I think it’s normal to get a touch of the maudlin at this time of year, especially if things have been going well. And they have–I’m feeling remarkably lucky. I’m going over my list of complaints and right now my major one is that I’m not allowing myself sushi until December is over, as sushi is expensive and other people need that money more than my local sushi dealer, and that may be the stupidest, most vapid complaint ever so I’m going to sit here and remind myself how lucky I am to be able to make it.
GREEK KEY has been out for two weeks, so this is the obligatory getting-my-working-life-in-order post.
I don’t like public appearances because my brain is a giant hot mess. I’m fine around good friends and one-time interactions–my heart goes out to those poor souls who suffer anxiety every time they have to make a purchase and have to deal with the cashier–but if you know who I am and I’ve never met you? No. My brain trips and falls over itself, and I’ll say things that are dreadful. Absolutely dreadful. Things I don’t mean and would never say if my brain wasn’t feeling slightly comfortable and slightly off-balance all at once.
If your RSS/email has been bouncy today, I apologize; I’ve been doing some site maintenance, and while I try to disable functions, it doesn’t seem to catch everything.
I’m cleaning up GREEK KEY and…well…
I’m worried about the voice in it, okay?
It’s told from first-person perspective, with Hope Blackwell as the narrator. Hope has severe attention deficit hyperacticity disorder. Keep in mind she’s not just bouncing from one topic to another, as she’s got the variant of ADHD with hyperfocus–when she’s locked on target, she will chase that target until it’s dead.
I live in the United States –North Carolina, to be specific– and am a one-woman show. Each day, I get up and put in 8 to 14 hours on various projects. Comics, short stories, novels, products… I do all of my own shipping. I answer emails (poorly, and usually in batches when I finally get a spare hour). I’m trying to salvage a simple Kickstarter that went so far off of the rails that I’ve had to start building new rails. You want to see me juggle plates? I will try to juggle plates! And then I will need new plates.
In other words, I’m exactly like every single other independent businessperson working for themselves in the creative economy. Sure, the tasks change: maybe you make music instead of comics, or put out .pdfs of knitting patterns instead of novels. Regardless of the flavor, we all put in the long, long hours because we love what we do.
(Lord knows it’s not for the money. This has been my first year as an independent full-time creator, and it’s been ridiculously rough. Sometimes I’ll search online just to learn what a dental hygienist or an actuary makes, and sigh.)
But as of December 30th, I’m making minimum wage for a typical 8-hour workday. In North Carolina, this works out to $7.25 an hour. That was my benchmark for whether or not I can (airquotes) make it (/airquotes) as an independent creator. I gave myself a year to see if I could do it. And I can! Woo hoo!
Here, I’ll save you the math: this works out to $290 a week, $1160 a month, and $13920 a year. Also, this does not include overtime. If I work over 8 hours a day, it’s unpaid labor.
(Did you know that an actuary can earn upwards of $250,000 a year?)
One of my steadiest sources of income are digital downloads. These are amazing! I create a product, bundle it in a handy downloadable file, stick it in my store, and forget about it. I don’t have to invest in maintaining an inventory or shipping. It’s an up-front investment of my time that can pay out again and again. Combined with Patreon*, digital downloads are a major component of my earnings.
are were also the best way for me to reach international readers. I no longer offer shipping anywhere other than within the United States. I will ship overseas when asked, but nothing turns a potential customer away more quickly than seeing that the shipping and handling on an item exceeds the cost of the item itself. There are no barriers to digital downloads.
Well, not until January 1, 2015.
I wrote about VAT-MOSS a month ago, when I first learned that new tax regulations would target digital products in the European Union. These taxes are… complicated. The stupid-short version is that taxes are based on where the customer is at the moment of purchase. Not where I, the seller, live and/or work. Not where the customer lives. It’s determined by the location of the customer when they decide to purchase a digital product.
I’ve been watching the subsequent VAT-MOSS clusterfuck like a dog watching that last pizza crust on the plate —Where’s it gonna go? How’s it gonna land? Will I be quick enough to take advantage of it?– and I’ve been hoping that the EU would simply decide to postpone the VAT-MOSS rollout for creators making less than X-Amount for another year. Since those supervising VAT-MOSS at the EU seemed surprised to learn that independent creators across the entire freakin’ planet had never even heard of this new legislation until it gained traction in social media, I felt that this wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. Allowing a one-year exemption for small independent creators would give everybody time to sort out the mess and prepare for the next stage in the creative economy.
As of December 29th, it appears that VAT-MOSS will roll out as scheduled.
There have been some minor changes to cushion the blow for small businesses, but these aren’t substantial and will have no significant effect on me. (I should point out that while the article I just referenced says “non-EU sellers are probably safe if they ignore [VAT-MOSS taxes]”, the breakdown from the gov.uk website states that “Businesses outside the EU (for example, the USA) that supply digital services to consumers in one or more EU member state are also affected by the changes,” and I’m gonna go with that one, thanks.)
So, I’m disabling digital downloads from my store to EU customers. This won’t involve much, since I use Big Cartel/Pulley as my shopping cart system and they are awesome. I change a setting, and EU customers no longer have the option of buying my digital products directly from me. Sorry, guys. I don’t want to be a dick. I’ll make sure you have access to these items through third-party vendors, Patreon, and by giving them to you free of charge when all else fails.
Finally, I don’t think this is a death knell for me as an independent creator. I was lucky enough to squeak in under the wire. But if 2015 were my make-or-break year… Well. It’s not. I got lucky. My sympathies to those who have to make major changes to their stores, or who have to abandon their creative pursuits altogether.
(I should tie all of this together with another joke about becoming an actuary, but that’s in poor taste when peoples’ livelihoods are a’splodin’ all over the world.)
*I should note that my Patreon has been lurking in the $750 range until mid-December, and the Spirit of My Readers are FREAKIN’ AWESOME! recently tipped it over the top.
ETA (5:15pm): Big Cartel also has a tax setting, and is aware of the VAT-MOSS changes. They are looking into workarounds so they can collect and report tax directly, but it will take time.
I try to do this every holiday season over at the comic, but I’m slammed this year and I thought it’d be nice for people to have a permalink to their sites. Plus, I’m slammed this year and can’t email the emails. I’m so slammed, I’m just cut-and-pasting this header from the previous writers’ and artists’ pitch posts.
Makers! Knitters, woodturners, programmers… lend me your fingers! LEGO master builders, Sudoku puzzle crafters, hobbyists and pros of all stripes… What do you do? And why do you do it? Tell us, please, and be sure to link to your work!
Earlier today, my buddy Ursula linked to this article, What You Need to Know, If You’re Relying on Your Payment Processor to Dig You Out of the VAT-MOSS Mess. If Ursula didn’t post quality content, I never would have clicked. VAT-MOSS? Mess? Obviously this was Somebody Else’s Problem.
Nope. It was mine. And apparently had been since 2006 when the Sixth Directive of the VAT was recast and these directives put into play. (Possibly earlier: one article noted that a similar arrangement has been ongoing regarding “businesses who are selling into the EU from outside, [and] this has been the case since 2003″.)
In a nutshell, this is a Value Added Tax (VAT) imposed by the European Union on providers of certain digital products. It is business-to-consumer specific, meaning the provider is responsible for the tax; and location-dependent, meaning the location of the consumer at the time of purchase determines how the tax burden will be allocated. “MOSS” refers to a “Mini One-Stop Shop”, or a store which is registered to participate in the VAT and which sells digital items to customers. The legislation goes into effect in January of 2015.
The non-nutshell version is extremely knotty and I’ve spent most of my Saturday yelling at my monitor about how if I wanted to study international tax law, I’d have a lot more money and wouldn’t be so invested in how international tax law was about to screw me over.
(If you want specifics of how the VAT-MOSS works, I recommend starting with this Q&A held by HM Revenue and Customs. It’s a good breakdown of most major issues. If, like me, you had one question–I am located in the United States, so does the VAT-MOSS even apply to me at all?–I can answer that for you. Yes. Whether the tax applies depends on where the customer is located, not where the content provider is located.)
The VAT-MOSS impacts me directly, as I sell PDFs direct to customers. In fact, since October 2014, PDFs of ebooks and bonus comics are my only store items available to overseas customers, because international shipping and handling costs have become prohibitive. (Not that I won’t ship if asked: just this past week, a reader in Estonia asked how much it would be to send a copy of MAKER SPACE to him. I replied that it would be more than the book. He very reasonably declined.) If I register as a MOSS, I could still sell overseas, but I would be responsible for everything required by the VAT.
I will now relink to that first article to show why voluntarily registering may be a sign that you are certifiably mad. It is also worth noting that the main point of this article is that your payment portal (e.g.: Paypal) is not a solution.
So. It seems I have three options.
1) Registering with VAT-MOSS and complying with their tax laws.
2) Restricting all of my digital products so they are no longer available to EU customers.
3) Use a third-party content distributor.
(Okay, okay, there’s a fourth option, which is to ignore the whole thing and hope it goes away. Shall not be doing this, because Legal Reasons.)
I’m not happy. I don’t sell comics or bonus stories anywhere but through my own store. The products look the way I want them to look, and I can accurately track sales. I’m already paying service providers (Big Cartel, Pulley, and the finance people), in addition to my own tax responsibilities. Going through additional service providers to do what I’m already doing will nickle-and-dime me to death.
Finally, I am extremely concerned about how this might affect my Patreon campaign. On the one hand, Patreon is arguably set up as a monthly donation service, rather than a subscription service, and all digital content set up and distributed accordingly. It is not a shop per se, and nothing is being sold. On the other hand, taxes. I think the VAT-MOSS will shake itself out for a few years before Patreon-like service providers are directly affected, but as I’m becoming increasingly reliant on Patreon, this is a cause of concern.
Note: Someday soon I’ll put up a companion piece to this one about Rachel being blind. It’ll be very similar in content, but will cover the year after publishing Digital Divide where I went from, “Hey, I’ve got a book out” to “Hey, there’s a need for representation of persons with disabilities in science fiction and Rachel is blind so I’m doing something good!” to “Um… Rachel can still see so I’m going to put this banner down and quietly back away before I get myself into trouble.” I will definitely be exploring a comparison between Rachel and her brain implant, and deaf persons and cochlear implants, in an upcoming book.
I’ve got the plot for the comic planned out, but I do a lot of last-minute tinkering with scripts. The strip for October 2 was supposed to be quite different, with Hope offering Mike to Lincoln as a possible therapist.
I backed away at the last minute. I’m glad I did: I’m trying to get through the entire story without mentioning the characters’ preferences in sex partners. (I was also trying to do this with race, but I think I blew that in one of the earliest strips.) I’ll explain why, but I’ll ask you to do a little light reading before we get to that:
Don’t be fooled by the first couple of questions. Once you get past the normal Ask:Response section, the interview goes batshit. You can almost pinpoint the exact second when the interviewer realizes that this was no longer a fluff piece, and the pleasant stroll down Memory Lane has careened into Racism Road.
Yes, diversity matters. Yes, representation matters. No, we don’t have to hang spotlights off of every single difference to show that these matter. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Jedi more than anything else in the entire world. I wanted the lightsaber and the mindpowers and the… the everything! But I couldn’t, because girls weren’t Jedi. They weren’t anything, really.
If the Star Wars expanded universe had existed back when I was a kid-if I had seen just one female Jedi way off to the side!-the games I played with my friends would have been different. The stories I wrote in my head would have been different. When you’re a very young child, you don’t realize you’ve got options. You learn from example and context. Role models can be something as stupidly simple as a background character. The fact that they exist can open entire worlds within a kid’s head.
So I don’t talk about race or preferences in sex partners in the comic. They exist. Hell, they exist in the main characters: Mako is Black, Rachel is Chinese-American, Mike and Rachel are gay, Josh is so straight the Kinsey scale needed to be pushed into negative numbers, and Pat’s bisexual. (I’ve got a side story in the works that addresses this, where Pat wasn’t entirely comfortable with this aspect of himself until the collective kicked in, and then came the mental rush of everybody doing everything with everybody else. Sharing a hivemind shatters a lot of mental walls.) But they exist in the background, to inform the characters’ choices and actions. They don’t take the spotlight from the actual story.
That Pete and Pete article? It’s lovely. I mean that. It’s a wonderful example of why it’s critical for creators to use characters that don’t conform to a standard template of traits. And yes, there is the threat of tokenism if a single person uses a wheelchair, or if a single person is Black or female within an entire cast of White males. But I think a lot of young girls would have played different games on the playground if they had seen one female Jedi.
Now, if Yoda had been female…