April 14, 2004
Ask the Expert For April 14th | printable version
~Do I Need a Business License?~
I've been writing copy for an online company for several weeks now on a freelance basis, and my contact just e-mailed me with a question that I hadn't even considered. Do I need a business license to be a freelancer? If so, how does one go about getting one? I had assumed that because I wasn't advertising myself as a copywriting business, this was no different (tax/legally-wise) than my fiction writing career. Any thoughts? It really depends on the laws in your town. If you're simply having people pay you personally, under your own name and not a business name, you probably don't need any type of license.
If you want to do business as, say, Kati's Copywriting Company, you'd need to obtain a business license in order to open a company bank account. Usually, that's a simple DBA (doing business as) license, which probably won't cost any more than a few cups of coffee. The DBA I obtained in Texas was about $10 in 1997. The one we bought in Maine about foru years ago was about the same.
Call your local city or county office and ask them for advice on your town's business laws.
~One of the Worst Mistakes Authors Can Make~
A friend of mine, despite having a B.A, a M.A., and being an M.D., met two young agents who said, "We love your book!" and immediately did what writers seem to do in this situation: she turned off her brain.
She signed a contract without checking them out first. They appear to be a new outfit, but may have worked as agents for another agency in the past. Have you heard of them?
I've never heard of them (which is probably a good thing!). I've removed their name from your post because they don't deserve any bad publicity. But, I'm including your question here so other writers know what to do when a "new" agent shows an interest in their manuscript.
I sincerely hope those "new" agents have many and quality contacts in the industry. One of the worst mistakes an author can make is to commit themselves to a new "literary agent" who has no track record, no sales to their name, and no industry contacts. Unfortunately, there is no licensing or government regulation for literary agents, so anybody can call themselves an agent and open shop. The main complaints I hear about agents centers around the new ones and how they have no contacts, don't know what they're doing, and never sell any books to traditional publishers.
I've heard horror stories of agents charging high reading fees (what's the incentive to sell manuscripts if their pocketing money from authors?), being abusive to authors because they feel the authors owe them something (they're working for YOU, not the other way around), and stories of agents opening shop and then closing their doors months or even years later with no word to the authors of the demise of their business. As with most small businesses, most new literary agents do NOT succeed. Don't take a gamble by signing over representation of your baby (your book) to someone who doesn't know what they're doing or who has no track record in the industry. The risk is far too great and signing with a new agent may delay or even completely eliminate your chance of publication.