Industry Quick Reads

Get advice on common professional development issues from Union members and staff:

WRITING ERGONOMICS

By Penney Kome

Writing can be harmful to your health. I’m not talking about the consequences of what you publish, but the very act of committing words to paper. As many Union members have already discovered, unfortunately, the work we do can lead to serious repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) – the kind you really want to avoid.

That’s serious, as in searing pain that wakes you up at night; hands that can’t hold a fork or butter a slice of bread; several rounds of surgery; and potentially, permanent disability. Fortunately, prevention is easier than treatment.

RSIs have been called the disease of the information age. While it’s true that the condition seems more prevalent these days, in fact it has been recognized for centuries. Diseases of Workers, by Bernardino Ramazinni (1713), mentioned writer’s cramp. Ramazzini observed that, “incessant driving of the pen over paper causes intense fatigue of the hand and the whole arm because of the continuous and almost toxic strain on the muscles and tendons, which in the course of time results in failure of the power in the right hand.”

In the twenty-first century, we can do almost everything faster and more efficiently that workers did in the eighteenth century – including injuring ourselves. Whereas RSIs sometimes took decades to develop when writing was done by hand, now they can be incurred in a few short months of working on the computer.

A rare study that followed non-computer-users for the first three years that they used computers found startingly high injury rates. “More than half of computer users each year develop neck or shoulder symptoms and just over one-third develop an impairment or the loss of some function,” said researcher Dr. Frederic Gerr of the Rollins School of Public Health at the Emory University of Atlanta, Georgia.

Many, but not all, RSI experts subscribe to the stage theory of RSIs. In stage one, the patient experiences pain or clumsiness during an activity, but it goes away when the activity stops. In stage two, the pain or clumsiness continues after the activity stops, but goes away overnight. Stage three RSI involves constant pain and clumsiness that is present from waking and continues throughout the day, regardless of activity. So if your hands, arms, shoulders or neck ache while you’re working, this warning is for you.

Let’s talk about workstations first. The most common design flaw for computer users is putting their workstations, keyboards and mice too high. Desks that were designed for typewriters or for writing by hand are usually too tall for most computer users.

Beware of the desk that makes you crane your neck to see the monitor, or bend your elbow tighter than ninety degrees to reach up to the keyboard or the mouse. Beware of those expensive armoires that hide computer workstations behind wardrobe doors. Most of them have desktops that are too high. An old kitchen table is usually a good height for computer work, even it it’s not as decorative.

You should be able to see the monitor by looking straight ahead comfortably. Your hands should drop down slightly to the keyboard. Sometimes, the best way to achieve this position is to put the keyboard in your lap. Keyboard trays are worthwhile investments for most computer users – but get a tray that has space to put your pointing device (mouse, touchpad, trackball, whatever) on the same level as your keyboard. Reaching up to your mouse can hurt your shoulder.

A word about pointing devices: the mouse is more dangerous than the keyboard. So far, no one has invented a pointing device without risk. Many mouse functions can be performed through the keyboard, either with the arrow keys or by using some combination of the control key and a letter. For example, control + c copies text, and control + v pastes it.

One way to compensate for a too-high desk is to have an adjustable chair. You can usually find a steno chair with a gas lift height adjustment for $70 or less. Some experts recommend using chairs with arms, but I find that most chair arms are too high, and push my shoulders up to my ears, thus inviting injury.

If adjusting your seat height to meet the desktop leaves your feet dangling, add a footstool or footrest. A big three-ring binder usually can serve as a sloped footrest.

Now let’s consider work habits. After a couple of hours at the machine, most computer users gradually slump into what I call the gargoyle slouch; shoulders up and back, head hanging forward with chin jutting out. This position pinches blood vessels and nerves in the neck, shoulders, and under the collarbone. Many experts consider it the origin of most RSIs.

Sitting up straight is one way to avoid the gargoyle slouch. But you don’t have to tape a broomstick to your back, or ask your spouse to play posture police. The three most important preventive steps you can take are: take frequent breaks, take frequent breaks, and take frequent breaks.

Every half hour, drop your hands and shake them out. Also, raise your eyes away from the screen, and focus on the farthest point you can see. Working next to a window is ideal – gazing into the distance protects you from eyestrain.

Every two hours or so, get up from your chair and walk around. An easy way to remember to do this is to keep a litre of water near your computer, and drink from it frequently. Not only will you maintain good hydration but your bathroom breaks will also promote blood circulation.

Besides slouching, risky work habits include: cradling the phone headset between your neck and shoulder while typing (or any time); typing hunched over a laptop in your lap; and sitting back with your feet up on the desk, to one side, with your torso twisted to the screen.

Computers make good servants but poor masters. Maintain a good relationship with your computer by keeping it in its proper place in your home and in your workday.

For more information, see the recommended computer set-up at The RSI Page (eeshop.unl.edu/rsi.html) or the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/office/).

Copyright 2005 Penney Kome, All rights reserved.

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REVERSION OF RIGHTS

A. Reversion of Rights Templates

B. Reversion of Rights Information

In response to queries from members about getting their rights back from book publishers, the Contracts Committee has produced, with assistance from the Union’s legal counsel, the attached draft letters for members’ use.

Every book publishing contract should include a reversion of rights clause, listing circumstances under which the rights you grant to the publisher will return to you, although some contracts unfortunately do not have such a clause. Instances where rights in a work revert or may be reverted to you include: failure to publish the book; unpaid royalties; insufficient sales; the work being out of print or lack of inventory; remaindering of stock; expiry of the contract; and bankruptcy, receivership, assignment for the benefit of creditors or liquidation of the publisher. The most common reason for an author to wish to have a reversion of rights is that a work is “out of print”. Literally, this means that the publisher has no stock from which to fill orders, but sometime a contract contains a definition of what this means for the purpose of that particular contract, for example, fewer than a specified number of copies sold or no catalogue listing.

It may be that you may not wish to have the rights to a work revert to you immediately, preferring that these rights remain with the publisher while you are hopeful that the publisher will decide at some point to reprint or publish a new edition. But, take note that notifying the publisher of your intention to revert your rights is often the push needed to get the publisher to reprint! It is usually easier to get an existing publisher to reprint a book than to find another publisher to publish a new edition of a previously published book.

You will definitely need to obtain your rights back if you intend to look for another publisher or already have another publisher who is interested in republication of your work. Sometimes a reversion of rights happens automatically because of the wording of a clause in your contract, but more often you will need to do something to trigger the reversion.

If there is a clause in your contract which enables you to revert rights, it is important to follow carefully any procedure that may be spelled out in the contract. For example, sometimes a notice giving the publisher an opportunity to reprint the work within a specified time or a notice demanding payment of past due royalties must be sent by registered post. Even if no sign off from the publisher is necessary for a rights reversion, it is often helpful to have the publisher’s signature on a document acknowledging that the rights have reverted to you, because sometime in the future a publisher who is considering a reissue of your work may ask you for a signed acknowledgement or confirmation from the original publisher.

Two sample letters are attached to this document. One letter, headed “Notice of Rights Reversion,” informs your publisher that you intend to revert your rights if it does not take steps to remedy the situation. The purpose of the other letter, headed “Acknowledgment of Rights Reversion,” is to make it easy for your publisher to provide you with a signed acknowledgment that the rights to your book have actually reverted to you.

To simplify your request to the publisher for this acknowledgment, you may wish to omit those parts of the letter that are not relevant to your own situation. A simpler letter may get a faster response from the publisher. The sample letter sets out a number of possible reasons why rights may have reverted. Except for the applicable reason or reasons, they do not need to be listed. The sample also includes paragraphs dealing with outstanding licences and copies remaining in inventory following reversion.

Outstanding Sub-licences:

If you know that your publisher never sub-licensed the right to publish your work to other publishers (for example, for a mass-market paperback or for a foreign edition) or if you are certain there are no longer any existing sub-licences for your work, you can omit the paragraph on sub-licences from your letter. If you are uncertain whether there are any outstanding sub-licences or if you know that there are such licences, it would be wise to leave this paragraph in your letter.

Copies remaining in inventory:

If your contract does not deal comprehensively with any copies that remain unsold by the publisher (including any returns subsequent to reversion of rights) or if your contract does not do so in a manner favourable to you, you will probably wish to include a paragraph in your letter to ensure that you will be able to acquire any such copies from the publisher at the lowest possible price or, especially if the publisher may pulp remaining copies, without charge. If you are not interested in acquiring any remaining copies, or if you are certain that there are none and that there will be no returns, you will likely wish to modify or delete the suggested paragraph to simplify your letter.

Where you know that the publisher has substantial inventory remaining when the contract terminates (for example, because of insufficient sales), it is a good idea to remind the publisher of its continuing obligation to pay royalties on sales after termination and to agree or confirm how long the publisher will have to sell its remaining inventory. If the paragraph dealing with this is not relevant to your situation, you should delete it.

Don't forget:

You should send the publisher two signed copies of your letter requesting an acknowledgment of reversion, both for the publisher to sign, with one copy to be retained by the publisher for its records and one to be returned to you. You may also wish to include a self-addressed stamped envelope to make it more convenient for your publisher to return the letter to you.

If you don’t receive a response from your publisher within a reasonable period of time, say, four weeks, contact the publisher to ensure that it has received the letter. If you are unable to solicit a response from your publisher, you may wish to contact the Union office for assistance.

We hope this information including the sample letters for you to adapt to your own particular circumstances are of assistance to you. This information is not intended as legal advice and you may find yourself in situations where you should consult a lawyer. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact the Union office.

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ROYALTY MATH

Welcome to Royalty Math – your very quick guide to getting a fair shake on ebook royalties from a publisher. Also known as "Why authors should get an ebook royalty rate higher than 25%."

1.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

Here is a table full of numbers (above). Let’s hit the main points. What we’re doing with this table is comparing the various costs and revenue returns for different kinds of books. We’re looking at hardcover books, which we’ll assume average out at around a $35 list price, trade paperback books at $20, and ebooks retailing at $15 – and yes, that’s kind of a high price for an ebook, considering the way ebooks are marketed and sold right now. Nevertheless, the percentages work at all price points and $15 ebooks do exist, especially for Canadian titles.

PLEASE NOTE: This spreadsheet was created to reflect the reality for ebooks created from, or alongside, traditionally published books. This is not meant to reflect the world of e-born, self-published, or Print on Demand titles, which can have radically different royalty structures for authors.

2.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

Now, the first thing we want to consider with the sale of any book is how much the thing costs to make. Our understanding is that 10% of the standard retail price covers the manufacturing costs for print books, on average. What that means is that every single $35 hardcover copy of a book costs (roughly) $3.50 to make*. Every $20 trade book costs $2. But, of course, ebooks don’t have print costs, and you don’t have to use trucks to move them around. As well, unless the book is e-born, the heavy costs for editing and production have mostly been paid by the time it comes to producing the ebook. It does cost something to create ebooks and load them on retailer sites, so let’s estimate that at 25 cents per copy.

3.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35% --
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70 --
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

Of course, this is book selling we’re talking about, so that means we have to factor in the dreaded returns. For those who don’t know, booksellers do not buy stock outright from publishers. They are essentially selling on consignment, meaning the stock they do order from publishers, they have the option of returning for refund. Average returns across the two print classes are about 35% (ouch, yes, that hurts the feelings of writers AND publishers), so that means subtracting another $1.23 from each hardcover and 70 cents from each paperback. Ebooks, of course, being magical and non-existent as they are, are not returnable. 

4.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

And, of course, publishers provide booksellers with a significant discount for placement in their retail outlets and/or online retail sites. We have estimated an average discount of 55% for physical books, and 50% for ebooks. This is a rough estimate but reflects, we think, the reality of the business as it now stands. This means that on a hardcover, the retailer receives an average discount in dollars of $19.25, on a trade paperback, $11.00, and on our ebook, $7.50.

5.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

The net receipts are then calculated as the list price minus the discount to the retailer - standard stuff, resulting in $15.75 for a hard cover, $9 for a trade paperback and $7.50 for an ebook.

6.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

Standard royalty rates for Hardcover and trade paperback, starting at 10% and moving to 15% of the list price result in these amounts per book for the author - between $3.50 and $5.25 on hardcovers, and between $2.00 and $3.00 on trade.

7.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

And these profit amounts for the publisher (see above).

8.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

If we now look at books, you will see, first-off, that royalties are generally calculated not on the list price (which can fluctuate wildly), but on the net receipts. The "industry standard" right now is 25% of net receipts. TWUC recommends asking for between 25% and 50%. Why? Because, as you can see by this calculator, the publisher does quite well anywhere within that range – in fact, the publisher does not substantially suffer even at the higher royalty rate, while the difference to the author is substantial.

9.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

You see here, at 25% royalty on a $15 ebook, after the 50% discount to the retailer, the author makes $1.88 per book, lower than the amount she makes at 10% on a $20 trade paperback. The publisher on the other hand is making more than he would make at BOTH percentages for trade paperback.

10.

    Formula Hardcover Trade Paperback Ebooks
A List Price   $35 $20 $15
B Manufacturing Cost print estimated at 10% $3.50 $2.00 $0.25
C Returns %   35% 35%  
D Returns $   $1.23 $0.70  
E Discount to the retailer as a % of A 55% 55% 50%
F Discount to the retailer $   $19.25 $11.00 $7.50
G Net receipts =A-F $15.75 $9.00 $7.50
H Royalty as a % as a % of A 10% 15% 10% 15%  
I Royalty as a % as a % of G     25% 50%
J Royalty $   $3.50 $5.25 $2.00 $3.00 $1.88 $3.75
K Publisher gross profit $ =A-B-D-F-J $7.53 $5.78 $4.30 $3.30 $5.38 $3.50
L Publisher gross profit % as a % of A 22% 17% 22% 17% 36% 23%
M Publisher profit as % of author royalty =K divided by J 215% 110% 215% 110% 287% 93%
N Publisher profit as % of net receipts =K divided by G 48% 37% 48% 37% 72% 47%

 

Whereas at 50% on that same $15 ebook, the author now makes more than both trade levels, plus more than the 10% hardcover level, and yet the publisher is still making a good profit, better in fact than they make at the 15% royalty level for trade paperback. Clearly, the sweet spot for everyone is a royalty rate for ebooks between 25% and 50%. The industry standard, TWUC contends, is far too low and does not in any way reflect a fair partnership between authors and publishers on ebooks.

Knowledge is power, dear authors. Keep TWUC's royalty math in mind when you receive your next book contract.

Thanks, as always, to our sister organization, The Authors Guild, for doing the math on ebooks in a blog post a few years ago. The numbers haven't changed much since then.

*This is a rough estimation for the purposes of this demonstration. We recognize the unit cost for books goes down as more copies are made.

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SPEAKING IN THE U.S.

By Siobhan O'Connor, Associate Director, TWUC

[Please note that requirements are changing constantly and members are reminded to check with legal and tax consultants. The following should not be taken as legal advice.]

In response to inquiries by TWUC members about the requirements for a Canadian writer undertaking a reading in the United States, the Union made numerous inquiries to U.S. consulates, immigration officers, an immigration lawyer, and Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Unfortunately, the Union has concluded that there is no hard and fast rule for Canadian writers speaking in the United States.

The answer most commonly received (from U.S. immigration, an immigration lawyer, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Travel) is that writers speaking in the U.S. should apply for a B1 Temporary Business Visitor's visa. An application for such a visa would be made at the border at the time of crossing. Writers should allow themselves plenty of time, as this process can add additional time to the border crossing. The writer would need:

  • evidence of Canadian nationality,
  • evidence of a residence in Canada,
  • evidence of intent to depart the United States (i.e. a return airline ticket),
  • documentation from the host indicating the purpose of the visit (to give a reading), the location of the reading, the date of the reading, and
  • documentation from the host indicating any honorarium that will be paid to the author. The letter from the host should clearly indicate that the writer is being paid an honorarium and not a salary. If writers are being paid more than an honorarium, they would require a different kind of visa.

While this was the most common response from various U.S. parties, it should be noted that it is up to the individual immigration officer (and his or her superiors on duty at the time) to determine if the writer will be granted a visa and there is no guarantee that such a visa will be granted.

Some writers have inquired about a 0-1 Visa which is for an individual of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture and television fields. Applying for such a visa is a time-consuming (up to 120 days) and expensive process (minimum $110 U.S. and an additional $1,000 U.S. for expedited process).

In response to members’ queries, the Union also contacted several high-profile Canadian writers and found that they were experiencing the same difficulties as other writers crossing the border.

In conclusion, there are no guarantees that a Canadian writer crossing the border to do a reading in the United States will be granted permission to enter the country. And in fact there are no clear rules as to just what the individual writer needs to do in order to cross the border without any problems.

The following information is also of importance to writers who are undertaking speaking engagements in the United States.

U.S. WITHHOLDING TAX

Because of new tax regulations, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is requiring every non-resident (individual or corporation) earning U.S. income to obtain a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) or in the case of a corporation, an Employer Identification Number (EIN). The regulations became effective as of January 2001. Members who receive income from the United States need to complete Form W-7; those who are incorporated will need to complete Form SS-4. The Internal Revenue Service website: www.irs.treas.gov/help/search_help.html can be accessed for the appropriate forms.

Once you have your TIN or EIN, you should provide it to all your U.S. sources of income. Without the number they will be required to withhold 30% U.S. tax from all of your U.S. earnings.

The Union would appreciate hearing from any member who has additional information or experiences regarding entering the United States. for a reading. Please contact: Siobhan O’Connor at 416-703-8982 ext 222 or soconnor@writersunion.ca.

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TAX QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

The following are frequently asked questions about taxes. Our thanks to Sam Marinucci, Chartered Accountant, for his assistance with this article.

Q. Are Public Lending Right and Access Copyright payments taxable?
A. Yes, Public Lending Right and Access Copyright payments should be declared as “Other Income” on line 130 of the tax form unless you are self-employed and then it can be reported as “business income” on line 135 or “professional income” on line 137.

Q. Are grants from the Canada Council or other arts councils taxable?
A. Yes, Income Tax Interpretation Bulleting (IT257R) deals specifically with such grants. If the recipient is in business, the amount is brought into income under ss9(1) of the Canadian Income Tax Act, or the amount is applied to reduce expenses deductible under ss18(1) of the Act. If the grant qualifies specifically as a research grant under ss56(1)(o) of the Act, all expenses in carrying out the purposes of the grant are deductible, including:

  • those of a capital nature;
  • payments to a research assistant; and
  • meals and lodging while away from home.

For additional information, see also Interpretation Bulletin IT75 — Scholarships, Bursaries, Prizes and Research Grants, and Financial Assistance.

Q. Is income received from a prize (e.g., BC Book Awards or Governor General’s Award) taxable?
A. If a grant is a “prescribed prize,” it is not taxable. A prescribed prize is defined as any prize that is recognized by the general public for meritorious achievement in the arts, the sciences, or service to the public but does not include any amount that can be reasonably regarded as having been received as compensation for services rendered. The Governor General’s Literary Awards are considered prescribed prizes while bursaries and scholarships are not. Another way of thinking of this is that a prize which recognizes your achievements and for which you did no work to receive (i.e. the publisher submitted the work and completed the application forms) is NOT taxable. A prize you receive for which you have done work to receive it (i.e., you submitted the work yourself and completed the application yourself) would be taxable.

Q. Do I have to pay GST on my Public Lending Right, Access Copyright, and Canada Council grants?
A. These payments are GST neutral; since no GST is paid to you do not have to pay GST to the government.

Q. My publisher has not yet paid royalties for the past year, and yet they have issued a T5 to me saying that they will pay the royalties as soon as possible. Is this allowable?
A. No, a publisher can only issue a T5 for royalties that have been paid not for royalties that should have been paid.

Q. My publisher has issued a T5 slip for my royalties. This seems to suggest that they are investment income. I believe they are earned income; if I claim them as investment income, it will hurt my pension both as a Canadian Pension Plan contributor and in terms of my Registered Retirement Savings Plan limit. What should I do?
A. Royalties paid by a publisher should be reported in Box 17 of the T5 slip, which identifies the payment as royalties on account of earned income.

If you are a self-employed writer, include the income as professional income, with a notation on the Statement of Professional income that it is “royalty income as per T5 slip attached.” Alternatively, if you do not prepare a statement of professional income, the amount of royalties on the T5 should be reported on Line 104, Other Employment Income, which makes it earned income for the purposes of RRSP and CPP eligibility.

Either way it is definitely not investment income (even though reported on a T5 slip) and constitutes earned income.

This information is provided for information only and should not be considered professional advice. Writers with questions should contact the Canadian Revenue Agency and/or seek professional advice.

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