Opinions are like ****holes .... by Debbie Bennett

If you've been following my monthly ramblings on here (I've been around since the start of Authors Electric, so I'm part of the furniture - probably that creaky old wardrobe in the corner of the attic with the door that doesn't shut properly ...), you'll know that I write the occasional mostly-tongue-in-cheek advice column. It may be written with an irreverent approach, but much of the advice therein is worth looking at, if only to discard or laugh at!

So now I want to talk about how advice can do more than get you off to a bad start - it can land you with huge bills and/or get you into serious trouble with the authorities!

The trouble is, advice is one of those things that is often asked for but never actually wanted once you've got it. And everybody has an opinion. On everything. I should know - I'm one of those annoying people who happily delivers unasked-for opinions in clothes shop changing-rooms. But telling somebody they look lovely in a dress is not the same as telling somebody for example that VAT is exempt on physical books. It isn't. Books are subject to VAT, but the rate is currently set at zero percent. There is a difference, though admittedly it doesn't affect the majority of us who trade below the VAT threshold. There's a whole kboards thread going on at the moment with everybody wading in and stating tax "facts" of dubious provenance.

VAT - be it UK, EU or its equivalent sales tax throughout the world is a complex subject. As is income tax. I remember a friend telling me way back that she was running a home business on the side from her normal job (where she was paying tax via PAYE as many of us do). She told me confidently that the personal allowance meant she could earn up to (whatever the amount was back then) before she needed to bother with tax. Wrong! Her personal allowance had already been used up in her day job. I didn't tell her. Sometimes I'd rather have friends than be right ...

And lyrics. That thorny old chestnut about whether you can use lyrics in books without permission. Oh, but it's fair usage, authors cry. And yet people have and do get sued by companies and bands with deep pockets who can afford to hire big lawyers. So why take that risk? Mention a music track, yes, but don't quote from it. Or make up a group and a song whose lyrics and title fit the era and genre you want - write your own lyrics and then nobody can accuse you of stealing them!

But don't take my word for it. Don't take my word for anything. Look online - at the official websites and guides. Get an accountant if you need to - but they're not always right either. Letters after one's name does not automatically make one the fount of all knowledge, and rules change all the time. Ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law unfortunately and you don't want to lose that hard-earned income.


Wendy H. Jones said…
Beautifully put and good advice. Some advice it is worth hearing and taking on board
Umberto Tosi said…
I won't sleep better tonight, but I thank you Debbie for this cautionary post, and for all you do!

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