As someone who is used to do vending on a regular basis, it’s been weird not doing shows this year. Whether I’m helping my sister at art shows or she’s helping me at author events, we’re usually on the road at least once a month, usually for a weekend. This year everything has been put on hold. Conventions are getting delayed until next year, big ones like DragonCon that have never been cancelled before. The COVID-19 pandemic is putting a hold on what we used to call normal, which is probably why it took me a while to make a new post in my vending as an author series.
This post is part of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, a series where authors help authors through all aspects of their author career. I highly recommend clicking on the image above and going to check out all the other amazing blogs in this circle, after reading through mine of course. 😉
So let’s say you would like to apply to go to a craft show or to a convention and have a booth or a table to sell copies of your books. However you’ve never sold your books before in person, and you’re worried about what it takes. Here are a few pieces of advice I have for anyone starting out.
Start an LLC
I know this seems a daunting task for anyone starting out, but let me explain how this is a good idea and how it will protect you. Having an LLC will protect you should your business ever run into any trouble. Let’s say you have to declare bankruptcy for whatever reason, that could be a sickness, an injury, or even a pandemic. If you do business through your own name, then your home, car, or anything else could be used to pay for the dues you owe. Creating an LLC isn’t terribly expensive, I believe it’s $50 to start one (here in Georgia), and you renew it every year for $50.
You’ll want to have a unique name, so you can check their databases to make sure that the name you’re choosing isn’t in use already. You don’t want to step on anyone else’s toes with using a name that’s already taken. Do your research, but trust me that you’ll appreciate it in the long run. Once you have your LLC setup, you can look at writing off expenses on your taxes.
Keep Track of Expenses
Create an excel spreadsheet for you and anyone else that will be helping you keep track of income and expenses. I keep track of any books I order for my business that I’ll be taking to sell at shows. I keep track of tables and tablecloths I have to buy for displays, and any signs that I’ll be using at the event. Basically if I have an expense that’s for my author career, I write it off on my taxes. Then I hand it, along with all the receipts I’ve scanned in, to my tax preparer at the end of the fiscal year.
Oh and sending out books for your giveaways can also be written off on your expenses. If you’re sending in the United States, make sure you also use Media Mail for your packages to save money there too.
Track Your Mileage
This is something that is typically forgotten, but all the travel time on the road is something you can include in your expenses. Download a free app on your phone like Everlance, and you can export everything in a handy excel spreadsheet at the end of the year. The wear and tear on your car, the gas, both are included in the dollars calculated in the app. We usually let it run in the background with our navigator app running in the foreground when we’re traveling to a show. It’s a simple and useful way to track your traveling expenses.
Of course, make sure you also keep track of hotel expenses, airline costs, taxis, mailing books for conventions, etc. At the end of the fiscal year, all of these items can be written off for your small business.
Cloud Storage Will Save Your Life
Currently I have a cloud storage account with 1 TB of space that we use specifically for our business. It’s really helpful to be able to pull a receipt out in the parking lot of a store, snap a picture, and upload it to the folder on your cloud storage account. You get used to it over time. You’ll be grateful at the end of the year that you were organized from the start, and instead of having to scramble to collect everything, you’ll have files and a spreadsheet ready to hand off.
Oh, and the cost of the cloud storage account is something else you can write off for your expenses.
Paying Taxes at Shows
So here’s the tricky part. Every state in the United States has their own rules for selling at shows and for paying taxes. Some of them don’t require you to provide paperwork in advance, and some of them do. It really depends on where you’re selling. It’s up to you to do your research and make sure you’re paying the taxes after the show.
In Georgia they have an event tax form, so for one-off shows you send a check to the city that you were a vendor in. I don’t believe all states have this form, but check where you live to see what the rules are. This is a perfect option for us since we only do shows once a month if that (or we used to pre-COVID).
I know it’s scary setting up your LLC and declaring yourself a small business, but once you start seeing yourself as part of a business, it helps you to say yes to more events. It helps you to walk up to bookstores and request to do book signings. It helps when you see a tax form to know where you stand. Remember that for the first five years or so you will probably be losing money as a business, and that’s perfectly normal. Expect it to take some time before you start to see true earnings.
Remember it’s important to protect yourself and your work. Doing research even if you’re a year or two out from making the leap to starting an LLC will help. I hope this has been helpful! Feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts or questions!