Let's Talk Money or Why There Are No Writers In Philadelphia

I live in Philadelphia.  And when I say that, I mean I actually live IN Philadelphia.  I don't live in one of these suburban towns an hour outside the city and call myself a Philadelphian.  (Ahem:  Bradley Cooper:  Jenkintown; Pink:  Doylestown.  NOT Philly, people.  NOT Philly.)

Stuck in traffic on the way home from a Phillies game!

I love this city.  One day I'll probably move out of it because let's face it, the crime rate ain't exactly going down, but I love it.  I grew up here, the product of two large, Irish Catholic families whose roots in my neighborhood run deep.  I went to a neighborhood Catholic school which has since shut down.  I didn't go to high school here but I returned afterward, and I went to Community College here.  I transferred upstate to finish college but I returned again and met my husband, who grew up literally seven or eight blocks away from where I grew up. 

This City is far from perfect.  The crime rate is staggering.  I mean there are actually entire countries-really big ones-whose crime rates don't even come close to that of Philadelphia.  It's kind of dirty.  I mean I've been in much cleaner, more well-kept cities than this one.  There are areas of this city that would turn your hair gray instantaneously.  I don't think it's any coincidence that the words people most often use to describe my writing are exactly the words you could use to describe this city:  dark and gritty.  This city is what it is and it makes no apologies for that. 

On the other hand, I know a lot of truly amazing people who were born and raised here.  Plus we've got cheesesteaks (and no, not Geno's or Pat's.  If you want a real cheesesteak, you visit a neighborhood corner steak shop like a real Philadelphian.  Barry's and Chubby's all the way, baby).  We've got historical sites and theaters and the Franklin Institute and the Please Touch Museum.  We say "wooder" instead of water.  Oh and we've got phanatical sports fans.  And we get to spell lots of words that start with an f with a PH.  We've also got Ben Franklin.  I say that in the present tense cause there is actually a dude who walks around Center City dressed as Ben Franklin.  Spitting image.  I think the mere fact that we had the actual Ben Franklin ought to carry us a long way cause that guy was brilliant.  Oh, and the Liberty Bell!

Okay, so that's not the actual Liberty Bell, that's the one at Citizens Bank Park!

What does any of this have to do with my book?

As you know, my book comes out in December, but it will be quite awhile after that until I actually see any royalties.  (I hope I see royalties!)  I ran into my accountant the other day and I mentioned to him that my first novel would come out December 6, 2012.  He seemed very interested.  A discussion about genres and John Sandford novels ensued.  Then he said that the first thing I'll need to do is get a Business Privilege License. 

A what?

Yes, a business privilege license.  After speaking briefly with my accountant, I went online and did more research.  Turns out that because I live in the lovely City of Philadelphia--like actually IN it--and might possibly make money from the book I wrote, I am subject to Business Privilege taxes, even though I am not a business. 

From what I understand the license costs $300 for a lifetime fee or $50 a year.  Although many sites I went on said it was $350 for a "lifetime" fee and then $50 a year thereafter, which kind of defeats the purpose of a "lifetime" anything, if you ask me.  I also read in a few places that it is actually $300 a year for the first two years and that they ask you to pay two years up front, plus a $50 annual fee thereafter, so I might have to pay $700 at the end of this year (again, seems to defeat the idea of a "lifetime" fee but it wouldn't be Philly without a buttload of confusion).  Without delving too far into the Philadelphia Tax Code, which might as well be in a foreign language to me, I just figure on paying at least $350 this year to have my book published while living in this city, which is what my accountant suggested.  Figuring out precisely how much to pay and when--well, that's why I have an accountant.  Regardless, a BPL is not something that had even remotely occurred to me.

That's not all.  From what I've read, the City of Philadelphia will take 6.45% of anything I make as a writer. 

If I don't pay these taxes, the penalties and fees will be astronomical--or so I've read.  In fact, a few things that I've read say that even if you didn't live in Philadelphia but you came here to do a book signing and were compensated in any way, even if it was just for one day, you would have to buy a business privilege license and pay the business privilege taxes on what you made while you were here.  Don't believe me?  Read this Forbes article. 

That would explain why half of the concerts that go on in this area are over the damn bridge in New Jersey (she says resentfully!)

That's Camden, Philadelphia's lesser known but equally violent cousin

Anyway, I only bring this up because it really had never occurred to me that I might have to pay extra taxes or fees just to be a writer and live in Philadelphia.  So if you've got a book coming out, you might want to check out the laws and tax codes where you live to make sure you're not missing anything!

This is why Lisa Scottoline lives just outside of Philadelphia in a neighboring county!


  1. That's amazing. I love Philadelphia, although I only visited once. I went for a training for work and my husband got to come with. He did all the fun site-seeing, and I was in a little room all day. We did do a couple of things together, including crash a wedding reception at Moshulu (did I spell it right?) Once we figured out what we'd done, we got the heck out of there!

  2. That really sucks! For some authors, the fee alone would eat most of their profits.

  3. As someone who grew up in the relative shadow of New York City, this just confirms all the bad things I've ever heard about Philadelphia. Just kidding. New Yorkers have an over-inflated sense of importance, and I'm not like that. This is the sort of thing that's absolutely outrageous, and is part of why small businesses suffer so much. It also says a lot about this tax code that your accountant doesn't even seem sure of what you'll have to pay or when. It's sad, because you clearly love your city and it would be a shame to feel like you have to move out.

  4. what a lot of info! and philly is one place i still need to visit!
    i always knew city taxes were addons, bummer!
    good luck with your release anyway!

  5. That's just awful. Seriously, I wonder if there's a threshold for income, because it could literally eat up a lot of money. Girl, you gotta move to the burbs. :)

  6. You should use an Arizona address. They seem to have no taxes & let people (legal residents) live how ever they want, do whatever they want, no questions asked. I guess there's something good about being super conservation: no interference. Anyway, that's truly government at its meddling worst there in old Philly. Guess they have to find some way to pay for all those liberal services. It just hurts when you're the benefactor instead of the recipient.

  7. Wow, I would have never thought of that either. Guess I better do some research. Also, your cover is awesome. I think I've said that before but it never hurts to hear again.

  8. Oh my gosh, this is crazy. There are so many things I never would have even guessed about getting a book published!! Sorry this has come up, how awful. :(

    But, your book is so fantastic that I know you will make so much money that you'll hardly even notice this! I've just started it but I'm totally hooked. :)

  9. Holy cow! I wonder if our state has anything like that...
    I hope you get some tax benefits!

  10. Dadgum! That's a total bummer. :(

  11. ARGH. This is why I live in Alaska. The only taxes we pay are property taxes. Some places have sales tax but not many.

    You should move west!

  12. Whoa, thanks for the heads up. We visited Philadelphia once, toured Paul Revere's house, saw Ben Franklin, and enjoyed our time there. But I would not like the idea of those licenses and fees. So maybe I'd better check into things like that with our accountant here in Ohio...Otherwise, all I can say is that our son just last weekend had a layover in Philadelphia heading here from Spain--and what was to be a 2-hour layover stretched into 30 hours. He had one major headache trying to get out of your city! Just what you need, huh--more bad publicity?

  13. Never been to Philly, but if I do, I'm taking my dad to one of the corner shops for some cheese steak! He'd be in heaven.
    I'm going to have to check out my state's rules on taxes and all this sort of thing. Totally crazy to think about!

  14. I love (not-the-real-deal) Philly cheese steaks! Some day I hope to have one actually from Philly :) Boo on that extra taxes and license stuff! As if it isn't enough to get your book out there, now you get to pay even more for it :( Let's hope for big numbers so that silly license will seem like nothing ;)

  15. How completely disturbing and lame! Imagine what Ben Franklin would have to say about these sorts of taxes and government meddling.

  16. I just read where Camden is considered one of the worst places in the US to live lol. I say "wooder" too. It drives my GF nuts!

  17. Maybe that's why only the criminals can afford to "work" in Philly?

  18. Incorporate in Delaware, my home state....and get a better accountant.

  19. Incorporate in Delaware, my home state....and get a better accountant.

  20. Then the city wonders why people don't want to do business here.

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  22. This is really good advice! We often get so caught up in the excitement of a new book that we forget all of the logistics.

    Also an interesting post on Philly-- I'm from Baltimore, but I showed some Philly love on my blog last Tuesday... www.mmshaunakelley.blogspot.com.

  23. What wise words indeed, check out that tax, though I'm sorry it puts you worse off! :(

  24. I never even thought of that! Really interesting post - and I love that you call out Bradley Cooper and Pink - cracked me up. ;)

  25. I can't count how many times I mouthed "WTF?" during this post. That sucks! Yet another reason to move eight hours west...

    And bring your cheesestreaks with you!

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