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Keeping Records

2011 August 10

[Note: I wrote this article for the 2010 September Outdoor Writers of Canada newsletter, Inside Outdoors.]

Copyright (C) 2009 Don H. Meredith

When I first saw the announcement last spring (2010) about Access Copyright’s new Payback program, I felt a cold chill run up my back. As you remember, Payback required writers and photographers to submit by May 31, 2010 the number of publications and photographs they had published for each of the last 20 years. The cold chill was the result of my contemplation of how I was going to come up with all that information. I’m sure I was not alone. However, there is nothing like waving money in front of somebody’s nose to get them to do a job they otherwise would not.

I suspect I was a bit better off than many, as I try to keep a running tab of what I’ve published over the years. This list or bibliography has helped me in several ways, from keeping my résumé up to date to just reminding me when and where I wrote about a particular subject. However, I failed to note how many pages or photographs I had published with those articles and books. So, I had to make a trip down to my basement storeroom and rummage through my archive files to resurrect my tear sheets and count pages and photos. My bibliography did come in handy to ensure I found all my publications. On the other hand, the search found a few articles I had neglected to include in the bibliography.

Keeping records is not something that comes easily to the creative mind. When you are creating a story or composing a photograph, you are not thinking about how it should be found years down the road. However, as Benjamin Franklin noted, “nothing is certain but death and taxes,” and both death and taxes require records to be kept. Now, you may not be too concerned about what happens to your writing after your death, but your heirs and maybe even your readers might be. Taxes are more of a concern for the living, and record keeping is necessary to ensure you pay as little tax as legally possible.

Taxes

When I first started my writing business, over 30 years ago, I quickly learned it was important to keep a record of income and expenses. In those days, the personal business computer was just a fermenting dream in the minds of people like Steve Jobs; so, most small business records were kept in the old-fashion manual way. I used columnar graph paper, one page to record income and another to note expenses. In those early years I found it easy to forget to record receipts for supplies etc. but after I did a couple of tax returns, it soon became apparent that I should become a lot more disciplined if I wanted to keep most of what I earned.

Today, spread-sheet computer programs can handle a ledger quite easily and do all the math. There are also accounting programs that look after all financial aspects of a business; but I find my spread sheet program (Microsoft’s Excel) adequate for the business I run (no employees or large inventory). Over the years I’ve developed a business template that allows me to easily enter data, organize it to correspond to the Canada Revenue expense categories, and see where I stand at a glance. Come tax time, it is quite easy to transfer the totals over to the tax form.

No matter how good your software, if you don’t use it, it isn’t much help. As soon as I receive a payment for my writing, or buy a memory card for my camera, I make sure I record same on the spread-sheet. This saves a lot of work at tax time, and like I said, I know where my business is financially at any given moment, allowing me to make informed decisions about such things as quarterly tax payments.

Now, I know some of the form-phobic among us prefer to dump all their receipts and cheque stubs on accountants at tax time and let them figure it out. I can understand this. The tax form is a complicated mess. However, I have found computer tax programs to be quite easy to use (I use Intuit’s QuickTax). The good ones check your work and make sure you are not missing deductions that may apply. They also allow you to file your return on line, speeding your refund if any.

Death and Access Copyright

Up until the establishment of Access Copyright (AC), there was no big incentive to keep a complete record of what you wrote or photographed. Sure, you might keep a list of some of what you published to add to résumés, etc. and it might be informative for your heirs to see in one place all that you did; but the act of recording everything just didn’t have any immediate benefits. When Access Copyright came along (as CanCopy), that all changed. Suddenly there was a need to record with AC what you’ve published so that if it was copied, you could receive royalties. If you were like me, you probably only recorded with AC those publications you thought might be of interest to someone to copy, usually your more recent publications. After all, AC’s old online recording program (Rights Management System) left a lot to be desired. However, Payback has ensured that we need to keep a record of everything we publish.

Bibliographies can be recorded as either a spread sheet or word processing document. I store my bibliography on a MS Word document. where I record all pertinent information about when, where and what. There I can easily copy and paste things to other documents if necessary. However, Payback’s requirement to also record number of pages and photographs, forced me to make another list on a spread sheet. There I can set up formulas to determine the total number of pages and photographs. This is the sheet I will use each year to update my Payback submission.

Keeping records need not be an arduous task. Setting up templates can initially be time consuming, but once done the work becomes easier. The next thing is to maintain the discipline to get the recording done and move on to other things.

 

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