Thursday, July 14, 2011

Venting Frustration by Turning the Tables

You know, there’s a plethora of wisecracks about tax auditors. For instance, one says that the Postal Service just recalled its newest stamps because they picture famous IRS agents on them. People couldn't figure out on which side to spit. Another witticism asks, “What do you call twenty-five IRS agents buried up to their chins in cement?”

“Inadequate cement.”

Venting frustration through humor makes sense. An additional way to vent is to turn the tables on a tax auditor with solid documentation of your hard work and preparation, enabling you to claim a few of the tax perks for self-employed persons. Of course, the ruling administration always claims that the IRS is simply liberating people—primarily, the working middle and lower classes—from fiscal burden.

A tax case involving a writing activity played out in Tax Court in Arlington, Virginia, the case of Ralph Louis Vitale, Jr.1 Let’s look at it relative to preparation and expertise. I don’t know if Mr. Vitale goes by Ralph or Louis or some other appellation among friends and acquaintances, but I’d like to call him Ralph. It seems such an improbable name for what his writing focused on after retirement. To me his last name, Vitale—reminding me of “vital” or “vitality”—seems more apropos. Anyway, the guy had verve, although some might say he was just libidinous. You be the judge.

Let me give you the facts in the next posting.

1 Ralph Louis Vitale, Jr. v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 1999-131 affirmed by unpublished opinion of the Fourth Circuit at 217 F.3d 843.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What to Do? What to Do?

It is no small thing to draft a book, and there is little doubt Sarah worked at her writing activity. What should Sarah have done differently? Here are some suggestions.

·       From 1976 to 1980, even while working for Yale as a research associate and computer programmer, if she intended to write for profit in the future, she should have:

o   Begun writing

o   Taken pertinent classes

o   Formulated a business plan

o   Joined and participated in a writer’s league

o   Attended writer’s conferences

o   Joined a critiquing group

o   Started submitting pieces to contests and publishers

·       When she learned of the publisher of travel guides who needed information for a revision to an African travel guide and contacted the firm and received information regarding submissions, she should have incorporated such into her plan and followed up or explained why she hadn’t.

·       While in Africa and Israel and employed by Weizmann, Sarah should have tracked her writing efforts, logging typewriter use, research time and efforts, and any other efforts she expended to write her draft based upon her adventures there. Did she work eight hours a day for her employer and write for one hour a day? She should have kept financial and non-financial records of writing activities. Also, she should have modeled an exemplar, someone who had already sold well and made lots of money in her genre— Bill Bryson, who wrote A Walk in the Woods and, much later, In a Sunburned Country comes to mind. At the same time she should have retained her originality and voice and planned how her work could compete or fill a new niche. (It’s hard to convince the IRS or the Tax Court that you moved somewhere to gather writing materials to write a particular piece of fiction while you’re making substantial wages from your employer. That’s especially true if the wages you make are substantial compared to the revenue or potential revenue of writing.)

·       Sarah should have gotten her work published. At the very least, she should have shown she consumed herself trying and that she had an alternative business plan to market it. It wouldn’t hurt, for example, to show that she could at worst self-publish and peddle her work. Potentially, then she could eventually generate revenues like forerunner Bill Bryson. (Of course, her writing skill would have to rival or exceed his—perhaps this would be another goal for her business plan.)