looked at the time, and said, "ah, forget about it." Some of you then pretend that you have no income, and others just add all their earnings to income and don't worry about all those deductions that they could be getting. Oh, foolish mortals! The first batch are heading for an audit, and the second are just handing money over to the IRS!

If you're a serious professional, and have never even looked at a Schedule C, then you're going to be giddy as a schoolgirl when you realize that all of your art supplies, office supplies, educational materials, and so much more are deductible! Sure, paper clips are cheap, but all of those little expenses add up. My business expenses were well over a thousand bucks this year, and that is a very conservative estimate. By not filing a Schedule C, you're telling the world that your career is actually just a hobby, and you're losing out on all those deductions that you could be taking.

The flip side of taxes? On the back of Schedule C is a little box called Cost of Goods Sold(COGS). That box says that you can only deduct the actual cost that you pay for goods, and ONLY when you sell those goods. For me, and other Self-publishers, that means that we might pay 6 dollars a piece for 100 books, so our COGS is $600. If we sell 10 books this year, then we can only deduct $60 for our COGS.

And that means that we have $540 of inventory sitting around!

These numbers are fictional, of course, but you get the idea. If you pay for books, or t-shirts, or anything that you want to sell, then you better get off your butt and do something to sell those things.

So here is today's lesson for the Self-employed. Why should we a) Pay our taxes, b) be honest about it, and c) do them ourselves? Simple. By doing so you get a very clear look at your
business, and all of it's strengths and weaknesses. You might see areas for future deductions, or
find that you're being wasteful in some areas, or, like me, you might find that focusing on your
freelance career has left you with a very large inventory of books to sell!

If you have $0 in advertising, and $1000 of inventory, it's not difficult to see where you might
need to focus. And that goes for the rest of the tax forms, as well. By doing your taxes right this year, you could go from small time to big time in the next year.

Even if you pay somebody else to do your taxes, it really wouldn't hurt to understand the forms, and in doing so, understand you business.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Helpful links:

Both of these links have their strengths and weaknesses, but together you get a pretty good idea of how to run your business, keep records, and do those taxes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Familiarity's Brood

They say that Familiarity breeds contempt, but is this always the case? Like everything else in life, this is not a reliable cliche.

Let's face it, we're human. Since the dawn of time, the universe outside our front door has always been a big scary place full of the unknown. We can step out through that cave mouth and be eaten by something big and ferocious, or leave our apartment and get run down by a bus. Or worse... we can get to our jobs and have to deal with backstabbers, evil bosses, scary lunch-ladies, and that guy who wears his shoes on the wrong feet and talks to the hamster named Norman that lives in his shirt pocket.

It's no wonder that a man's home is his castle, or a woman's home is where she is Queen. Home is nice. It's comfortable, and... familiar. We're pretty sure that there's no boogeyman hiding behind the couch, and the only real danger is what used to be a potato salad that is now hiding in the back of the fridge.

How does this relate to cartooning and creativity, you ask? I'm getting to that. Familiarity is a comfort, and this is why we see some frankly boring comic strips filling the comic's pages long after their Creators have passed on. And that is why we have some frankly could-be-better webcomics receiving lots of attention, while greater strips go unnoticed.

The internet is a great venue for Cartoonists; we can have archives, character studies, Creator biographies... even a bookstore... all in one place. The trick is getting people to come to our websites, and more importantly, keep coming back. And the trick to that? Yeah, you guessed it: fresh content.

Now, when webcomics first began, the argument amongst the intelligentsia was the merits of Editors, and who needs 'em. Frankly, I believe we all need Editors, and not just to correct spelling and grammar. By the time a webcomic builds an audience, the strip and its Creator are already set in their ways. Nobody wants to then take feedback and rework their strip into something better because, hey, that's a lot of work! So instead we get some comic strips that range from pretty good to please, God, no more. And what's worse is that we get every little thing the creator ever did.

Here's a tip: truly great Creators don't want you to see their early works, and that's why they appear to be so great. You only see their best. To a point.

And that supports my current argument, about familiarity. Some comic strips have been around for sooooooo very long, and yet still have their original Creators. Unfortunately, they don't always have their original Creativity.

Hey, you say. First you tell us that Newbies suck, and now you're telling us that Old-timers suck. Does nothing please you?

Yes, yes.... I'm trying to make a point here, and yes, it's about me. It's always about me, isn't it?

(sound of embarrassed crickets)

So here I am, at the top of my game. I'm very busy, I'm making money, and my work is out there... all over the world. And yet, not many of you know me, my name, my work, and I sit here every week watching my audience dwindle away. And why is this? Because it's my Freelance work that is paying the bills, and my Freelance work that keeps me busy every hour of the day. I very rarely get a chance to blog like this, and I even more rarely update my website. And that's killing me.

Meanwhile, some young twerp out there with sooooo much free time adds new strips to his website every day, and because there are, what? 6 billion people in the world, he eventually builds up an audience, and gets some attention, and who knows? Maybe his strip IS good, and since he has an audience, he says to heck with the syndicates, and Editors, and goes his merry way, making the same old strips day after day after day, achieving enough fame to keep him going. And he gets his fan mail, and sells some books, and his mother is proud of him.

But he never achieves greatness. Maybe if he sent his stuff out to the Editors, he would have gotten a few rejections, and worked just that much harder. Or he would have reworked that strip, and in the process developed better characters, or improved his artwork, or found a better way to tell a joke.

Who knows?

Meanwhile there's a truly gifted person out there, who has a wonderful comic strip, but no time to develop it, or even show it off. She's worked so hard at it, but she has to get the kids to school, and run off to her day job, and by the time she's ready update her website, it's time for bed. So she eventually quits, and nobody notices.

Familiarity's Brood marches on.

Cheers, JOHN :0)