The Business Side of Christian Writing
The last thing a Christian writer wants to think about is the business side of their work.
Most are enraptured by telling their story. Many would give away their work if they thought it would do good. They want to honor the Lord.
Nevertheless, many Christian writers want to be good stewards of their time and talent. They understand that turning a profit is a significant achievement, even if they donate their profits to their church or a Christian ministry.
A profit proves that your writing has a purpose and is not just a hobby where no profit is expected. Giving away your Christian book doesn’t mean much. People download books they never read. A profit is the surest sign that people care about what you have written.
A good steward wants to handle their book sales and blog income professionally. Here are some of the elements of that.
Know that You Must Wear Two Hats
Most Christian writers fail with their books and blogs because they have a passion for writing and nothing more. They fail to understand that there is a business side and don’t want to be bothered with that. Rather than act in businesslike with money, or attend to the difficult task of selling their book or promoting their blog, they sit back and wait for a miracle that seldom arrives.
You must wear two hats at different times if you intend to succeed as a Christian writer. One is your creative hat, the other is your business hat. You wear the correct one when trying to accomplish a relevant task. Be sure to look in the mirror to see what hat you’re wearing when making particular decisions.
Most here understand the creative aspect of writing. Let’s focus on the business side.
You Need a Brand
Before you start writing an Indie book or begin a blog, you need to brand yourself. You are one of the millions trying to write your way to success, and you need to stand out from the others. Branding does that. You want to pick the right name and logo for your publishing company, whether book publishing or blog, and stick with it.
One of my favorite branding stories relates to a little-known blog called Ariannaonline.com, run by a woman named Arianna Stasinopoulou. It was an activist site masquerading as conservative news, and her first campaign was to support the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Later, three things happened:
- She married a man named Michael Huffington, who turned out to be a homosexual.
- She changed her politics from conservative to liberal.
- She morphed Ariannaonline.com into HuffingtonPost.com. In recent years it has been called HuffPost.com.
No, I’m not a fan of her politics, but the business side of her story is instructive. In 2011, AOL purchased HuffingtonPost.com from Arianna Huffington for $315 million. Verizon later bought AOL, and Arianna Huffington no longer had a formal editorial role. Today the site is owned by BuzzFeed.
The point here is that you want to think about the name you use and your logo. You want to think about whether you’ll be happy with one book or a blog or you want other media holdings, like additional books, audiobooks, a chain of websites, a podcast, or any of the other things creative people can do today.
Brand for the future, and then rise to me that future. You need to put on your business hat to do that.
Put Your Financial House in Order
Remember, it takes money to make money. It is nearly impossible to publish a book or a blog on a shoestring in today’s competitive climate. You need to have money yo pay your expenses, not they to get them for free because you are writing a Christian book. The Bible teaches the “servant is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18), so don’t try to short-change the person who edits your book, creates your cover, sets up your blog, or performs other services for you.
When you start any type of publishing endeavor, you want to think about the financial realities. Jesus thought the investment of time and money was important (Matthew 25:14-30).
Banking procedures are a mark of professionalism. Believe me when I say that you want to keep your personal bank account separate from your personal bank account from Day One. It is essential not to try to do business from your personal checking account for many reasons, including taxes.
Once you pick your business structure, you want to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to use in place of your personal Social Security Number in all your business dealings. An EIN is free at the IRS website. You don’t want to open a business account at your bank using your personal Social Security number.
Before getting an EIN or opening a business account, you’ll need to decide how you will structure your publishing company. Here are the common options. You will want to consult a lawyer or financial advisor before picking one.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), “A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common structure chosen to start a business. It is an unincorporated business owned and run by one individual with no distinction between the business and you, the owner. You are entitled to all profits and are responsible for all your business’s debts, losses, and liabilities.”
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
LLCs have become popular in recent decades. They offer tax benefits and legal protections not available to Sole Proprietors. Still, They are less demanding than a full-blown Corporation. In a sense, an LLC can be a good business structure depending on your personal circumstances.
A corporation is not a person wearing two hats. A corporation is an entirely different person, a separate legal entity. It’s distinct from its owners. Corporations can make a profit, be taxed, and can be held legally liable. A corporation lives even after you die.
What is your role in your blogging corporation? You are a shareholder, director, or even an employee—but you are not the owner. Your right to ownership is determined by how much stock you own. If 51%, you’re still in control.
The Government is Your Partner
You will have a tax liability, so keeping your publishing funds separate from your personal account is important. You’ll want your accounting to be precise. At some stage, you will likely owe:
The best way to legally avoid sales tax is to sell through places like Amazon. They collect it and pay it to state or local agencies. Sales tax can be a major headache if you sell directly.
Employment taxes (Social Security, Unemployment)
This is why you want to have enough capital to start. You can pay yourself a small salary and pay minimal taxes. When you get more profitable, you can pay yourself more.
Income tax on profits
Regardless of the type of business structure you choose, you’ll end up paying taxes on profits. But remember, you have gross earnings, minus expenses, to come up with your net taxable profit. You can likely write off (deduct) your office (even a home office), your computer, software, internet connections, trips to writing conferences, and many other things from your gross income. When your profit is small, your tax liability is also small. You want a good Certified Public Account (CPA) to maximize your tax savings.
Embrace Your Business Role
Many Christian writers dislike the business side of their work. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve worked with authors for decades, and they always say they are good at writing but bad at business and promotion.
I always try to be kind in such cases, but I think that approach is counterproductive. It’s like a baseball player saying he likes to throw the ball but doesn’t like catching it.
Christian creative people can and should make money. But today, more than ever, they cannot live with blinders over their eyes, hoping they can ignore promotional and business responsibilities.
If you intend to make money, you will have to run your book sales or blog as a business. Even if you think you can game the system by not opening bank and tax accounts, you are still in business but operating “under the table,” which does not please the Lord.
If you intend to make a profit with your book publishing or blogging enterprise, as I believe you should, you must embrace standard business practices. The business side of writing is just as important as the creative side. You can make enough money to meet your obligations and still have enough money to fund your hopes and dreams.