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I want to know if I'm safe publishing a book(s) with no copyright/trademarks/etc. and avoiding any kind of business moniker (like a D.B.A. or registration) in order to just get right to the publishing part.

Since anyone who makes money independently is basically a freelancer/self-employed person, and a self-employed person can use a pen name without a D.B.A. or the related such, I am assuming that publishing is as simple as writing, formatting, and completing -- then making it available to others.

I shouldn't have to file taxes as long as I'm not making tons of money, as nobody will care.

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    The main benefit of an LLC is that if you are sued, the person can only go after your business assets, not your personal assets like your house. I think it varies from state to state in the U.S., but the filing fee is like $125 and it's $50 a year thereafter to keep the LLC up. Whether you need that protection is up to you; talk to your accountant. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Aug 14 '15 at 10:15
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You'll need to check with the tax laws of the jurisdiction you're living in to be sure, but in general, you don't need to have any extra legal designations in order to publish, but you DO need to declare the income for tax purposes.

Amazon sends out 1099-MISC forms to their author/publishers detailing the money earned in each tax year.One copy of that form goes to the citizen, another copy goes to the tax authority. So if you're American, the IRS will know how much you made and I imagine they'll expect you to declare it.

If you're not American, you'll have to look at local tax rules, but also be aware that Amazon will keep 30% of your sales as a withholding tax unless you jump through a lot of hoops, IRS-wise.

  • I think it's a 1099-MISC (but I'm away from my office right now and can't check mine). – Dale Hartley Emery Aug 14 '15 at 0:11
  • That sounds right.. – Kate S. Aug 14 '15 at 0:15
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You own the copyright on your book. It's a good idea to include a copyright notice when you publish. In the copyright notice, you can claim the copyright in your own name. You do not need to invent a company or alias.

You do not need to register the copyright (though that may be a good idea).

Publishing is more complex than you might imagine if you want to avoid looking like an amateur. Formatting (whether paperback or ebook) is not trivial. Book covers are not trivial. It's all learnable, but it is by no means simple.

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    Registering a copyright on a book in the U.S. costs $35 and takes maybe an hour to fill out a form on a web site. I don't know how much good it really does, but the cost in time and dollars is so low compared to the amount of effort you presumably put into writing the book that I really don't see a reason to NOT do it. – Jay Aug 14 '15 at 5:06
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You are correct in your assumption that you do not need to have any type of company designation regarding a publisher, whether it be as a sole proprietorship or "doing business as". You simply operate as an individual publishing his own works, end of story. Some writers do choose to pursue some form of incorporation, but most don't need to bother with it. You should talk to a tax adviser to determine whether or not there is any benefit for you individually.

You are incorrect, however, in your assumption that you shouldn't have to file taxes. If you publish through a company such as Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), they will send you a Form-1099 at the end of the year which identifies the full amount you earned from them in the previous year. It doesn't matter whether it is $20 or $20,000.

The IRS will receive a copy of that same form, so you will be expected to declare that income, and it will need to be reported as self-employment income. Whether or not you actually owe any taxes will depend on how much you earn as a total between your self-employment (writing) income and all other forms of income.

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    Technically, they don't have to send you a 1099 if your total royalties for the year were less than $10. I guess at that point the government doesn't care: the tax on $10 would be pretty trivial. – Jay Aug 14 '15 at 5:04
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As others have noted, no, you do not have to create a business of any sort in order to write and publish.

Copyrights are usually registered in the name of an individual, not a company. Look at the copyright notice in the books on your shelf. Almost all will be a person's name, not a business.

As a self-published author, the easiest way to get your books out there is to sell through on-line sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They then take care of all the "businessy" stuff. As others have said, you'll get a 1099 reporting your income. As a copy of this goes to the IRS, it is a really really good idea to report it on your income taxes. To the government, the only crime worse than torturing and murdering innocent children is failing to pay your taxes.

The one thing that is going to be an issue is if you intend to personally sell your books retail, that is, sell books directly to customers rather than selling through Amazon or bookstores. In that case, you have to collect sales tax, which means you have to register with the state to collect the sales tax and forward the money to the state.

Personally, I set up a business to handle the sales of my books. It's just a sole proprietorship, not a corporation or an LLC or anything complicated. I had to file a form with the county and pay a registration fee, I think it's $100 for five years or something like that. All that really does is give me the right to use the company name rather than my own name on "official" documents.

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