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Tax Tips for Freelance Writers and Self-Published Authors

Updated for Tax Year 2021 • January 21, 2022 01:58 PM


If you earn money selling your words to websites and other publishers, the Internal Revenue Service will likely say you’re a small business owner. Freelance income is self-employment income, and so are any royalties you receive for that book you published or self-published. That can be a good thing, because the self-employed are privy to some tax perks that employees don’t usually receive.

Your Income

Man working on a typewriter in an office piled with books


When you sell your work to a company for a total of $600 or more, the publisher should provide you with a 1099-NEC form at year’s end. When you file your taxes, you must report all your income to the IRS, so if one company paid you only $400—less than the 1099-NEC requirement—this doesn’t mean you don’t have to claim it; it just means the publisher doesn’t have to provide a 1099 form.

If you receive payments through online payment services such as PayPal, you might receive a 1099-K. Payers will also send these forms to the IRS to report your income.

Under the American Rescue Plan, changes were made to Form 1099-K reporting requirements for third-party payment networks like Venmo and Cash App that process credit/debit card payments or electronic payment transfers. The change begins with transactions starting January 2022, so it doesn’t impact 2021 taxes. Beginning with tax year 2022 if someone receives payment for goods and services through a third- party payment network, their income will be reported on Form 1099-K if $600 or more was processed as opposed to the current Form 1099-K reporting requirement of 200 transactions and $20,000. This change could impact people working in the gig economy, online sellers, independent contractors, and other self-employed business owners.  

Completing Schedule C

You probably won’t have to pay taxes on all of the income you earn from writing. As a self-employed freelance writer, you’ll complete Schedule C to arrive at your taxable income. Use Schedule C to list your income and costs of doing business. Some costs might include:

  • internet
  • supplies such as printer paper, ink, and other office necessities
  • that laptop you’ve been tapping away on all year
  • software for the computer
  • the fax machine and copier
  • mileage, meals, and entertainment
  • pretty much anything that is “ordinary and necessary” to running your writing business

These costs are deducted from your total business income, and the resulting number is what you claim as self-employed income on your tax return. Be sure to keep good records of all of your business expenses so you can provide them to the IRS if necessary.

The Home Office Deduction

As a freelancer, you probably plant yourself at your desk each morning right there in your home. For this reason, you may be able to claim a home office tax deduction based on the percentage of your home that you use for work. For example:

  • If your dedicated work space takes up 15% of the total square footage of your home, you can deduct 15% of your mortgage principal or rent payment, utilities, and insurance.

But if it’s your habit to work at the kitchen table, you’re out of luck because you likely use that room for other things as well as your writing business. Your home office space must be dedicated exclusively to your writing, so clean out that spare bedroom, move in your office equipment and supplies, and get to work.

The Self-Employed Health Insurance Deduction

It's likely that you pay for your own health insurance if you’re a freelancer. If you’re not covered by an employer-sponsored policy, you can likely claim a deduction for the full cost of your premiums, even if your policy also covers your spouse and dependents. The policy needs to be in your name or in the name of your business. This deduction isn’t entered on your Schedule C—it's an adjustment to your income on the first page of your tax return.

The Self-Employment Tax

When you work for someone else, your employer pays half of your Social Security and Medicare taxes, but when you're self-employed, you must pay all of these taxes yourself. This is called the self-employment tax.

  • The amount you owe—15.3% as of the 2021 tax year—is based on the net amount of income you arrived at when you completed your Schedule C.

The IRS gives a little back, however. You can deduct half of your self-employment tax on the first page of your tax return, reducing your overall taxable income.

If You Also Earned Royalties

If all your income derives from publishing books with a single publisher, you might not have numerous 1099-NEC forms to keep track of, but you should still receive one from the company you published with. This income goes on Schedule C as well.

If you also held down a regular job during the year, you’ll only have to pay self-employment tax on the portion of the income you included on Schedule C. If you had more expenses than income from the publication of your book, this is a business loss. It can reduce the amount of income you have to pay taxes on, even if you earned that income from an employer.

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