Monday, March 29, 2010

More on Business Details

Continuing with JT's questions regarding business matters, today we'll talk about some other things you might want in your author's toolkit. She specifically asked about letterhead, credit cards, and websites.


Why do you need it? Very little business is done via snail mail these days. If you suspect you might need letterhead, you might simply invest in a box of good cotton or linen bond. You already have a good quality printer, right? It's easy enough to print your own letterhead onto good paper if your printer is capable of handling the job. Word processing software gives you lots of options for designing on the page. You can change font and type size. You can lay the text on the page in a particular place. You can incorporate a logo, lines, and other design features, all without anything fancier than what comes in your program.

If you have a good color laser printer or a photo-quality inkjet printer, you might even use the graphics from your website as part of your letterhead. Check the dimensions of your artwork files to make sure they'll fit on the page. You can easily re-size artwork using the standard MSPaint program that comes on most PCs. Just open the artwork in the program, click the Image tab, and select Resize/Skew. Under this same tab, you can choose Attributes to learn the dimensions of the file. Or, if you prefer, you can ask your artist to re-size them for you. If you're trying to enlarge, this might be the better option because MSPaint gives a better result with shrinking and cropping than with enlarging. That's been my experience, anyway.

Credit Cards

Do you need a credit card in your pen name? Probably not. Eventually, you may get to the point where your writing income is high enough to justify incorporation. At that point, you can use your pen name as your corporate name and set up all kinds of bank and credit accounts, get an FEIN, etc.

In the meantime, check your state's rules on DBAs. DBA (which stands for "Doing Business As") standing might be enough to allow you to apply for credit cards in your pen name. This varies a lot from state to state, though, so I can't really offer more insight than to point out that it might be an option. Your local banker should be able to give you more information on this.

For most writers, a garden variety checking account will be a perfectly workable solution. Set up a dedicated account for your writing income. It can be in your own name. Record-keeping is very important for freelance income earners, so you can use your check register to record every penny earned and expended. Many banks provide debit cards or credit cards to account holders, and these cards will frequently suffice for most of your needs.

When will you know it's time to incorporate? Your agent or accountant will probably let you know, but a good rule of thumb is that if you need an employee, you need to incorporate. But even without employees, when your income gets large, you might want to incorporate to take advantage of tax and other benefits. Again, this is something that will vary a lot from state to state. Check with your accountant for more specific information.


You need a website if you want an easy way for people to find more information about you. If you want to be a mysterious recluse, you get to skip it. But then you also get to worry about whether you're hurting your sales, alienating your readers, and setting yourself up to need a second job when you're 70.

It's easy enough to build a web presence even without a formal website. Take this blog, for example. I asked my good friend Red to design us a banner and avatar. We signed up for a free account, and we did most of the link-building and design work (such as it is) ourselves. If you want something spiffier than a blogspot blog, you can use wordpress, which is a bit harder to learn but gives you many more layout and format options. You can set up your blog to look like a standard website by only allowing the newest post to appear on the front page, and then using the post links to act like links to new releases, backlist, and so forth.

If you want to spring for a domain and standard site -- and when you start to rack up releases, you might want to do exactly that -- you'll need a couple of things like a domain name, a basic working knowledge of html, maybe a wysiwig editor like Frontpage or Dreamweaver, some graphics, and so on. You might want to hire a web designer to create your website, or you might want to do it yourself. Websites run from a few hundred to many thousands, and reputable web designers will quote prices for you. Remember to keep records of all these expenses for your taxes and accounting.

Consider other free options, too, like your publisher's website and blog, facebook profiles and fan pages (which can be made fully find-able by search engines), twitter, myspace, and so on. See if you can get added into the rotation on an existing group blog, which will be less work overall but will still help you reach readers.

For more ideas on branding and web design, take a look at some of our past posts on PR. And I'm sure our commenters can offer more ideas on this topic. Most people start out baffled by business and PR requirements, but it's easy enough to learn. Time, dedication, a good network, and maybe a little cash are all you need.


Lyn South said...

Great info...thanks!

What do you think about the type of info that should (or shouldn't) be in a writer's e-signature in emails? Any thoughts?


Julie Harrington said...

Thank you so much! This clears up a ton of questions for me.

Some of the advice I've been reading in article (even though they're current) seemed outdated to a degree to me, like the letterhead and matching envelope thing. It seems like so much of the business is done via email and phone calls these days... does anyone really even write snail mail anymore? I don't know.

The credit card thing was always a puzzler. I know people like privacy and when you're out "as that author" it might be easier to do all business as that author, but beyond that, the need for that left me ????

Websites are trickier. While I can code some and work with templates the whole "how you actually put it together" part stumps me. Website and blog? Just a blog? Would anybody even care if I had something to say? LOL. Fortunately I have a friend who does freelance web design. She's probably going to regret ever saying, "Ooh, I'll help you do that!" *G*

An appointment with my accountant is definitely a must when the time comes. Nothing like a good lawyer and good accountant to help a girl out.

I'll definitely check out the past PR posts, thanks for linking to that.

Thanks again.


Julie Harrington said...

Oh, I have one more question on the blog issue and I think this touches on somebody else's question about pen names. A lot of people suggest you have a blog before you're published, but if you figure you're going to write under a pen-name... and you're not sure what name or think the publishing house may not like that name and you'll wind up having to change it... how can you preset anything up? It would be very awkward to be all "Oops! Sorry, name change in the middle!" LOL. Wouldn't it just be wiser to wait until you have it settled and have a name, or am I looking at this backwards?


Riley Murphy said...

Really good information. I especially like the rotation on a group blog idea - takes the pressure off of being on and available all the time. Also, I'm kind of with JT on this one. Let’s say, you put yourself out there and create an awesome blog under the pen name Ivonna Buttfuck, but then your publisher doesn’t like it. *Insert me shrugging here and then imagine me asking this next question in an over exaggerated Yiddish accent* What, what’s not to like? ;)

So, your publisher isn’t blown away by your creative ingenuity - and now you’ve got these Buttfuckers (that’s what you’ve named your loyal fans...for obvious reasons - hehehe) who you’ll have to convince to break ranks with that cool Buttfuckers blog and join your newly renamed site: Marianne Jameson’s corner.

Hmm...I don’t think that would work. Maybe if you made your blog more of a place than a person at first? (Tapping forefinger to lips. *listening to crickets for a moment* Insert lightbulb popping on here) I got it! And it’s easy, too. How about: Ivonna Buttfuck U - you know? Short for university. That might work. :D

No, seriously, it might work - in that you have this cool place that people can hang out - and meet you - and when you get to the point of finding a pen name and being published - you can then introduce it to them. Maybe have a name my pen name contest. That’s one way to create a buzz and get people to remember it. Let see...for Marianne Jameson? You could give the clues - pie baking castaway meets naughty porn star.

Murphy :D

Dave Shaw said...

Murphy, wouldn't Jenna get upset when she couldn't match your (ahem!) web presence?


Leona said...


Murphy says "Really good information. I especially like the rotation on a group blog idea - takes the pressure off of being on and available all the time."

We've been waiting, some more patiently than others, for those sweet words. Ever since Murphy guest blogged a while back!

I do believe we (I don't remember who all said, but many of us said we'd help) offered Murphy all the base and work and support as long as she blogged for us - not always, but sometimes *G*

Hi Murphy, you missed me with that pen you threw at me :D

You want to try the laptop? I could use a new one LOL

PS I've incorporated a business I worked for and it's relatively cheap to do it yourself (I think it was about 250) in WA. It was also pretty easy. But, not something you want to mess with until you have to.

The company I incorporated was an independent insurance agent whose parent company had exacting rights and rules, etc. One rule was the owner could have no other officers. Made for interesting meetings let me tell you. :D

If you are setting up a writing corporation, you might not want a bunch of officers having any say in your business, either. However, as writers, you have the advantage that when you have your mandatory quarterly meetings you can at least make up characters to keep you company LOL

PS Dave I want a copy of the film of her throwing things at me :P

Dave Shaw said...


Perhaps y'all should name the blog 'Murphy's Law'?

Film at 11!

And on a serious note, making images larger with software always results in poorer images than shrinking them because no software in the world is good at filling in the blanks where it needs to add information. That's why artistic types make all the difference in those situations. Leaving out info is easy, of course. My daughter does it all the time. (eyeroll)

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for answering some of my questions.

Right now, I just have a blog, but I've purchased my name and my blog's name (just in case) If I ever get published, I have them.

Riley Murphy said...

Dave? Web presence? Me? Naw. I'm too shy and unassuming. So Jenna's safe from that threat. :D

L-E-O-N-A! You are relentless. I like that! But the answer is still no. :D


Wes said...


You don't need to worry about having good content for a blog. Your guest blog here a few weeks ago was great. Yes, I'm sure it took a lot of time, but the research and writing will get easier with time. Take it from an old schoolmarm. (Dang, why did I use the word "old"?) As for topics, your readers will suggest some and create subjects by asking you questions just like the loyal readers of this blog do. You'll be OK.

Jami Gold said...


You know why Murphy said she likes relentless, right? Because she's the same way. The woman is like a dog with a bone (and she'll admit that, I'm sure). :) So I'm not holding my breath on her changing her mind...

I went the DBA route. It's easy in my state.

Jami G.