Saturday, October 31, 2015

The ODSP and That Advance Against Royalties.

Dubkat, our mascot here at Long Cool One Books.

Louis Shalako

Okay, let’s say you’re a client of the ODSP and you’ve sold a book project to a traditional publisher.

Forget the intricate details of the actual book deal. Forget rights and licenses, signings and conventions where everyone pats you on the back and wants your autograph.

The key thing is that you’ll be getting an advance against future royalties.

Since we’re operating as a business under ODSP guidelines, we’re allowed to earn $100 a month without penalty against our benefit cheque. We’re also allowed an ‘automatic expense deduction’ of $100 a month. This is similar to, but not the same as the Work Related Benefit of $100 cash which the government would send to a client employed by somebody else. They could work two hours a week and still get that cash.

So. Let’s say you get an advance of $20,000. It's in the form of a cheque, and all in one lump sum. You’re allowed the first two hundred free and clear. After that, the ODSP wants their money. They figure their share is $9900. Sure seems simple enough. They’ll just stop your cheque for eight or nine months, until you’re paid up. 

They will still (arguably) maintain other benefits, such as dental, medical, drug and eyeglasses.

You would basically be living on ‘their half’ of the advance money until you are good with them again. Presumably, you’ve stuffed the rest into your business account, keeping everything nice and separate from your personal affairs. Your business account is now $2900 over the allowable limit. You’ll be asked to spend it down, take it as income, or invest back into the business. Investing back into the business is problematical for someone still living below the poverty line, and expenses must be incurred during the month the income arrived.

Since you’ve already been assessed an overpayment, theoretically, you should be able to take it out of the business account (maximum of $7000 allowable) and just put it in your personal account. The trouble there is, depending on the size of the advance, you also have a limit (six or seven grand) of how much you can have in the bank. Yet isn't this what you’re sort of supposed to be living on…it’s very difficult to explain the guidelines, but if you don’t understand them, you’re going to get stung.

Yeah, they’re real nice that way. The tax people recognize averaging of income, over a period of years, to make an assessment of what you owe, at the present time. 

The ODSP does not recognize this concept.

According to my worker, the ODSP is interested in ‘cheques cashed and deposits made’. 

They're not all that worried about you living below the poverty line.

It would be wise to have some kind of plan in place to deal with this kind of financial challenge. After all, you haven’t had any money at all for quite some time. The fairest thing I can think of is to hang onto as much of it as possible, for as long as possible, and to do with it what you want when you want it. This is not the way the ODSP generally works. It’s a publicly-funded disability pension, and they all have their restrictions, no matter what the jurisdiction. This one just happens to be Ontario.

In terms of being $2900 over the limit in the business account, (remember your $9900?) theoretically you could buy computer components, perhaps an ereader, perhaps a tablet or laptop might be appropriate to the business. You still have the challenge, where the ODSP will never tell you up front just exactly what might be acceptable and what might not—although their reporting form shows a box called ‘approved expenses’, it is more probably a case of them assessing things after they have happened. What if I bought a five hundred dollar phone? The trouble is, I don’t really need anything that expensive. And they might very well say it’s for personal use, and so it’s not accepted. In which case, I just pissed a bunch of money away, where I really didn’t have to—not exactly a sound business decision. And it would now be income, and then they want their fifty percent, sometimes double-dipping because you're already in over-payment mode. 

It is as complicated as it sounds. Most disabled people really don't have that much business experience, and we are all too easily burned.

And you have to get all this shit down in the month you received the income—the big advance we’re talking about.

Your ‘legitimate’ business expense might be denied. Yet any other businessman could have the same phone and write it off, or some portion of it off, against the business.

It gets worse when dealing with the ODSP, for your twenty thousand dollars (income)  is now above the basic personal exemption for income-tax purposes.

Basically, the challenge there is to show the ODSP, probably using current tax tables, exactly how much money you’re going to owe the tax people, (in Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency) at the end of the current fiscal year.

I have to be honest with you. Dealing with the ODSP, after the fact, and sort of telling them what happened after it happened is real bad policy. I don’t think it necessarily needs an accountant, just to figure out some simple numbers. You have to be able to explain it to the ODSP, in terms that they can understand and accept.

It would be very wise to go in, talk to the lady and ask a few questions, as specific as you can possibly make them. As thorough and full and complete as you can make them, and try and get any answers in writing, which generally-speaking they aren’t all that eager to do. If nothing else, it adds to their workload.

Therein lies the challenge. It’s a social challenge, it’s a challenge of personal communication. 

You have to find the nerve to go in there and ask all these questions.

Diplomacy is an extension of war by other means.

You can’t get all loud, uptight and sweaty with them, because it’s not going to do you one damned bit of good.

As it is presently constituted, the game doesn’t look very winnable.

Not very easily, anyways.


On Agents and Traditional Publishing.

Louis Shalako

When writing a new book, I will often post a few excerpts, fairly substantial ones, as I go along.

It tends to pique readers’ curiosity and it might even help sell a few copies. Excerpts from my mystery novels sold at least a handful of already-published mysteries. Those links were on the page. People could read a sample of a work in progress and then click through and buy a book.

I really can’t claim much more than that. Many traditionally-published authors cringe when they see that. It’s considered unprofessional, and according to them, if it has been ‘published’, no reputable publisher would ever be interested.

From their perspective, you have pissed in your own well. From their perspective, they’re absolutely right, too.

For my new book I haven’t done that, except for a couple of extremely short snippets posted on Facebook. This leaves all of the options open. For a first-time author, (which is exactly how I will be perceived), potential deals don’t look all that sweet, and that’s just gut instinct. Five or ten grand in advance sounds like a lot of money, (after twenty-one years on a disability pension). Another person’s perspective will be different. A print run of a thousand hardcovers and three or four thousand paperbacks isn’t nearly so impressive. It gets your foot in the door. That’s not enough of a print run to become a bestseller, and it won’t be marketed as if it stood any chance of becoming a bestseller and it is best to accept that going in.


It legitimizes you, to the extent you might be invited to sit on a panel at a convention, etc. The local paper will interview you. Your books might appear in small numbers, on brick-and-mortar bookstore shelves from coast to coast. And you may never see another dime from it. It’s a question of what you want and whether it’s ultimately worth it to you.

Theoretically, it helps you to make the next deal, build readership, and get some experience.

For a first book, yes, it has to be a good story. But the publisher is more concerned with the sales potential of an unknown author. It is not the reader, but the buyer who determines perceived value and the desirability of a product. Before readers can buy your book, a publisher sort of has to buy it first. And they’re in business to make money.

It would be wonderful not to have to format my own books, design my own covers, and write my own product descriptions. It might be wonderful to find a really good editor, and to see some really professional work with my name on the cover on the shelves in a national chain bookstore.

There is a lot more to it than that, isn’t there?

To be forewarned is forearmed. For myself, assuming I could get such a contract, I might want to retain ebook rights and just let the publisher have a hard-copy license. I might want a strict end date with no exceptions. I might want to know exactly when those print rights revert to me, how much creative control I have over the work and the process. I might want to see it spelled out exactly how much promotion the publisher would give such a work, and how much promotion at my own time and expense I would be contractually-obligated to do.

I’m not a starry-eyed twenty year-old anymore. I’m a fifty-six year-old, getting a small pension, one with some pretty severe restrictions as to what I can and cannot do financially.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is quite correct when she says that a professional writer can simply go on to the next book. It’s what I do anyways. We’re not talking about the writing.

We’re talking about the money—the business side of it from a writer’s perspective.

Her thoughts on literary agents are quite strong. The question is, is the information reasonable?

It’s probably true that you don’t really need an agent in the age of the internet. You submit a book. If you get some interest, some follow-up request for a partial or complete manuscript, it’s perfectly plausible that an author might get on the horn real quick and try to engage an IP (intellectual property) lawyer.

At that point you have entered the waters, thoroughly chummed by the blood of a million other authors before you. You are now swimming with the sharks. Ah, but on disability, that lawyer would have to be working on a contingency basis. That’s because I can’t afford much of a retainer, although a one-hour consultation at $250 to $500 an hour might be doable. Those costs must be borne by the project in hand, and yet it’s all up-front, speculative money where we might not even end up with a deal.

Assuming we’re running our writing as a business, there are some cost-benefit analyses that must be done. Perhaps it’s better not to sign a deal, hoping that a better deal will come down the road. Some other publisher might offer a deal which seems better to the inexperienced author/businessman.

At which point, we’re going to need to call our IP guy again.

It takes money to make money. That is an unfortunate truism. When we submit a book to a publisher, we are asking them to invest in our works, and that’s fair enough so far as it goes. Selling books is their specialty, far more than it is mine or the average reader who might have some interest in this process.

There is always going to be that time element. At my age, playing catch-up with successful authors who have been around for thirty or forty years seems pretty unrealistic.

Buying into a myth is just dumb.

That’s not to say that I can’t write some good books over the next fifteen or twenty years, because that’s what I’m going to do. However, we also want to make some money.

That is an entirely different kettle of fish.

A lot of authors make multiple submissions, and as long as the publishers don’t mind that, I don’t see anything wrong with it. For myself, I’ve always liked to keep it simple, submitting to one high-profile publisher at a time. One in particular sticks in my mind.

That was the publisher who sent a rejection slip two years after my submission.

Honestly, that book was self-published six months or a year before I got the slip in the mail.

At that rate, you really don’t stand much of a chance—I mean the publisher, and the author as well.

I’m not going to sit here and bitch about the industry and how it has to change. Frankly, I don’t know much about it, and I’m certainly not all up-in-arms about it.

If we don’t like the alternatives, we can always choose not to submit.

Some of the stories I’ve published were never going to fly anywhere else. There isn’t much market for westerns, not at five bucks a story, or military fiction, or some other genres. I’m not going to write a novel and let some guy serialize it for twenty bucks on his website. I can do that myself and build up my own traffic and readership.

If there is nowhere credible to submit it, then publish it yourself. Keep the cost down.

Take what sales you get and learn from it.

I’m in no position to give advice, but we all do, don’t we?

However, for my nineteenth novel, I can set that one aside, submit it a few places, and start writing the next book, novel number twenty.

It really only takes a couple of months for the books I’ve been doing lately. And it’s nice to have something to do when I wake up in the morning.