Friday, April 18, 2014


By Joyce Gram, Writer and Editor

Since becoming a freelance editor, I have been mystified on occasion by the quality of the writing I receive. Nowhere have some of the authors I’ve worked with seen writing quite like theirs. This is because no commercial publisher would accept it. My job, of course, is to guide the author toward a better manuscript; and when that is achieved it is a glorious moment, as much for me as for the author.

It has taken me years to figure out what’s going on, and it’s not a happy conclusion: not all writers read, and those writers who do not read struggle. I’ve had clients admit to me that they don’t read books. Some have admitted that they’ve never read a book in the genre in which they are trying to write. Their defence is time. They hardly have enough of it, they say, to work on their own book, let alone read someone else’s, just to learn about writing. 

And that may be the crux of the thing—to learn about writing.

Novelist Anakana Schofield, writing in the Guardian, asks, “Why is there so much fuss in the media about how to write a novel—‘everyone can become an author’—when the more important thing is how to read one? . . . There are no adverts that instruct you to sit down, have a cup of tea and read.”
Schofield laments the excess of blogs, lists and tips on how to write. “There seems to have been a shift from a reading culture to a writing culture . . . . Writing needs to be discussed and interrogated through reading.” And significantly, in my opinion, she says, “If you wish to write well, you need to read well, or at least widely.”

We learn to write well in much the same way as a child learns to talk. The child must, first, hear others talk. Then, as she grows, she listens and mimics. A good writer must, first, read others who write well. Then he must pay close attention and practise. 

Francine Prose has written an entire book about this, Reading Like a Writer. Here’s how she describes becoming a writer, and I don’t think you’ll find a better recipe for success anywhere:
“In the ongoing process of becoming a writer, I read and reread the authors I most loved. I read for pleasure, first, but also more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. And as I wrote, I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls ‘putting every word on trial for its life’: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting the comma back in.”

As for those clients of mine who admit they don’t read, yes, they struggle. I do what I can, but truth is, I can’t give them what they really need, which is to read.

Anakana Schofield’s article, “Publicising a Novel—The Problems,” appeared in the Guardian in July 2013 and can be read here: It also appeared under the title “The Status We Imagine” in Geist, 91, Winter 2013, p. 25.  

Francine Prose’s book is Reading Like a Writer: A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them, published by Harper Perennial, 2006.

© 2014 Joyce Gram
Gram Editing Services

Saturday, March 01, 2014


Tax Return
 (Photo: LendingMemo)

Writers who are beginning to publish and win and/or place in contests may be earning fees. The moment this starts to happen for you, the revenue from your articles, short stories, and books creates tax implications. It also marks the moment when writers have to start keeping good records of their income and their expenses incurred from making that income. Writers also need to be able to at least prove that they have a reasonable expectation of income in the future from the expenses incurred ahead of time (e.g. a signed article or book contract). 
My colleague, Eileen, is an accountant and writer and offers this advice to writers:

Keeping Records

by Eileen Reppenhagen, CGA

I’ve put together a list of useful links for writers at because this is complicated and writers must understand as much as they can. The top link is to a CRA website page about Keeping Records. Taxpayers who carry on a business or are engaged in commercial activity, are required to keep adequate records. Records are not just a pile of receipts, totalled by adding machine tape. (Ed. Eileen taught me to write on each receipt what and/or whom the expense was for and to put receipts in an alphabetized, concertina file each tax year, along with my contracts.)

There are special rules for writers, about evaluating whether or not they have a business, as to whether or not they can write off expenses when there isn’t any revenue expected for some time, sometimes even years if you're writing a book. For self-employed writers, the accrual method is required to report business income:

(Note, rules for employees who write are very different than those for self-employed writers. If you are an writer/employee, the rules for home office are different from those for work-space-in-home rules for employees.)

There is a new wrinkle this year too: ‘Indirect verification.’  This means that the income tax agency in Canada will indirectly verify by confirmation that what you deposited to your bank from your writing reconciles with your taxes. If not, you’ll be expected to explain why not. Then the CRA will want to see the actual deposit transactions, if taxpayers have income from their [writing]. The plan will require taxpayers to provide statements from bank account(s), credit card account(s), investment account(s) and any other account(s) with your name on them. These may be subject to a desk audit. So writers need to keep their bank statements and contracts for six years, preferably longer. 

Are you ready for this scrutiny? If not, what can you do to be ready for ‘indirect verification’ audit procedures regarding deposits?

  1. List your accounts, all of them, whose name is on title, and why the account is shared. 
  2. Create a folder to store each account’s statements, with the most current month on top, one file per account per year. 
  3. Document the reasons for all deposits related to your writing income. (Another reason for keeping track of all your submissions to periodicals and contests!)
  4. Add up all the deposits. Reduce the deposits by transfers in from other accounts, and compare the total to the total of gross income and deposits from sales (plus taxes) charged to customers reported on your tax return.

If your deposits, net of transfers, total more than your gross income from other sources plus your receipts of receivables from invoicing (gross sales, plus taxes), it's likely a reconciliation needs to be done. This has nothing to do with expense claims, this is purely a reconciliation of the money deposited each year, compared to the income from all sources.

If you’re concerned that you don’t have proper records, or that your bookkeeper and/or tax preparer is making ‘errors’ in your tax return preparation, I have tools that might help. I have recorded a series of five webinars on keeping records that will help at

© Eileen Reppenhagen, CGA, 2014
Certified ProAdvisor for both QuickBooks Desktop and Cloud (Online) 

Disclaimer: Please do NOT rely on or use the information in this article as a basis for a course of action without obtaining appropriate professional advice because the facts of your specific situation must be interpreted in light of the rules found in the Income Tax or Excise Tax Act. E.R.

If you have a personal tax question, write it down, keep it short, and submit it to the comments. Address your question to Dear TaxDetective. Eileen has kindly agreed to answer your questions in a Q&A column for writers in March. This is your opportunity to learn more about tax, and who knows, you may find a way to pay less tax!

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Registration is now open for the Spring sessions of the Port Moody Writers' Groups. Get on board and enjoy the critique and support that other writers can
give! Emerging and experienced writers gain insights into their works-in-progress, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, long or short.

Dates: Mondays from April 7 – June 16
Time: 7–9:30pm
Place: Kyle Centre, behind Port Moody's old city hall on St. John's Street
Investment: $95.62
Reg: Call 604.469.4561 or 604.469.4556 and quote course #51502

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Over the past six months, I've had several emerging writers, call me at the eleventh hour as their submissions to contests or a publication needed a bio "yesterday." They didn't have much of one and found it challenging to write.

As professionals, writers need good bios, both long and short, and they are one of the most important pieces of promotional writing you do. You'll be surprised how much you use their content: for query letters, proposals, flyers, websites, conference programs, catalogue blurbs, by-lines, media introductions, etc., etc. They also need tweaking often to target the recipient, as well as updating regularly.

Bios are not resum├ęs, instead they reassure the reader that you are a competent writer and worth publishing, and promote you and your work. Long bios are usually written in narrative style and in third person; short ones need to be in first or third, depending on the use. A long one will be no more than a page, and a short one can be a paragraph or even just one sentence. All must be relevant to your writing career and the subject of your work. 

Here's a primer on how to gather the info you'll need, and how to make a start to write both:

Begin with your one page bio (about 500 words) as it easier to write. 

Make lists of your relevant credentials, special skills, awards and accomplishments, memberships, publishing history, and promotional experience.  Look at many examples of other writers' bios and note what works and what doesn't. Then start writing as you bear in mind who will be reading it. Use facts to promote yourself rather than lots of adjectives and adverbs, though a few judiciously placed can be effective. Brag a little but be 100% truthful. Now begin to tighten it up, cut out, and rewrite.  Show the draft bio to your published colleagues and ask for their comments. Rewrite and rewrite again. Then get someone else to edit it. Finally, comes the question of whether to include a picture on a long bio –  writers don't have to, but in this visual, connected world many do. I recommend including a photo once you have some publishing successes to your name. But make it a professional image, not a family snapshot.

The bio in a query letter to a magazine editor is usually a paragraph (six lines), so you have a few more words to play with than, say, a by-line. This type of bio must clearly tell an editor/agent why you are the ideal person to write this article or book. Short bios need the components of a long one, but choose to use only your best credential, best award, best couple of publication successes, etc. If you have lots to say and feel the editor needs to know all of it, it's best to include a long bio as a separate attachment to query letters. However, although I have forty years of writing behind me, I don't do this unless I'm specifically asked. But I do offer the hyperlink to the long bio on my website. 

Also remember that many uses also require your bio to include the means to contact you. Julie can be reached at....

Check out these bios, all different:

More details at The Long and Short of Writing Your Bio.

QUESTIONS: Is your bio accessible on your blog and website? Is your photo professional and current? If not, what are you going to do about it.

A bio for my photography

Wednesday, January 01, 2014



A while back I invited a writing colleague and friend who is an accountant to help writers by writing a post for The Beacon Blog. The timing was wrong then, but now it's perfect. Eileen got me on the right track many years ago and her advice has been a god-send. Writers need to start the tax year off with good habits and not wait to haul out shoeboxes of receipts in April — now is the time to get organized so your 2014 tax prep will be a breeze in 2015.  

I'm proud to welcome Eileen who wants your input before her first post about the business end of writing in February.

I’m an accountant who has a soft spot for writers because I’m a writer too. I am preparing a post for The Beacon Blog for Writers in February to assist writers in preparing for tax time. Why so early? Because we should organize ourselves at the start of each tax year and not at the end. Makes life easier ...

Taxpayers, including writers, can figure out what receipts to keep by reading the CRA guides about self-employment. What most taxpayers don’t have a handle on is how to organize their paperwork from January 1 every year to minimize the cost and/or time of tax preparation in the following year.

I plan on writing a post about how to keep writers' financial records. The reason is because keeping records is really about keeping more of your money.  

So ... I’m interested in your input as a writerwhat questions do you need answered? 

Please submit them to this blog using the Comments section and address them to Dear TaxDetective. This is your opportunity to learn about keeping more of your money. Who knows, in the process, you may find a way to pay less tax!

© Eileen Reppenhagen 2014

Eileen Reppenhagen is a CGA, and a Certified ProAdvisor for both QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online.  She writes about and coaches people, including writers, who are interested in keeping proper records to minimize the cost of tax preparation.   

Thursday, November 28, 2013


It's not perfect, but Access Copyright, the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency, provides additional income for writers in Canada. They represent the reproduction rights of and distribute annual royalties to thousands of Canadian writers, visual artists and publishers. They can do this as educators, businesses, schools, government and other users of copyright protected works purchase licences or pay a tariff for the right to copy our works in many formats. Once a year, creators receive a cheque from this pool of money collected from these organizations. 

Access Copyright's objective for creators is:

To protect the value of their intellectual property by ensuring fair compensation when their works are copied. 

To claim your share, writers and photographers use Access Copyright's program called "Payback" and once you have registered and completed separate forms for written and visual work that you have had published in print back to 1992, you receive a proportion of the available funds every November. And yes, it's taxable income and you get a T4 for your tax return. 

The payment is based on the three factors:
  • The genre of works you have published (books, magazines, journals and newspapers)
  • How much you have published (even if you have not received a fee for your work)
  • When you have published (2014's supplementary payment will be based on works published between 1993 and 2012).
I said Access Copyright's not perfect. Here's why:
  • There is no provision for compensating creators for any work we have published online, only in print. Annoying, I think, as over the last few years, the percentage of my work online grows and is overtaking my print successes.
  • The pool of money is diminishing each year because of the education sector's self-interpretation of "fair dealing" and their decision to stop paying into the fund. This is being fought in the courts on our behalf by Access Copyright, I believe.

Writers and photographers also need to be very clear that Access Copyright does not register copyright or have anything to do with copyright infringement. For more information about copyright and how to register yours if you wish, contact the Canadian Intellectual Property office at 1-866-997-1936, or visit 

I simply cannot understand why Canadian authors and freelance writers/photographers don't take advantage of this income. It's worthwhile — I earn about $1000/year; many earn much more. The website is easy to use, and the registration and claims for your previous year's publication can be done online. 

Go to Payback at and get cracking!

Thursday, October 10, 2013


I think this is our professional editor's best Beacon post yet. Joyce Gram has nailed the reason why fiction writers have to be diligent researchers—if we're not absolutely accurate, publication of our short stories and novels will be unreachable.

Is It Important to Get It Right in Fiction?

By Joyce Gram, Writer and Editor

Fiction is about imagination and invention. As readers and writers, we marvel at the creativity of a Tolkien, an Atwood and a Clancy, writers who take us places we might never imagine on our own, delve deep into characters we might never otherwise meet, portray situations we have long been curious about but might never be a part of. Their talent for pure storytelling draws us in and keeps us there even when the soup is boiling over on the stove. 

But what about those things in a story that don’t ring true, those details we know something about but the writer—apparently—doesn’t. Suddenly, and to our disappointment, we step out of the story and back into the kitchen, and our enjoyment of the place we have just been is interrupted.

I recently edited an early draft of a novel set in the 1950s, a dark and gritty page-turner, with complex characters and heart-wrenching events. When I got to the courtroom scene, I was surprised to find the accused rapist giving evidence for the prosecution, effectively convicting himself. I wondered: Does the writer not know how a criminal charge is proven in our legal system? Is she not aware of the basic rights of an accused person?

In addition, there were pivotal events—a divorce and remarriage, an adoption—that could not have happened in the way they were portrayed, and a critical 9-1-1 call made at a time and place before the 9-1-1 system had been implemented. 
When I pointed these out to the writer, she said, “Do most people know this? I have a Ph.D. and I didn’t.” What she was really asking me was, does it matter?
Yes, it does. 

In the tributes to novelist Tom Clancy, who died last week, a recurring theme was the depth and care of his research into the military scenes he created. According to the New York Times, the novel that brought him to fame, The Hunt for Red October, was so accurate that high-ranking members of the military thought he had inside knowledge and asked him, “Who the hell cleared it?” Clancy himself said, “I hang my hat on getting as many things right as I can.”

Now, I’m not saying that accuracy is everything. If Clancy’s stories were boring or badly written, we wouldn’t know his name. But combine red-hot storytelling with deep research into interesting things and you have a winner—and Clancy won, to the tune of tens of millions of devotees over a thirty-year writing career and a net worth of $300 million.

Accuracy matters. You want your readers to stay with you, immersed deep in your stories—even while the soup burns.


     © 2013 Joyce Gram
     Gram Editing Services