"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tax Time: 10 Tips for Tellers on Tour

Staring at the calendar and then glancing at the calculator are not enough to complete taxes for the professional storyteller. Pulling out hair is less likely to help.

Hopefully you kept receipts for anything connected with your art, though this could mean you have a boxful of papers to shift through and determine if there are any amounts that could be deductible.

While making those decisions (and consulting with an accountant), here are some reminders--
1. Collect all 1099 forms and service agreements
2. Note the times you traveled beyond going to the venues
3. List all membership dues and directory listings
4. Gather receipts for props relating to your performances
5. Determine resources that inspired the creation of your art
6. Consider use of Internet, cellphone and other devices
7. Figure out office supplies used
8. Consider the times you were coached
9. Recall education (registration/tuition)
10. Remember "special" orders

Collect all 1099 forms and service agreements
Throughout the year, you may have signed W-9 form after W-9 form until you knew where to sign blindfolded. The venue has record of you being there, but do you?

I submit an invoice and a service agreement to every place performed. My service agreement is like the one in "The Story Biz Handbook" by Dianne de Las Casas. When you own this book, then she gives permission to use the form as you see fit. This book has been self-published for many years, yet now Libraries Unlimited will release it in Fall 2008. I recommend pre-ordering a copy if you do not already own it.

As the invoices and service agreements forms are already on my computer, they are easy to print and file into a binder. As payment is received, I can mark "PAID" on the invoice and staple either a check stub or a copy of the check onto the paper.

When January comes around, some of the venues may send a 1099 form to add to your records. Universities and library systems tend to be the most organized in this regard. Most places will not send a 1099 form so it is up to you to be as accurate as possible with your income.

Remember to add any grants you received during the course of year, too.

Note the times you traveled beyond going to the venues
Keeping track of your mileage to and from your gigs is obvious, though there will be other times that you traveled in the name of storytelling.

For most places in the same county, I prefer to meet the sponsor in-person and check out the intended stage area a few weeks or even a few months before the actual show. Anytime my car drives to take care of a storytelling errand means I need to make note of the number on the odometer.

A weekly--sometimes semi-weekly--tradition is my trip to the library. I often max out my library card when checking out books to research variants of folktales or to learn business practices to further my reach as an artist. (Luckily my husband is quick to lend me his library card in case of an emergency.)

If you attend guild meetings or storytelling events as an attendee to listen and learn, then the pencil should be moving to make record of these things.

Sometimes travel means parking expenses. Even if you paid $1.00 (or less), always ask for a receipt before leaving the parking lot and label it for the storytelling reason you were there.

When the stomach growls during a storytelling event, keep track of any meals or snacks needed.

List all membership dues and directory listings
Think about the professional organziations that have allowed you to network.

Some of the organizations where I am a paying member: National Storytelling Network; Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance; Storyteller.net; and Utah Storytelling Guild.

Being part of the Chamber of Commerce or the Arts Council may also have fees.

Gather receipts for props relating to your performances
My Dutch cap has transformed from a prop to a trademark. Almost every performance I have it on. Whenever I attend conferences or festivals, I wear it.

This cap has had such a presence that it may be tricky to know if it is considered "prop", "storytelling wardrobe" or "marketing". The best thing is to explain the role of the item and see what your accountant says.

One of my most intense performances is "Hephaestus: Fire Within", which explores child abuse and abandonment with the Greek gods Zeus, Hera and Hephaestus. When sharing this roughly 50-minute tale, the mood could be disrupted if I had my water bottle with me. Instead, I bought a nice earthy-toned goblet so I could drink water without throwing in an object outside the time period.

Determine resources that inspired the creation of your art
The bookstore is a dangerous place for me. . .until I remember that the books I buy could be tax deductible if they played key roles for inspiration, research or story development.

Especially when looking at folktale variants, I keep a bibliography. If my book purchase was ever questioned, I could quickly point out the reason for listing it for my taxes.

Consider use of Internet, cellphone and other devices
Most of my gig requests come by email, usually through my website or blog. This means that a certain percentage of my online time is dedicated to the business. My monthly Internet fees will reflect the percentage of time used for storytelling when reporting taxes.

My cellphone is the second most common way I am contacted for gigs. If I cannot meet with a sponsor in-person to find out more for expectations, then phone interviews are required. Again, a percentage of my time answering and calling for storytelling will be needed when reviewing the monthly cellphone bills.

Whenever I go over my allotted cellphone minutes, it is always for storytelling and at least I can have comfort that some tax relief will result despite the huge bill at the moment.

If other technological devices are used such as faxes or pagers, then make a note of these expenses.

Figure out office supplies used
Whether or not you have a wonderful deal with the local print shop, most likely you go through paper and ink like running water.

From printing invoices to service agreements to thank yous to surveys to whatever else, there is plenty of paper work to be had for the professional storyteller.

Every few months I replenish pens as I always have a basketful of them for audience members to take in order to fill out feedback forms.

Some performances or workshops need a flipchart with easel. Occassionally I have a booth to promote myself or any number of storytelling organizations. I have an inventory of booth items such as tablecloths, table-top easels, plastic brochure holders, metal rack to sell CDs and DVDs, moneybox, etc.

Even the planner to keep track of gigs is important to note for office supplies.

Consider the times you were coached
No matter what industry, there is always a chance to improve your craft. The storytelling community has well-known coaches such as Doug Lipman, Susan Klein, Nancy Donoval and Kevin Cordi. Then there are the ones who are more quiet though willing to share in whatever way they can like Don Doyle.

Some storytellers have coaches outside the community to guide business practices or to merge storytelling with other art forms such as music or dance.

Once a week for about a month I was coached on how to pronounce Hawaiian words so I could shares tales from those islands with more ease.

Anyone can be a coach and some give advise for free. Yet, when money is exchanged for the wisdom, then the government needs to know.

Recall education (registration/tuition)
Beyond one-on-one coaching, there are the conferences and workshops.

I have budgeted to go to the National Storytelling Conference ever since attending my first one in 2004. My registration fees are deductible, though I would attend regardless if I could count it on taxes.

I am in process of getting my Masters in Storytelling through East Tennessee State University. Normally tutition would be deductible, but not for me. My parents had the insight to create a 529 Education fund to cover tuition, housing, and textbook expenses. I paid my way through Brigham Young University for the Bachelors as I knew other expenses would face me in the "older" years like mortgage.

Remember "special" orders
It is not every year that I have a photo shoot or that I order 500+ pins. Nor is it every year that a CD is made or a DVD is filmed. What may be a category one year on taxes may not be there the next year.

These "special" orders tend to be ones we are quick to share with family and friends and perhaps forget to announce for the government to help with our deductions.

There are many more tips to know when filing taxes and that is why I always turn to my accountant.

The good news is that by doing our taxes, we know we made money with the art we love.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799


Dianne de Las Casas said...


Great advice! I use a terrific program to invoice and generate reports on payables and receivables - Microsoft Money for Small Businesses. It's a user-friendly program and even has the ability to track product sales including tracking your inventory. At the end of the year, I just generate a report that is already organized into the tax categories I need.

Thanks also for plugging my book. I am excited about the latest edition of The Story Biz Handbook.

Keep up the great work!


Anonymous said...

Terrific article. I hate logging business mileage for my real estate write off. Look into an automatic mileage logger from Vulocity. It's really cool.

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Sean said...

Nice article. I am not so sure the mileage is as simple as listed. You've got to be very careful in that not every trip related to storytelling is deductible. Simply driving to an event, paid or not, does not make it a deduction.

Awww, you left me off your coaches list. I shall go cry now. :-)