Saturday, September 4, 2010
Writers, beware: A royalty is different than a royalty.
Thank you for your wonderful book. It has been a useful resource in the past year since I purchased it.
I am writing to you with a question I hope you can answer. Early this year, I published my first book. I am receiving royalty checks for the book this year. I am also working on another book (no advance or payment for the text--I'll just get royalties for that one too).
I have been an indie for many years first as a performer and more recently running a martial arts school, but writing is new for me.
I am quite puzzled about how to report royalty income. The IRS schedule E is for reporting income from royalties. However, there is a single sentence in the instructions that says "if you are self-employed as a writer, report your royalty income on a schedule C instead." My question is, what standard does the IRS use to determine if I am self-employed as a writer? On the one hand, it seems that anyone who is receiving royalty income from a book is, sort of by definition, self-employed as a writer. Is the difference whether or not I write off my writing expenses as business expenses? Is the difference whether I have another stream of income? This point has me quite confused, and it seems likely that it could make a difference of hundreds if not thousands of dollars in my tax liability, since schedule C income then gets reported on a schedule SE, whereas schedule E income does not. Any feedback you have on this would be most welcome. I welcome your comment.
Saint Paul, MN
Congratulations on getting published!
My "wonderful book." Oh, how I love to hear that. Thank you.
I don't usually get into tax preparation and tax forms on my blog but because so many accountants screw up on just the question you ask I want to address it here and alert writers to know at least this much about the actual preparation of their tax returns. So here goes:
How much income you make, whether you have other income, whether you write off expenses -- none of those come into play regarding the classification of royalty income. Read these two examples.
With a very little amount of money a regular Jon or Jane could invest in an oil well. Many do through their investment brokers. Many who do don't even know that they've invested in an oil well. At year end they get a Form K-1 from the oil company that says, hey Jon, you made $700 in royalty income. That royalty income goes on federal Schedule E. John didn't do anything to get that $700 other than invest some money.
With a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears Jon writes a book. It is published. Jon's publisher receives the money from the sales of the book. Then the publisher pays Jon his portion of that sale income. At year-end Jon receives a Form 1099 saying that Jon made $700 from the sales of his book. That income goes on federal Schedule C. Because Jon worked his butt off for two years writing the book that royalty is self-employed income and Jon will pay self-employment tax on whatever is left of that income after business expenses are deducted.
Royalty income from a publisher is the same kind of income as a fee for writing a magazine piece or a column for a blog.
The same applies to musicians who get a royalty on their compositions.
It's all self-employed income. Be sure your tax pro treats it as such.