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Peter's Guide To The Business Of Writing

Last Updated October 15, 2000


Remember this is a business; a small business. Treat it as such. You don't have to get incorporated, but you do have to keep good records for income tax purposes. That means keeping receipts, invoices and other financial records. Keeping a set of books. (See any good book on Canadian writing, such as The Canadian Writer's Guide.) Under Canadian income tax law you have to use both the personal income tax form and file the Statement Of Professional Activities. (See Business And Professional Income guide T4002(E) available from Revenue Canada.) Writing does have its benefits. You can legally deduct magazines you buy or subscribe that legitimately contribute to your income. Sorry, you can't deduct Frank if you get it for your own personal amusement.

If your income from writing is $30,000 or more you must collect GST. I know it's a pain in ass and the Liberals broke their promise to scrap it, but that's the law.

Use business cards and some form of letterhead. These help to show you're serious about your profession. Business cards also come in handy for networking and are easy for editors to keep on file.


Professionalism includes such things as keeping deadlines; delivering what you promised; providing neat, polished copy; checking your facts; providing, when requested, a list of your sources to editors for fact checking (some magazines keep fact checkers, who can save you and the magazine from embarassment); not whining over disappointments, like rejections.

Speaking of rejections, they can get you down at times. When you get one take a break. If it really hits you hard, and sometimes they do, take the day or several days off, if need be. Play a computer game, go outside, watch t.v. or a movie. Do anything, but call or write the editor, unless, of course, it's with a new proposal. Sometimes you feel you must write. That's okay, just be sure that you DON'T send it. Delete it. Only rarely is it appropriate to write back. Such a case would be where the editor has clearly confused you someone else or with another proposal.

Some argue that professionalism also means sending a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) with your snail mail queries. With email and many publications not bothering to respond to proposals they reject SASE or no SASE why bother? Also if an editor is interested in your idea they'll contact you regardless of whether or not you send a SASE.

Rights & Copyright

This is too big an issue to fully deal with here. I refer you to writer's magazines, newsletters, trade journals, newspapers, writer's groups and the like for further information.

Here's a general run down on rights. Rights are actually a license agreement that a writer makes with a magazine, newspaper, book publisher or some other media. These range from a very restricted license to a permanent license. Here's what I mean.

First Rights: The writer gives the magazine or newspaper the right to publish an article for the first time. All other rights are retained by the writer.

First North American Rights: Are similar to First Rights, except that the rights are restricted to North America. That means the writer may sell the same piece to a magazine or newspaper in Europe or anywhere else outside of North America.

First Canadian Rights: Means the magazine or newspaper gets the first right to publish your piece on Canada only. You may sell it to an American or European or wherever else publication.

There are various modifications of these. For example sometimes a publication will want, say, First North American Rights and non-exclusive reprint rights. This means that they're also purchasing the right to reprint your piece in any other publication they may own. Another example is a restriction on how soon after they've published your piece you may resell it.

Second Serial Rights: Means the magazine or newspaper is buying a piece that has already been published elsewhere, usually in a non-competing market.

All Rights: The writer gives the publication to do whatever it likes with your piece and you have no further claim on it. You may not reprint it in whole or in part without the permission of the publication even though you wrote it.

Work For Hire: Similar to All Rights, except it is usually done for staff writers.

There's a big fight going on in the writing world over electronic rights. Those are rights to use a writer's work on web sites and data bases. For more information on this issue check out either the Copyright links or the Associations links.

One word of advice when dealing with publications on whatever issue, don't be afraid to negotiate. If you don't try you'll never know. Some publications may ask for All Rights, but will be willing to settle for less if the writer makes even a little fuss over it. The same goes for payment. Sometimes a publication will start out at the low pay end in expectation that the writer may bid them up. This is especially true for a veteran writer.


Payment is made by one of three ways: Payment On Acceptance, Payment On Publication and Payment After Publication.

Payment On Acceptance means you get paid when the editor formally accepts your piece for publication. Usually it means, in effect, that if an editor accepts your piece today, the check will go out to you in about 30 days. Always try to work for publications that pay on acceptance, unless they either have a quick turn around time or you feel there's some other benefit to writing for a publication that does not pay on acceptance, like maybe exposure for your work or to pass on some advice to your fellow writers.

Payment On Publication means you don't get paid until the publication has published your piece. That means they may accept it today, but they might not publish it until next year.

Payment After Publication means you don't get paid until sometime after the publication has published your work. So if they accept your piece today and they publish it next year you may have to wait a further 30 or 60 days.

For more on all this consult a good book on freelance writing, like one of the market guides, or one of the writers' magazines. Also contact your local writers' group as they're willing to share with new and experienced writers alike.

Copyright 2000 Peter D.A. Warwick


Last Updated March 30, 2010

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